Free Online Bible Library | Lecture 27: Life of Jesus: Triumphal Entry & Cleansing of the Temple

Lecture 27: Life of Jesus: Triumphal Entry & Cleansing of the Temple

Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels

Lecture: Life of Jesus: Triumphal Entry & Cleansing of the Temple


The next major event after the events of [inaudible] and the transfiguration is what we call the Triumphal Entry –associated with Palm Sunday. Now, if turn with me to your synopsis – it's page 234 – let's just read very quickly, the first three verses as is found in the Markan account – page 234 – reading the Markan account. "And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, 'Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find the colt tied on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it.'" "If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it,' and we'll send it back here immediately."

A. Geography

Now, we have a number of geographical designations here. If you look at your notes, you will notice that Jerusalem is the furthest away from where they start, and what we have here is the listing of the ultimate goal mentioned first, then Bethphage nearest Jerusalem, Bethany from where they start, and the Mount of Olives at the end because they at the Mount of Olives when they see Jerusalem in front of them. Now, there have been times when people have looked at this and say it's – it's quite apparent that Mark doesn't know the geography of this area very well.

Well, he does the same thing in Chapter 10, Verse 1 on page 215, where he mentions the ultimate goal and then the goal that lies in between to get there. For instance, Mark 10:1 reads – 215 – "and he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan." Well, Judea is the goal. Before he gets there, he will go beyond the Jordan, and so, it's simply the way he describes. He gives the ultimate goal and destiny first – the city of Jerusalem – and then he talks about Bethphage, Bethany, and the Mount of Olives.

B. Riding a Colt

Now, he enters – he's going to enter the city and he tells his disciples to go to Bethphage and to bring a colt. He's going to ride a colt into the city. Now, the question you have to ask is this an example of Jesus omniscient knowledge that he knows there's going to be a colt there, and he says, "Bring it here," or is this something that has been prearranged? Well, first of all, I think it's intentional. It's not accidental that he rides on the colt. It's intentional. Nowhere else do we ever read of Jesus riding, and, I mean, he can't be tired because he's just started out from Bethany, and when you think of all the walking they've done during these journeys, it's really got to be strange that this day he's tired right at the beginning and wants a colt to ride in.

I don't think he rides the colt because he is weary and tired. Nothing in the text suggests that at all. My own belief is that this is prearranged, that what happens in the following verses in five and six when people come and say, "What are you doing untying the colt," and they say to him what Jesus said – they say, "All right, that's fine." Now, it's not a matter of simply knowing there's a colt there, but when people say, "What are you doing taking this colt," and they say, "Well, the master needs it." They say, "Okay." They let him do it. Now think for a minute if there's a brand new Mercedes outside and I say to you, "Go tell the people that your teacher, Robert Stein, needs it, and he will return it when he is through with it." See how far that gets you.

So, here someone's coming. He's taking the colt and, apparently, there's acquiescence to this. Now, if this is prearranged, that's very significant in revealing Jesus' own messianic understanding. He is doing this intentionally.  Now, there have been b – more radical scholars who have argued that the whole story is fictional, that it was all made up. In other words, the early church – and this is more the mythical approach towards the New Testament into the gospel, as we refer to that several times – it would be that after the church began to believe in Jesus, they would read passages in the Old Testament, and then they would come up with this idea refers to an event that we'll have to make a story to – to show that Jesus fulfills this event. In other words, if they are after-the-fact created stories to fulfill Old Testament passages, and if you look at your synopsis, notice that Matthew has in Verse 4, "This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet saying, 'Tell the daughter of Zion and behold your king is coming to you humble and mounted on an ass and on the colt, the foal of an ass.'" So, here the mythical view says this event was made up out of this Old Testament passage, but please note neither Mark nor Luke quote Zachariah 9:9.

It is the later Evangelist Matthew, and what do you know about his fulfillment quotations? Where do they come from? They tend to be his interpretation of events, and so, Matthew, time and time again in his study of the Old Testament sees links to what has occurred in the Old Testament and he adds them to the account. So, this was to fulfill what was written by the prophet, but they are after the event, and I think what happened here is not that the – this Old Testament prophecy created an event around it later on in the early church, but that the early church knew of this event and as they searched the scriptures, they saw that this was foretold earlier, and then they attached to the event this passage. It's not the other way around.

