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Calvin's Commentaries  
The Harmony of the Gospels (Vol. XVII)
Matthew 21:1. Then Jesus sent two disciples. Jesus sends his disciples to bring an ass to him, not because he was wearied with the journey, but for a different reason; for, in consequence of the time of his death being at hand, he intended to show, by a solemn performance, what was the nature of his kingdom. He had begun, indeed, to do this at his baptism, but it remained that this demonstration should be given by him towards the end of his calling: for why did he hitherto refrain from the title of King, and now at length openly declare himself to be a King, but because he is not far from the end of his course?  So then, as his removal to heaven was at hand, he intended to commence his reign openly on earth. 

This would have been a ridiculous display, if it had not been in accordance with the prediction of Zechariah, (9:9.) In order to lay claim to the honors of royalty, he enters Jerusalem, riding an ass. A magnificent display, truly! more especially when the ass was borrowed from some person, and when the want of a saddle and of accouterments compelled the disciples to throw their garments on it, which was mark of mean and disgraceful poverty. He is attended, I admit, by a large retinue; but of what sort of people? Of those who had hastily assembled from the neighboring villages. Sounds of loud and joyful welcome are heard; but from whom? From the very poorest, and from those who belong to the despised multitude. One might think, therefore, that he intentionally exposed himself to the ridicule of all. But as he had two things to do at the same time, — as he had to exhibit some proof of his kingdom, and to show that it does not resemble earthly kingdoms, and does not consist of the fading riches of this world, it was altogether necessary for him to take this method. 

To wicked men, no doubt, this might be very unacceptable, had not God long before testified by his Prophet that such would be the king who would come to restore the salvation of his people. In order, therefore, that the mean aspect of Christ may not hinder us from perceiving in this exhibition, his spiritual kingdom, let us keep before our eyes the heavenly prediction, by which God conferred more honor on his Son under the revolting aspect of a beggar, than if he had been decorated with all the dazzling ornaments of kings. Without this seasoning, we shall never have any relish for this history; and therefore there is great weight in the words of Matthew, when he says, that the prediction of the Prophet was fulfilled.  Perceiving that it was hardly possible that men, who are too much devoted to wealth and splendor, should derive any advantage from this narrative, when viewed according to the feeling of the flesh, he leads them away from the simple contemplation of the fact to the consideration of the prophecy. 

2. Go into the village. As he was at Bethany, he did not ask for an ass to relieve the fatigue of traveling; for he could easily have performed the rest of the journey on foot.  But as kings are wont to ascend their chariots, from which they may be easily seen, so the Lord intended to turn the eyes of the people on himself, and to place some mark of approbation on the applauses of his followers, lest any might think that he unwillingly received the honor of a king. 

From what place he ordered the ass to be brought is uncertain, except, what may naturally be inferred, that it was some village adjoining to the city; for the allegorical exposition of it, which some give, as applying to Jerusalem, is ridiculous. Not a wit more admissible is the allegory which certain persons have contrived about the ass and the colt. "The she-ass," they tell us, "is a figure of the Jewish nation, which had been long subdued, and accustomed to the yoke of the Law. The Gentiles, again, are represented by the colt, on which no man ever sat. Christ sat first on the ass for this reason, that it was proper for him to begin with the Jews; and afterwards he passed over to the colt, because he was appointed to govern the Gentiles also in the second place." And indeed Matthew appears to say that he rode on both of them; but as instances of Synecdoche occur frequently in Scripture, we need not wonder if he mentions two instead of one. From the other Evangelists it appears manifestly that the colt only was used by Christ; and all doubt is removed by Zechariah, (9:9,)who twice repeats the same thing, according to the ordinary custom of the Hebrew language.  

And immediately you will find. That the disciples may feel no hesitation about immediate compliance, our Lord anticipates and replies to their questions. First, he explains that he does not send them away at random, and this he does by saying that, at the very entrance into the village, they will find an ass-colt with its mother; and, secondly, that nobody will hinder them from leading him away, if they only reply that He hath need of him. In this way he proved his Divinity; for both to know absent matters, and to bend the hearts of men to compliance,  belonged to God alone. It was, no doubt, possible that the owner of the ass, entertaining no unfavorable opinion of Christ, would cheerfully grant it; but to foresee if he would be at home, if it would then be convenient for him, or if he would place confidence in unknown persons, was not in the power of a mortal man. Again, as Christ strengthens the disciples, that they may be more ready to obey, so we see how they, on the other hand, yield submission. The result shows that the whole of this affair was directed by God. 

