Matthew 21 has been called the beginning of the end—the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Here’s how Matthew 21 shows us that Jesus is the long-awaited King. There are three testimonials.
First, we have the testimony of Jesus himself.
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”
During the Passover week, the population in Jerusalem would swell to 3 to 4 million people. It would have been an amazing sight—to see the number of religious pilgrims flooding into the city.
But Jesus and his closest disciples would have only made up 13-people. In a crowd of 3- to 4-million people, by themselves they likely wouldn’t even have been noticed at all. But Jesus does something unusual. He does something that he’s never done before. Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead to fetch a donkey so that he can ride into the city on a donkey.
But they’re not fetching the donkey because Jesus is tired of walking. Everywhere he’s gone in his earthly ministry, he’s walked. The average person didn’t ride an animal. That was reserved for rich people, or for people who couldn’t walk for themselves—like Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus.
Jesus is asking for the donkey because he’s wanting to make a statement. He wants to stand out. He wants people to notice him—but not in a prideful kind of way. He’s making a statement about who he is. He’s wanting the people to see that he’s the king that they’ve been waiting for, but at the same time he’s going to show them that he’s not the king that they think they’ve been waiting for.
Jesus is going to ride into town on a donkey, not on a warhorse. Jesus is going to come into town humbly. He’s going to come into town as someone who wants to save his people. But he’s not going to save them in the way they think they need saving. They think their coming King is going to drive the Romans out of the land. They think their coming King is going rule with force. But that’s not who Jesus is. Jesus is a servant King. He’s a savior King. He’s a humble King. He’s a gentle King.
So, Jesus sends for a donkey. This is the first testimony that this Jesus is indeed the long-awaited King.
The second testimony is the testimony of scripture. In verse 5, Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. He quotes from Zechariah 9:9. Time won’t permit us to look at every verse in Zechariah’s prophecy, but I do want to focus on one quick idea in Zechariah’s prophesy.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
“Behold, your king is coming to you.” The clear promise of scripture here is that a king is coming. That Matthew, who is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would use this passage in the context of Jesus coming into Jerusalem tells us that Jesus is this King.
This isn’t Jesus making a big deal of himself. This is the testimony of scripture. Jesus is the long-awaited King.
Third, we have the testimony of the people.
7 They [that’s the two disciples] They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. [i.e., he sat on the cloaks—he didn’t straddle both donkeys] 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
A close reading of this passage shows us that there are three groups of people here. First, there are the two disciples in verse 7. Those two are the ones who return with the donkeys and they put their cloaks on the donkeys.
Second, there’s the crowd that’s singing “Hosanna.” They’re described in verses 8 and 9 and 11.
And third, there’s the crowd in Jerusalem. They’re the ones who don’t know what to make of Jesus. This group is described in verse 10.
What typically happens when we read this passage is this. We typically conflate the second and the third group, and then we talk about how fickle the crowd is. We’ll say things like, “The same crowd that was singing his praises just a few days prior is now crying out for Jesus to be crucified.”
But that’s missing the point of what’s happening here. This second crowd, who are singing his praises, are some of the fellow pilgrims making their way into the city. They’re the ones, according to John’s Gospel, who were with Jesus when Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb.
The third group, on the other hand, the crowd in Jerusalem, are likely Jerusalem natives. According to Luke’s Gospel and John’s Gospel, they’re likely a part of the Pharisees.
Here’s the point. Different people respond in different ways to Jesus.
Some, who are familiar with the work that he’s done, see Jesus for who he really is, and as a result, they respond with praise and enthusiasm. They recognize him as the Son of David. They recognize him as the promised Davidic King. And they give everything to follow Jesus. These are pilgrims on a journey, and they give their very cloaks to honor their King. The cloak would have been the most valuable possession these pilgrims had with them.
And then there are those who are happy with the status quo. They don’t want things to change. They’re happy with their positions of power, and they don’t want to give that up even if it means finding the Messiah. They’re the ones who react with scorn. “Who is this?” “Who does this person think he is?”
And the crowd that had been praising Jesus all along, they respond with these words, “He’s a prophet. That’s who he is. He’s a prophet.”
But please don’t underestimate their response. We may think that this second group got it wrong. Or at least we may want to tell them that they don’t have it all the way right. But what they’ve said is profound. They’re response that Jesus is prophet is a profound response. The Jewish people had been looking for a prophet ever since Moses. Moses promised the people that God would one day send another prophet to them.
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Friends, Jesus is that prophet. Jesus is that long-awaited prophet. According to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the better Moses. Jesus is greater than Moses (Heb 3).
Listen to the testimony of scripture. This is Hebrews 3.
1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses.
There were two testimonies given by the people. One was a testimony of faithfulness and belief. The other was a testimony of faithlessness and unbelief. Which testimony will you give Jesus today?