C. Crowd's Reaction

All right, now, the crowds reaction is that they strew clothing in front of – the writer – a traditional act of homage – in the Old Testament you'll find it on a couple occasions, a person became a king, rode on a donkey, and – which was a symbol not necessarily of humility but of God's anointed one who comes in humility to be sure, but it's God's anointed one, and they begin to shout Psalm 1:18. Let me read for you Psalm 1:18. This is a psalm that is a pilgrim psalm, and when pilgrims – especially at the time of the Passover – would come to approach the temple, there would be the singing of this song initially. Those who were in the temple area would see the pilgrims coming and they would sing to them, and the pilgrims would sing a response, and there would be this response back and forth.

D. What happened at the Triumphal Entry?

Let me just read this to you. I won't read the whole psalm. (Psalm 1:18) "The pilgrims are coming" – and this is what they sing and shout – "Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord." Then in the temple, "This is the gate of the Lord. The righteous shall enter through it." The pilgrims, "I think that you have answered me and have become my salvation." From the temple, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." The pilgrims, "This is the Lord's doing. It is marvelous in our eyes." Temple, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Pilgrims, "Save us we beseech you." Hosanna, "Save us we beseech you O Lord. O Lord, we beseech you. Give distress, “and then from the temple, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord," and so, you have this antiphonal song that is a pilgrim's song greeting pilgrims as they come to the temple.

Now, with this as a background, let me share with you some of the various interpretations as to what actually happened in the Triumphal Entry. The first one I've already mentioned is that the church made up this story, and they sought to fulfill Zachariah 9:9. In the Old Testament, Zachariah 9:9 has the following: Prophecy from the prophet, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." So, what according to the view is that it is all created. There is nothing essentially that happened. What we have here is a fictional story – a myth that developed out of this Old Testament text as the early church read it's Old Testament, and they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. They made up stories to fulfill these.

One that is more common is that Jesus offered himself as the messiah and king to the people of Israel. He intentionally comes as the messiah of Israel and presents himself in this way, and if you have come from certain backgrounds, they say this was rejected and, therefore, a different method and approach God used to reach the people. This was essentially plan A, and if you have a Scofield Bible, the plan is no longer effective, and he'd go – just to plan B, which involves the cross and so forth.

If he comes as the Messiah, then why is it that the Romans, who are not going to allow any messiah, don't interfere? If you have this huge, monstrous rally in favor of Jesus of Nazareth who is now coming as the Christ of Israel, why is it that the Romans don't interfere? Furthermore, when Jesus is tried and they are searching for charges against him, why doesn’t this charge arise? Well, hey, just last week on Sunday, he came forward and offered himself as to being the messiah and tried to lead an uprising of the people. It never raises at the trial. It makes me wonder if what we have here is an open expression of his being the messiah. "I am your King. Will you accept me? Will you follow me?" That doesn't seem to square with what happens at his trial or the lack of any activity on the part of the Romans.

Another attempt to explain this is that this is a natural pilgrim welcome to visitors and it was later simply interpreted messianically by the church. So, there was a real entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, and there were these, "Hosanna to the son of David." – "Blessed is he who comes into the name of the Lord," and so forth, but that later was interpreted not as a general pilgrim welcome to Jesus but, above all, it was interpreted rather as a normal welcome to a pilgrim Jesus of Nazareth and later the church read into it a messianic significance. A possibility is that it was an enthusiastic pilgrim welcome given to the most famous of all the pilgrims – Jesus of Nazareth – so that it was an exuberant excited pilgrim welcome by the people in the temple to this great prophet from Nazareth.

