« Prev II. The Royal Entry (xxi. 1-17). Next »

II.—The Royal Entry (xxi. 1-17).

Travelling from Jericho, it is probable that our Lord reached Bethany on the evening of Friday, a week before His crucifixion. The next day, being the Jewish Sabbath, He would spend in retirement, probably in the house of Lazarus, whom a short time before He had raised from the dead. The following day, the first day of the week, would therefore be the date of His entry into Jerusalem as the Royal Son of David, come to claim His kingdom.

That this entrance into the capital is a most important event in the history of Jesus is evident not only from its nature and consequences, but also from the fact that it is one which all the four Evangelists record. Indeed, it is just at this point that the four narratives converge. The river of the water of life, which "was parted and became four heads" diverging at times in their course, now unites its waters in one channel broad 296 and deep; and all the four Evangelists, though in different accents still, and with variation in the selection of details, combine to tell the same wondrous story of our Saviour's passion, the story of "the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem."

This was the first occasion on which our Lord distinctly put forth His claim to royalty. From the beginning of His ministry He had shown Himself to be a "prophet mighty in word and in deed," and to those who followed Him it became manifest that He was the Prophet foretold by Moses, for whose coming they had been taught to look with eager eyes (see Deut. xviii. 15-19). From the beginning of His ministry, too, the Saviour had been proclaiming "the gospel of the kingdom"; but when we examine carefully all He says about it, we find that He never expressly asserts that He Himself is King. Not that He conceals the all-important truth: He speaks of the kingdom in such a way that those who have ears to hear may learn that He is King Himself—as, for instance, when He says, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." One might quite readily infer from these words that Jesus Himself was King; but the claim is not thereby formally made. Besides, not only is it true that up to this time He did not formally assume the royal title, but He even resisted attempts made to thrust it upon Him (e.g., John vi. 15). For this refusal to be crowned by the multitude there was only too good reason. Their ideas of royalty were entirely different from His. Had He allowed Himself to be borne on the tide of popular favour to royal honours, His kingdom would have been thereby marked as "of this world," it would have been stamped 297 as something very different from the kingdom of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" He had come to establish. Had He been a mere enthusiast, He would undoubtedly have yielded to such a tidal wave of public excitement; but His unerring wisdom taught Him that He must reach His throne by another path than that of popular favour. Rather must it be through popular rejection—through the dark portals of despite and death; and for that, His hour had not then come.

Now it has come. He has been steadily advancing to Jerusalem for the very purpose of accomplishing that decease which is to be the portal of His royalty. Already fully revealed as Prophet, He is about to be made "perfect through suffering" as our great High Priest. It is time, therefore, that He reveal Himself as King, so that no one may have it afterwards to say that He never really claimed the throne of His father David.

How, then, shall He assert His right? Shall a herald be sent to proclaim with the sound of a trumpet that Jesus of Nazareth is King over Israel in Jerusalem? To take such a course would be to court misunderstanding. It would be to raise the standard of revolt against the Romans. It would stir the city in a very different fashion from that in which the Prince of Peace would have it stirred. It would be the signal for tumult, bloodshed, and disastrous war. The ordinary method is evidently not to be thought of. How, then, shall it be done?

