The UNtriumphal entry of the unexpected king – Matthew 21:1-17, Part 1

Picture an inauguration or coronation ceremony. What images come to mind? Grand balls. Flashy banners and decor. Lavish parties with bountiful plates of food and dignitaries dressed to impress. The goal is a display of power, wealth, and victory. Today I want to give you a totally different picture of a coronation that would ultimately have far greater influence and meaning, one that features, believe it or not, a donkey.

Travel with me 2000 years backwards in time, and nearly halfway around the world to a dusty corner of the Roman Empire.  The time is right around 30 AD in the nation of Israel.

For about three years, Jesus has been ministering all over the nation of Israel.  His public ministry is marked by miracles and authoritative teaching, with a special focus on parables.  Huge crowds gather around him, both because of his miracles and his teaching.  He regularly confronts the religious leaders who suspiciously watch his every move, pointing out their hypocrisy and fraud, and how they took advantage of the general populace.  Finally, he spends plenty of time with a smaller group of followers, comprised of men and women, but it is his 12 disciples that are his closest companions. He mentors and trains them to live like he lived, so that one day they be ready to take over for him.

Toward the end of the three years, the tension between Jesus and the religious elite is like static in winter, sparking every time you make contact with metal.  These priest and bible teachers regularly attempt to undermine his teaching, seeking to trap him theologically.  But Jesus’ wisdom is unparalleled, his responses revealing errors in their thinking. Often he reveals the flaws in their arguments, trapping them!  Anger and jealousy grow inside them, and they secretly plot to eliminate him. 

Also at end of his third year in ministry, Jesus starts traveling toward Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.  Passing through town after town along the way, burgeoning crowds join him, as Jesus continues healing and teaching.  The days pass, his entourage gradually winds their way closer and closer to Jerusalem, and the week of Passover arrives.

Passover is a major Jewish celebration, marking the events of the nation of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt.  Jewish families gather to tell the story of how God protected them from the plague of death, and how God launched them, under the leadership of Moses, into the desert, through the Red Sea, and on a journey back to the Promised Land of Canaan, the land of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Every year many Jews would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, just as Jesus as his followers were doing. 

That brings us to Matthew 21.

Verses 1-3 simply set up the story. Jesus, the disciples and crowds walk toward Jerusalem, arriving just outside the city on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the nearby village of Bethpage and bring a donkey and her colt to him.

Matthew tells us in verses 4-5 that what is about to happen next fulfills Zechariah 9:9, a Messianic prophecy about the entrance of the Messianic King riding into the city on a donkey.  This is the first reference in this account to Jesus as King.  But the kind of king revealed that day in Jerusalem is quite unexpected.  Everything about this king is humble, which is symbolized through his choice of a donkey.  He’s not riding a warhorse, decked out in armor and weapons, like a victorious king.  Instead he is riding a humble donkey.  Scholars tell us that in the Triumphal Entry Jesus finally reveals to all that he is the Messianic King long ago promised in their people’s prophetic writings.  Prior to this he had often told people to keep quiet about him.  But now, notice how he reveals himself: with humility.  He is the humble king.

In fact, it hard to see what is triumphal about this king.  It seems UNtriumphal.  And that is on purpose.  Jesus wasn’t a warlord king, he was a king who had come to serve, to give his life. In contrast to the narcissistic, power-hungry rulers so prevalent in their day and ours, the one true king shows us that godly leadership is humble.

The untriumphal entry into the city transpires just as Jesus directs, and as the prophecy foretells.  We read in verses 6-11 that a very large crowd gathers, shouting of “Hosanna,” which means “save!” and was a shout of praise, and quoting Psalm 118:26 which mentions the coming of a future messianic king in the line of David, thus making a connection between Jesus as the son of David.  This is the second reference to Jesus as King.

The untriumphal entry of the humble king. In our world that lauds brash, arrogant leadership, Jesus shows us a very different way. How does Jesus challenge your view of leaders and leadership?