My own inclination is to say, "No, that the best understanding is that Jesus intentionally staged this event in light of Zachariah 9:9. He prearranged for it. He is coming intentionally to fulfill Zachariah 9:9. This is why he rode a colt, which indicates Jesus sees this act on his part as being messianic. He received a most enthusiastic welcome. John 12:9 to 11 explains some of that. That's on page 234. We read about a great crowd of Jews learning that Jesus was there. They came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he'd raised from the dead. So, the chief priest planned to put Lazarus also to death because then [inaudible] many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus, so that much of the enthusiastic welcome there is due to the resurrection of Lazarus, which you are familiar with. Psalm 118, which shouted antiphonally from the pilgrims, and from the temple, and this was something that for Jesus was messianic but was not essentially messianic for the people. It was his understanding that he was fulfilling the offer of the prophecy of Zachariah 9:9 where he comes as King of Israel but whereas he knows this and sees its significance, the others will not. In fact, the others will not know of this until later.

Now, let me try to get support for what John himself says here. In John 12, Verse 16, it's interesting, of course, that John also has this account there. This account is in all four gospels, and there are not a lot of them that I found in all four, but John has this, and then after the beginning of line 31 on page 235, it goes on, "O blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord even the Kind of Israel." John here is talking, and "Jesus found a young ass and sat on it as it is written, fear not daughter of Zion, behold, your king is coming sitting on an ass’ colt."

E. Nature of the event unclear to disciples

Then John adds this comment, "His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him." So, what we have here is John himself saying that the understanding of the event which Jesus possesses is not one that the disciples have. So, that for the most part, this is interpreted by them as an event of a pilgrim – a very famous pilgrim coming getting a warm welcome, but not in the sense of the messianic understanding of Zachariah 9:9. So, in this regard, I think it is best to see this event as messianic for Jesus but not messianic for the crowds, and the fact that as I said, it doesn’t come up at his trial at all is indicative of that. No charges were raised.


All right, now, closely associated with this is the next event and that involves the cleansing of the temple. Now, the time of the cleansing of the temple – again, we have all four gospels recording this event, but the time is rather significant. In the synoptic gospels, it's the end of Jesus' ministry. In John, it's at the beginning.

A. Time in Jesus' Ministry

Let's turn to page 238 here. Here you have the cleansing of the temple – Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19 – all parallel – the same time. When you get to John, it's John 2. So, John's at the very beginning of the ministry. Now, how do we make sense of this? Well, you could say well one's simply "wrong", quote, unquote. The other could say maybe there were two cleansings of the temple. What makes me a little skeptical of the idea that you have two cleansings of the temple is that after each cleansing – turn here to page 241 – we're not gonna go through it in detail – you have Jesus being asked, "By what authority do you do these things?" So, you have the question of Jesus' authority to do this in all four accounts. Well, you say, "Well, Matthew, Mark, and Luke – you'd expect that", but the fact that in John – the other account which is at a different place – you also have this question of authority. It makes me less prone to think they were talking about two separate events that coincidentally had the question of authority on both of them.

With respect to is there a single event the way I would understand it or try to understand it at least would be to say what we have here is the synoptic gospels, which by its own selected order, you can't have a cleansing of the temple before the eleventh chapter. Why? First ten chapters deal with the activities of Jesus in Galilee. Chapters 11 to the end deal with his activities in Jerusalem and Judea. So, by that very construction, you can't put this anywhere else except somewhere between 11 to 16. John on the other hand is free to put it wherever he wants. On the other hand, it may be that John decided to put it at the very beginning to show that this is the kind of event that typifies the reaction of the leadership towards Jesus and foreshadow the future events of Jesus' life. So, that at the very beginning of his ministry, there is this gloom of this kind of reaction and what's going to happen and so forth.

B. Temple Tax

Now, we read of a temple tax, which is b – being collected in the temple. There are money changes there that goes back to Exodus 30:13 where every male was to provide this tax. If you were very rich, it was the same amount as if you were very poor. It wasn't a math of sums. Everyone was to do this, and we have an account of this, by the way, in Matthew 70:24 to 27. It's not the parallel here, but in another incident, they come and ask about the temple tax and whether Jesus, the teacher, was going to pay that temple tax.

C. Selling Sacrificial Animals

Also, there is a selling of animals in the temple. Following Mark here, "He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple and overturning the tables of the money changes and the seats of those who sold pigeons." So, there is animal sacrifice in the temple. To provide for that, there are sacrificial animals. Also, the temple tax is available. You can pay that in the temple, and the temple tax could only be paid in a particular currency. You couldn't just take any old coin and give it to pay the temple tax because most coinage had images of pagan deities and that was not acceptable. So – but the Tyrion [ph] coin could be paid this way because it didn't have that and you were able to pay it, but if you had Roman coinage with a dollar [inaudible] you'd have to exchange that for the correct kind of coinage, and this was not a non-profit organization. There would be – it was a business, so there would be money changes and so forth.

Similarly, the selling of animal sacrifices – for the priest, this could be looked at as a service to the people. What were you going to do? You have to bring you have to offer an animal that was out with – is without blemish and how would you know that? Well, a priest would inspect the animal and make sure it was without blemish so that it could be offered. Well, you bring a lamb from Rome on ship – you buy one somewhere at – at the port, say at Sesseria, and bring it up, lead it b – by hand up to Jerusalem, or do you – well, to make it convenient for you to have a sacrifice, the priest said, "Well, what we would do – we'll do this in the temple," so you were able to find a sacrifice here that would be acceptable, not – not to find all of a sudden that it has a blemish on it and you don't know what to do with the lamb with the blemish on it. This also, however, was not a non-profit organization. Money was made.

In the Talmud in the Mishnah, part of the Talmud, there is a saying which goes this way, "Once in Jerusalem a pair of doves cost a golden denar." Very expensive. "Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel said: 'By this Temple! I will not suffer the night to pass by before they cost but a silver denar.' He went into the court and taught: 'If a woman suffered five miscarriages that were not in doubt or five issues that were not in doubt, she need but bring one offering,' – not five – 'and she may then eat of the animal-offering, and she is not bound to offer the other offerings.'” In other words, he's passing a law because he's angry at the cost of sacrifices saying, "Well, if a woman has had five miscarriages, she doesn't offer have to offer five sacrifices. She can do one."

Well, the result is, the same day, the price of a pair doves stood at a quarter denar each. Literally, the stock market collapsed, but what is shows is that the Pharisees see this offering of sacrifices in the temple as being also a profit-making scheme by the Sadducees, the Temple of Priests, and you have this lay Pharisee antagonism to the Sadducee priest, and so, they see this also as a kind of money-making scheme off the people in the temple, and probably someone like Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, if he had been present to see what Jesus did, would have cheered him on. So, this is not Jesus attacking all Judaism. He is attacking what's going on in the temple, which even the rabbis saw as being a desecration. So, Jesus' perspective is that this is not a convenience. This is something desecrating the temple, and, therefore, he goes about cleansing it.

D. Lack of Roman Interference

Now, that – once again, now we should note some things. Note there's no Roman interference. In the temple, Jesus is doing this. The Romans don't step up. They don't do anything, and this is not mentioned at the trial either. So, this does not look like a revolutionary act as far as the high priest and leadership of Israel and the Romans. In fact, they – those are not issues that come up at that time.

Let me just – kind of a glace as to the construction of the Temple. Kidron Valley over here – the Hinnom Valley coming down on this side over here – the walls and the colonnades – these dots – covered colonnades – the court of the gentiles is here. The barrier, which prohibited gentiles from getting any closer on pain of death. Then you had the women's court, the court of Israel and then you had four, which would have been the – the alter, and somewhere in these colonnades, were the sale of animals and the exchanging of money.

The Roman Fortress of Antonia overlooked the castle because if there was ever going to be a riot of revolutionary act, it's not gonna happen in Nazareth or something like it. It's going to be Jerusalem and in the temple. So, they had a contingent of troops in the Fortress of Antonia and especially was it manned more heavily during the Passover, for this was a very nationalistic time. It's like if America was captive of some other nation, what day of the year would you especially want to be on your guard against an uprising? July fourth. Well, this is the Passover, so they're overlooking it. Now, what takes place in the cleansing of the temple may not even been noticed in the Fortress of Antonia, but it was not seen as a threat or word would have gotten there and the troops would have come out immediately and put it down.

E. Possible Meaning of the Event

All right, the meaning – the meaning of the event – very popular in the 1900s was the old liberal idea that what Jesus was rejecting was the sacrificial system. Jesus didn't like sacrifices like the prophets. He says, "The Lord doesn't require sacrifices but a pure and upright heart," and like the liberals of the 19th century, he too thought as being demeaning and low and basically a primitive religion to require sacrifices to have God forgive sins. He was essentially a German liberal who was opposing the sacrificial system. Another suggestion had been that what Jesus was doing was reforming the temple. This is to be a cleansing of the temple as we sometimes describe it. The cleansing of the temple – he is trying to purify the temple.

Look with me at page 238. There's a little comment in the cleansing of the temple. After we read in Verse 15, "They came to Jerusalem. He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those bought – who bought in the temple overturning the tables of the money changes and the seats of those who sold pigeons." Then he had this additional comment in Verse 16, "And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple." What you have is that this is a rather large complex. If you were living here in the old part of Jerusalem b – and you were having a potluck supper at grandma's house, it's much easier, instead of walking around here and around here, to just take your pork and beans and hot dish and run real – real quickly through here, and – and get that way, and Jesus thought of that as a desecration. He wouldn't allow that. He passed a ruling on it, but it didn't mean that when they say he didn't allow it that he stood guard and had his disciples guard and look at all the potluck meals going through or something like that, but that he just passed a ruling that would not permit it, and interestingly enough, in the Talmud, there is a similar reference of the temple being used as a short cut and that the rabbis forbid that. It's a sacred ground. It would be like if you had to go from walking through a church in order that you don't have to walk around it only it would be even more sacred because the temple was very, very sacred ground in that way.

So, some have suggested then that what we have here is a reformation – a cleansing by Jesus in order to try to bring about a more pure worship. I think that Mark sees it somewhat differently. What we need to do is to look at how Mark understands this cleansing. Turn with me to page 238 and we have here in Mark something that is called a Markan sandwich. What he does is he has two stories he's going to tell. He cuts the first story in half, and wedges in between it the second story, so that before and after, you have the first story. Wedged in between is the second story.

Now, the first story begins on page 238 at Mark 11:12. "On the following day when they came from Bethany, he was hungry and seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf. He went to see if he could find anything. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves." Now you have a Markan explanatory clause, "For it was not the season for figs, and he said to him, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again and his disciples heard it.'" So, this is the Cursing of the Fig Tree Part One, okay? Now, the account, when Mark adds, "For it was not the season for figs," I think he's telling us as readers, "Pay attention to what's going on." It's not a matter of whether there should have been figs there or not. There's something symbolic going on here that you need to take note of.

Now, after this cursing the fig tree, we have the cleansing of the temple. Then after that, we have the question of or the conspiring of the chief leaders, but then turn to page 240, and note that here you have the second part of the fig tree in Mark, "As they pass by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots and Peter remembered and said to him, 'Master, look, the fig tree which you cursed is withered,' and Jesus answered him, 'Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,' ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for them."

Now, having said that, if we have this sandwiching, what happens in this is that the cursing of the fig tree rubs off on what happens in the temple. Jesus comes to a fig tree expecting to see good things. He doesn't see it. He pronounces a curse on it. Now, you have the story of the temple. He comes to the temple. What does he see? He sees money changers and those who sold animals, and he cleansed that, and afterwards, we have the final story of the cursing of the fig tree, and I think what Mark is doing then is telling us that you need to interpret the story of the cleansing of the temple that way. It's a judgment.  It's not a reformation. It is a symbolic act of judgment, and after this, you find a number of things. Chapter 12, you have a parable of the wicked husbandmen, "and judgment will come upon the vineyard and it will be given to others" – a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Then, in chapter 13, you have that whole chapter devoted to the destruction of Jerusalem. So, you now have here a whole listing of sayings of Jesus that talk about the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, and the – I personally think that – that the third is clearly the way Mark understands it. This is a symbolic act by which he portrays the future judgment of Israel. They too will be judged in this similar manner.

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