Reading for Monday, July 9: Matthew 21
Matthew 21 is such a rich chapter. We won’t be able to cover everything here, so feel free to weigh in with comments about the sections that we don’t cover here.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey (actually Matthew says Jesus sat on the donkey and her colt — v7). This fulfills the ancient prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, where the prophet foretold of Israel’s victorious, humble king riding triumphantly through the streets of Jerusalem, having defeated Ephraim’s enemies as his rule extends from sea to sea. The prophetic image is certainly a triumphant one and we’re right to see Jesus as fulfilling this expectation. But Jesus also redefines our understanding of true kingship. He rides the donkey, not the war horse. David may have slain his tens of thousands, but Jesus is redeeming the world. Jesus is the meek king, riding humbly toward His impending death even as the masses sing His praises.
Jesus arrives at the temple and immediately drives out those who are buying and selling animals for sacrifice. But this was a common, even necessary practice in the ancient world. When Jesus makes the reference to “den of robbers”, Jewish minds would’ve understood this as an allusion to Jeremiah 7:1-11. In this ancient text, the prophet condemns Judah for her lack of justice: the people have been oppressing the sojourner, the orphan, the widow; innocent blood is constantly shed in Jerusalem; and even more egregiously, false gods proliferate her streets. Listen to God’s condemnation of this:
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ – only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7:8-11)
Jesus is making the same sort of accusations against the people in His day. It’s not so much that He’s angry with the guy selling pigeons in the temple courts. (If you read Luke, it’s very likely that Jesus’ parents bought their turtledoves / pigeons from a similar vendor at the time of Jesus’ dedication.) Instead, Jesus is upset with those who have come to worship God, falsely believing that the temple is some sort of guarantee of their spiritual privilege. In Jeremiah’s day, the temple had become part of a false Zion theology, a hideout for the wicked to which they could retreat after committing acts of injustice. Jesus is making the age old point that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). God has already spoken this word: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
In v15, the children praise Jesus as the “Son of David”, a Messianic title Matthew has used quite a bit in his Gospel. The chief priests and scribes — the pious, self-righteous, spiritual leaders of Israel who proclaim to know God’s Word, yet they continue to oppress the people — object to such language. But Jesus confronts them again on their own terms, using Ps. 8:2 as prooftext for the children’s proclamation. “Don’t you know this verse?”, Jesus says. It’s becoming evident that this sort of combative dialogue is getting Jesus into all kinds of trouble with the religious establishment. But Jesus accepts the title “Son of David” because it’s fitting. Whereas the first son of David (Solomon) created an ornate temple that was destroyed by Babylon, this new Son of David (Jesus) will speak of tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days. But He does not rebuild an established structure; instead, He builds His church, a community of persons who possess the humility of spirit necessary to receive the Kingdom in the first place. To these, Jesus truly is “Son of David”, God’s anointed One in the world.