During the Easter season, Jesus's "triumphant entry" into Jerusalem in Matthew 21 is often highlighted. However, there is another entry in Matthew 21 that is often overlooked — Jesus's entry into the temple to cleanse it. It immediately follows Jesus's entry into Jerusalem. Chronologically, these two entries are a day apart, but thematically Matthew highlights these two events as connected narratives. Why does Matthew do this?
First, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was tragic not triumphant. When He arrived, he entered the city with the singing pilgrims of Galilee (Matt. 21:9). Though the four Gospel records differ in the stanzas of the Messianic song, they all focus on the main idea from Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Matthew’s version includes the chant, “Jesus, the Son of David.” The connection of this title to Psalm 118 undoubtedly means that these Galilean pilgrims were ready to stand with their “brother from Nazareth of Galilee” as the Messiah sent to rescue them (21:11). However, Luke 19:38-44 records that Jesus wept while the pilgrims sang. Through his sobs he said, “I would that you were able to understand the things that make for peace . . . but they are now hidden from your eyes.” The rescue the people were seeking was not the same rescue that Jesus was offering.
Second, the cleansing of the temple was deeper than a mere external act. When Jesus entered the Temple, he did not (as the Jews expected) speak against Rome, but “drove out all who sold and bought in the temple” (21:12). Jesus was not acting only against the hypocrisy of the Temple money-changers, but against all those who were exchanging their money for items of worship. Jesus directed his words to the entire crowd in the Temple: “It is written, ‘My House shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a cave of robbers.’” For Jesus, all the worship activity in the Temple had lost its real meaning and purpose, and the worship acts of the people – in his eyes – mirrored those of a thief.
Third, the temple was actually “possessed” by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark adds a key comment to the temple cleansing – Jesus “would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (11:16). In other words, Jesus not only cleanses the Temple, but he possesses it. Indeed, this was “His House!” For a few hours, and without military escort, Jesus controlled Temple activity. His presence alone became the sole focus of the people.
Fourth, Jesus reproves the religious leaders by quoting from Psalm 8. When the chief priests and the scribes become “indignant” with Jesus (v. 15), Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2. What an astonishing message — Just as Yahweh receives praise from little children when his enemies refuse to honor him, so Jesus receives the praise of these little ones when the religious leaders refuse to honor him.
In conclusion, are you making the proper connections from Matthew’s passage? For Matthew, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and his entry into the Temple were both tragic events. Neither the people nor their religious leaders grasped the moment. Does this not apply to us today? To “grasp the moment” we must view Jesus for who he is, and this should cause us to fall on our knees and worship our Redeemer and coming King.
This article is from the "Truth from the Agora" section of the Exposition, VBTS's monthly e-bulletin authored by President Daniel Davey. Click HERE to sign-up to receive the Exposition each month.