In our last essay we studied Luke 18:31-19:27, which completed our study of the large section of Luke’s Gospel on Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). In this essay we are studying 19:28-48, which begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Verse 28 links this segment to the previous one. Luke tells us that Jesus, after announcing the judgment on those who hated him, went on up to Jerusalem. Bethany and Bethphage were villages close to Jerusalem, with Bethphage being the closer of the two. Indeed it was right up against the Jerusalem city limits.
The Gospel of John tells us that “six days before the Passover” Jesus stopped in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for a meal in Jesus’ honor, and an overnight stay (Jn. 12:1-2, 12). That helps us with the timeline of the events Luke is recording.
“The village ahead of you” in verse 30 would be Bethphage. According to both Mark and Luke two disciples were sent there to get a colt that never had been ridden. The word “colt” could refer to a horse, but Matthew clears up that question. He says the colt was with its mother, a donkey; and they brought both animals to Jesus (Mt. 21:2, 7). This makes sense, because only wealthy people would have had a horse; and it is unlikely that anyone in a village as small as Bethphage would have had a horse.
We see in verses 31-34 that Jesus had arranged in advance to use the colt. And the disciples were allowed to take it. Verses 35-36 mention that the disciples put their cloaks on the colt, probably to serve as a makeshift saddle, and the people put theirs on the road. But Mark, Matthew, and John all tell us also that the people also either waved palm branches (Jn. 12:13) or placed branches on the road (Mk. 11:8; Mt. 21:8). In addition Matthew and John declare the prophetic Scripture, Zech. 9:9, was fulfilled by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Luke mentions neither the palm branches nor the prophetic fulfillment. But all of these activities were traditional Jewish ways of honoring a king.
In verses 37-38 we see that Jesus rode the donkey along the path that winds down the Mount of Olives. When a colleague and I took a group of students to Israel, we walked down the Mount of Olives. How close the way we took is to the path Jesus rode is hard to say. But it had to be fairly close. As Jesus rode along, the people began to shout hosannas (Mt. And Mk.), and they blessed him, while declaring him to be the king using Ps. 118:26, a messianic psalm (v. 38).
As you know, Jesus normally did not permit public demonstrations on his behalf. Indeed this was the only time he did so. And he had at least two reasons for allowing it. First, he consciously was fulfilling prophecy. And second, he was forcing the hand of the Jewish religious authorities. They wanted to wait until after the Passover to arrest Jesus (Mt. 26:3-5). But God had other plans. Jesus was to be the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7) who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).
In verses 39-40 certain Pharisees who were in the crowd thought the entire celebration was inappropriate. So they asked Jesus to make the people stop. But Jesus refused, saying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.
As Jesus saw the city lying before him, he began to weep. And in verses 41-44 he offered a lamentation. These verses, which set forth a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem that was accomplished by the Romans in AD 70, do not appear in any of the other Gospels. Scholars who do not believe in predictive prophecy insist that the verses were written after the event. That is, they say that Jesus did not predict the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather Luke, or someone else, wrote the words after AD 70. I believe in predictive prophecy, and I have no difficulty believing that Jesus predicted the catastrophe.
Jesus wept, because the city could have learned the way of peace from Jesus’ teachings (v. 42). But the city failed to recognize that Jesus was the messianic Son of God who had come to offer a final opportunity for repentance. And that failure resulted in the city’s destruction by the Romans about three decades later. As Jesus predicted, they would surround the city, build ramparts against it, crush the people, including the children, and destroy the city stone by stone. And that’s exactly what happened.
Jesus continued his way into the city, and the next event, recorded in 19:45-48, is a very brief account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Mark and Matthew in their parallels contain many more details. They tell us that Jesus “overturned the tables of the money changers, and the seats of those who sold doves. And Mark adds that Jesus wouldn’t “allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” Jesus’ justification for what he had done was Is. 56:7, which says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” and Jer. 7:11, which says, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” As Warren Wiersbe puts it, “Instead of praying for the people, the priests were preying on the people!”
G. Campbell Morgan reminds us that “a den of thieves” or robbers is a place where thieves run and hide after they have done their thievery. In the case of the modern day pirates that we have been hearing about, they steal ships at sea, and then they run and hide in their “den of thieves” in Somalia. Well, Jesus called the Court of Gentiles a “den of thieves,” because the priests were enriching themselves from the high rates charged for “unblemished” animals and the changing of money.
All of this buying and selling activity would have taken place in the Court of Gentiles, which was the outermost court of Herod’s restored and expanded temple. The Jews did not consider that court to be sacred in the same sense as the inner courts, where Gentiles were not permitted to go. And that’s why they permitted those who sold animals for the sacrifices and the moneychangers to set up there.
I’m sure the priests considered the practice a matter of providing a needed service. Jews came form all over the world to worship at the temple. They could not bring animals for sacrifice with them. So they needed to purchase the animals in Jerusalem, and since the priests had to declare animals brought for sacrifice to be “unblemished,” the visitors essentially had to buy them from the temple sellers. Moreover they would have needed to change their money into temple currency. And a hefty fee was charged for that service. This process became big business. By making the court of Gentiles available for those purposes, the priests could manage the whole enterprise and profit greatly from it. But Jesus obviously did consider the Court of Gentiles sacred ground, and he drove them out.
The response of the Jewish leadership was a desire to kill Jesus, but as the Gospel of John says several times, Jesus’ “hour,” the NIV translates “time,” had not yet come (Jn. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1), meaning the “hour” or “time” that God wanted him to die. Until that time came, the Jewish authorities could do nothing to stop Jesus. When his hour finally came, Jesus surrendered himself to the authorities and they crucified him. In the case of the cleansing of he temple, the authorities didn’t dare to move against Jesus, because Jesus was so popular with the people that such a move might have caused a popular uprising. So as we shall see, Jesus taught day after day in the temple unmolested.