THE COMING KING -- J. VERNON McGEE
The next verse is one of the most remarkable in the Scriptures. Generally we hear a message from it on Palm Sunday because it has to do with the so-called triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass [Zech. 9:9].
I am going to spend quite a bit of time on this verse because it is a key verse. It is the hinge on which the prophecy turns. I hope you will carefully follow this through with me. May I point out first that salvation would be better translated as “victory” or “deliverance.” He is the King who is bringing victory or who is coming to deliver.
Although all the Gospel writers record the so-called triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus, only Matthew quotes from Zechariah. The Gospel of John gives almost a running commentary on the prophecy of Zechariah. For example, instead of saying “Rejoice,” he says, “Fear,” which is actually a good, sound interpretation. Now notice Matthew’s record: “And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any many say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” (Matt. 21:1–5).
Notice that Matthew says, “Tell ye the daughter of Sion” instead of “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” as Zechariah has it. Also note that Matthew leaves out “he is just, and having salvation” (a better translation would be “he is just and having deliverance or victory”). Matthew quoted only a definite portion of verse 9. Why did he leave out certain things and include others? Well, that which Matthew quoted—and also which John interpreted—has to do with the first coming of Christ. The remainder of the verse has to do with the second coming of Christ.
The Lord Jesus came riding on the little animal of peace and came bringing peace at His first coming. He will come riding upon the white horse, the animal of warfare, at His second coming. But He is going to bring peace. How? By putting down all unrighteousness. You see, the world has had over nineteen hundred years to decide what it is going to do with Jesus Christ, and He is pretty much rejected in our day. So God is going to make it very clear that the Son is coming back to reign. He came the first time to die for our redemption, but the next time He will come to reign.
This was something that I’m sure puzzled Zechariah (it is still puzzling some folk today), but Simon Peter made it clear that not only Zechariah but the other prophets were puzzled. Peter wrote, “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:10–11). When the first and second comings of Christ were tied together in one passage, the prophets “inquired and searched diligently,” but they were unable to make the distinction. They just had to write it down as the Spirit gave it to them although they themselves didn’t understand it. Simon Peter by the Spirit of God makes the distinction. Christ came one time to suffer, to bring redemption; He will come the next time in glory to reign upon this earth. And Matthew by the Spirit was able to make that separation so that in his quotation of verse 9 he used only that portion of the verse which speaks of the first coming of Christ.
Frankly, I think that the church has misnamed it the triumphal entry. I was in San Francisco the night Gen. Douglas MacArthur arrived from Japan a great while after World War II had ended. He was whisked from the airport to the hotel in what they thought would be a private or at least semi-private procession. Well, instead there was a public demonstration that snarled traffic. I was leaving on the train that night to return to Los Angeles. A friend had warned me, “You’d better get down to the train if you intend to catch it, and you ought to leave now.” So I took my suitcase down to the train station and checked it. Then I went back into San Francisco to eat dinner. When I came out of the restaurant, I had never seen such a crowd in all my life! No traffic could move. I tried to get back to the railroad station by taxi, but the taxi couldn’t move. I finally got out and walked from the civic center to the railroad station. It was the only way I could have gotten there on time. The next day the same thing was repeated when MacArthur arrived in New York. That was a triumphal entry.
By comparison, the so-called triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem would seem very poor indeed. It was actually a parade of poverty. It was no ticker tape parade but was the coming in of a very poor man with a few very poor followers. If there had been a Roman in Jerusalem that day who had stepped out of a building at that moment, he would have asked someone what was going on. If they had said, “This is the triumphal entry of Jesus,” he would have laughed. He would have said, “You think this is a triumphal entry? You should have been in Rome when Caesar came back from Gaul. There was a parade that lasted over three days as he brought back the booty and the captives.” To a Roman, this entry of Jesus would have looked mighty poor and beggarly.
