Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

158. The Triumphal Entry and the Old Testament

Few incidents in the New Testament have such a wealth of Old Testament associations as the Lord's entry into Jerusalem. The commentary of Law, Psalms and Prophets on this remarkable episode is rich and varied in its scope. In an attempt to illustrate (and elucidate) this feature of the record it is not possible to do more than pull together a sequence of brief disjointed paragraphs, leaving not a few blanks still to be filled in.

Central to the entire operation is the familiar Scripture from Zechariah 9:9, quoted in part by both Matthew and John, and with subtle variations from the original text. One of the omissions—the A.V. phrase: "having salvation'—may seem strange, since it was for this purpose that Jesus had made his journey to Jerusalem. But the Hebrew verb (in Niphal) really means "having been saved" (the AV mg, would require Hithpael). The reason for the omission is now obvious: "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" (1 Jn.4 :2). The phrase in Zechariah would only be appropriate after the Lord was risen from the dead. So the Triumphal Entry was really only a "dress-rehearsal" for the real thing which is yet to come. Then, "by the blood of his covenant the prisoners will be sent forth out of the pit wherein is no water" (v.10). Then, he will "speak peace unto the nations (another keyword in the Triumphal Entry; Lk.19 :37,41), and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River even to the ends of the earth." Yet even in the first century this part of the prophecy had its primary fulfilment in the preaching of the gospel of peace to the Gentiles.

Verse 8 is also marvellously appropriate: "And I will encamp for the sake of thine house as a garrison (or, because of the image of false worship) that none pass through or return; and no exactor shall pass through them any more: for now I have seen with mine eyes." Is this the lord's inspection of the temple (Mk.ll :11), and his purging of its abuses (11 :15), and his forbidding of traffic across the temple court (11 :16)?

John's gospel (12 : 16) declares specifically that at the time the disciples did not understand the relevance of this Old Testament prophecy to their Lord's unusual action, "but when Christ was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him." So this commentary is a typical and important example of the Holy Spirit "bringing all things to their remembrance" and "guiding them into all truth" (Jn.l4:26; 16:13).

The days are yet to come when this prophecy will find further fulfilment, much more vivid than its prototype, for its true reference is to the Second Coming.
It can hardly be accident that in both John and Matthew the opening phrase of Zechariah 9 :9: "Rejoice greatly," is changed. The Galileans did rejoice greatly, because they thought they were about to witness the ultimate fulfilment of all their great Messianic aspirations. But the "daughter of Zion" did not share the rejoicing then. In the city there was either cynical indifference or open hostility. So, guided by the Spirit of truth, Matthew has written: "Tell ye ... ," and this the excited disciples did. But John has substituted: "Fear not, daughter of Zion." How ironically apt was this change, for the rulers of Jerusalem were shaking in their shoes. But this modified quote was also intended to recall the similar scripture in Zephaniah 3 :14-18 where once again a prophecy of Messiah's kingdom has many expressions singularly appropriate to the present occasion. "The Lord hath cast out thine enemy (this is the cleansing of the temple): The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee (the cry of those lining the road) ... In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear not .. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty .. . Behold, at that time I will deal with all them that afflict thee (the cleansing of the temple): and I will save (this is the name Jesus) her that halteth (the healing of the lame in the temple: Mt.21 :14)." The LXX of this passage has two allusions to the Feast, the solemn assembly (the Passover was just coming on).

