Category Archives: Gospel of Matthew

The Triumphal Entry

One of the key events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ is what has become traditionally known as His triumphal entry, taking place on what is sometimes referred to as Palm Sunday – the Sunday before His death and subsequent resurrection.  While only 2 gospel accounts record the birth of our Lord, it seems significant that all four would capture this moment for us.  Clearly then, it is deserving of our attention.  The passages where this account takes place are as follows

  • Matthew 21:1-11
  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Luke 19:29-44
  • John 12:12-19

There are several key points which are recorded by each written account and then some key points which are highlighted by a particular gospel, both serving to draw attention to this event.  First, we need to note our time period.  John’s account places us at the beginning of the feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread which began Passover week.

Next, this event is located in Jerusalem, but more specifically, Bethphage on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.  Bethphage is the village that our Lord instructs His disciples to enter into, in order to find the donkey colt.  Several significant items are worthy of mention with regard to the location.  First, Bethphage in Hebrew means, “House of unripe figs.”  This introduces the event recorded in Matthew 21:18-22 where Jesus curses the barren fig tree, symbolic for the lack of fruit found among Israel.  Next, the location of the village on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, places us in the area of some important events from Israel’s past and lays the foundation for some even more important events that are to come.

For instance, In 2 Samuel 15:30-31, we find King David fleeing Jerusalem from his enemies, namely his son Absalom, and finding refuge on the Mount of Olives.  Then, Ezekiel 11:23 describes for us a scene where the glory of God leaves the temple in Jerusalem and comes to rest on the mountain east of the city, clearly a reference to the Mount of Olives.  Towards the end of Ezekiel’s prophecy, we are once again brought to the Mount of Olives and a vision of a new temple, only this time the glory is returning, Ezekiel 43:1-5

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Note in these passages from Ezekiel the relationship of the Mount of Olives with the temple.  This prepares us for Jesus’ entrance into the temple where He proceeds to cleanse it in Matthew 21:12-17, immediately upon His arrival into Jerusalem as well as the prophecy of the temple’s destruction in Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2.  Finally, Zechariah 14:4-9

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique[c] day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Christ, by beginning His final week on earth at the Mount of Olives, places Himself as the fulfillment of each of these passages cited above.  As Jesus begins His descent towards the cross from this area, the very location where David retreated from his enemies and wept over His betrayal is the same area where Christ proceeds into Jerusalem to face His enemies.  As the glory of the Lord was seen leaving the temple and coming to rest on the Mount of Olives in the vision of Ezekiel, with Christ, the incarnation of the glory of God returns to the temple to prophesy of its destruction and the resurrection of a New Temple, where the Lord would have permanent residence.  Then, we see that in Ezekiel’s final prophecy the return of the glory to the temple a prophecy, at least fulfilled in part by Christ’s descent into the city at His triumphal entry.  Before we get to the last significant Old Testament passage, there are a few points to note with reference to the final week of Jesus’ life.

The Mount of Olives becomes a central geographic location for the last week of our Lord’s life on earth.  This  triumphal entry is the first of three events located at the mount.  The second was what is traditionally called the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21), while the third occurred on the night of Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was at the foothills of Olivet.  Finally, recorded for us in Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:12, is the capstone to our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, namely His ascension, which also took place on the Mount of Olives.  At His ascension, His disciples were told by the angels that He would return just as He left, a prophecy which many think will be the fulfillment of our passage above from Zechariah 14, i.e. Christ’s literal, earthly return to the Mount of Olives.

Summarizing then, from the Mount of Olives, Jesus begins His descent to face His enemies.  Returning to the mount, He prophesied victory over His enemies only later to return there and be betrayed by His enemies.  After His resurrection, He returned again to the Mount of Olives where He ascended to the right hand of the Father to assume His place of victory and rule over His enemies.  And as we are told, He will one day return to the Mount of Olives to judge His enemies.

Adding to this geographical context are the instructions that our Lord gives to His  disciples to enter into Bethphage and find a donkey colt upon which no one had ridden.  It was on this colt that our Lord would make His descent into Jerusalem.  As with our discussion of the Mount of Olives, so too here with the image of the donkey, there is an Old Testament fulfillment.  First, in the pronouncement of blessing upon Judah in Genesis 49, Jacob says the following

10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.

