Session #125 Peace Please
Scripture Matthew 21:1-11
Summary What is peace to you? What would you do for peace? Matthew 21:1-11 describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem amidst the festivities and celebration of the Passover season, At first glance, hardly a picture of peace. A deeper dive into the fulfilment of two OT passages will reveal the answer to the cry of every heart: Peace, please.
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Hosanna in the highest!”
And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
All around us, we see brokenness, hurt, anxiety, chaos, pain, depression, death. In relationships, so many arguments, quarrels, opposition, fights, divorces. Across the nations, inequality, oppression, protests, conflicts, wars! How can we have some peace? What does peace look like to you? What’s your picture of peace?
Everyone wants peace but in their own ways, on their own terms. The Jews expected the Messiah to declare war and overthrow the Romans and bring deliverance and salvation and then there will be peace. To the Romans, they were already providing and keeping the peace through oppression and control. The Jews just have to submit and obey for peace and not having another king. The religious leaders do not want to upset the peace they were having by cooperating with the authorities, compromising a little and doing what they say for the sake of peace and they will accept the Messiah if He does not upset this peace.
Everyone wants peace. What would you do for peace? If peace looks like this to you, our passage will present a rather puzzling picture of peace. We begin by setting the stage for Matthew 21:1-11. We have come to the part of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus makes His appearance in Jerusalem. We notice that this is the first mention of Jesus in Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel. It is not that Jesus never went to Jerusalem. Matthew had arranged and structured the material to build up to this point. The first twenty chapters have taken us from Bethlehem to Jericho over more than thirty years. In these last eight chapters, it covers the final week of Jesus’ life. Matthew 21 is really the beginning of the end; the final countdown.
We have travelled with Jesus and His entourage all the way from the north and this is the final leg, from Jericho to Jerusalem, a seventeen-mile Roman road. Who were following Jesus besides His twelve disciples as they came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives? There were a multitude of disciples (Luke 19:37), others that gathered and tagged along Jesus’ Perean Ministry, and those going to Jerusalem for Passover. These do not include the people of Jerusalem, the religious leaders and the Romans that will meet Jesus later in the passage.
Matthew 21:1-11 can be a puzzling picture if we do not understand Matthew’s intent. We can be easily distracted by the donkey(s), the waving of palm leaves and the excitement of the crowds; and miss what Matthew is trying to convey. Matthew provides two pivotal pieces in this puzzling picture that point to peace, to the One who is the Prince of Peace, who comes in peace, to bring peace. The gospel of Matthew is primarily Christological, to declare Jesus as the Messiah and the King, and His kingdom. Not surprisingly, both pieces are prophetic fulfilments from the Hebrew scriptures. There are more than 60 Old Testament references in Matthew’s gospel. This is especially important and critical to Jewish audience who were looking to the fulfillment of these prophecies. Matthew is saying Jesus is the ONE, the Messiah, the King who is to come!
Let’s consider the pieces of this peace puzzle together.
Piece #1: Donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
Matthew 21:1-3 records Jesus’ instruction to two disciples to bring Him the donkeys. This seems to suggest just taking the animals at will without due regard to the owner or anyone else. In fact, in Luke 19:33, the owners did ask the disciples: “Why are you loosing the colt?” Whether or not the owners were disciples, they must have heard of Jesus, and Jesus foreknew their response; to which the disciples replied, “The Lord has need of them.”
In those days, the Lord could mean one of two things – a teacher or a ruler. Jewish teachers could borrow animals among those who respected them. Rulers could impress animals i.e. ask for things because of their status. Jesus, being King, has the right to ask for things that He needs. Matthew is not so much making a statement about possessions here as one about Christ. Jesus, as the rightful King, has the right to anything in creation. Do not get lost in these minute points and miss the main detail. Matthew explains why Jesus asked for the animals by quoting Zechariah 9:9 in Matthew 21:4-6.
Matthew mentions two animals, while in Zechariah, it seems to indicate only one animal. Mark records that this colt has never been ridden upon before (Mark 11:2). Such a colt might require the mother’s presence to keep it calm amid shouting crowds, and hence it is natural to have two animals. Recalling Matthew’s use of doubling as a witness in Matthew 8:28 (two demoniacs) and Matthew 9:27 and 20:30 (two blind men), he may be using two animals here to make another statement.