There is much more fascinating detail, especially in LXX, in the earlier section of this prophecy (3:8-13).
But Matthew's quote of the Zechariah prophecy is introduced differently: "Tell ye the daughter of Zion .. ."This is Isaiah 62 :11, which continues thus: "Behold, thy salvation (Jesus) cometh;" and the immediate context is: "Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people." All this is remarkably appropriate to Christ's Triumphal Entry.
The synoptic gospels are all careful to mention that the Lord made his approach to the city via the Mount of Olives—this, surely, in anticipation of the familiar prophecy of the Last Days: "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives" (Zech.14 :4). Also, Ezekiel foretold that the Glory of the Lord which moved from the temple to the Mount of Olives, and thence departed, would also return by the same route (Ez.10:4,19; 11 :23;43:2,4).
When the disciples put their garments for Jesus to sit on as he rode the ass, there was deliberate imitation of the coronation of Jehu: "They hasted, and took every man his garment, and put it under him" (2 Kgs.9 :15). Forgetting that Zechariah describes the coming king as "lowly", they were inviting Jesus to be a ruthless destroying Jehu.
When the people saw Jesus riding into the city on an ass, how many of them recalled that the very Scripture which lays down how Passover shall be observed also pauses to assert that the Lamb redeems the ass (Ex.13 :13)? One of the early fathers, with a nice insight into Old Testament prophecy, went so far as to assert dogmatically that when the disciples went for the ass and colt, they found them, tethered to a vine (Gen.49:11)
The shout of the multitude: "Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the lord," was conscious appropriation of another familiar Messianic prophecy (Ps.118 :25,26); and the proceeding verse describes the intense but mistaken rejoicing of the multitude (Lk.19:37). It is not within the scope of this study to explore all the Messianic foreshadowings of this psalm. But some of them have a close bearing on the Triumphal Entry; e.g. "Open to me the gates of righteousness ... this gate of the Lord into which the righteous shall enter" (v. 19,20) anticipates the Lord's inspection of the temple. And in verse 27, where the A.V. has "bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar"(words appropriate enough to the Lord's final visit to Jerusalem), the LXX has "celebrate the feast (Passover) with garlands (or, branches)," which is precisely what the people did. And the Greek text of verse 28: "thou art my God, I will exalt thee," is very close to the cry of the crowd: "Glory to God in the highest." Normally the psalm was used at the climax of the Feast of Tabernacles. That the people, in both word and action, should deem it suitable now shows that they thought Messiah's kingdom, foreshadowed by that feast, was about to be set up.
There is yet another dramatic irony about that "Hosanna" cry (which Hebrew word actually comes from the same root as the name Jesus), because it probably reminded the Son of, sick at heart, of a very different Hosanna, in a psalm of suffering which on two other occasions he was to apply to himself: "Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies sake" (Ps.6:4;Jn.l2 :27; Mt.26:38).
Can there be any doubt that the Lord's action this day was intended to set the people and rulers thinking about Jeremiah's solemn words: "If ye do this thing indeed, then there shall enter in by the gates of this house (the temple?) kings (probably an intensive plural, meaning a great King!) sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses (the cherubim?), he and his servants, and his people. But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord (thus putting the Promise to Abraham in reverse; Gen.22 :16), that this house shall become a desolation" (22 :4). Compare also Jeremiah 17 :24-27.
"If these should hold their peace, the Stones would immediately cry out." The Lord's allusion to Habakkuk 2:11 is surely one of the most puzzling Bible references ever made: "The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." The primary reference of these words to a prophetic rebuke of the oppressor's ruthlessness (if indeed that is the idea) is left far behind. Did Jesus envisage the very stones of the temple protesting because the Stone destined to be the head of the corner was rejected by the builders (Ps.118 :22)?See also Study 157 on this.
The picture of Christ weeping over Jerusalem is one of the most moving in the gospels. Yet, noted by his enemies, or reported to them afterwards, it became an occasion for their jibes and mockery; "When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach . . . They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song or the drunkards" (Ps.69 :10,12). The words are found in a psalm which has copious links with the sufferings of Messiah (v.4,8,9,21,22,25).
"Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest," shouted the people, praising God will) a loud voice. But Jesus wept because Jerusaem "did not know the things which belong unit peace." Both used the word "peace" in its specialised Bible sense of "peace with God." The multitude probably had in mind the high-priestly blessing on the Day of Atonement: "The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace" (Num.6 :26). It meant God's full acceptance of the people, and His forgiveness of the nation's sins. But there can be no peace with God whilst there is hostility or indifference to the Son of God. "The things that make for peace" are, quite simply, total surrender, as in the parable of the king at war (Lk.14 :32), where precisely the same phrase is used. This expression also supplies an illuminating link with a wide range of Old Testament prophecies. First, and most obviously, with Zechariah 9 once again: "He shall speak peace to the Gentiles" (v.10). Also, the familiar words of Isaiah 53: "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief... the chastisement of our peace was upon him" (53 :3,4). But Jeremiah 8 was surely the Scripture which Jesus had specially in mind: "They have rejected the word of the Lord . . . from the prophet unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. And they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people, saying Peace, peace; when there is no peace ... in the time of their visitation (Lk.19 :44) they shall be cast down . . . there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree (Mk.ll ;13,14)... We looked for peace, but no good came... Is not the lord in Zion? is not her king in her? (Lk.19:38)... For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt (Lk.19 :41)." The words need no commentary. Could anything be written more aptly anticipating this unique day of triumph and sorrow?
"The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee around, and keep thee in on wry side, and shall lay thee even with the ground." This, too, was plainly anticipated by the prophets who, in turn, illuminated the mournful expectations of the dejected Son of God. The prognostications of Ezekiel (4 :l-8; and Jer.6 :6) were by no means exhausted when the siege of Jerusalem took place in his own day. But Isaiah 29 is perhaps the most pungent of all: "Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt:... let the feasts come round ...there shall be mourning and lamentation ... And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee. And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground (Israel dead, yet alive)... the Lord hath closed your eyes the prophets: and your rulers, the seers, hath he covered." (v.1-4, 10).

The sequence of testimonies cited here does not exhaust the list of those Scriptures which could have borne witness with the Son of God to the multitudes, both cheering and scornful, at Jerusalem. But in their excitement or their hatred they heard neither Moses nor the prophets.

One other contemplation forces itself on the mind. If so many Old Testament prophecies cluster round this particular incident in the ministry of Jesus, is it not likely that the same is true of many another significant event in that short three-and-a-half years? Then how much other Old Testament exposition of gospels i*' being missed by disciples today?(Jn.12 :16).

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