5. Say to the daughter of Zion. This is not found, word for word, in Zechariah; but what God commanded one Prophet to proclaim, the Evangelist justly and appropriately applies to all godly teachers; for the only hope, on which the children of God ought both to build and to rely, was, that the Redeemer would at length come. Accordingly, the Prophet shows that the coming of Christ yields to believers a full and complete ground of joy; for, since God is not reconciled to them in any other way than through the agency of the Mediator, and as it is the same Mediator who delivers his people from all evils, what can there be, apart from him, that is fitted to cheer men ruined by their sins, and oppressed by troubles? And as we must be altogether overwhelmed with grief when Christ is absent, so on the other hand, the Prophet reminds believers that, when the Redeemer is present with them, they ought to be perfectly joyful. Now though he bestows on Christ other commendations — namely, that he is just, and having salvation — Matthew has taken but a single portion, which applied to the object he had in view, which is, that Christ will come, poor or meek; or in other words, that he will be unlike earthly kings, whose apparel is very magnificent and costly. Another mark of poverty is added, that he will ride on an ass, or the foal of an ass; for there can be no doubt that the manner of riding which belongs to the common people is contrasted with royal splendor. 

6. And the disciples went. It was just now remarked, that the zeal and readiness of the disciples to obey are here mentioned with commendation; for the influence of Christ was not so great, that his name alone would be sufficient to produce an impression on unknown persons; and besides, there was reason to fear that they would be blamed for theft. It is therefore a proof of the deference which they paid to their Master, when they make no reply, but proceed readily towards that place to which he has ordered them to go, relying on his command and promise. Let us also learn by their example to press forward through every kind of difficulty, so as to render to the Lord the obedience which he demands from us; for he will remove obstacles, and open up a path, and will not permit our endeavors to be unavailing. 

8. And a very great multitude. Here the Evangelists relate that Christ was acknowledged as a king by the people. It might, indeed, appear to be a ludicrous exhibition,  that a multitude of obscure persons, by cutting down trees, and strawing their garments, bestowed on Christ the empty title of King; but as they did this in good earnest, and as they gave an honest testimony of their reverence, so Christ looked upon them as fit heralds of his kingdom. Nor ought we to wonder at such a beginning, when even in the present day, while sitting at the right hand of the Father, he commissions from the heavenly throne obscure men, by whom his majesty is celebrated in a despicable manner. I do not think it probable that the branches of palm-trees were cut down, as some interpreters conjecture, in accordance with an ancient and solemn rite appointed for that day. On the contrary, it would seem to have been by a sudden movement of the Spirit that this honor was rendered to Christ, when nothing of this nature had been intended by the disciples, whom the rest of the multitude imitated by doing the same thing; for this also may be inferred from the words of Luke. 

9. Hosanna to the Son of David. This prayer is taken from Psalm 118:25. Matthew relates expressly the Hebrew words, in order to inform us, that these applauses were not rashly bestowed on Christ, and that the disciples did not utter without consideration the prayers which came to their lips, but that they followed with reverence the form of prayer, which the Holy Spirit had prescribed to the whole Church by the mouth of the Prophet. For, though he speaks there of his own kingdom, yet there is no reason to doubt that he principally looks, and intends others to look, to the eternal succession, which the Lord had promised to him. He drew up a perpetual form of prayer, which would be observed, even when the wealth of the kingdom was decayed; and therefore it was a prevailing custom, that prayers for the promised redemption were generally presented in these words. And the design of Matthew was, as we have just hinted, to quote in Hebrew a well-known psalm, for the purpose of showing that Christ was acknowledged by the multitude as a Redeemer. The pronunciation of the words, indeed, is somewhat changed; for it ought rather to have been written, Hoshiana, (an [ycwh) Save now, we beseech thee; but we know that it is scarcely possible to take a word from one language into another, without making some alteration in the sound. Nor was it only the ancient people whom God enjoined to pray daily for the kingdom of Christ, but the same rule is now laid down for us. And certainly, as it is the will of God to reign only in the person of his Son, when we say, May thy kingdom come, under this petition is conveyed the same thing which is expressed more clearly in the psalm. Besides, when we pray to God to maintain his Son as our King, we acknowledge that this kingdom was not erected by men, and is not upheld by the power of men, but remains invincible through heavenly protection. 

In the name of the Lord. He is said to come in the name of God, who not only conducts himself, but receives the kingdom, by the command and appointment of God. This may be more certainly inferred from the words of MARK, where another exclamation is added, Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, which cometh in the name of the Lord; for they speak thus in reference to the promises; because the Lord had testified that he would at length be a deliverer of that nation, and had appointed as the means the restoration of the kingdom of David. We see then that the honor of Mediator, from whom the restoration of all things and of salvation was to be expected, is ascribed to Christ. Now as it was mean and uneducated men by whom the kingdom of Christ was called the kingdom of David, let us hence learn that this doctrine was at that time well known, which in the present day appears to many to be forced and harsh, because they are not well acquainted with Scripture. 

