Messiah on the Way: A New Prophet Arrives in Jerusalem According to Matthew’s Interpretation

We have 4 records of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Each with a unique perspective, adding and removing details to craft the story within their narrative.

The same is true with Matthew’s retelling of Palm Sunday.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus fulfills prophecy by arriving in Jerusalem riding a colt with his mother. A prophecy presenting Jesus as Israel’s gentle king, the son of David. The crowd petitions for salvation, but the people of Jerusalem are puzzled, asking who is this.

Of all the records of Jesus entering Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, Matthew’s version follows Mark’s narrative the closest, with the exception of the inclusion of prophecy.

A common feature and understanding of Matthew. That Jesus’ ministry and life is the fulfillment of prophecy.

The close association with the gospel of Mark fits well with the theory that Mark is the oldest gospel, with Matthew and Luke working from it.

But it is possible that the reverse is true, that the close association occurred because Matthew, an eyewitness and original publisher of whom Mark simplified his version.

Similarities Shared between the Gospel of Mathew and the other Gospels?

First, there are similarities between Matthew’s account and the other gospels.

All four gospels mention Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, which is also known as the “Triumphal Entry”. This event is unique in itself. The feeding of the 5,000 and the cleansing of the temple are two other events reported by all four Gospels. These events mark significant moments in Jesus’ life and ministry, particularly his arrival in Jerusalem, which led to his ultimate rejection.

Matthew, Mark and Luke

All four gospels agree that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he mounted a colt and rode it while the crowd excitedly welcomed him. We have a few more shared reports if we focus on the synoptic gospel.

Jesus asked two of his disciples to go ahead of them and bring a colt back from the village ahead. Mark and Luke include two villages, Bethany and Bethphage, but Matthew narrows it down to only Bethphage.

The disciples find the donkey and tell the people watching it, “The Lord needs it.” After the disciples returned and placed their cloaks on the donkey, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with the crowd excitedly welcoming him by laying their cloaks on the ground while shouting.

Matthew and the others, except Luke, tell us that they cut branches, laying them in front of Jesus as he rides on the road.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus heads straight to the temple.

Now, let’s look at what Matthew uniquely tells about Jesus’ symbolic entrance into the temple.

Differences in the Gospel of Matthew and the Other Reports

Matthew shares much with the other 3 gospels; you could probably create Matthew by compiling the information from the others.

Matthew follows Mark’s account, the closest of the 3, except with the addition of Jesus’ fulfilling prophecy.

John includes this same prophecy in a much similar version.

Luke’s report is a more joyous event until Jesus sees Jerusalem and prophecies against it.

But there are 4 significant differences.

Donkey and colt

All the accounts have Jesus riding a colt.

Matthew shares with Mark and Luke having Jesus sending 2 disciples to retrieve it. The difference is Matthew has them picking up the colt and its mother.

Donkey with its Colt

This is followed by an awkward scene of Jesus riding both the donkey and the colts into Jerusalem. There have been many explanations and much ink spilled over this, explaining it away or mocking the hilariousness of the event. And poor Matthew’s poor understanding of Hebrew prose.

If you want to delve into the whole donkey debate, The Mystery of Jesus Riding Donkey(s).

But for here, know that Matthew has two beast of burden not one like the other sources.

Fulfilling Prophecy

A common element of the gospel of Matthew is fulfillment of prophecy. The triumphant entrance is not different.

Recalling the writing of Zechariah from 520-470 BCE, Matthew cites it as the reason that Jesus rides into Jerusalem.

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zachariah 9:9

The Hebrew style of repeating lines with slightly different words, donkey, colt is often cited as the reason Jesus rides two donkeys, not one in Matthew.

But the important part is that Jesus is fulfilling the messianic predictions. He is the king of Israel and Zion, Jerusalem welcomed him.

Star of David

Son of David

A twist to the retelling of Mark’s triumphant entrance is the crowd’s cry.

With a shift from the kingdom to the person.

The opening line is directed towards the “son of David.”

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Were Mark is an open-ended Hosanna, a transliteration of the Hebrew, please save.

Matthew has the crowd appealing to the “son of David”, who is believed to be the coming Messiah.

That they are crying out for Jesus to save them.

Followed by a blessing of this savior.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

John also quotes the same line here, but Mark remembered it as a blessing for the broader “kingdom of David.” Matthew the Messiah.

Jerusalem’s Response

A response by the population of Jerusalem is only recorded in Matthew.

Alluding, if not directly pointing out, that the “crowd” was most likely fellow pilgrims. Making it a smaller event then we often picture it.

They do not join in but question “Who is this?”

Crowd

Interestingly, is the response. They do not say he is the messiah long ago promised. But

“This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:11

I am going to assume this is the general population’s understanding. He who rides into Jerusalem is a prophet. A prophet from a small town of Nazareth in Galilee.

It feels a little anti-climactic but is probably the most accurate assessment of who he was.

Matthew’s Additions that Improve The Story

When we often retell stories from the gospels, unwittingly blending elements from each.

Here are a few elements that Matthew adds to the story that I believe improve the overall story and help us better understand what happened. If we didn’t have Matthew, the picture wouldn’t be complete. History would be less accurate.

Bethphage

Were the rest have Jesus approaching Bethany and Bethphage, Matthew only has Bethphage. Answering which village they were approaching, when Jesus sent the two ahead to get the donkey.

Clarifying the story.

Messianic Prophecy

Placing Jesus within the grand narrative of God’s story is tricky. To understand his actions and mission and how that fits in.

Matthew makes this easier by bringing in ancient prophecies that Jesus “fulfills.” Showing Jesus not as a renegade but as part of God’s plan.

Interestingly, John, considered independent in source and dated much later than Matthew, includes Zechariah 9:9. I guess he also saw its importance.

Interestingly, John portrays the disciples as not comprehending the event’s significance at the time.

Maybe we are all in that boat.

Resources

  • https://www.featheredprop.com/theological-works/a-critical-study-of-questions-regarding-luke-1928-44/
  • https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/matthew-21.html
  • https://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2021/09/03/commentary-on-matthew-211-11/

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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