What is the significance of Zechariah 9:9? Zechariah prophesied to post-exilic Israel which is without a king or even a kingdom. In fact, Israel has seen many failed kings and God promises in Zechariah that He will send a king to them and they will recognise Him as He will enter Jerusalem on a colt. He will be humble, meek and lowly, sitting on a baby donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace, a proclamation of peace and an offer of peace. In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses if they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. Jesus rode in on a donkey in peace, to offer peace. When He returns in Revelations 19:11-16, He will be on a white horse, to make war with those who reject His offer of peace.
However, this picture of peace is not immediately apparent from just Zechariah 9:9. The next verse in Zechariah 9:10 makes it clearer and the Jews would know this. In Zechariah 9:10, the statements “I will cut off the chariot…And the horses…the battle bow shall be cut off…” indicate that there will not be a need for the main vehicle of war, horses used in war and bows or arrows for fighting. Further the verse ends with “He shall speak peace to the nations” and also a quote from Psalm 72:8 (He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth); indicating that His message will be one of restoration and reconciliation.
This peace is not just the absence of war but restoration of complete wholeness based on righteousness. Wars and fights are usually the result of unrighteousness from power hungry people who want more land, more resources and selfish people who care only about themselves in relationships (James 4:1-3). There can be no peace without righteousness (Psalm 72:7, Psalm 85:10, Isaiah 32:17).
Since there is none righteous, we all need to be saved from unrighteousness that we can have peace. Jesus came for this purpose, to restore the peace between God and Man. At His birth, the angels declared “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). How do we please God as we are unrighteous and only God is righteous? It is by faith as it is accounted to all who believe as righteousness. Believing in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brings one into a right relationship with God so that we can be at peace with God. Further, Jesus also came to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles, across all nations and people. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile as we are all people of God, no longer a wall of division between people groups (Ephesians 2:14-15) but total restoration and reconciliation. Only in Christ can we have hope of world peace.
The donkey is a picture of peace, pointing to Jesus as the prophesied Prince of Peace. But can’t anyone claim that he is the messiah by just riding in on a donkey? Hence, in Matthean fashion, he provides two prophecies as a witness; introducing first the donkey, and next, the deliverer.
Piece #2: Deliverer (Psalm 118:25-26)
In Matthew 21:9: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!”; Matthew quotes from Psalm 118:25-26. Psalm 118 is part of the Hallel (praise) psalms sung during Passover season and this feast sets the tone and context to understand this second piece. The Passover is a remembrance feast of Israel’s past deliverance from Egypt. It also brings a hope of deliverance from present powers and oppression Later, Jewish thinkers saw this as a future redemption that was prefigured in this Passover. Jewish tradition sometimes apply Psalm 118 as an acclamation for the coming king
With this as the background, we can see the thoughts and the ideas that might be in the hearts and the minds of the people. When they declared the words of Psalm 118, it was an appeal for deliverance, an acknowledgement of the deliverer and an announcement of the arrival of the deliverer (Matthew 21:9).The crowds cast their clothes before Jesus as an acclamation of their deliverer. The arrival of a prophet from Galilee that was already associated with messianic acts (Matthew 14:19–20) would have fueled the expectation of the imminent restoration of the Davidic kingdom. In the account in Mark 11:9-10, Mark added: “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David”.
Would this be a peaceful passover or a Christological coup? Hopes for redemption ran high in the crowded fervor of Jerusalem near Passover, requiring the Roman governor to increase security during this time. It must have been totally puzzling to the Romans, whether Jesus is the Christ and if He is really coming in peace as He is on a donkey and not a horse and there were no swords but only branches-specifically palm branches as described in John 12:12-13.
What is the significance of the palm branches? Some likely brought them from Jericho, the city of palms. Why did they use palm branches which is more appropriate for the feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40)? A brief understanding of the Maccabean revolt would be helpful. When the Jews were under Greek rule, Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the holy temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews.
When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the Greek official. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BC the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation. The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for “hammer,” because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. In 164 BC, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah, an eight-day festival of rededication or festival of lights. It was recorded in 2 Macabees 10:1-8, that they celebrated in the manner of tabernacles, waving beautiful branches and also fronds of palm. The palm branches were symbolic of the Maccabean triumph. While Jesus riding on a donkey signified peace, the multitude’s use of palm branches, an allusion to the Maccabean triumphs, implied that they still saw Him in more revolutionary messianic terms.
