Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11

Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11

Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11

by Dr. Knox Chamblin



A. Bethphage.

Jesus and his companions "approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount

of Olives" (v. 1). The company approaches Jerusalem from the east; between the Mount

of Olives and the city lay the KidronValley. Bethphage was a village near Bethany (both

parallels, Mk 11:1 and Lk 19:29, mention both places), on the eastern side of the

mountain, about two miles from Jerusalem. "The village ahead of you" (v. 2) is probably

Bethphage, not Bethany; for Bethphage alone is mentioned in v. 1, and it lay nearer to

Jerusalem than did Bethany (cf. Lane, Mark, 394).

B. Jesus the Lord.

1. Jesus' insight, v. 2. Whether "the village ahead of you" is Bethany orBethphage, Jesus' instructions may rest on prior arrangements. On the other hand, thewords of v. 2 may reflect extraordinary - which in Jesus' case means divine - insight, andJesus' mastery of the entire situation. Cf. Filson, Matthew, 220.

2. Jesus' commands, vv. 2-3. The instructions are issued with full authority:

"Go [present imperative poreuesthe]..., and at once you will find [future indicativeheurssete, perhaps used volitionally].... Untie [aorist participle lusantes, perhaps usedimperativally] them and bring [aorist imperative agagete] them to me. If anyone saysanything to you, tell [future indicative ereite, used volitionally] him that ..." (NIV).

3. Jesus' ownership, v. 3. NIV renders the middle of v. 3, "the Lord needs them"(for ho kyrios aut©n chreian echei). This is a defensible rendering. However, it ispreferable to translate, "Their Lord has need [of them]"; for the reasons, see Gundry,407-8. As Jesus is Lord of all, he is the supreme and ultimate owner of the motherdonkey and her colt. At the same time, Jesus respects the one who, under his Lordship, isentrusted with the animals' care; cf. Mk 11:3b, "The Lord needs it and will send it backhere shortly."

4. The human response. Jesus' commands are immediately, unquestioningly andcompletely obeyed, both by the animals' owner (v. 3b) and by the disciples (vv. 6-7).


A. The Introduction. 21:4.

"This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet."

1. The placement of the quotation. While vital for understanding the Entryitself, the quotation is placed before the event. The opening "this" of v. 4 directsattention back to Jesus' instructions and shows their relevance for bringing the prophecyto fulfillment.

2. The source of the prophecy. The Word is spoken through (dia) the prophet,so (it is implied) by (hypo) Yahweh. See 1:22.

B. The First OT Passage: Isaiah 62:11.

The larger part of 21:5 is devoted to Zech 9:9. Yet Matthew replaces the opening words

of this verse ("Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!") with Isa 62:11b, "Say to the

Daughter of Zion." The proclamation of Isa 62 is universal in scope (Yahweh "has made

proclamation to the ends of the earth," v. 11a) and saving in character ("See, your Savior

comes!" v. 11c). Gundry suggests that Matthew's replacing Zech 9:9a ("Rejoice") with

Isa 62:11 ("Say"), makes the following quote from Zech "an evangelistic challenge to

unconverted Israel" (p. 408).

C. The Second OT Passage: Zechariah 9:9.

1. The prophecy in its original setting.

a. The preceding context. Following the visions of 1:7-6:15 and theoracles on fasting in 7:1-8:23, 9:1 introduces the third major division of Zech, the"prophetic apocalyptic" of chs. 9-14. 9:1-8 speaks of Yahweh's future judgment upon,and victory over, a host of Gentile nations (such as the Philistines) that formerlyoppressed and disinherited Israel.

b. Verse 9. Responding to the glad tidings of 9:1-8, v. 9 exclaims:

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your kingcomes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt,the foal of a donkey."

Yahweh's coming victory is cause for great joy! "Your king" is the

expected Messianic king of David's line (thus Joyce Baldwin, TOTC, 163), the One by

whom Yahweh conquers the nations.

c. The following context, 9:10. V. 10a reads, "I [Yahweh] will take awaythe chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will bebroken." Yahweh envisages a reunited Israel, whose shalom will forever end thewarfare between Northern Kingdom (Ephraim) and Southern (whose capital wasJerusalem). But the peace of Yahweh's reign is broader still. "He [the Messiah whomYahweh appoints] will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea tosea and from the River [i.e., the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth" (v. 10). The verynations to whom Yahweh announced judgment (vv. 1-8), now hear his proclamation ofpeace! Cf. the sequence in Gen 6-12. This peace is assured "by the righteous king rulingover a world-wide empire" (Baldwin, 166).

