MATTHEW 21:1-11
Pp Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:12-19

From Jericho to Bethany
Bethany and Bethphage
From Bethphage to Jerusalem
   1. The animals
   2. The crowds
   3. The gate
The Festivals of Passover and Tabernacles
   1. Actions and words
   2. Miracles versus a change of heart
   3. Concluding words on the Triumphal entry
The Donkey’s Tale
Structure versus life
Who is this?

The journey from Galilee is almost at an end which had started less than a month ago (see my previous notes on Mtw 17:24-27) and probably more like three weeks. In this time, the travelling band had ministered in many different locations as they headed south (Luke 9:51-18:14) before setting up home for a while in the region beyond the Jordan where the inhabitants of Judea came to Him (Mtw 19:1-20:28), finally passing through Jericho (Mtw 20:29-34) on His way to Jerusalem.

Little more needs to be said at this point - the first article which deals with Jesus’ journey from Jericho to Bethany was supposed to have been the introductory passage which helped us to see how Jesus arrived at this point in the narrative but it developed into an important article in its own right and has therefore been given its own header.

From Jericho to Bethany

The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem wasn’t as direct as normally it’s taken to have been by a strict reading of both Matthew and Mark’s Gospel for it sounds as if, having given sight to the two blind men, Jesus and the crowds proceeded directly to the city and entered it the very same day.

Luke’s Gospel, although indicating that a parable was spoken presumably in the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:11-27 - but it could have been equally at home in the setting of the march towards Jerusalem), also reads that Jesus directly entered the city.

Mark 11:11’s statement that, by the time Jesus had entered the city and Temple that

‘ was already late...’

would also indicate that the entry must have occurred towards the latter part of the sunlight period and after the travelling from Jericho, the city of palms.

However, John’s Gospel seems to record that there was a stopping over for a night before the final couple of miles were walked into the city. This isn’t certain but it appears to be the most logical inference from the text which appears here for John 12:1-2 records that

‘Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; Martha served and Lazarus was one of those at table with Him’

The first thing to note is that, although it’s generally taken to mean that the meal took place in the house of Lazarus, the text doesn’t specifically say this and records only that Lazarus was present along with both Martha and Mary, the former of these two women being specifically mentioned as serving.

The Greek word for ‘supper’ (Strongs Greek number 1173) would, by the English use of the term, denote an evening meal but, as both Johnmor and Johncar note, it could be used with reference to a meal which was taken at any time of the day, not just the one which was taken towards the days’ close or in the early part of the evening. However, in a footnote, Johnmor comments that

‘In the appears to mean the main meal of the day, held towards evening’

and, if the designation of it being six days before the Passover is paralleled with Jesus being crucified on the following Friday when the Passover meal was eaten the preceding evening (see my notes on the chronological time framework), then the meal would have taken place towards the end of the sabbath. This was considered to have been special according to Rabbinic law, which legislated the correct order of the events in Berakoth 8:5 either, according to the school of Shammai, as lamp, food, spices and Habdalah (the liturgical ceremony) or, according to the school of Hillel, as lamp, spices, food and Habdalah though there was even a disagreement as to the precise wording of the final benediction which was to be uttered over the extinguishing of the lamp.

If the meal which Jesus was participating in was on the evening of the Saturday, Johncar notes that

‘ is probably connected with the ritual that separated the Sabbath from the rest of the week, including the Habdalah, the synagogue service that followed the meal’

This is by no means certain, however, but what must remain more intriguing is that John specifically states that (John 12:1) it was

‘Six days before the Passover [that] Jesus came to Bethany...’

and implied in that statement is that Jesus appears to have paid little or no regard to the Rabbinic rules and regulations concerning travelling on the Sabbath, limited as it was to a distance of two thousand cubits from where a man lived (presumably, also, from where a man had lodged the previous evening if he was on a journey - see, for instance, Erubin 4:3, 5:7), a distance in today’s measurements of about three quarters of a mile or one kilometre. The Mishnah seems to indicate that the distance was extracted from Numbers 35:5 where the pasture land of the Levites is being mentioned as being located at a distance which was not to exceed two thousand cubits from the city centre, though the interpretation thrown on the Scripture in Sotah 5:3 may simply be an association of the distance with the Sabbath limits without it necessarily expected to have been taken as a proof as to why this distance was used.

That the distance was known to the disciples seems plain by Luke’s record in Acts 1:12 that the disciples

‘...returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away’

though this verse isn’t saying that the day on which the ascension took place was a Sabbath, only that the distance was what one would normally have taken to be the ultimate limit for travel on that day of the week.

We can’t be sure, however, that Jesus observed the Rabbinic interpretation of travel but, if He did, He would have had to have been lodging not more than three quarters of a mile from the village of Bethany the night before. It seems better to accept that, although Jesus may not have made the journey from Bethany the same day because of the crowds which would have accompanied Him and which would have slowed down the walking speed, He paid no attention to the distance which was placed as a limit upon the journey of a Jew on the Sabbath.

The evening before the final march into the city of Jerusalem, however, Jesus would have lodged at Bethany, about two or three miles south-east of His final destination. Jesus also appears to have used this village as the place from which He would have travelled on the days leading up to the Passover (Mark 11:11).

Bethany and Bethphage
Mtw 21:1, Mark 11:1, Luke 19:29

We’ve seen above that Jesus stayed overnight in Bethany the evening before His ascension into the city of Jerusalem and that He stayed here at least one further evening before the Passover festival which was to be celebrated within Jerusalem’s city walls, the inference being that He used the city as the ‘headquarters’ of His time there, relatively safe and out of reach of the Jewish religious and Roman civil authorities during the night periods.

Bethany means, perhaps, ‘house of dates’ or ‘house of figs’ and this is the way it’s normally taken even though Luknol sees it to be more likely meaning ‘house of (H)ananiah’. This village was the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary (John 11:1) and of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and was located about two miles south-east of the city of Jerusalem and situated on the main Jericho to Jerusalem road which would have been used by the pilgrims ascending into the capital from the east.

The event of the ascension is recorded by Luke as having taken place here (Luke 24:50) even though Luke’s second work, Acts, fails to mention the village and speaks only of the mountain which lay east of Jerusalem as being about a sabbath’s day journey away from the city (Acts 1:12).