Our Lord is never at a loss for means to accomplish His designs in His own way, which is always the best. He sends to a neighbouring village for a young ass, mounts it, and rides into the city. That is all He 298 does. Not a word said about royalty, no herald, no trumpeter, no proclamation, no royal pomp, nothing whatever to rouse the Roman jealousy or ire—nothing but the very ordinary circumstance of a man riding into the city on an ass's colt, a mode of conveyance not in itself calculated to attract any special notice. What was there, then, in such an act to secure the end? Nothing in itself; but a great deal when taken in connection with a remarkable prophecy in the Book of Zechariah well known to every Jew, and much in the thoughts of all who were looking for the promised Messiah. It is true, indeed, that an ordinary man might have done the same thing and the people have taken no notice of him. But Jesus had become the object of very great interest and attention to large numbers of the people on account of the miracles He had been working—notably that great miracle which still stirred the minds of the whole community, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The chief priests and scribes, indeed, and the men of influence in Jerusalem, regarded Him with all the greater rancour on account of His miracles of mercy, and they had been specially embittered against Him since the raising of Lazarus; but it was different with the body of the people, especially those who had come or were coming from Galilee and other distant parts of the land to be present at the great Paschal feast. We are told by St. John that a large number of these had gone out the day before to Bethany, both to see Lazarus, who was naturally an object of curiosity, and also to see Jesus Himself; these accordingly were precisely in the state of mind in which they would most readily catch up the idea so naturally suggested by the significant act of our Saviour's riding into the city of David on 299 a colt the foal of an ass. The result, accordingly, was as had been intended, and is thus described by our Evangelist; "The most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before Him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" (R.V.).

The excellence of the method adopted by our Saviour to set forth His royal claims will still further appear when we consider that it arose quite naturally out of the circumstances in which He was placed. So much was this the case that some have thought He was taken by surprise, that He had no intention of calling forth the testimony of the people to His royal claims, that in fact He was only giving way to a movement He could not well resist; but this shallow view is plainly set aside, not only by what has been already advanced, but also by the answer He gives to the Pharisees who ask him to rebuke and silence His disciples: "I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke xix. 39, 40).

Not only did the means adopted by our Lord rise naturally out of the circumstances in which He and His followers were placed, but they were specially suited to suggest important truths concerning the kingdom He claimed as His own. We have already seen that, if He had entered the city in regal pomp and splendour, it would have conveyed an entirely false idea of the kingdom. The method He did adopt was such as to give a true idea of it.

300 First, it strikingly suggested the kingliness of lowliness, which, as we have seen, was one of its great distinctive principles. As we look back over His recent instructions to His disciples, we see how very much this thought was in His heart and how great was the importance He attached to it. He had just taught them that the Son of man had come, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many; and His manner of entering into His capital must be in harmony with the lowly, self-renouncing work He has come to do. Thus He shows in the most impressive way that His kingdom is not of this world. There is no suggestion of rivalry with Cæsar; yet to those who look beneath the surface He is manifestly more of a king than any Cæsar. He has knowledge of everything without a spy (ver. 2); He has power over men without a soldier (ver. 3); He has simply to say "The Lord hath need," and immediately His royal will is loyally fulfilled. Evidently He has the mind of a King and the will of a King; has He not also the heart of a King, of a true Shepherd of the people? See how He bears the burden of their future on His heart, a burden which weighs so heavily upon Him that He cannot restrain His tears (Luke xix. 41-44). There is no kingly state; but was not His a kingly soul, Who in such humble guise rode into Jerusalem that day?

Not less than lowliness, is peace suggested as characteristic of His kingdom. First by the manner of His entrance; for while the horse and the chariot were suggestive of war, the ass was the symbol of peace. And then, the prophecy is one of peace. Immediately after the words quoted by the Evangelist there follows this remarkable promise: "I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the 301 battle bow shall be cut off; and He shall speak peace unto the heathen; and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth." It would seem, indeed, that some at least in the multitude realised that through the Messiah was to be expected a deeper peace than that between man and man. This deeper peace may have been suggested to their minds by the words following next in the prophecy, which goes on to speak of prisoners of hope rescued from the pit, and turning to the stronghold; or by the Psalm from which their cry "Hosanna in the highest" was taken (Ps. cxviii.); certain it is that their minds did rise to a higher conception of the work of the Messiah than they had given token of before; for the cry of some of them at least was "Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest" (Luke xix. 38). A striking proof this, of the fitness of His manner of entering into His capital to suggest the purest, highest and best thoughts concerning the kingdom which He claimed as His own.