2. The prophecy in Mt 21:5: "See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding ona donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

a. The omission. Why does Matthew exclude the words "righteous andhaving salvation"? (1) Matthew obviously believes these words are suitably applied toJesus; fundamental to his Christology is that Jesus is the righteous Savior. (2) But giventhe present rejection of Messiah, especially by the religious leadership in Jerusalem,these words are deliberately omitted (or at most, left to be inferred). Messiah has already(in his prior ministry) offered salvation; Israel will not receive salvation until she is readyto take the offer seriously. Cf. Gundry, 408-9.

b. The animals. The latter part of Zech 9:9 reads, "gentle and riding on adonkey [Hebrew hamor], on a colt ['ayir], the foal [bsn] of a donkey ['atonot, plural of'aton]." How are these words, quoted in Mt 21:5, to be related to Mt 21:2, "adonkey...with her colt by her"?

(i) Zech presents a case of synonymous parallelism; the first donkey is the colt. This is

clear from the Hebrew: the donkey on which the king rides is a hamor, or "male

donkey," identified further as an 'ayir, which also means a "male donkey," and yet

further as bsn, "son." The second donkey is an 'aton, "female donkey," the mother of the

donkey on which the king rides.

(ii) Matthew is sometimes accused of reading Zech 9:9 as though the first donkey

(hamor) and the colt ('ayir) were two different animals. To my mind, this accusation is

misguided, not to say incredible. Unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, we

may assume that Matthew - supremely Matthew - will be responsive to the literary

features of Hebrew poetry. (Here, as a matter of fact, his quotation depends on the

Hebrew where the MT differs from the LXX.) To be sure, there is a notable linguistic

parallel between 21:5 and 21:2. V. 5b reads, "gentle and riding on a donkey [Greek

onon, accusative of onos], on a colt [p©lon, accusative of p©los], the foal [huion, "son"]

of a donkey [hypozygiou, "beast of burden"; the only other NT instance is 2 Pet 2:16,

where it again denotes a donkey - Balaam's]." V. 2b reads, "you will find a donkey

[onon] tied there, with her colt [p©lon] by her." Yet in Greek the masculine forms onos

and p©los served for both male and female animals. Matthew's intention in 21:5 is not to

distinguish the onos from the p©los (he readily recognizes the parallelism and knows that

these are one and the same animal), but to distinguish the onos from the hypozygion (the

Hebrew's distinction between the hamor and the 'aton is reflected in Matthew's change

of nouns).

(iii) Matthew speaks of both the mother donkey and the colt, because Jesus' instructions

embraced both animals. Here, as with the use of Isa 7:14 in ch. 1, Matthew's purpose is

not to make the events of Jesus' life conform to OT prophecy, but rather to examine the

OT in light of the actual events of Jesus' life. That Jesus would instruct the disciples to

bring both the colt and its mother, is quite understandable in view of the fact (reported by

the other Synoptists) that this is a colt "which no one has ever ridden" (Mk 11:2, par. Lk

19:30); see Carson, 438. But it is Jesus' intention to ride upon the colt alone; and it is in

accord with this intention that Matthew quotes Zech 9:9.

(iv) We read in 21:7, "They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them,

and Jesus sat on them." This verse is sometimes taken (in agreement with the view that

Matthew thinks the first donkey and the colt of Zech are different animals) to mean that

Jesus - somehow - sat on both animals. A much simpler, and far more realistic view, is

that Jesus sat on the garments that had been placed on the animals. (The genitive aut©n

applies as easily to saddle garments as to animals.) So also Gundry, 410.

c. The fact of Jesus' kingship. The prophecy's reference to Israel's ("your")king, accords with Mt's portrait of Jesus as "the Messiah, the Son of David" (1:1), the"king of the Jews" (2:2). Messiah's riding on a donkey colt is not a rejection of kingship.As a donkey was a fitting mount for royalty in OT times (Baldwin, 165-66), so it isappropriate for Jesus the King.

d. The character of Jesus' reign. If Jesus was not rejecting kingship assuch, he was just as surely repudiating a certain concept of kingship. For a king leadinga march into war, a horse would be the right mount. But for a king embarking on amission of peace, a lowly beast of burden was the eminently correct choice; cf. Baldwin,166.

