NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 9: Some of the people were walking ahead of Jesus. Others were walking behind Him. They all shouted, “Praise to the Son of David! Welcome! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in heaven!”
Now Matthew tells us what the people were cheering about. Literally, they were shouting “Hosha’na,” to the Son of David. This part of the refrain is found in the Psalms.1 It is an Aramaic word used in calling out to God for help. According to Jewish resources, this was the shout the people of Jerusalem were accustomed to raising while marching in procession and waving branches of palm, myrtle, and willow in the joyous Sukkot festival,2 especially on the seventh day, when the willow-branches of the “lulab” procession were piled up and beaten against the altar, which is discussed in their teachings.3 The willow-branch, or “festive wreath” thus received the name “hosha’na;”4 and the seventh Sukkot day was called the “Day of Hosha’na” or “Hosha’na Rabbah.”
It was a popular festival similar to the ancient Canaanite ritual connected to prayer for the year’s rain.5 The multitudes accompanied the priests each night of the Sukkot feast to the spring of Shiloh, where the water for the libation on the altar was drawn midst great solemnity and rejoicing,6 while the last day formed the climax of the festivities. “Anna Adonai Hosha’na” (Please, LORD! Save us!),7 – the refrain of the psalms recited by the assembly, was, probably owing to constant repetition, soon abbreviated by the people into, “Hosha’na.”
Thus, “Hosha’na” became a popular cry used in solemn processions connected with carrying palm branches. We read in the Jew’s sacred text: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel,”8 also: “Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to Him who had given success to the purifying of His own holy place.”9 This clearly shows that the waving of these branches and crying out Hosha’na was not always tied to a particular holiday. It was often a spontaneous response to any occasion for rejoicing.
When these words were applied to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, it upset the Jewish religious leaders. Even though Jewish Rabbis were divided over whether the words: “Please, Adonai! Save us! Please, Adonai! Rescue us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai. We bless you from the house of Adonai,”10 were intended for King David or the Messiah. A closer look at the words in Psalm 118:22 certainly opens it for messianic interpretation. Furthermore, some Rabbis also found the words in verse 118:27 to be specifically applied to the Messiah. In fact, the Jews wrote that verse 118:27 referred to the days of “Gog and Magog,” and verse 118:28 to the “age to come.”11
However, Rabbi Akiba explains in the Talmud: “It was the Holy Spirit who gave this song, and that the Israelites sang it as they crossed the Red Sea.” And also, Rabbis Jehudah and Samuel said that “The prophets have commanded Israel that on the day of their salvation they are to sing this to their Savior.”12 And since Jesus was the Messiah, then truly these verses were speaking of Him.
Verse 10: Then Jesus entered Jerusalem. All the people in the city were taken by surprise. They asked, ‘Who is this man?
Finally, Jesus and His entourage arrive at the gates of the holy city. There were a lot of people within its walls that did not know about what had happened outside, so as our Lord and the chanting crowd pour through the gates they turned to each other and asked, (In today’s vernacular), “What in the world is going on! Who is this guy?” The gates of every city were where the action was. Here, elders sat around discussing the application of the law. This is usually where the market place was located. So someone coming through the gate that the local’s didn’t recognize right away caught their attention. We find this happened once in Bethlehem. We read, “Naomi and Ruth traveled until they came to the town of Bethlehem. When the two women entered Bethlehem, all the people were very excited. They said, ‘Is this the Naomi we heard about?.’”13
In his sermon on this text, Chrysostom makes the following comment: “Even when the crowds grasped that something great was happening, their inward thoughts remained uninformed, lowly, unworthy and lacking in understanding. But Jesus did these things in their presence not to display pomp but, as I have said, to fulfill prophecy, teach self-denial and to comfort His disciples, who were grieving for His death. He was showing them that He would suffer all these things willingly. Mark well the accuracy of the prophets, how they foretold all these things, some taken from David’s psalms and some from Zechariah. They had proclaimed them beforehand.”14
Verse 11: The crowds accompanying Jesus answered, “This is Jesus. He is the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”
It doesn’t take long before those in the assemblage informed the residence of Jerusalem exactly who this prophet was. Based on the chronology of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee, it may have been a year since He was in Jerusalem. Also, when He came before there wasn’t much fanfare. So this was perhaps the biggest surprise that this time, He brought such a large crowd with Him. But our Lord doesn’t waste much time, He was on a mission.