Bethany still exists as a settled town even today (it’s known as el-Aziriyeh meaning ‘the place of Lazarus’) and had a population in the mid-seventies of the twentieth century of around one thousand inhabitants but it’s hardly surprising that, because of its significance in the records of the Gospels, that there are numerous church buildings here and that archaeological excavations have revealed the earliest of buildings from the fourth and fifth centuries, one of which was built over a tomb reputed to have been that of Lazarus and which continued into the twelfth century, a seemingly normal development wherever the established church of Rome decided to erect liturgical meeting places.

Eusebius (fourth century) also mentions the village as existing at the second milestone from the city in his list of holy sites (Onomasticon 58:15) and the site doesn’t appear to be in any doubt.

Archaeological excavations begun at the beginning of the twentieth century have revealed occupation levels dating back to even before Israel began to conquer the land from the east but continuous occupation of the area has only been proved from the sixth century BC through to the fourteenth century AD.

Discoveries relating to the ancient city of Bethany are in the form of normal, everyday features such as wine presses, cisterns and grain silos and the village seems to have been an ordinary village which lay on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem.

In contrast to Bethany, Bethphage is unknown from archaeological excavations, the village name meaning ‘place of unripe figs’ - a name which is normally taken to refer to a crop which grew here which, although edible, was always considered to be impossible to fully ripen.

It’s difficult to be absolutely sure as to where this village was located except to say, firstly, that it must have been close to the main road which ran from Jericho into Jerusalem (Luke 19:29), perhaps even touching the road (Mtw 21:1) but Lukmor comments that the village is mentioned in the Talmud and that

‘ is apparently a suburb of Jerusalem, being regarded as the outer limit of the city’

It was certainly the furthest point from the city at which bread could be baked for use in the Temple service and Menahoth 11:2 records that

‘The Two Loaves [of the wave offering of Lev 23:17] and the Shewbread [Lev 24:5] were alike in that they were kneaded and rolled outside but baked inside [the Temple Court] and the making of them did not override the Sabbath...Rabbi Simeon says: It was always the custom to say “The Two Loaves and the Shewbread were valid whether made in the Temple Court or in Bethphage”’

Zondervan comments that the village is mentioned in the Talmud (Ungers comments that it’s mentioned ‘frequently’)

‘...sometimes as a village on its own and sometimes part of Jerusalem...’

so it’s difficult to be absolutely certain whether it was joined closely or whether it lay at some distance from the city walls.

This is all the more difficult to determine because Mark 11:1 and Luke 19:29 read as if the two villages of Bethphage and Bethany were joined and considered to be one region, even though the latter lay some two miles south-east of the Eastern Temple walls.

Eusebius in his Onomasticon (58:13) is noted in AEHL as locating it on the summit of the Mount of Olives (NIDBA notes that the ancient writer Jerome locates it ‘beyond Bethany’ but this hardly seems to be likely) and the earliest of christian tradition locates the site

‘...on a mountain overlooking the city, where the modern Church of the Resurrection was built’

Today, the generally accepted location is about half a mile east of the summit of the Mount of Olives and, therefore, the city of Jerusalem would have been out of sight to its inhabitants. NIDBA notes that it was this latter site which was accepted by the Crusaders and that here, in 1877

‘...was found a stone with frescoes and inscriptions, one a picture showing the two disciples untying the donkey and colt’

This only points towards an early identification of the area with the village rather than prove the area is the same as that mentioned in the NT but along with the discovery was also found caves, coins, cisterns, pools, tombs and a wine press and it’s generally accepted that the area must have been inhabited probably from the second century BC to around the eighth century AD. This would be a good indication that Bethphage was located in this general region for it appears to have been a village of some significance to have warranted inclusion in the narrative of the Gospels.

Supporting this identification, we should note the Gospel record that Jesus sent His disciples to obtain the ass and colt as He came to the Mount of Olives (Luke 19:29) but that He still had a distance to go before the city came into view and He turned aside to weep over it (Luke 19:41). It would appear, therefore, that Bethphage did not have a natural site which overlooked the capital city though, against this, prior to Jesus’ speech, it’s recorded that the Mount of Olives was being descended (Luke 19:37) - though this could be taken as specifying that the descent was being approached which led to the city rather than it was actually being traversed.

Finally, it would appear from Mtw 21:1-2 that the ass and colt which were used for the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem came from this village.

From Bethphage to Jerusalem

We will see, in the following section, how the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem used symbols borrowed from the Festival of Tabernacles even though it was Passover which was shortly to take place and how this tells us a great deal about the crowds’ expectancy of what Jesus was about to achieve in that final week.

The NT passages seem to speak for themselves as to what transpired on that Sunday of the week as Jesus first descended Mount Olivet (the Mount of Olives) into the middle slopes of the Kidron Valley and, then, up again into Jerusalem and there’s little that needs comment as to the picture being painted by all four Gospel writers.

However, there are a few points which need commenting on here and which we must be careful to understand correctly if we’re to get a full picture and understanding of what was going on.

1. The animals

The details surrounding the two animals of Matthew’s Gospel need to be understood seeing as Mark, Luke and John all mention just the one - the previous incident near Jericho presented a similar problem to the commentator because there Matthew mentioned two blind men while Mark and Luke similarly spoke of just the one. The solution in both cases could be taken to be demonstrably the same - namely, that Matthew has chosen to record the complete scene while the others have selected what was sufficient for their purpose.

Before we look at this, however, the acquisition of both animals needs to be commented on for, in the first three Gospels, it reads like the event was a miraculous one while John 12:14 records that Jesus

‘...found a young ass and sat upon it...’

which makes it sound as if He almost stumbled upon it as they were journeying towards the city and decided to rest His legs for the remainder of the trip. While it’s probably certain that the provision of the animal was a miraculous one - there seems to be no other way to take it - we should note that Jesus had been lodging not more than two miles away from this place in Bethany the night before and it’s entirely reasonable to presume that Jesus would have arranged the beasts to be made available to Him as they passed by the following day. Mattask writes without any fear of being contradicted that

‘...He made arrangements for an ass to be available at the entrance to the village of Bethphage when He might decide that the moment had arrived for Him to make use of it’

but it’s impossible to assume such a position for the narrative is solely centred around the fact that ‘the Lord has need of them’ and this is the bottom line. Matmor thinks that such a sentence was a ‘prearranged password’ but, again, this needn’t be the case and Jesus may have had knowledge which had come by revelation that, for instance, the person who owned the animals was desiring to do something in YHWH’s service and that such a request was, for him at least, an answer to prayer (especially as the word ‘Lord’ is normally that which is substituted for the name YHWH for fear of blaspheming the name or taking it in vain. The reply to the question could have sounded like Israel’s God was specifically requesting the use of the animal).

Although I disagree with such a belief that there was a pre-arrangement for the animals to be made available to the disciples, it’s important to note that this is entirely possible but that such an interpretation will probably be the one which is also adopted when we come to the passage in which we read of the acquisition of the room for the final Passover meal before the crucifixion (Mark 14:12-16) even though there is evidence to support such a position at this point (Mtw 26:17-19).

Whatever the exact circumstances surrounding the taking of the two animals, Hagigah 1:1 notes that all those who are exempt from having to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem on the three specific occasions at Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles includes those who

‘...cannot go up on his feet’

and it’s generally presumed that the approach and entry into the city was required of the pilgrim on foot rather than on the back of an animal. As such, we should be under no illusion that Jesus’ acquisition of the animals was neither an accident, nor to save His feet from further tiring use but a deliberate and conscious decision to approach Jerusalem with the imagery of a peaceful pilgrim rather than as a conquering king. Zondervan is incorrect when they state that

‘On the first day of the week in which Jesus was to be rejected and crucified, He entered Jerusalem like a conqueror and king...’

for, had He wished to convey Himself as a military commander, He would have endeavoured to have found a horse which symbolised war rather than the ass which was a picture of peace - it was this latter beast which was used in the pastoral lifestyle of most of the population of the land while the former was almost exclusively reserved for military campaigns. Cansdale comments that

‘There is some evidence that in Palestine and surrounding lands it was correct for the king or other ruler himself to use an ass in peacetime, perhaps because...the horse was consistently and closely associated with war’

and he points out that the prophetic word of Zech 9:9 (which Matthew 21:5 quotes) which speaks of peace, goes on in the following verse to proclaim that

‘[YHWH] will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem...and He shall command peace to the nations’

Matthew’s citing of the Scripture, therefore, must be viewed as a partial quote directing the reader to think carefully concerning the complete Zechariah passage seeing as it doesn’t simply proclaim the advance of a peaceful King for the nation but for the putting away of military conquest forever (for a complete exposition of this passage see my previous notes).

Even though the crowds may have looked upon Him as a physical liberator from the Roman authorities, He didn’t come portraying that He understood Himself to have been divinely given such a task to perform but, rather, as One who was bringing peace. Therefore, His words spoken over Jerusalem and recorded in Luke 19:41-44 which state

‘Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes’

are the more relevant in the context in which He comes to the city.

Cansdale sees the horse in the OT as a

‘...monopoly of kings and nobles in both Palestine and surrounding lands, a symbol of human power’

and this appears to be behind the Mosaic prohibition in Deut 17:16 (see also I Sam 8:11 where Samuel warned the nation that their request for a king would inevitably require them to give over their sons and daughters into his service and that he would take their sons to be his horsemen and charioteers) where the king which the nation would eventually require as head over them is commanded that

‘...he must not multiply horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to multiply horses...’

for, when the Israelites were to go out into battle against their enemies (Deut 20:1)

‘...and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt’

thus making the nation look to YHWH alone rather than to rely upon their natural military resources with which to overthrow the power of the enemy arrayed against them. That the horse was a feared animal in warfare seems certain even from the earliest of times and is described this way in Job 39:19-25 where there can be no doubt that they may even have taken on the status of some sort of divinely anointed beast.

When Jesus chooses a donkey or ass, therefore, in place of a horse (if He had the choice), He’s deliberately showing that He has no intention of mounting a campaign in natural strength against the enemies of the nation but will come, peacefully, in order to do and to bring about the Father’s will.

But, to return to the initial question posed, why is it that Matthew 21:2 records the use of two animals - the ass and the colt (Strongs Greek numbers 3688 and 4454 respectively) - when Mark 11:2 and Luke 19:30 each record the single animal described as a colt (Strongs Greek number 4454)? And why does John 12:14 also mention just the one animal and yet label it as a young ass (Strongs Greek number 3678)?

It seems best to follow Matfran here wholeheartedly seeing as he’s summarised in a dozen or so lines just about the best observations surrounding the animals that I’ve seen. When we read the word ‘colt’ in the Scriptures, we normally picture in our minds the offspring of a horse but this is almost certainly wrong in the present context when Jewish inhabitants would have been unlikely to have possessed such an animal. Cansdale comments that the colt

‘ the young of any member of the horse tribe [but] in the Bible it is used for [a] young ass only except in Gen 32:15 [where it describes] “camels with their colts”’

Therefore, we’re certainly looking at two donkeys - and the natural way to take the words of Jesus in Mtw 21:2 that they would

‘...find an ass tied and a colt with her’

is that the ‘ass’ is the mother of the colt. This was a purely practical consideration, therefore, especially as both Mark 11:2 and Luke 19:30 record that the animal was one

‘...on which no one has ever sat’

and, as Matfran writes

‘ would be only prudent to bring its mother as well to reassure it among the noisy crowd’

Some commentators on Matthew have asserted that the writer has doubled the amount of animals taken from the village simply because he misunderstood the original prophetic Scripture which he quotes in 21:5 (Zech 9:9) and had taken it to be referring to two animals instead of one. Matfran, however, observes wisely that, of all the NT writers, the author of the Gospel of Matthew would have been the least likely to have stumbled over a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text simply because the text continually betrays elsewhere a firm grasp of Jewish context and of the Aramaic language.

When Matthew states that both the mother and her colt were brought to Jesus, he’s simply recording a fact and interpreting the prophetic OT passage in the light of what took place rather than the other way round. The other three Gospel writers, however, were concerned to simply mention the animal upon which Jesus rode into Jerusalem (or, better, to the gates of the city) and leave the story there.

2. The crowds

A few short words need to be said about the crowds which joined in the Triumphal procession upto and into the city of Jerusalem, simply because some would see in the four accounts a discrepancy which undermines the truth of the Gospel. The three Synoptic Gospel accounts see a great crowd of disciples and pilgrims journeying both in front of and behind Jesus proclaiming various things (Mtw 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:37), spreading their garments in front of the approaching donkey and using the branches of the nearby trees (Mtw 21:8, Mark 11:8, Luke 19:36).

This great crowd, as I’ve previously mentioned, would have been made up of both pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival and also those who had been with Jesus as followers since the first moment He’d left the region of Galilee to head south.