e. The extent of Jesus' reign. Zech 9:9 was directed to Israel, represented(in Hebrew idiom) as "the Daughter of Zion" and "the Daughter of Jerusalem."Correspondingly, Jesus' offer of peace is directed first to Israel (cf. above comments onZech 9:10a). Jesus the Messiah offers Israel her only hope of shalom (Mt 10:13), of rest(11:28-30), and of security (23:37). But here, as in Zech 9:10b, Yahweh's proclamationof peace extends beyond the borders of Israel to embrace the Gentile nations. Thequotation of Mt 21:5 does not extend through Zech 9:10. Yet such is the thrust of Mtfrom the opening chapter, that we are meant (I am convinced) to read Zech 9:9 as apointer to the following verse. Jesus the Messiah of Israel has assuredly come to"proclaim peace to the nations" (Zech 9:10; LXX, ethn©n, as in Mt 28:19). Followingthe account of the Entry in Jn 12, the Pharisees exclaim, "Look how the whole world[kosmos] has gone after him" (12:19b). Then "certain Greeks" seek an audience withJesus (v. 20); soon afterwards he declares, "I will draw all men to myself" (12:32).


A. The Crowd's Visible Homage. 21:8.

1. The cloaks. Both the garments on which Jesus sits and those which the crowdspread on the road (the word himatia is used in both vv. 7 and 8), signal his royalty.

2. The branches. Jn 12:13 identifies them as palm branches. Some argue thatthese are signs of Jewish nationalism (see R. E. Brown, John, 1: 461), here expressive of

the hope that Jesus will fulfill their expectations. We are (I believe) on firmer ground if

we associate the branches with the following quotation from Ps 118:26. 118:27 reads,

"With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar" (but see

NIV mg., where "ropes" replaces "boughs"). On the pilgrims' use of Ps 118, see further


B. The Crowd's Verbal Homage. 21:9.

1. The use of Ps 118. The crowd voices its jubilation in words drawn from Ps118:25-26. This in turn makes it probable (as just suggested) that the crowd's use ofbranches is traceable to 118:27. That a Jewish crowd should shout the words of thisPsalm on this occasion (a fact recorded in all four Gospels), is not in the least surprising.For 118 is the concluding Psalm of the "Egyptian Hallel" (Pss 113-118), a series sung atPassover season in celebration of Yahweh's victory at the Exodus and in anticipation ofother victories yet to come. Note further:

a. The Hebrew hallel means "praise." Cf. the exclamation hallelu Yah,"Praise Yah[weh]!" (hallelu is a Piel imperative of the verb hll).

b. Concerning the "Egyptian Hallel" Derek Kidner writes: "Only thesecond of them (114) speaks directly of the Exodus, but the theme of raising thedowntrodden (113) and the note of corporate praise (115), personal thanksgiving (116),world vision (117) and festal procession (118) make it an appropriate series to mark thesalvation which began in Egypt and will spread to the nations" (Psalms, 401).

c. It was customary for Pss 113 and 114 to be sung before the Passovermeal, and 115-118 afterwards. Cf. Mt 26:30a.

2. The original meaning of Ps 118:25-27. The Psalm speaks of a festalprocession to the Temple as part of the Passover celebration. During the procession thepilgrims praise Yahweh for his great saving acts on their behalf, vv. 1-18. The worship isclimaxed with the throng's arrival at the temple, vv. 19-29. Having entered the templegates (vv. 19-20), the pilgrims continue to thank Yahweh for restoring and exalting hisdowntrodden people (vv. 21-24, 28-29), and implore him to rescue them from presentperils (v. 25, "O LORD, save us [hoshiana, transliterated into the Greek h©sanna]...").

In turn, the temple priests (i) give their blessing to the Davidic king who leads the

procession ("Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD...," v. 26a) and to all

who accompany him ("From the house of the LORD we bless you," v. 26b, where "you"

is plural); and (ii) summon the throng to their appointed goal ("With boughs in hand, join

in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar," v. 27b).

3. The present meaning of Psalm 118:25-27.

a. Signs of continuity. Here too the procession ends at the temple (21:12);also, the crowd identifies Jesus as Yahweh's representative ("Blessed is he who comes inthe name of the Lord!" v. 9b) and as the heir of David's crown ("Hosanna to the Son ofDavid!" v. 9a). V. 9c, "Hosanna in the highest!," speaks of heavenly jubilation answeringto human jubilation on earth (cf. Ps 148:1; Gundry, 411).

b. Signs of deeper understanding. Matthew employs the shouts of thecrowd in the service of his theology, and gives their words a far deeper meaning than thecrowd intended. Ps 118 itself now comes to a deeper level of realization than waspossible within its original context (cf. comments on plsro©, "fulfill," in 1:22). Readingthe present passage in light of Mt as a whole, we may draw the following conclusions:

(i) The crowd rightly declares Jesus to be "the Son of David" (v. 9a; cf. 1:1); they rightly

identify him as the One "who comes in the name of the Lord" (v. 9b; cf. 11:3). Yet we

may be sure that the crowd's concept of Davidic Messiahship is vastly different from that

of Jesus. He has come as the Servant Messiah (3:17; 20:28), not as the Warrior Messiah

- or at least he has not come to wage his war in the manner envisaged by the crowd ("He

will be victor and victim in all his wars, and will make his triumph in defeat," wrote

Dorothy L. Sayers). The deficiency of the crowd's awareness is confirmed in v. 11, "This

is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee," words closer to 16:14 than to 16:16 (pace

Gundry, 411, who sees the crowd here as "disciples representing the worldwide church to


(ii) The Son of David who comes in Yahweh's name is also Yahweh himself. This is an

aspect of Truth not fully revealed with the writing of Ps 118. That Psalm bears witness to

the (true) distinction between the Messiah and God. What was not fully revealed until

the Incarnation, was Messiah's deity (cf. comments on 16:16). It is now disclosed that

there is both a distinction of person between Father and Son, and also an identity of

character (as in Jn 1:1). The name "Yahweh" rightly applies to both.

(iii) God is about to give his supreme answer to the perennial cry "Hosanna." Jesus has

come "to save his people from their sins" (1:21) by giving his life as a ransom for the

many (20:28). By Jesus' day the utterance's original meaning "Save now!" had changed

(we might almost say "degenerated") into an exclamation of praise (cf. the shift from

"God, save the king!" to "God save the king!"; and Gundry, 411). Were Israel aware of

her true condition - both politically and (especially) spiritually - she would have more

readily reverted to the original intention of "Hosanna."

(iv) Thus, despite the genuine excitement that attends Jesus' entry (v. 10), the crowd still

shows itself to be lacking in the spiritual insight needed for rightly understanding

Messiah's person and work. Yet among those to whom this insight has been given

(13:11), there is cause for the greatest possible jubilation. For Christian believers who

look back on the great eschatological Exodus, who praise God for his great victory over

Sin and Death in the Cross of His Son, who on that basis repeatedly approach the place of

worship and celebrate the Passover of the New Age (26:26-28), Ps 118 still provides a

marvellous vehicle for praise. But as for the original pilgrims, the Psalm is still more

than a song of thanksgiving. It is also a means of our shouting "O LORD, save us!" - to

implore Him to complete his saving work and to bring his kingdom to full realization

(6:10) - to hasten the day when the Savior will come again (23:39).

C. The Intention of Jesus.

1. Jesus and prophecy. We now reach the conclusion to which the wholeforegoing discussion has led, namely that Jesus the Messiah enters Jerusalem inconscious and deliberate fulfillment of Zech 9 and Ps 118. Matthew's theologicaldeclarations rest upon Jesus' own "acted quotation" of OT prophecy (the quoted phrasecomes from R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 205; see ibid., 188-89, and hiswhole discussion of "the originality and influence of Jesus' use of the OT," 172-226).

2. Jesus and Passover. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Sunday, the 10th of Nisan -just four days before the preparations for the Passover Meal (see Appendix B.). TheMosaic Law required (1) that Passover (or "the Feast of Unleavened Bread") becelebrated in Jerusalem, (2) that every Jewish male participate in the festival every year,and (3) that each worshipper come prepared to offer animal sacrifice (Deut 16:1-8,16-17). Thus in coming to Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus acts in obedience to therequirement of God's Law for Jewish males. He had done so twice before during hisministry: see Jn 2:13; 5:1, together with 6:4 (and Leon Morris, John, 299). Jesus alsocomes (in keeping with the law) to offer sacrifice - not an animal (which would notsuffice for the purpose, as Heb 10:1-10 explains) but himself (Mt 20:28). In obedience tohis mission, Jesus would die as the supreme - and the final - Passover sacrifice (Mt26:17-30; 1 Cor 5:7).