It is significant to notice that according to Matthew, the people following Jesus did not proclaim Him to be the Messiah, but a prophet from Nazareth. This may be because the people inside the city were not as knowledgeable about this Jesus as they were. Also, they must get the people to accept Jesus as a prophet before anyone might suggest that He was the Messiah. But it also allows for the fact that the ones explaining about Jesus were not His close disciples, but some who had joined the crowd after they left Bethphage bound for Jerusalem.
Verse 12a: Jesus headed straight for the Temple area.
Some Bible scholars believe it had been six months since He left Galilee to make His way toward Jerusalem.15 He didn’t go to the market place, or the tower of David, or the palace of the High Priest. Nor did He go to visit any friends or relatives He might have had there. No, He returned to the same place He last visited when He was twelve years old, the house of His heavenly Father, who gave this place His own description: “I will fill this Temple with glory…All its silver really belongs to me! And all the gold is mine!’ This last Temple will be more beautiful than the first one, and I will bring peace to this place, this is what the LORD All-Powerful said.”16 Some scholars believe that Jesus may have entered into the city through the eastern gate since it was called the “King’s Gate.”17 That is because it’s the only external gate that gives immediate access to the Temple Mount. Once Jesus reached the Temple Court of the Gentiles, Matthew then tells us what happened:
Verse 12b: He began throwing out all those who were selling and buying things there.
Jesus wastes no time in doing what He came to Jerusalem to do. He was tired of seeing how the worship of Almighty God had been commercialized. It was known at that time that the Temple authorities had inflated the value of the Temple Shekel so that when people brought money from whatever place or land where they lived, they ended up buying sacrifices at inflated prices. What was even more disconcerting, was the fact that the priests could not keep up with the daily demand for sacrifices. Can you imagine a thousand people a day wanting to have their sacrifices offered to cover their sins? Based on the rituals needed, that would take hundreds of hours. So there was no way to get them all in on one day. So many of the animals purchased for sacrifice on one day were put back in their pens and sold over again the next day.
Matthew notes that Jesus also turned over the benches of those selling doves. The sacrifice of doves is outlined in Leviticus.18 Also, in Jewish writings, we find this description: “There were thirteen collection chests in the Temple and on them were inscribed; New Shekel, Old Shekel, Bird-offerings, Young Pigeons for Burnt-offerings, Wood, Frankincense, Gold for vessels, and on six were inscribed for various Freewill Offerings. New shekels were used for the deposit of the yearly shekel which at the appointed times were removed and placed into the treasury chamber, Old Shekels were for those who did not pay last year and pays it this year which was removed and placed into the remainder of the treasury chamber. Bird-offerings were used for those who vowed to bring turtledoves into which they would place the corresponding funds, Young pigeons for Burnt-offerings, were used for those who vowed to bring young pigeons and all these [i.e., two chests] were only used for donated burnt-offerings.”19 Truly, what Jesus walked into was a frantic, greedy, smelly, commercial center, not a quiet and sacred house of prayer.
1 Psalm 118:25-26a
2 Feast of Tabernacles
3 Mishnah, op. cit. Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Sukkah, Ch. 3:9 and Ch. 4:5
4 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Sukkah, folio 30b, 31a, 33a-b; 34a; 37a-b; 46b – footnote (30)
5 Zechariah 14:8-17
6 Mishnah, op. Cit. Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Sukkah, Ch. 4:1
7 Psalm 118:25
8 I Maccabees 13:51
9 II Maccabees 10:7
10 Psalm 118:25-26 Complete Jewish Bible
11 Jerusalem Talmud, op. cit. Second Division: Tractate Megillah, Ch. 2:1, [I:2 J-K], Neusner Edition
12 The Midrash of the Messiah, The Messiah and His Meal in Midrash Ruth, Chapters V, VII and VIII and its roots and reflections in corresponding Jewish literature by Risto Santala, 2002, p. 224
13 Ruth 1:19, (cf. I Samuel 16:4)
14 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 66.3
15 See Matthew 19:1; 20:17, 29; 21:1
16 Haggai 2:7-9
17 1 Chronicles 9:18
18 Leviticus 1:14; 5:7, 11; 12:6, 8; 14:22, 30; 15:14, 29
19 Mishnah, op. cit. Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Shekalim, Ch. 6:5