How will the Deliverer deliver and the Saviour save? This is totally puzzling to the people, the religious leaders and the Romans. Jesus will be the King who delivers and saves but not from Roman occupation but from sins (Matthew 1:21, John 1:29). In the broader context of Psalm 118:22-24 and Matthew 21:24, He will also be the stone that the builders reject and that day of rejection will become the day of salvation and we can declare that ‘this is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ However, the crowds would not have known or understood that at that point and not even the disciples (John 12:16) although Jesus told them about His death already.
The Prince of Peace (Zechariah 9:9-10, Psalm 118:25-26)
The two pivotal pieces in this puzzling picture point to peace, to the one who is the Prince of Peace who comes in peace to bring peace. When we put these pieces together, they present the main point of this passage.
Matthew closes this passage (Matthew 21:1-11) with a question on everyone’s mind: “Who is this?” This is Matthew’s intent again-a Christological question. The whole passage is meant to answer this question: This is Jesus but who is this Jesus? Word of Jesus had been going around. Was He famous or infamous? Was He the real deal? What might be going on in the minds of those in Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the capital while Nazareth, Galilee has a bad reputation (John 1:46). There is a divide between the rural and urban people, looking down on the peasants and villagers with Jesus. This is not unlike what we experience today as we often compare the educated versus the uneducated, the qualified professional versus the untrained, the ordained clergy versus the uninformed laity, the experts versus the nobodies, within the temple (church) versus beyond the temple (church).
When Jesus was born, Herod and all Jerusalem was troubled (Matthew 2:3) and when Jesus entered Jerusalem, all the city of Jerusalem was moved (Matthew 21:10). The Greek word to describe ‘move’ is to agitate, to shake with the idea of shock, to quake, cause to tremble with fear. All Jerusalem (the crowd, the religious leader, the Romans) were quaking, wondering what was going to happen. This is such an irony as the Prince of Peace comes in peace to offer peace to Jerusalem, the city of peace. This should be the effect of Jesus and His kingdom. We should all be utterly moved and shaken by Jesus. The King and His kingdom should shake us to the core and cause us to ask the questions: Who is Jesus?, Who is He to me, What does He want with me?, Why should I believe Him? Why should I let Him rule and reign in my life? What if I don’t? What if I do not want His rule and reign? What if He threatens my status quo? Would I reject Him, remove Him? That is what the Pharisees did. God will shake whatever can be shaken, so that whatever remains will be truly that of the King and His kingdom.
This is Matthew’s main Christological point. All the fulfillment of the Old Testament points to Jesus. In this passage, Matthew is pointing to the people of Jerusalem and to us that Jesus is the King, Hosanna to the Son of David (Matthew 21:9); quoted in Matthew 1:1, the Messianic line and title to introduce Jesus. Jesus is also the Prophet of all prophets, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee (Matthew 21:11); a prophet like Moses that was promised by God (Deuteronomy 18:18-19, Matthew 2:22-23) . Finally, Jesus is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness and King of Peace (Salem) is the theophany of Jesus Christ. Abraham, the father of all nations, gave a tenth of all, to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:2). Jesus is the King, the Prophet and the High Priest.
I started out by saying that Matthew 21:1-11 can be a puzzling picture of peace if we are distracted by the noise and commotion of the event. However, when we put the pieces of Zechariah 9:9-10 and Psalm 118:25-26 together, this passage clearly presents a picture of peace, of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who comes in peace, to bring peace, as He enters Jerusalem, the City of Peace.
Peace Please? Do you desire peace? Peace cannot be achieved through unrighteous ways, according to our own selfish terms. Peace is only possible with righteousness in the ways of God and His kingdom. Jesus, the King of Righteousness, comes with an offer of peace.
He wants to deliver and save us into the peace and shalom of His kingdom. He offers all, peace with God, peace with one another and peace across all nations. He offers all His rule and reign of His peace in our hearts, that we can experience the fullness and wholeness of the shalom of God.
Sadly, Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and even the Jerusalem crowd and the Romans because they wanted peace according to their own terms. This is what we will see unfold through the next passages and chapters of Matthew. One day, Jesus will return to deal with those who have rejected His offer of peace. On that day, He will come on a white horse, not a donkey, to make war against His enemies – those who have rejected His gracious offer of peace. When that is done, all of us will be in the shalom of His kingdom around His throne and we will wave, honour and worship Him in palm branches as the redeemed.