This chapter is chock full of important symbolism, prophecy fulfillment and parables. The long-awaited Lamb comes to Jerusalem.
The introductory class notes to this chapter really set the stage. They mention that the Passover is at hand and Jesus is preparing for His Passion, death and Resurrection. Crowds have flocked to Jerusalem for the feast -- as many as 2.5 million people.
"It has been 2000 years since Abraham brought Isaac to Mount Moriah with the intention of following God's instruction to sacrifice his son." Isaac, being a clever fellow, asks his father where the lamb is for the offering. Abraham replies that God will provide Himself the lamb and seeing Abraham's incredible faith, God tells him to spare Isaac and a ram is sacrificed instead. All of Israel was still waiting for the Lamb.
The notes go on to say that it was 600 years after Abraham that the feast of Passover was instituted as a permanent memorial to the circumstances under which the 12 tribes left Egypt. "A thousand years after the time of Abraham, King Solomon built the permanent Temple at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. Over time, the shepherds around Jerusalem began to raise "sacrificial flocks" to be sold to those traveling great distances for the Passover feast. On the tenth day of the month of Nisan, the sacrificial flock was brought into Jerusalem where they animals were inspected until the fourteenth day of Nisan. On that day, at twilight, the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Matthew's Gospel focuses on Jesus, the Lamb of God, making His way into Jerusalem at the same time as the sacrificial flock."
Father Echert mentioned that Jesus is making His way from Bethphage west to Jerusalem. This is not just filler info that St. Matthew included. It fulfills the prophecy that the Savior would come to them "from the East." Then Jesus instructs His disciples to go to the village and find an ass and a colt and bring them back to Him. Here we see reference to and fulfillment of what was written in Zechariah (Zechariah chapter 9 has oodles of prophetic passages).
Please take a look at Haydock, it is FULL of information on this chapter. There are too many important bits for me to cover here or do them justice.
Although He had previously walked, Jesus now rides into Jerusalem in the posture of a king. But, not the type of king riding a big, powerful horse that the Jews expected. Instead, Jesus humbly rides on an ass and a colt, which is similar to what King David did when he anointed Solomon.
We see the idea of consecration. Back with the Ark of the Covenant, the animals that pulled the cart were consecrated for this purpose only. In Matthew's Gospel, we see the ass, which represents the Israelites, and the colt. The colt had never been ridden before and represents the Gentiles. By Jesus riding on these animals they are rendered ritually clean. Similarly, Mary's womb was also consecrated for the sole purpose of bearing the Christ and Jesus' own tomb, was consecrated for Him and had never been used before (which was fairly unique back in the day as tombs were often times reused.)
Haydock makes a further connection that wasn't in the class notes and Father Echert didn't address:
Both Jews and Gentiles, figured by the ass and the colt, are to be loosed and conducted by the hands of the apostles of Christ to their Redeemer. The Gentiles, represented by the colt, though heretofore unclean, no sooner receive Jesus resting upon them, than they are freed from every stain and rendered perfectly clean. The zeal of the Gentiles, is spoken of by St. Paul, Romans xi. 25. Blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxvi.) --- As it is written, "there shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is to them my covenant;" when I shall take away their sins. This prophecy of Isaias (lix. 20.) St. Paul applies to the conversion of the Jews; (ibid. [Romans xi. 25]) and thus both Jew and Gentile are to take up our Saviour's yoke, which is certainly sweet, and his burden light.
This action of riding in on a donkey is a fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah and Isaiah (see Zechariah 9-13 and Isaiah 62). Some similarities between the prophecies and Jesus' entry into Jerusalem are:
* the prediction of the coming of the king on a hiway to Jerusalem, "Behold your salvation comes."
* the king is lowly and humble
* rides a donkey instead of a large "war horse"
* establishes His dominion from sea to sea
* sacrifice of Jesus "grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the maidens."
* blood of the covenant, doomed to be slain
* false prophets
Similarly, there are parallels with Solomon's coronation:
* both are sons of David
* Jesus rides a colt, Solomon a mule
* both have large crowds celebrating their arrival
* Jerusalem was in the state of commotion
Hosanna and Hallel
As Jesus enters Jerusalem the crowds surround Him and shout, "Hosanna," which is a Hebrew word meaning "save us." The crowds also shout, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." This comes straight out of Psalm 118, which is known as Hallel, the greatest of the psalms. According to our class notes, "It is always sung at the climax of the three holiest Jewish religious festivals -- the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles." It is currently used in the liturgy during the Sanctus.
The Pharisees criticize Jesus' followers for their cheers (as found in Luke 19:40), but Jesus replies, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." The class notes say that Matthew records that Jesus specifically claims that Psalm 118 is a prophetic reference to Himself: "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eye'?" (Which Haydock mentions also comes from Psalm 8, when the people are praising David for defeating Goliath). Here Jesus is deliberately quoting from the same Psalm as the Hallel, the one the people are quoting when they are cheering, indicating to the Pharisees that they are the "false shepherds" and the kingdom of God will be taken from them and "given to a nation producing the fruits of it." (In Chapter 22 we will learn more about the "covenant lawsuit" and reflect on how the pattern appears throughout Matthew's gospel.)
Three prophetic gestures
There are three gestures Jesus performs during Passion week. They are His triumphal entry into Jerusalem -- Jesus is the humble king found in Zechariah; the curse of the fig tree (a symbol of God's chosen people) as found in both Jeremiah and Hosea -- His curse on faithless Israel; and, the cleansing of the Temple -- claiming His divine authority over those who are in charge of the Temple.
Parable of the two sons
Haydock says it well: The ancient interpreters, by the first son generally understand the Gentiles, as also publicans and scandalous sinners; and by the second, the Jewish people. The Gentiles, &c. who at the first did not, would not worship and serve God; yet afterwards they, as also publicans, and many sinners, received the faith, and being converted, became faithful servants of God, and saints: the Jews, or the greatest part of them, who pretended to be God's servants, and his people, rejected the gospel and their Messias; therefore this commination follows, the publicans, &c. shall go before you into the kingdom of God. (Witham) By these two sons are to be understood, says St. Chrysostom, the Gentiles and the Jewish people; the latter our Redeemer wishes to make sensible of their own great ingratitude, and of the ready obedience of the cast-off Gentiles. For they having never heard the law, nor promised obedience have still shewn their submission by their works; whereas the Jews after promising to obey the voice of God, had neglected the performance.
Parable of the Wicked Tenants
Again, from Haydock: This master is God; the vineyard, the Jews; the husbandmen, the Jewish priests; the servants, God's prophets, sent from time to time: the son, called (Mark xii. 6,) his only and most dear son, is our Saviour Jesus Christ, whom they persecuted to death. (Witham) --- By this parable, our Saviour teaches the Jews that the providence of God had wonderfully watched over them from the beginning, that nothing had been omitted to promote their salvation, and that notwithstanding his prophets had been put to most cruel deaths, still the Almighty was not turned away from them, but had at length sent down his only Son, who should suffer at their hands the inexpressible ignominies and tortures of his cross and passion.
Father Echert said that the Pharisees knew He was the Messiah ("This is the heir" from Matthew 21:38) so they plot to kill Him so that they can still retain their positions and power. They wanted to have Him publicly humiliated by the Romans to show that He no Messiah and after He was murdered they could claim that they were the true religious leaders.