The former pronouncement is clearly a Messianic reference to the kingship of Christ, however, this latter pronouncement many have also taken as a Messianic reference fulfilled here with the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt.  Furthermore, though the donkey was surely a sign of humility, it likewise was a symbol of a Davidic King.  Returning to our scene from earlier where David was fleeing from Absalom, David was brought a donkey to ride on.  In 1 Kings 1:33, David, by now old and weak, gives instructions for Solomon to ride on his very own donkey in a procession announcing Solomon as king (see 1 Kings 1:44).  In our gospel accounts of the triumphal entry, we have an explicit prophecy of the arrival of the king on a donkey, from Zechariah 9:9, a prophecy clearly fulfilled with the arrival of King Jesus.

There is undoubtedly much more that could be said and many more connections to be seen with this momentous occasion in the life of our Lord.  The entire scene involving Jesus, the Mount of Olives, the donkey colt, and the procession into Jerusalem, reaches back into the history Israel’s very origins, coming forward through both David and Solomon.  Furthermore, it was a place and an event signifying the arrival of the King in His humility.  However, as we have seen, it will also be the place for the second arrival of the King, this time in glory.

Kingdom Leaders – Part 1

 

In this Series

Recently we asked the question, “Who are your leaders?” a post in which two critical passages on Kingdom leadership were introduced,  Matthew 20:20-28 and Matthew 23:1-12.  After that post, we looked at how Jesus established a Kingdom Paradigm through which the believer is supposed to view this world and function within a Christian Community.  In this post, we’ll drill down a little more into the first of the two passage cited above and move from its introduction, in the previous posts, to its exposition in order to help us understand the nature of leadership that our Lord Jesus Christ came to establish in His kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-28 – Gentile Leadership

In our previous introduction of Matthew 20, we noted that the context is the prophetic announcement of our Lord’s pending death (Matt. 20:17-20).  It is out of this declaration of Christ’s suffering that the stench of desire for positional authority arises with the request from the mother of James and John that her sons may sit one each at Jesus’ right and left hand  in His kingdom.

The background for this request comes from Matthew 19:28,

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

However, despite their mother’s belief in the fulfillment of this promise, the request reveals some improper motivations and aspirations or at best a failure to understand the timing of the fulfillment.

Jesus’ reply, directed to the brothers, is to test the sincerity of the request (Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?), but then to deny it on the basis that it’s not a position for Him to give, to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  It’s likely that the cup of the Lord here is the cup of suffering that He would soon drink.  What our Lord would endure by drinking the cup of God’s wrath and enduring suffering on the cross, would, with regard to suffering, be expected of those who would follow Him (Matt. 20:23; 16:24-26).

With this principle firmly established, Jesus turns His response towards a rebuke of their desire for positional authority by appealing to the leadership of gentile nations

“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” Matt. 20:25

In the midst of this rebuke, Jesus looks towards the worldly leadership structure of the Gentiles (pagans), emphasizing that they “lord it over” and in doing so He provides a negative example for authority.  This particular phrase, lord it over, is also used in 1 Peter 5:3, specifically in the context of shepherding the flock of God, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”   We must ask, does this refer to the character of the authority or to the authority itself?

The word, translated as lord it over (katakurieuo), used in both passages, means “to bring under ones power; to subject to oneself; subdue; be master of”.  It appears to speak less to the character of the authority and more to the authority itself.  This becomes particularly evident in the context with the second statement, “their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Here there’s little confusion as to whether the character of authority is in view or whether authority itself is in view.   Clearly, the latter is the focus.  With this in mind, the establishment and dissemination of power in the Gentile world is held up as a an example, one not to be followed by Christ’s disciples, “It shall not be so among you.”

This passage, as I’ve been guilty of, is usually interpreted to mean that when in positions of church authority or leadership you are not to lord it over people or be domineering over people, much like a taskmaster.  However, that is not the main point, if it’s even a point at all, as we alluded to above.  Clarity is added by the kingdom paradigm that Jesus provides as an alternative to Gentile authority

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”  Matthew 20:26b-27

In opposition to the negative example, this statement sets forth a positive example of servant and slave that speaks not so much about the character of the authority, but to the position of authority itself.  The contrast is between master and servant, not between a domineering attitude and a servant-heart attitude.  Additionally, we must note that the word servant used here is the same word that is sometimes translated as deacon.  Literally it says, “whoever desires authority among you, [eimi – must be] your deacon.”  (I’m retaining deacon here for a point we’ll discuss in another post) The contrast could not be more striking.  Instead of being masters, believers are to be servants and slaves.

