17. Matthews Story of the Entry into Jerusalem. Difficulties Involved in It for Those Who Take It Literally.
We have now to take into consideration the statements of the other Gospels on the expulsion from the temple of those who made it a house of merchandise. Take in the first place what we find in Matthew. On the Lords entering Jerusalem, he says, 5063 “All the city was stirred, saying, Who is this?” But before this he has the story of the ass and the foal which were taken by command of the Lord and found by the two disciples whom he sent from Bethphage into the village over against them. These two disciples loose the ass which was tied, and they have orders, if any one says anything to them, to answer that “the Lord has need of them; and immediately he will send them.” By these incidents Matthew declares that the prophecy was fulfilled which says, “Behold, the King cometh, meek and sitting on an ass and a colt the foal of an ass,” which we find in Zechariah. 5064 When, then, the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them, they brought the ass and the colt, and placed on them, he says, their own garments, and the Lord sat upon them, clearly on the ass and the colt. Then “the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way, and others cut down branches from the trees and strewed them in the way, and the multitudes that went before and that followed cried, Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Hence it was that when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was moved, saying, Who is this? “and the multitudes said,” those obviously who went before Him and who followed Him, to those who were asking who He was, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus entered into the temple and cast out all those that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers and the seats of them that sold doves: and He saith unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye make it a den of robbers.” Let us ask those who consider that Matthew had nothing but the history in his mind when he wrote his Gospel, what necessity there was for two of the disciples to be sent to the village over against Bethphage, to find an ass tied and its colt with it and to loose them and bring them? And how did it deserve to be recorded that He sat upon the ass and the foal and entered into the city? And how does Zechariah prophesy about Christ when he says, 5065 “Rejoice greatly, thou daughter of Zion, proclaim it, thou daughter of Jerusalem. Behold thy king cometh unto thee, just is He and bringing salvation, meek and sitting on an ass and a young foal”? If it be the case that this prophecy predicts simply the material incident described by the Evangelists, how can those who stand on the letter maintain that this is so with regard to the following part also of the prophecy, which runs: “And He shall destroy chariots from Ephraim and horse from Jerusalem, and the bow of the warrior shall be destroyed, and a multitude and peace from the p. 396 Gentiles, and He shall rule over the waters as far as the sea, and the rivers to the ends of the earth,” etc. It is to be noted, too, that Matthew does not give the words as they are found in the prophet, for instead of “Rejoice greatly, thou daughter of Zion, proclaim it, thou daughter of Jerusalem,” he makes it, “Tell ye the daughter of Zion.” He curtails the prophetic utterance by omitting the words, “Just is He and bringing salvation,” then he gives, “meek and sitting,” as in the original, but instead of “on an ass and a young colt,” he gives, “on an ass and a colt the foal of an ass.” The Jews, examining into the application of the prophecy to what is recorded about Jesus, press us in a way we cannot overlook with the enquiry how Jesus destroyed chariots out of Ephraim and horse from Jerusalem, and how He destroyed the bow of the enemy and did the other deeds mentioned in the passage. So much with regard to the prophecy. Our literal interpreters, however, if there is nothing worthy of the appearance of the Son of God in the ass and the foal, may perhaps point to the length of the road for an explanation. But, in the first place, fifteen stades are not a great distance and afford no reasonable explanation of the matter, and, in the second place, they would have to tell us how two beasts of burden were needed for so short a journey; “He sat,” it is said, “on them.” And then the words: “If any man say aught unto you, say ye that the Lord hath need of them, and straightway he will send them.” It does not appear to me to be worthy of the greatness of the Sons divinity to say that such a nature as His confessed that it had need of an ass to be loosed from its bonds and of a foal to come with it; for everything the Son of God has need of should be great and worthy of His goodness. And then the very great multitude strewing their garments in the way, while Jesus allows them to do so and does not rebuke them, as is clear from the words used in another passage, 5066 “If these should hold their peace, the stones will cry out.” I do not know if it does not indicate a certain degree of stupidity on the part of the writer to take delight in such things, if nothing more is meant by them than what lies on the surface. And the branches being cut down from the trees and strewn on the road where the asses go by, surely they are rather a hindrance to Him who is the centre of the throng than a well-devised reception of Him. The difficulties which met us on the part of those who were cast out of the temple by Jesus meet us here in a still greater degree. In the Gospel of John He casts out those who bought, but Matthew says that He cast out those who sold and those who bought in the temple. And the buyers would naturally be more numerous than the sellers. We have to consider if the casting out of buyers and sellers in the temple was not out of keeping with the reputation of one who was thought to be the Son of a carpenter, unless, as we said before, it was by a divine power that He subjected them. The words addressed to them, too, are harsher in the other Evangelists than in John. For John says that Jesus said to them, “Make not My Fathers house a house of merchandise,” while in the others they are rebuked for making the house of prayer a den of robbers. Now the house of His Father did not admit of being turned into a den of robbers, though by the acts of sinful men it was brought to be a house of merchandise. It was not only the house of prayer, but in fact the house of God, and by force of human neglect it harboured robbers, and was turned not only into their house but their den—a thing which no skill, either of architecture or of reason, could make it.
Zech. ix. 9.395:5065
Zech. ix. 9.396:5066
Luke xix. 40.