Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.
Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).
A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.
What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:
Matthew 21:9 (my translation, compare NIV)
The crowds preceding him and following him were shouting:
“Hosanna to the son of David.”
“Blessings to the one arriving in the name of the Lord.”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
Hôšîʿâ-nāʾ was a plea for rescue in Hebrew/Aramaic, a kind of Mayday distress call (m’aider = help me in French). So often had God’s people called for him to rescue them that the Psalms are drenched with their cries. In Psalm 118:25, YHWH hosanna is translated Lord, save us! (NIV)
The crowd knew this cry. Psalm 118 was performed in the annual feasts as the procession ascended to the temple. Back when they had a king, the son of David led his people towards the house of God’s throne (the ark). They prayed for God to save the king, blessing him as the earthly representative of God’s reign: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Psalm 118:26).
Once Babylon had removed the Davidic king and God’s throne, the hosanna plea for God to save his people was more urgent. The kingship had been promised to David forever, so they longed for a son of David to be restored as king — the anointed who comes in the name of the Lord.
This Psalm held prophetic hope for God’s people, the promise that one day God would restore his anointed to them. Their hosanna cries for God to save them were joyfully fulfilled as the son of David joined them in festal procession:
Psalm 118:22–29 (NIV)
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us [hôšîʿâ-nāʾ]! Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Boughs in hand in festal processions, this crowd called Jesus their king, the long-awaited son of David. Their hosanna cries celebrated him as the answer to their prayers, the one who would save his people. They recognized him as God’s Christ: the anointed ruler with authority on earth to represent the reign of heaven, the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Listen to their joyful proclamation:
- Hosanna to the Son of David! Their distress call for God to save his people is being fulfilled before their eyes, in this son of David.
- Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Jesus the king who embodies the Davidic promise to reign with the authority of the faithful heavenly sovereign.
- Hosanna in the highest heaven! The answer to their distress call reveals the highest authority, the power that reigns above all powers..
Did you recognize that as the gospel? This crowd just proclaimed how divine authority reconciles heaven and earth:
- Their first statement recognizes God’s anointed king on earth.
- Their final statement recognizes the ultimate authority in heaven.
- These two realms come together in the one who comes to us in the name of the Lord.
Take time to meditate on this astounding proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom: how earth is saved from being overrun by evil and restored as a kingdom of heaven, the joyful answer to our pleas for God to save us is God’s anointed, the king who comes in the name of the Lord who reigns in heaven.
Heaven and earth are reconciled in God’s Christ.
What others are saying
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 780:
“Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the Lord’s name” both derive from Psalm 118 (vv. 25 and 26 respectively), which was the last and longest of the Hallel psalms (113–118) traditionally chanted at the major festivals in Jerusalem. The latter part of Ps 118 apparently describes a joyful pilgrimage (with green branches, v. 27) into the temple, led by the king (the “one who comes in the Lord’s name”), and it is from those verses that the crowd’s shouts are drawn. “Hosanna” is a Greek representation of the Hebrew hôšîʿâ-nāʾ, “Save us now”, which opens the plea for God’s blessing in v. 25; the phrase seems to have passed into more general use as a shout of praise, like Hallelujah, and that is how it is used here, where the following dative “to the Son of David” makes it clear that it is an ascription of praise rather than a prayer.
Update 2022-04-07: Original translation added (instead of NIV).