No doubt there would have been many who would have joined the crowds as miracles were done on the way and especially in the region ‘beyond the Jordan’ where Jesus had specifically entered in order to minister to the nation of Israel (Mtw 19:1-2). After all, this seems to be a necessary assumption because of Luke 19:37’s comments that the reason for their proclamations that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s chosen King, was that they’d witnessed mighty works.

It wouldn’t have been unusual for great crowds to have been approaching the city on the road from Jericho at this time of the year but the way they were coming to the city was definitely unusual, and it was probably observed by some as the crowds began to descend the Mount of Olives and then across the Kidron Valley.

Having said that, it would appear that word had got round that that specific day was the one on which Jesus was planning to come to Jerusalem. We already know that He and the disciples had stayed in Bethany the night previously (John 12:1-11) and travellers who had decided to move on to the holy city and those who had left the village or passed it by may well have known that the event was about to take place and so spread the news around the city when they arrived.

Whatever, there appears to have been a great throng of people who had been prepared to go out to meet Him as He approached Jerusalem and this fact is borne out by the writer of John’s Gospel who notes (John 12:12-13), first, that

‘...a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem...and went out to meet Him’

before commenting (John 12:17) that

‘The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had [raised Lazarus from the dead]’

Johncar asserts that this crowd would have been a mixture of both the Galileans who had already been witnesses of His ministry in their home region and also those who had heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, even though John only mentions the latter. It’s unlikely that there was only the one reason for their exit out of the city, however, and we know that there were great crowds in Galilee who had desired to proclaim Him as King (John 6:15) and it’s unlikely that they would have missed just such an opportunity as this to make their feelings known.

Johncar also comments that the record in the Synoptic Gospels that there were crowds both in front of Jesus as well as behind as He approached the city is evidence enough that all three writers are indirectly bearing witness to the coming out to meet Him of Jerusalem - but it would be difficult to see how the travellers could have laid their garments on the road or have laid out the branches before Him had there not been a great many of them in front of the procession who waited until it had passed before picking up their garments from behind, the crowd flowing like some rolling tide.

At which point along the road they actually met the advancing crowds is impossible to say but one should expect that a great multitude streamed out of both the Eastern gate of the Temple and the Northern gate of the city to almost stop the procession in its tracks for a short while before it again moved on.

Josephus records in the Jewish War (6.9.3) that the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple

‘...from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice...and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two millions seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy...’

Although the historian may be slightly exaggerating the figures (though, according to his own statements, he was under-estimating the number present), it’s not too difficult to see that it wouldn’t have taken a great percentage of those present in the city to have gone out to meet Jesus to have caused the road to have been brought to a standstill and for the Pharisees to comment (John 12:19)

‘You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after Him’

3. The gate

It’s interesting to speculate on the entrance which Jesus used to gain entry into Jerusalem, even though all four Gospel writers are silent on the matter and mention no specific gate with which His entry was associated.

In the OT, Ezekiel was given a vision of the return of YHWH’s glory into the Holiest of Holies which lay within the Temple and it’s been to this passage which both believers and commentators (no inference from those two descriptions, okay?) have referred to to assert with all sincerity that Jesus would have entered via the Eastern, ‘Golden’ Gate of the city and, therefore, directly into the Temple itself.

Zondervan’s text fails to consider the matter but, above the article on the ‘Triumphal Entry’, one finds a picture of the Golden Gate, under which the reader is reliably informed that this is the gate

‘...through which Christ made His triumphal entry’

Of course, as most know, although the gateway may be sited on the original spot where the eastern gate exited out into the Kidron Valley (see Berakhoth 9:5 which speaks of the Eastern Gate as lying opposite the Holy of Holies), the gate is medieval in origin and stoned and cemented closed to prevent anyone from attempting to gain access into the old Temple compound and so claim to be the long awaited Messiah (it would appear that the Muslims also believe the authenticity of Ezekiel’s prophecy). When I was there in 1988, I was also told by a Jew that the Muslims had converted the area immediately outside the sealed gate into a cemetery simply because the Messiah, being a Jew, could not ascend to the gate without contracting ceremonial defilement and, therefore, would be rendered unclean and unacceptable. Whether this is true or not is not important for this article but it does show that the people who hold to such a small and restrictive view of the Messiah will certainly get a big shock at some future date!

But did Jesus enter the Temple through this gate?

Ezekiel 43:1-6 - as I’ve previously noted - is plain in its teaching that the return of the glory of the Lord would be through the East Gate and that it would then continue on and into the Holy of Holies to take up residence - the latter of which Jesus obviously didn’t do! The prophet wrote plainly that he was brought to

‘...the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east... the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east...and, behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple’

so that, if we accept that Jesus is the personification of the Glory of God (II Thess 2:14, Titus 2:13, James 2:1), then we would see a fulfilment of prophecy if we could be certain that He entered the Temple via this Eastern Gate - indeed, some have found it necessary to take the OT prophetic Scripture and assert that Jesus must have entered the Eastern Gate simply because of what the prophetic word says (and this would appear to be what Zondervans has also done).

But the Scriptures are silent as to the gate which was entered and it seems somewhat strange that Matthew should claim that there was a prophetic fulfilment in 21:5 and yet to fail totally in commenting on the fulfilment of an equally relevant and poignant OT passage from Ezekiel.

However, the indication from Mark 11:11 may be that we should think of Jesus’ entry into the city as preceding that into the Temple for the author writes that

‘...He entered Jerusalem and [then] went into the temple...’

a statement which could not be interpreted that He went initially into the Eastern Gate simply because that entrance led immediately into the Temple courts. Mtw 21:10,12 also pictures Jesus as entering the city for the question to be asked ‘Who is this?’ before it being noted that He proceeded to enter the Temple.

It would appear, therefore, that Jesus entered by the North Gate into the city and then, skirting the Antonia Fortress, entered by the main Western Gate if, as the Mishnah states, the northern entrance into the Temple was never used (presumably because it was the one through which the Roman soldiers would have entered if they needed quick access into the area and so was considered to be unclean. Middoth 1:3 reads [my italics] ‘There were five gates to the Temple Mount: the two Huldah Gates on the south that served for coming in and for going out; the Kiponus Gate on the west that served for coming in and for going out; the Tadi Gate on the north which was not used at all; the Eastern Gate on which was portrayed the Palace of Shushan’).

Perhaps I’m putting too much weight on the statement of Mark but, in view of there being no other evidence, it would be best to take it at face value and believe that Jesus, untraditionally, entered the city first by the Northern - and, probably, Damascus - Gate and then made for the Temple compound, entering via the Western entrance rather than the Eastern.

The Festivals of Passover and Tabernacles

NB - This article is a rework of my notes (with a few additions and some omissions) on the Festival of Tabernacles. It would have been easier simply to redirect readers to those notes but this article is only one of a great many on the subject and it seemed best to isolate it and reproduce it here. For the full context of the Feast of Tabernacles and the relevant background which underpin these notes, however, the reader should refer to that web page.
This passage is normally labelled as the ‘Triumphal Entry’ even though it’s mistakenly referred to occasionally as the ‘Triumphant Entry’. The difference is important to be understood and, in the words of the On Line Precise Oxford Dictionary, the word ‘Triumphal’ means
‘...“of or used in celebrating a triumph” as in triumphal arch should not be confused with triumphant meaning “victorious” or “exultant”’
and, in the On Line Merriam-Webster Dictionary (packaged with the CD-ROM version of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica), it’s given the threefold meaning of
‘1. to obtain victory, prevail
‘2a. to receive the honour of a triumph
‘2b. to celebrate victory or success boastfully or exultingly’
where it’s the second of these three definitions which is to be taken as an adequate interpretation of the christian label put on this passage.

The Triumphal entry (as it’s called by christians) into Jerusalem took place on the tenth day of Nisan which roughly corresponds to our March/April time - John 12:1 refers to the day before the Triumphal entry as being six days before Passover (that is, the ninth of Nisan if Passover is taken to refer to the day on which the lamb was eaten, which is the 15th - see the notes on ‘Passover’ Appendix 1) while John 12:12 shows that it was the following day when the entry took place.

This was the day on which the Israelites were commanded to take a lamb into their households for the Passover (Ex 12:3). In this event, therefore, we see the fulfilment of this part of the Passover festival - Jerusalem, the place where God’s people are encamped around God (who dwells within the Holiest of Holies in the Temple), has received within its walls the ultimate Passover sacrifice.

But, although this event took place at Passover, there isn’t very much that’s ‘paschal’ about the details that are recorded for us by the Gospel writers. Rather, the crowds are welcoming Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed King, with symbols from the Feast of Tabernacles just as they would use these same symbols some six months in the future when that Festival was due to be celebrated.

This is extremely significant for it was at the Feast of Tabernacles that the Messiah was expected to appear and not at the Festival of Passover. On the previous couple of web pages, I noted Luke 19:11 and how the crowds which were accompanying Jesus on that final journey seemed to expect a demonstration of power that would set up the Davidic Kingdom and restore authority and rule to Israel at that time. This also seems to be what lay behind the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mtw 20:21) - and the rebuke of the blindmen near Jericho (Mtw 20:31) seems to have been associated with the thought that the King had more important things on His mind - certainly the crowd did and, if it wasn’t connected with seeing the miraculous as their rebuke makes out, it was most likely to have been because they saw in Jesus the advancing of the Davidic King towards Jerusalem to take His rightful place on the Israelite throne.

1. Actions and words

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that, although the Festival of Passover was at hand, it was the Festival of Tabernacles that the crowds’ minds would have been immediately drawn towards. And this is reflected and demonstrated in the events regarding the Triumphal entry into the city.

Firstly, there were the actions which accompanied the procession. Mtw 21:8 records that they

‘...cut branches from the trees...’

Mark 11:8 that they took

‘...leafy branches...cut from the fields...’

and John 12:13 that they collected together

‘...branches of palm trees...’

with which to accompany the procession. The branches (it’s only Gospel of John which tells us that they were palm branches) were those used at the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:40). They were used to rejoice before the Lord with and that’s exactly what the crowds are here doing.

The palm tree in Hebrew is transliterated as the ‘lulav’ and, at the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, it’s in the shape of a sceptre, a symbol of sovereignty. Here, then, the crowds are casting the lulav before the Messiah and proclaiming Him as King over the Davidic Kingdom that they’re expecting Him to set up. This lulav is waved in the air at the Feast of Tabernacles while the Jews chant a Scripture from Ps 118:25 which runs

‘We beseech Thee, O Lord, save us (Hoshiah’na)’

where, see below. Not only were their actions associated with the Festival of Tabernacles but their voices were also expressing what they felt in language which was predominantly drawn from that festival. It will be easiest if we list their proclamations here.

a. Hosanna
Mark 11:9, John 12:13
Unlike its use in many choruses in today’s churches throughout the world, ‘Hosanna’ is not an expression of praise but of prayer, supplication, pleading and almost desperation - it means ‘Save us now!!’
The actual refrain is taken from Ps 118:25 recited (yes, at Passover) but specifically and specially at the Feast of Tabernacles when the lulav is shaken along with this chant (see above and Sukkah 3:9 in the Mishnah which gives clear instruction as to what words were to accompany the shaking of the lulav).

b. Hosanna in the Highest
Mtw 21:9, Mark 11:10
In Hebrew, that phrase translated for us here by the Gospel writers would be ‘Hoshanna Rabba’ which is one of the names that the Jews use for the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the day that was specifically set aside for the praying for the final restoration of the Davidic Kingdom through the Messiah. Hoshanna Rabba found emphasis in the procession that took place with the lulav and the chanting of Ps 118:25 which ran
‘Please, O Lord, save us (now); Please, O Lord, make us succeed...'

c. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Mtw 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38 (the word ‘He’ is ‘the King’ here), John 12:13 (the Scripture adds ‘even the King of Israel’)
Again, from the Hallel, in Ps 118:26. It follows on from the ‘Hosanna’ verse and is specifically Messianic at the Feast of Tabernacles.

d. Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David that is coming
Mtw 21:9 (this reads ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ and is the nearest Matthew’s Gospel has to the phrase), Mark 11:10 (for the relevance of the title ‘Son of David’ see my previous notes on the subject)
The crowds were telling Jesus very plainly that they were expecting Him, as Messiah, to deliver them from the Roman occupation and to establish the Messianic Kingdom. The Jews knew that the Feast of Tabernacles would find its fulfilment in the Messianic Kingdom so they adopted the actions and moods of that festival - not the Passover which began only four days away.
No wonder that the Jewish leaders retorted (Luke 19:39)
‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!’
because the crowds were plainly perceived to be calling Jesus ‘Messiah’. And, in Mtw 21:10, we read that the whole city, when they heard what had happened, said to one another
‘Who is this?’
for they fully understood the implications of what was taking place.

e. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest
Luke 19:38
This phrase alone, has no apparent Feast of Tabernacles connection.

Hoshanna/Hoshi’ah na/Hosanna (the contrast between the Hebrew and Greek transliterations) is specifically and specially the mood of the Feast of Tabernacles with regard to the Messiah. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to ‘Hosanna’ - to save them imminently - at the festival and set up the fallen Tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11) - that is, a restoration of the Kingdom of David. But the crowds got the timing wrong (their sundial watchpieces were all running fast) and they mistook God’s plan for the nation because it was the Passover that was approaching within a few days and not Tabernacles.

This will help us understand the reason behind the crowd’s sudden and normally unexpected change of attitude toward Jesus when they turned against Him after He’d rejected their plans for Him as a natural deliverer from the Roman oppression and bondage. The crowds saw Jesus coming to them on an ass (for peace), but their hearts were with Him riding on a horse (for war).

The Jews, then, only saw Him coming as the Tabernacle King and not as the Passover Lamb - they were looking for a physical deliverer and not a spiritual one and they completely forgot that the Passover festival necessarily came before the Feast of Tabernacles.

When Jesus refused the throne as He had done previously (John 6:15), the Jews forsook who they wanted as King shouting out (Mark 15:13)

‘Crucify Him!’

when Pilate offered them the choice that Jesus might be released. Pilate’s retort (Mark 15:14)

‘Why? What evil has He done?’

should rightly have been met with the answer

‘He’s refused to be the King that we wanted Him to be’

if they’d been honest to what they saw in Him. Barabbas, on the other hand, was more like the King they wanted. He’d shown his hatred of Rome by attempting to start an uprising (Luke 23:19) so that he was a natural, almost an inevitable, choice.

2. Miracles versus a change of heart

The episode of what was to eventually transpire in Jerusalem teaches us much about the dealings of Jesus in believer’s lives. Considering the children of Israel and the way that God dealt with them when He called them to be a nation set apart for His service from the time of the Exodus and through the wilderness wanderings, we see the best example of the dilemma that faces God as He desires to deliver His people, yet knowing that a physical solution to the problem will not necessarily lead to a change of heart in His people.

It was an easy thing for God to get Israel out of Egypt (a physical people out of a physical nation) but quite another to get Egypt out of Israel (spiritual ways of living against God out of a people that were called to be spiritually set apart for God’s service)! This is the dilemma which God faced also when Jesus came to His people Israel for they naturally thought in terms of overthrowing the Roman occupying army and of establishing a visible Kingdom in which they would take their place as God’s special and chosen nation. As we saw above, though, Jesus came as a spiritual deliverer and not a physical one.

For a moment, let’s consider the way that God demonstrated His power to the Israelites at the time of the Exodus and how this never once brought about a change in their hearts.

i. They murmured
Ex 5:21
The children of Israel murmured when things looked as if they were going wrong for them. You could, perhaps, excuse them for this - after all, it had been years since they’d seen God move in any real power in their midst and their knowledge of God would have probably been confined to the stories that they told each other of the patriarchs such as Abraham and Joseph and of how God dealt with them.
God did a miracle
Exodus chapters 6-12
So God did great signs and wonders and brought them out of Egypt. Surely, then, the Israelites would have learnt that God can be trusted to watch out for their best interests in future situations when things were to get a little tough.
But, no...

ii. They murmured
Ex 14:10-12
They murmured again when things went wrong and they were surrounded by the Egyptian army. Though they had seen God deliver them through miraculous signs and wonders, they still hadn’t had a change of heart to trust Him. So, again...
God did a miracle
Ex 14:21-31
He opened up the Red Sea and caused them to walk through on dry land, but the pursuing Egyptian army perished in the waters as they came back upon them. Now what more miraculous sign could God have done that would have changed their hearts to be obedient to Him from that time onwards?
But still their hearts weren’t changed.

iii. They murmured
Ex 15:23-24
The water was bitter so they murmured again.
God did a miracle
Ex 15:25
And God did another miracle - but still no change.

iv. They murmured
Ex 16:2-3
The Israelites grew hungry and murmured.
God did a miracle
Ex 16:4-36
So God performed another great miracle and fed them with manna.

v. And they murmured
Ex 17:3
But there was still no change. The next time that they thirsted for water, they murmured again. Even though God had already done this miracle before - as if to show us that it wasn’t the different needs that was causing them to murmur (that is, the reason for their murmuring was not that they hadn’t experienced God’s provision for water so they couldn’t trust Him - they had already seen God give them water), but their dogged refusal to make themselves change.
God did yet another miracle
Ex 17:5-6
God caused water to come from the rock and satisfy them (if I’d’ve been in God’s place, my patience would have been wearing just a little bit thin by now...). Then came the giving of the Law and, if law was able to change the way a person is, then they would surely have found that their previous way of living had been imperfect and chosen to turn it round to obey the Law’s requirements. But they were still the same because the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19).

vi. So they murmured
Num 14:1-3
When they received the spies report of Canaan, they murmured against Moses.
God did a miracle
Num 14:26-35
This time God’s great miracle was against the Israelites - but still they weren't changed!

vii. And still they murmured
Num 20:2-5
They murmured when they had no water - repeat miracle number three. You’d’ve thought the Israelites would have been getting the hang of this by now, wouldn’t you? But still they aren’t able to trust God to provide water for them.
God does a miracle
Num 20:8,10-11
Moses got it wrong this time - perhaps part of the problem was that he was getting just as weary with the Israelites’ grumblings as God was but he went ‘too far’ by disobeying the Word which God had plainly commanded him.

In all these things, the nation of Israel wasn’t changed and ‘Egypt’ remained in Israel. Signs, wonders and great miracles don’t change what’s inside a person and deliverance out of a situation won’t change a believer either (a change of heart only comes about when an individual man or woman decides that they will change) - it’s often the case that God’s will for a believer is that they be delivered in that situation so that what is inside them is transformed to be more like Christ.

A miracle, therefore, is not evidence that there’s been a change of heart in the individual who receives it. Neither does a miracle automatically bring about a change of heart in the recipient.