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

12 thoughts on “The UNtriumphal entry of the unexpected king – Matthew 21:1-17, Part 1

  1. Jesus his view on the religious leaders as well as religious leaders was very clear and should open our eyes to those who are still in charge today and of which many still try to put smoke in the eyes of many.

    We are challenged by Jesus not to hide what we really believe and to distance ourselves from all the false human doctrines and heathen feasts. Jesus a few days after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem came together with his disciples in the upper room to have a memorial meal for the exodus of Egypt but also for what he installed and God gave as a New Covenant. We still should follow the request of Jesus to come together in remembrance of that night on 14 Nisan.

    Political and religious leaders of many religious denominations still trie to lure the people in the heathen festival of Easter and other pagan rites. Though those who really love God should unite, stand up against those adversaries of God and Christ, and show the world that Jesus is the way to God and not to himself (in case Jesus would be God).

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree with some of what you say, and I disagree with some as well. I agree that Jesus was trying to help people see the truth, whereas the religious leaders of his day (and some through all ages probably) were not teaching truth. What I disagree with you about is the following: 1. if you say that Jesus’ original request to his disciples to come together on 14 Nisan is also binding on us to come together on that night each year as well, I disagree. Christians have long observed Maundy Thursday, and I encourage them to do so, but I do not believe Jesus intended this to be a binding command all Christians must follow. 2. While there is a heathen origin to the observance of Easter, it is not wrong for Christians to practice the giving of Easter baskets filled with candy, have Easter eggs hunts and the like, so long as they put that kind of celebration in proper perspective, thus making sure it is just a winsome cultural event, and that it pales in comparison to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. 3. If, when you said, “in case Jesus would be God” you mean that Jesus is not equal to God, I disagree. Jesus numerous times equated himself with God, and God the Father numerous times spoke audibly saying, “This is my beloved Son,” a designation, in that culture, equating the two.

      1. Do you mean, when you say to some one, when pointing out to your child and saying “This is my beloved Son” that that person is the same as you?
        It is just the opposite it is clearly indicating that the other person standing there is not you but your son. God is not a god of lies and always told the truth, and as such should we believe Him when He says Jesus is His is only begotten beloved son.

      2. In my culture, there is an understood difference between father and son. In the culture of the ancient near east, however, there was a different understanding of the father-son relationship, such that the son was identified with the father. Obviously they were two different people, but there was a close symbolic equivalent, culturally understood. My point is that when we think of Jesus as Son of God, we should not think of his as altogether different from the Father, though the title “Son” is given him. The Father did not intend us to think of Jesus as altogether different. We impose that on the meaning of “Son,” based on our different cultural viewpoint. “Son” is a title given Jesus, but in his essence, as he says, he and the father “are one.”

      3. You write “My point is that when we think of Jesus as Son of God, we should not think of his as altogether different from the Father, though the title “Son” is given him. The Father did not intend us to think of Jesus as altogether different.” meaning that you consider Jehovah God being identical to Jesus Christ. WHne we look at the New Testament we clearly see they are not at all the same. God is an all-knowing spirit bezing no man can see; Jesus was seen by many and did nto know everything. Jesus even did not know when he would be returning to earth, which we consider to be a very important special moment. In case Jesus is the all-knowing God and say he does not know it, he would be lying, though from Scriptures we do know God is no liar and Jesus did not do any fault and as such would not have lied to. So when Jesus says God is greater than him and that he can not do things without the Father indicates that both are different personalities with different capacities. Also God declared Jesus to be His son and never said it was Him coming to earth to fake his death (because God cannot die).

        The Father and Jesus being one is the same like we do have to be one with Christ and with God, but be sure by that oneness we shall not become Christ nor God (though perhaps some people may expect or wish so).

      4. Thanks for your response. I disagree with you. When Jesus said, “I and the father are one,” he did not simply mean “unified,” but “one” in the classical sense of Christian orthodox trinitarian doctrine. Perhaps we simply need to agree to disagree.

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