The King and the Multitudes
John Heading, Aberystwyth
We now consider the first eleven verses of this chapter, verses that centre around two Old Testament quotations relating to the King and the multitudes.
The Place, v. I. The Lord had previously said, "it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem", Luke 13. 33, and hence we find at the beginning of the last week that "they drew nigh unto Jerusalem", Matt. 21. 1. The disciples should have known what would transpire at this place of destiny, since just previously He had told them that they were now going up to Jerusalem where He would be crucified, 20. 17-19. Looking back on the event, the Spirit of prophecy would call this "the great city . . . Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified", Rev. 11. 8.
Our verse shows that the Lord came "to Bethphage", a village whose name means a "place of young figs". "Bethany" also means a "house of figs or dates"; these two villages on the slopes of Olivet contrast sharply with the barren fig tree on the way into Jerusalem, Matt. 21. 19. That the two villages are distinct is shown by Luke 19. 29, where both are mentioned.
How fitting that the King should enter His city via the mount of Olives. This mount was not only rooted in the spiritual history of the past, but also in the prophetical history of the future. For example, it had been both a place of weeping by the rejected king David, 2 Sam. 15. 30, and a place of idolatry when the heart of Solomon went astray, 1 Kings 11. 7. Furthermore, it was the place of the Lord's ascension and promised return in like manner, Acts 1. 11, and will be the place of His return to Jerusalem in glory, Ezek. 43. 4; Zech. 14. 4. The Lord knew all this as He humbly presented Himself as King for the last time, riding into the city from this mount. Meanwhile, the Lord still awaits the crowning day, although even now He is set as King upon the holy hill of Zion, Ps. 2. 6.
The Ass and the Colt, vv. 2-3. In sending the two disciples into the village, the Lord exhibited divine foreknowledge of immediate detailed events, saying, "ye shall find". Elsewhere, He had said, "thou shalt find", 17. 27, and "there shall meet you a man", Mark 14. 13. The Lord lived the present in the light of known future events. If this were possible for ordinary man, well might he seek to avoid the foreseen unpleasant things of the future, but the Lord, knowing all things that were to come upon Him, went forth, John 18. 4.
The ass and the colt were clearly two distinct animals, because of the word "them" in verse 3. Mark records the colt only, 11. 2-7, as does Luke, 19. 30-35. John mentions one animal, a "young ass", namely a colt, 12. 14. Clearly the Lord sat upon the colt, not upon the ass, and some interpret Matthew 21. 5 to imply, "sitting upon an ass, and that a colt the foal of a beast of burden". At least it should be pointed out that the last word of the verse, "ass", is not the same as that used in the previous phrase. The first word is rightly the name of an animal, but the last word denotes its work, namely a beast of burden. Its responsibility as the mother ass was to follow its colt who carried the King. Such were ridden by kings and judges in times of peace, while horses were used in warfare, Rev. 19. 11.
The Lord instructs His disciples that they must confess Him as "The Lord", v. 3. They were not to use the title Son of man, which had reference to the glory of His kingdom power, 25. 31; 26. 64, nor the title Son of David, referring to His authoritative position amongst the Jews, 22. 42. Believers should always use the title most appropriate to the occasion, learning the implications of the titles by which He stands in relationship to them. Thus the title "Lord" shows His relation to a disciple living closely in subjection to the divine will. Compare the title "Master" in 26. 18.
The First Old Testament Quotation, vv. 4-5. Matthew makes it clear that this was the fulfilment of a prophecy. Indeed, in this Gospel more than ten events are said to fulfil some aspect of Old Testament prophecy; see for example 13. 35 from Psalm 78. 2; 27. 35 from Psalm 22. 18. The Old Testament can be taken to be a fully charted prophetic map of the Lord's life while on earth.
The quotation is a dual one, consisting of two Old Testament references, namely, "Say ye to die daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him", Isa. 62. 11, and "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; . . . behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass", Zech. 9. 9. The splicing together of these two distinct verses occurs where "thy salvation cometh" is changed to "thy King cometh".
The title "daughter" means inhabitant. In His last public utterance prior to His crucifixion, the Lord called the great company of people and the women "Daughters of Jerusalem", Luke 23. 28. Zion implies Jerusalem in the incomparable ways of God, but that this should be so demonstrates amazing grace. Originally, Zion was a single hill in which God desired to dwell for ever, 2 Sam. 5. 7; Ps. 68. 16, for there the ark rested during David's reign. But at the dedication of the temple, the ark was taken "out of the city of David, which is Zion", 1 Kings 8. 1, to mount Moriah. At the same time, Solomon confessed that Zion was still the rest of God for ever, Ps. 132. 13-14. This is not inconsistent, since from that time onwards God in grace renamed the whole of the city as Zion encompassing Moriah and the temple.