Luke adds a few words, Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest;  in which there would be no obscurity, were it not that they do not correspond to the song of the angels, (Luke 2:14;) for there the angels ascribe to God glory in heaven, and to men peace on earth; while here both peace and glory are ascribed to God. But there is no contradiction in the meaning; for, though the angels state more distinctly the reason why we ought to sing, Glory to God — namely, because through his mercy men enjoy peace in this world — yet the meaning is the same with what is now declared by the multitude, that there is peace in heaven; for we know that there is no other way in which wretched souls find rest in the world, than by God reconciling himself to them out of heaven. 

10. When he entered into Jerusalem. Matthew says that the city was moved, in order to inform us that the transaction did not take place secretly, or by stealth, but in the presence of all the people, and that the priests and scribes were not ignorant of it. Under this despicable aspect of the flesh the majesty of the Spirit was apparent; for how would they have endured that Christ should be conducted into the city, attended by the splendor of royalty, with so great danger to themselves, if they had not been seized with astonishment? The substance of it therefore is, that Christ’s entrance was not made in a private manner, and that his enemies abstained from opposing it, not because they treated him with contempt, but rather because they were restrained by secret fear; for God had struck them with such alarm, that they dare not make any attempt. At the same time, the Evangelist glances at the careless indifference of the city, and commends the piety of those who have just reached it; for when the inhabitants, on hearing the noise, inquire, Who is this? it is manifest that they do not belong to the number of Christ’s followers. 

12. And Jesus entered into the temple. Though Christ frequently ascended into the temple, and though this abuse continually met his eye, twice only did he stretch out his hand to correct it; once, at the commencement of his embassy,  and now again, when he was near the end of his course. But though disgraceful and ungodly confusion reigned throughout, and though the temple, with its sacrifices, was devoted to destruction, Christ reckoned it enough to administer twice an open reproof of the profanation of it. Accordingly, when he made himself known as a Teacher and Prophet sent by God, he took upon himself the office of purifying the temple, in order to arouse the Jews, and make them more attentive; and this first narrative is given by John only in the second chapter of his Gospel. But now, towards the end of his course, claiming again for himself the same power, he warns the Jews of the pollutions of the temple, and at the same time points out that a new restoration is at hand. 

And yet there is no reason to doubt that he declared himself to be both King and High Priest, who presided over the temple and the worship of God. This ought to be observed, lest any private individual should think himself entitled to act in the same manner. That zeal, indeed, by which Christ was animated to do this, ought to be held in common by all the godly; but lest any one, under the pretense of imitation, should rush forward without authority, we ought to see what our calling demands, and how far we may proceed according to the commandment of God. If the Church of God have contracted any pollutions, all the children of God ought to burn with grief; but as God has not put arms into the hands of all, let private individuals groan, till God bring the remedy. I do acknowledge that they are worse than stupid who are not displeased at the pollution of the temple of God, and that it is not enough for them to be inwardly distressed, if they do not avoid the contagion, and testify with their mouth, whenever an opportunity. presents itself, that they desire to see a change for the better. But let those who do not possess public authority oppose by their tongue, which they have at liberty, those vices which they cannot remedy with their hands. 

But it is asked, Since Christ saw the temple filled with gross superstitions, why did he only correct one that was light, or, at least, more tolerable than others? I reply, Christ did not intend to restore to the ancient custom all the sacred rites, and did not select greater or smaller abuses for correction, but had only this object in view, to show by one visible token, that God had committed to him the office of purifying the temple, and, at the same time, to point out that the worship of God had been corrupted by a disgraceful and manifest abuse. Pretexts, indeed, were not wanting for that custom of keeping a market, which relieved the people from trouble, that they might not have far to go to find sacrifices; and next, that they might have at hand those pieces of money which any man might choose to offer. Nor was it within the holy place that the money-changers sat, or that animals intended for sacrifice were exposed to sale, but only within the court, to which the designation of the temple is sometimes applied; but as nothing was more at variance with the majesty of the temple, than that a market should be erected there for selling goods, or that bankers should sit there for matters connected with exchange, this profanation was not to be endured. And Christ inveighed against it the more sharply, because it was well known that this custom had been introduced by the avarice of the priests for the sake of dishonest gain. For as one who enters a market well-stocked with various kinds of merchandise, though he does not intend to make a purchase, yet, in consequence of being attracted by what he sees, changes his mind, so the priests spread nets in order to obtain offerings, that they might trick every person out of some gain.