Well, Christ did not intend that it be triumphal. When He rode into Jerusalem, it actually marked a crisis in His life, a life that was filled with crises. It marked a change of tactics. Heretofore He had slipped into the city silently. He had entered unobtrusively. He had sought the shadows. There was no publicity. He was always withdrawing from the crowd, not courting attention. It was foretold that He would not cry or strive or cause His voice to be heard in the street (see Isa. 42:2). He entered by the Sheep Gate and would attempt to come in eluding the mob, evading the crowd. Even after He had performed a miracle, He put a hush-hush on it. Now there is an about-face in His approach. It would seem to us that there is an inconsistency here if we did not recognize this as a crisis point. Now He comes out into the open. He enters publicly. He demands attention. He requires a decision. He forces the issue. For one brief moment the nation must consider Him as their King and their Messiah. The Pharisees were accurate when they said, “… the world is gone after him” (John 12:19). Jerusalem was stirred when He came in. In spite of His pushing Himself to the front, He was meek. Matthew lifts that out of Zechariah’s text which says that He was just and lowly. I disagree with several good Bible commentators who assume that His riding on the little animal, the donkey, denotes His meekness. Far from it. That little donkey was an animal that kings rode upon. You see, the horse was the animal of warfare and is so used in Scripture. The little donkey was the animal that kings rode upon when they were at peace. It was a royal animal. In Judges 10:3–4 we see a judge who had thirty sons, and he got all of them donkeys to ride upon. In this day it would be like buying them each a Jaguar sports car. Riding a donkey did not denote meekness. The thought in Zechariah’s prophecy was that in spite of the fact that the coming Messiah would be riding in as the King, He would still be meek and lowly.
In this incident there is another false impression that needs to be corrected. There is the assumption that there was one so-called triumphal entry. Bible teachers in Great Britain and Europe have largely recognized that Christ entered Jerusalem on three consecutive days. He came the first time on the Sabbath Day, which was Saturday. Also He came in on Sunday and again on Monday. He came in the first time on the Sabbath Day as the King. Notice Mark’s record: “And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). He just looked around. The money changers were not there—it was the Sabbath; He just looked around and left. His very action was one of rejection. He came in as King on Palm Saturday, if you please. Then, when He came in on Sunday, the first day of the week, the money changers were in the temple, and He cleansed the temple at that time. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matt. 21:12). This is quite remarkable. It is the only action that He ever performed as Priest when He was here upon this earth. The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that He was not a priest here on earth: “For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law” (Heb. 8:4). No priest dared to cleanse the temple, but He did when He came back to the temple on Palm Sunday.
Then He came back in on Monday, and on the way He cursed the fig tree, then—“… when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matt. 21:23). Notice that on this day He was teaching; He was speaking for God. He was God’s Prophet. At that time He met every objection; He silenced the enemy. His was the voice of God. He said, “… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father …” (John 14:9), and certainly it was equally true that he that heard Him had heard the Father.
So you see that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was not one but three times. His final appearance before the nation was in His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King.
We have seen that His entry was not meant to be a triumphal entry, but was it an entry at all? No, actually He was making an exit not an entrance. He was not arranging to take up residence in Jerusalem and reign as King. He sent His disciples ahead to arrange for a room to eat the Passover, but He didn’t send them in to rent an apartment. He was not preparing for His reign; He was preparing for His passion, His suffering, His death, and His passing through the portals of death.
His entrance into Jerusalem was not a one-way ticket but a round-trip ticket, and it was part of the program which led to His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His intercession, His coming at the Rapture, and finally His coming as King. The fact of the matter is that the trail of triumph cannot be confined to a ride on a little donkey from Bethany to Jerusalem. That is only a minor segment of a trip which began in eternity past—when He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world—and extends into eternity future. My friend, when you see it in those terms, it becomes meaningful. Without that perspective it is meaningless. The One who came out of eternity is the One who came into Jerusalem—“… the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy …” (Isa. 57:15). As Moses wrote, “… even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). That is, from the vanishing point to the vanishing point, He is God.
The church calls it a triumphal entry, but I think it is a triumphal exit. That crowd who followed Him crying “Hosanna” did not think of Him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world. That same crowd that said “Hosanna” on one day said “Crucify Him” on the next day. One of the most expressive pictures I have ever seen, painted by an artist whose name I do not know, depicts a little donkey in the foreground chewing on a palm frond while in the background there stand three c
McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (Zec 9:9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.