Notice here also such passages as Mark 1:44-45 and Mtw 9:30-31 where Jesus performed a miracle and then gave the individual a straightforward command that they refused to obey - although the individual wanted Jesus to be Lord of their sickness, they didn’t want Him to be Lord of their lives - the heart remained resolutely unchanged.

The death of Christ made it possible for Egypt to be removed from individuals (specifically in the crucifixion of a believer’s life with Christ so that, as the flesh - the old way of life - dies, they share in the resurrection life and power), but it wasn’t and isn’t as spectacular as getting Israel out of Egypt (that is, healing and delivering people from their difficult situations).

There was nothing miraculous to see, no sign or wonder to behold like Jesus had done before, when He shed His blood for mankind. In fact, in His entire earth walk, the background surrounding this Galilean preacher was pretty mundane!

I’ve read a few opponents of the message of the Gospel especially on the newsgroups and seen the arguments that they like to promote that, because Jesus is, today, a world famous historical figure, that He must have been so in the first century world in which He lived and died and, therefore, because He hardly gets a mention by the historians of His day, it ‘proves’ that He must never have existed.

But the ‘proof’ is no proof at all because it begins with a wrong premise. When the John Lennon of the Beatles was quoted as saying words to the effect that the group had now become more popular than Jesus, then they were quite correct if their intimation was referring to how many contemporary people of the first century AD knew Jesus and how many contemporary people of the 1960s knew the Beatles.

Consider these points:

i. Jesus (‘Joshua’ in the Hebrew language) was a very common name at that time.
France in his book ‘The Evidence for Jesus’ (section 3a) writes
‘Josephus mentions at least 12 separate holders of the name in the first century AD, including four of the high priests!...’
‘This Jesus, and the movement which He founded, has become so central a part of world history that it is a shock for us to realise that if you had said “Jesus” to almost any Jew of the first few centuries AD, it would have been no more specific than “George” might be for us, and it is very unlikely that if he did think of a specific individual, it would have been the one we call “Christ”...Centuries of Christian devotion have encouraged us to assume that “our” Jesus was as conspicuous a figure in His day as Napoleon was in his...’

ii. Jesus had no earthly authority, standing or reputation (and neither did the Church!! Initially, the Church would have existed as a ‘sect’ of the Jewish religion in the eyes of the Roman Empire before it’s expulsion from Judaism by the Jewish leaders and then it’s outlawing by the Imperial Throne).
There were many religious preachers in Christ’s day and age. France writes that
‘...religious preachers were two a penny in that part of the Empire, a matter of curiosity, but hardly of interest to civilised Romans’

iii. Crucifixion usually went on for days - Jesus lasted a few hours.
Yes, it was strange, but it certainly wasn’t awe-inspiring! Had Jesus ‘set the record’ for the length of time that he was alive on the cross, He may have been heralded as some sort of ‘super being’ but the short time that Jesus hung there would not have called for much attention.

iv. Jesus didn’t live or die in the capital of the Roman Empire, but in one of the inconspicuous outposts.
France writes that
‘Nazareth was so insignificant that its name occurs nowhere in Jewish literature until long after the time of Jesus. It was a small village, largely devoted to agriculture, by-passed by the main roads which ran to the nearby Hellenistic city of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee...Its population has been estimated at between 500 and 2,000 and the remains of its buildings show no sign of wealth in the relevant period. Altogether, a very unremarkable place (John 1:46!)...Galilee and Judaea were at that time two minor administrative areas under the large Roman province of Syria, itself on the far eastern frontier of the Empire. The Jews, among whom Jesus lived and died, were a strange, remote people, little understood and little liked by most Europeans of the time, more often the butt of Roman humour than of serious interest. Major events of Jewish history find their echo in the histories of the period, but was the life of Jesus, from the Roman point of view, a major event?’
His conclusion is ‘no’.

v. He died by crucifixion just like any other criminal - there were many leaders of insurrection in His day. France writes that
‘The death of a failed Jewish insurrectionary leader was a common enough occurrence...’
and it wouldn’t, therefore, have caused eyebrows to be raised amongst the mainstream of the world’s society.

Yet, through the apparent worldly irrelevance of one man’s life and death came deliverance for all.
The death of Christ in the world’s eyes is insignificant but in God’s eyes it’s of the utmost importance, whereas the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the world’s eyes is of utmost importance but, in God’s eyes, is insignificant.
It’s only as a believer allows the reality of the cross to be applied to their lives that they’re changed to be more like Christ. Followers of Jesus must go through difficult situations and not be delivered out of them else they would remain in death - but, in dying to self (to their own way of doing things), they begin to live to Him and are delivered within themselves in a way that no external sign, wonder or miracle can do.
It’s in the place of apparent failure (in the world’s eyes) that God gets His will done.

3. Concluding words on the Triumphal entry

The Jews looked for an earthly deliverer and failed to see that their real need was to be delivered inside from the things that held them captive. If Jesus had delivered them from the Roman oppression and set up His Kingdom (visibly), their hearts would still have been unchanged. Change for a believer’s life, similarly, is found in their appropriation of the Festival Passover and not the Feast of Tabernacles.

How often we want to see Jesus come to us as a physical Deliverer (Rev 19:11-16) and so blind ourselves to Him coming as a spiritual One. More often than not, Jesus comes into our situation, not to deliver us out of it, but to deliver us in it (from spiritual bondage that lurks within ourselves). Instead of changing the situation for us, He changes us in the situation. God comes as a Servant to us in our situation as the Passover Lamb, not as a King to remove us from our situation as the Tabernacle King.

Like the prophets of old, we need to wait for the Lord in our situation and accept the deliverance that He offers us (whether that be spiritual or physical). There’s an old song I recall that seems worth reproducing here as it deals with the conflicting thoughts of spiritual and physical deliverance in the context of that last Passover festival in Jerusalem - it’s just a shame that I can’t add the guitar work which would allow you to listen to it rather than have to read it!

Song for Jerusalem

Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na

You had no ears to hear, no mind to understand
Your veiled eyes were dim to the Father’s plan
You only saw Him as the King who was to come
Shrouded to the Passover Lamb
Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest!

You could have chosen Him but you chose another man
The one who seemed to you to be more like King
The King of Glory you delivered up to die
The Lamb was nailed and crucified for sin
Crucify! Crucify this man!
Away with Him and crucify the Lamb!

Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na

Soon the King will come, the trumpets will be blown
And as Messiah-King you will see Him
You will see pierced hands, you’ll see a wounded side
The Lamb who once was slain will reign as King
Hosanna! - you’ll cry - Hosanna in the Highest!
Hosanna! - you’ll cry - Hosanna in the Highest!

The Donkey’s Tale

The story of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem has sparked off a number of ‘quaint’ stories in and around the picture of Jesus riding into the city not on a horse of war but on the donkey of peace. There’s none that compares, however, with one that I discovered many years ago called ‘The Donkey’s Tale’ which was produced by Scripture Union in a small picture book which ran to under a hundred pages (and probably not too many more words, either!).

I was given kind permission to use the scanned artwork and wording by the people who hold the copyright a year or so back and placed it under my ‘Miscellaneous Teaching’ web page. It’s certainly well worth a read and won’t take very long to scroll through.

It can be found by clicking here.

Structure versus life

One of the other ways to view the story of the Triumphal entry is to allegorise it (while still maintaining and upholding its literal authenticity) and to see here a contrast between the Life of God exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ and that of structure demonstrated by the donkey.

Donkeys are only appointed (Mtw 21:3)

‘...when the Lord has need of them...’

and the Gospel records show plainly that Jesus only ever rode into Jerusalem once on a donkey even though He would have had ample opportunity at each of the other three festivals throughout His three year ministry to the nation of Israel. But Jesus used the donkey at this time simply because it was now that was the time for it to be done. Neither did Jesus ride on a donkey after this occasion and there are no records to show that, in each of the remaining days which followed until the Passover on the Thursday and Friday [in our definition of the days] that He ever did likewise.

Structures in the Church, therefore, are only temporary methods which Jesus uses to move His people on from one level of faith into another - they aren’t meant to be legalistically adhered to or remembered when the time of their use is over. After all, no one venerates the ass in the story (except, perhaps, one or two denominations which I care not to mention at this point!).

No one saw in the donkey the salvation of Israel but something of no consequence for it was in Jesus Christ that they recognised the Messiah. Similarly, the Church needs to recognise the life of Christ in the structure but not acknowledge the structure as being ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ in and of itself.

See also my notes entitled 'Sails' and 'New Battle, New Strategy' which both deal with different aspects of spiritual life and its contrasts with dead forms and structures which are often made to pass for it.

Who is this?
Mtw 21:10-11

After the Triumphal ‘procession’ comes the Triumphal ‘entry’ at the beginning of Mtw 21:10 and we aren’t told whether the donkey is now discarded or continues to be ridden through the streets of the city and up to the Temple gate. It would seem best to presume that the donkey was being returned as Jesus strode into the city as promised in Mark 11:3. Such a position would be against the generally held belief that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the animal but the Gospels are silent on the matter and both interpretations are possible. Certainly, though, by the time we read of Jesus entering the Temple in Mtw 21:12, the donkey will have been dismounted.

Matthew’s Gospel records that the entire city was ‘stirred’ by what had just taken place where the word used in the original (Strongs Greek number 4579), according to Kittels

‘...goes back to a root meaning violent movement’

and is normally employed as the verb to describe earthquakes and the like when a violent shaking is being detailed. It, therefore, says more than the city was wondering what was going on and infers that what had just transpired had caused them to become dumbfounded.

That someone was being proclaimed with loud acclamations that He was the promised Messiah and urged to set up the Kingdom of David which had fallen was significant enough for them to sit up and take serious notice, especially as it was openly declaring a point of conflict between themselves and the Roman authorities. Not only so but, if the Messiah had finally come, the Jews would have wanted to know about it.

There’s some uncertainty as to who the ‘crowds’ are mentioned in Mtw 21:11 but the natural way to take them is to assume that they’re referring to those who had both gone out to meet Jesus and who had followed Him over the Mount of Olives and into the city and would, therefore, have been comprised of the advancing pilgrims and the inhabitants of the city. Their declaration that the One who’s entered the city is

‘...the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee’

is interesting on two counts. Firstly, some commentators see the mention of ‘the prophet’ to be a declaration of the promised ‘prophet’ of Deut 18:15-19 but the Greek appears to be against this for they say simply that the person is simply ‘the prophet Jesus’ rather than ‘the prophet, Jesus’ made plain by the insertion of ‘the one who’ after the name of Christ which brings the two words together as one unit.

Jesus uses the label of ‘prophet’ Himself in Mtw 13:57 and that there were multitudes who held the view that Jesus was a man who spoke the Word of God to the nation is evident in Mtw 21:46 where the chief priests and Pharisees find that their attempts at arresting Him are thwarted simply because they fear what the crowds might do if they were to take from them One who they considered to be a prophet.

Secondly, Jesus is still being proclaimed as the prophet ‘from Nazareth’ even though we’ve already read that He’d moved from this village to Capernaum at a very early point in His ministry to Israel (Mtw 4:12-13). Matmor comments that

‘...the place of one’s birth is always important and clearly the crowd associated Jesus with Nazareth. This was the place which spontaneously came to their lips when they were asked who Jesus was’

but we have no way of knowing whether it was because of Jesus’ many years in that village that He was labelled as ‘the Nazarene’ or whether the general population thought that He was born there. Perhaps there was a bit of both which presupposed that, if Jesus had had His upbringing in that village it was a logical assumption to assume that He was also born there especially as His father and mother were also from here (Luke 2:4, 1:26-27).

Whatever the exact understanding which lay behind the words, there could have been no doubting who this Person was, simply because news of what had been happening in Galilee would have reached the ears of the inhabitants of the city long before that festival (Mtw 4:25, 15:1) and He had previously been in Jerusalem as recorded by John’s Gospel on numerous occasions but, if He kept true to the commands of the Law, at least three times every year (Ex 34:23).

This was the first time, however, that Jesus had come to the city being proclaimed by the crowds of pilgrims as the Messiah even though their pronouncement as a response to the question of who He was stopped short of saying such a thing. Mathag sees the crowds which reply to the inhabitants of Jerusalem’s question as being inhabitants themselves of the city, probably because there’s a dichotomy between the obvious proclamation through their actions on the road to Jerusalem that He’s the Messiah and their confession that He’s just a prophet. Therefore, his comment that

‘The crowds of the city thus do not appear to accept the hasty identification of Jesus as the Messianic King and their assessment of Jesus falls short of the full truth’

is only true if his initial premise is accepted, but it’s not too much to imagine that the crowds, although proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, stopped short of making the public confession until He’d proven Himself to be the type of Messiah they wanted and had begun to remove their Roman overlords.