However, the passage does not end here.  Our Lord is not content to hold up an errant model of leadership and authority nor to simply give a commandment for His disciples to follow.  No, He provides the pattern and example of leadership through His own life as the Suffering Servant, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Literally this says, “even as the Son of Man came not to be deaconed but to deacon, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus provides a negative example, a command, and the positive example for how He has structured authority and leadership in His kingdom and it is precisely the opposite of the world’s pattern.  Genuine leadership always leads by example.

Kingdom leadership as defined by our Lord is not one of ascension to a position of authority, as with the Gentile nations, but one of descension existing among those who are functioning as servants and slaves.

 

A Kingdom Leadership Paradigm

 

In our Lord’s earthly ministry, there is much that could be commented on from the records that we have in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John.  In fact, it is this latter gospel account that informs us that had everything about Jesus’ ministry been written down, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them.  However, there is one particular theme about Jesus’ ministry that touches everything else He had to say and came to do, a theme that we’ll summarize as a Kingdom Paradigm (pair-a-dime).

A paradigm, in it’s most common meaning and usage, is defined as a clear or typical example, properly speaking an archetype or pattern.  Under the administration of the Old Covenant, there were certainly patterns and examples as well, but those reach their completion in Christ Jesus.  Not only did the Lord come to fulfill those old patterns and examples, but by establishing a kingdom paradigm, He came to upset or alter how we view this world and each other in His Kingdom.

Perhaps more than the other gospels, Matthew is intent upon describing and defining the Kingdom of God (properly, the “Kingdom of Heaven”).  This is summarized with the verse highlighting the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.”  Additionally, the founding principles of this Kingdom Paradigm are found in Matthew 5:1-7:29, which is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount.

By the time we reach Matthew 18 in the account of our Lord’s ministry, we are given the Kingdom Paradigm regarding relationships in the Christian Community.  One aspect of these relationships that’s specifically addressed is leadership and authority within the community.  The baseline for this particular facet of the Kingdom Paradigm comes by way of a question asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1)  Depending on how Jesus answered this question, would define for us the paradigm, or pattern, of the kingdom.

Notice our Lord’s response below

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of themand said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

This instruction on humility, as the entrance requirement into the kingdom, sets the tone for the next three chapters which outline and describe the nature of kingdom relationships, including kingdom leadership.  Likely because Jesus had yet to fully open their eyes to this unfolding paradigm, the disciples fail to grasp the simplicity of this reordering, that one must become like a child, and are given second opportunity to comprehend it in the chapter that follows

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

Reiterating the statement made earlier on a humble child being the greatest in the kingdom, on this occasion the disciples were given a tangible example, but again failed to fully comprehend the message.

A third example for the establishment of this new Kingdom Paradigm, comes by way of a parable, but nevertheless brings us to the same conclusion.  This parable, referred to as the “Laborers in the Vineyard” is found in Matt. 20:1-16 and addresses the principle of equality in the Kingdom, regardless of when someone enters.  Jesus’ concluding statement on this parable serves again to highlight the paradigm we’ve been discussing, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16

A fourth example for this re-ordering of cultural structure and one which lands more clearly on the nature of leadership in the Christian community, builds on both the two earlier passages where Jesus indicates that that one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom and the third passage, where last is first and first is last.  This particular example comes from Matthew 20:20-28

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Such a request from a misguided, albeit well-intentioned mother, harkens our minds back to the opening question in this section from Matthew’s gospel account, “Who is the greatest?”  This question had already been answered, those with the humility of a child are the greatest.  The low are high, the high are low.  The rich are poor, the poor are rich.  The last are first, the first are last.  This is the Kingdom Paradigm and it most certainly applies to leadership, the servants are the leaders.

While we will look at this particular passage from Matthew 20 in greater detail in a follow-up post, suffice it to say that the Kingdom leadership paradigm, outlined here by our Lord, was  contrary to the nature of worldly leadership then, “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority” and it is contrary to the nature of worldly leadership now.  Summarily, kingdom leadership is not top-down, authoritarianism, but bottom-up, servant-hood.  This, as we will see, is not the same thing as the popular, modern notion of a servant leader, or more clearly that  leaders serve.  Instead, it is that your servants are your leaders.

Jesus’ Kingdom Paradigm is intended to cause us to view the world through an upside down or inverted kingdom lens.  What the world perceives as the proper ordering of society is power, class, or wealth.  And what they perceive as the proper ordering of leadership is authority and domination.  What Jesus establishes as the paradigm for the Christian society is to be like a child.  In kingdom leadership it is humility and service.  The very pattern for this is His own life-giving service (deaconing = [diakoneo] – more on this later) which stands as the ultimate paradigm for the kingdom and the model for how we relate to one another in our Christian communities.