As Jerusalem was the city of the great King, the Temple was His house, His royal palace, and accordingly He enters it and takes possession in His Father's name. We are told by St. Mark that "when He had looked round about upon all things, it being now eventide, He went out unto Bethany with the twelve." But St. Matthew, who is accustomed to pay more attention to the logical than to the exact chronological sequence of events, proceeds at once to relate the purging of the Temple, which really took place the following day, but which was so plainly the natural sequel of His royal entrance that he very properly gives it in close connection therewith. Besides, what the King did on entering the Temple the next day 302 admirably illustrates the prophecy. For what saith the prophet? "Behold thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation." "He is just,"—therefore He will not tolerate the unholy traffic in the Temple, but "cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of them that sold the doves; and He saith unto them, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye make it a den of robbers" (R.V.): "and having salvation"—accordingly, when He sees the blind and the lame in the Temple He does not turn them out, He does not turn away from them, "He healed them." The casting out of the traders illustrated the righteousness of the kingdom, the healing of the blind and lame, its peace, and the shouts of the children which followed, its joy.

This coming of the King to His capital has been familiarly spoken of as "the triumphal entry." The term seems unfortunate and misleading. The waving of palms, the strewing of branches and leaves, the spreading of garments on the way—all this gave it something of the aspect of a triumph; but that it was no triumph none knew better than the Man of Sorrows, Who was the centre of it all. There was certainly no triumph in His heart that day. If you wish to look into His heart, watch Him as He comes to the turn of the road where first the great city bursts upon His sight. How it glitters in the sun, its palaces and towers gleaming in the splendour of the day, its magnificent Temple, which had taken nearly half a century to build, rearing its stately head high above all, into the glorious heaven—a city and a temple for a king to be proud of, especially when seen through waving palm branches held in the hands of a rejoicing throng who shout "Hosanna to 303 the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest!" Surely His soul must be thrilled with jubilant emotion!

Ah! but look at Him: look at Him closely. Go up to Him, near enough to see His face and hear what He is saying. Is He jubilant? His eyes are wet with tears; and with tears in His voice He is speaking "the saddest words of tongue or pen": O Jerusalem, "if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." Ah! well the Man of Sorrows knew what all that shouting and rejoicing were worth; not even for a moment was He misled by it; no less certainly now, when the plaudits of the multitudes were ringing around Him, than when He had been on the way going up to Jerusalem, did He know that, though He was the rightful King, He should receive no king's welcome, but should suffer many things and die. He knew that it was to no royal palace, but to the bitter cross, He was advancing, as He rode down Olivet, across the Kedron, and up to the city of David. Yet it is not the thought of His own cross that draws the tears from His eyes; it is the thought of the woes impending over those whom He has come to save, but who will have none of Him. O the depth of divine love in these self-forgetful tears!

One thrill of joy the day had for the King of sorrows. It was His welcome from the children. The plaudits of the multitude He seems to have received in silence. 304 Why should He be moved by hosannas from the lips of those who, as soon as they shall find out what manner of King He is, will cry "Away with Him"? But the hosannas of the children are genuine music to His soul. The little ones at least are true. There is no guile in their spirits. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." It is most touching to observe how lovingly the heart of the Saviour goes out to the little ones at this most trying time. The climax of pathos in His lament over Jerusalem is reached when, after speaking of the fate of the city, He adds, "and thy children within thee"; and the same deep sympathy with the little ones is shown in the answer He gives to the mean-spirited priests and scribes who were moved with indignation and tried to silence their sweet voices: "Have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?"

"And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany, and He lodged there,"—not in the house of Lazarus, we may be sure, or He would not have "hungered" when in the morning He returned to the city (ver. 18); no doubt under the open canopy of heaven, or at best under some booth erected as a temporary shelter. What were His thoughts, what His feelings, as He looked back on the day and forward to the week?

« Prev II. The Royal Entry (xxi. 1-17). Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection