Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover week is one of the most iconic images in all his ministry. The picture presented to us in Scripture is rich with meaning and challenges our understanding of who Jesus is. It certainly was challenging for the Jews of Jesus’ day, especially as they followed their newly hailed king into the royal city and witnessed what he did next.
The triumphal entry of Jesus was spoken of many years before by the prophet Zechariah, so for those among the Passover pilgrimage who were paying attention it would not have been surprising. And it seems the people knew their bibles because when they saw Jesus riding the young donkey they knew how to interpret it. The crowd got excited that this Messiah figure was finally making a move for the throne and they didn’t hesitate to pick up the palm fronds and hail Jesus as King, just as it was prophesied.
So, Jesus’s arrival into Jerusalem was definitely unique, but it fit with how the ancient scriptures spoke of the Messiah. However, what Jesus did once he rode through the gates of the holy city was unexpected. In his account, Mark tells us that Jesus went straight for the temple, took a look around, and since it was getting late he decided to go home and return the next day. What Jesus was about to do was not a sudden outrage or fit of anger, it was deliberate outburst of holy anger.
The next morning, Jesus entered the temple area where the murmur of doves and the chatter of merchants swirled around him. And then he began flipping tables and benches, and driving out the vendors from the temple courts. After the dust had settled, Jesus explained what he was doing. The temple, a place of holiness, sacrifice and forgiveness, had turned into a smelly marketplace. Religion had been monetized and God minimized.
Mark tells us that the crowds were amazed at Jesus, and we understand why. Jesus was the newly hailed king of the Jews and according to popular tradition he was going to Jerusalem to set up the kingdom of God and drive out the Romans. Now, here he was, driving out his fellow Jews from the temple and rebuking them for defiling what was holy. The Jews were looking forward to judgemnet coming upon the Romans, but here was judgement coming upon the house of Israel.
The Israelites, like us in the church today, tended to look outward at all the sin going on in the world and failed to also look inside and see their own sin. They got so excited at the thought of God crushing their oppressors and delivering them slavery, that they forgot that God crushes all forms of sin and that they first needed deliverance from their own sin. We, too, must not forget where the line between enemy and friend of God is drawn – not on political, racial, or meritorious lines, but on grace alone.
The triumphal entry of Jesus and his subsequent judgement on the money-changers and merchants in the temple is a reminder that we cannot and ought not to make Jesus into the kind of king we want, a king of our own making. However, ff we come to him in adoration and humility we will find that Jesus is just the king we need. Humble, self-giving, with a holy zeal for the glory of his Father.