"Tell ye" comes from the greatest chapter of ultimate restoration in Isaiah, ch. 62, but "thy salvation cometh" is not quoted. Unknown to the people, He was coming to accomplish salvation; only in the future will He bring salvation to the restored nation, Isa. 59. 20. The rest of the quotation is from Zechariah 9. 9. Revelation 19. 11 shows the King of kings and Lord of lords coming on a horse for battle to establish His kingdom. Following this, He comes on an ass as King of peace as pictured in Matthew 21. Zechariah 9. 10 says that in that day there shall no longer be a horse or battle in Jerusalem. He will then exercise His Melchisedec priesthood, being "King of righteousness, and . . . also King of Salem, which is King of peace", Heb. 7. 2.
The phrase "just, and having salvation" is omitted from Zechariah, no doubt because this will only be known in the future. Had the Lord demonstrated that He was just in Matthew 21, swift judgment would have fallen upon the rebellious nation. But He comes "the second time without sin unto salvation", Heb. 9. 28, and then the complete quotation will be fulfilled.
John 12.16 tells us that the disciples understood and remembered these things only when the Lord was glorified. In other words, the Holy Spirit was needed in order to see the relevance of the Lord's activity and these Old Testament scriptures.
The Ride into Jerusalem, vv. 6-8. Garments were placed under the King as He sat upon the colt. Circumstances were different, but earlier Israel had cried, "Jehu is king", as they took every man his garment and put them under their newly anointed king, 2 Kings 9. 13. We have here an eastern way of showing honour. Moreover the trees used are named as palm trees in John 12. 13, their fanlike leaves being much used in processions. Such trees had often been employed in Old Testament typology and figurative language. Psalm 92.12 tells us that "the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree", illustrating the "just" character of Christ that had been omitted from Zechariah 9. 9. Moreover, in the temple all the walls were carved with palm trees, 1 Kings 6. 29, typical of the unknown One who would flourish in His own house. The people, in their enthusiasm and ignorance, acclaimed Him in His proper character.
The Second Old Testament Quotation, v. 9. The
multitudes who acclaimed their King were, without doubt, distinct from those who later cried "crucify him". These multitudes would comprise the passover pilgrims from Galilee, His immediate followers and disciples, those who knew of the raising of Lazarus, John 12. 17, and the children of the temple courts. Psalms 113-118 were often quoted at the passover and the feast of tabernacles in the autumn. Psalm 118 is used here because of the rejoicing, and certainly fitted the occasion. Unwittingly the people took up a psalm speaking both of His death and resurrection, and of His people's response. In fact, the psalm consists of a holy mutual meditation by the Lord and His people, viewed from the resurrection side of death:
Verses 1-21: The Lord's rehearsal of His sufferings on the cross at the hands of men, and His resurrection (verses 17-21).
Verses 22-24: His people acclaim the Stone's Headship, the Lord's doing, and the Lord's day.
Verse 25: The Lord's reply; His desire for prosperity to follow His sufferings and resurrection. Verses 26-27: His people expect His return, engaging in the sacrifice of praise, and testimony in blessing from the house of the Lord.
Verses 28-29 • The Lord's final reply, praise to His God for these results of His death, and a general leading of His people in thanks unto the Lord.
The word "Hosanna", meaning "save now", was quoted by the multitude from verses 25 and 26, using words both of the Lord and of His people in the psalm. No doubt the multitude's cry was traditional, but God would ensure that this was the genuine result of His death and triumph. For the Psalm (verses 22, 23) is quoted again in Matthew 21. 42, where the Exalted Stone is seen choosing a nation to bring forth appropriate fruit in praise and service.
The Lord appears unmoved by such outward rejoicing, although Luke 19. 40 shows that He accepted the praise else the stones had cried out. The immediate effect on the Lord was, however, that He wept over Jerusalem as He contemplated its destruction. He knew that His throne would be His cross until He was received up; then He would receive the true praise.
The Reaction of the People, w. 10-11. The city knew Him not, but the multitude could not rise higher than the description "Jesus the prophet"; see also verse 46. How much was lacking in their appreciation of Him! In Matthew 16. 14, the people's statement that He was a prophet is elevated by Peter to "the Son of the living God". In John 4. 19, the woman's perception that He was a prophet is expanded to know Him as the Christ, v. 29. The healed blind man thought He was a prophet, John 9. 17, but the Lord permitted him later to know Him as the Son of God, vv. 35-38. In other words, the outward sign of confession and praise need not necessarily correspond to the knowledge of the heart, but the Lord would have a true, yet feeble, faith grow into the knowledge of Himself.