What does the son of David do for his people as he enters the capital? Matthew alone reports this:
Matthew 21:14-16 (my translation, compare NIV)
14 Blind and lame people came up to him in the temple complex, and he healed them. 15 But as the chief priests and Bible scholars saw the marvellous things he did, and the children calling out in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David,” they were outraged 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what they’re saying?”
Jesus replies, “Oh, yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of tiny tots and babies you orchestrated acclamation?’”
Jesus had healed the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others in Galilee, where the crowds recognized the God of Israel working through him (15:30-31). The reaction in Jerusalem is polarized.
The crowds ascribe salvation (Hosanna) to the Davidic descendant who saves his people, but those who hold the reigns of the city are put out. They feel threatened, just as Saul did when God’s anointing had moved to David and the people sang his praises as the one who would save them (1 Samuel 18:7-8; 21:11; 29:5).
This descendant of David is the saviour/king in the story of his regal ancestor.
The King David connection
When David first arrived at Jerusalem, it was still under Jebusite control. The citadel was so easy to defend that they told David, “Even the blind and the lame can ward you off” (2 Samuel 5:6). David captured the city, flipping the insult against his “blind and lame” enemies. Unfortunately, this saying survived as a proverb in Israel: That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house” (5:8).
In a world where kings parade their splendour by putting only perfect specimens of humanity on display, David showed remarkable compassion by inviting Saul’s crippled son to his table (2 Samuel 9:13). But that was the exception. Old Testament regulations also prevented people with deformities from serving in God’s house (Leviticus 21:16-23).
So, if we think of Jesus as the son of David returning to Jerusalem to re-establish God’s reign, his first act is to approach God’s house (the temple/palace that honours God’s sovereignty) with the goal of setting right what was wrong:
- He evicted the people who treated this as commercial space instead of the palace where people could petition the throne (Matthew 21:12).
- He denounced the leaders in control of God’s house, shaming them as thugs who use temple authority to enforce their banditry (21:13), with God’s anointed as their primary target.
- And what about the needy and disabled people who came to him there? (21:14)
Jesus does not set the temple right by ejecting the imperfect people from the courtyard. He sets things right by healing them. Jesus’ answer for what’s wrong is not exclusion: it’s the radical inclusion that comes from restoring our broken humanity to wholeness.
That’s good news for all of us!
Reactions to his authority
Jesus polarizes people.
Some get angry. No one will tell them what to do. Driven by entitlement, ownership, and power, they will not yield to God’s anointed for the restoration of the world. They’ll crucify him before they’d recognize him.
Others — people who’ve suffered at the hands of oppressive powers — respond like joyful children who’ve just been let out of school. His kingdom consists of people like this (18:3-5). To those who impose their own rules on others, the joyful parade of Jesus followers seems uninhibited, like children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (21:15).
Jesus makes no attempt to restrain their child-like proclamation of his kingship to placate the Jerusalem leaders. Instead, he draws their attention to a precedent set by his royal ancestor in Psalm 8:2. It’s the powerless — the children who don’t have social standing — who joyfully welcome God’s reign. His reply in Matthew 21:16 is:
Oh, yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of tiny tots and babies you orchestrated acclamation?’
What astounding insight into how the world runs! For those who want power, Jesus’ servant kingship is unappealing. But for the little people whom God is rescuing, his power is the joy of their life.
Our heavenly sovereign is renewing his world. The little ones join his anointed declaring: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth (Psalm 8:1).
What others are saying
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 788:
In the light of the setting in the temple, the reader who has a good knowledge of the OT text is likely to recall that at David’s first capture of Jerusalem he was taunted with the cry “Even the blind and the lame will keep you out,” and in response declared his hatred for “the blind and the lame,” resulting in the saying “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” (2 Sam 5:6–8) Yet here, in “the house,” Jesus the Son of David is approached by the blind and the lame, and far from dismissing them, he heals them.
- How to receive Christ (Mt 18:1-5)
- How Jesus saw children (Mt 19:13-15)
- Original kingdom, or original sin? (Mt 19:14)
Update 2022-04-07: Original translation added (instead of NIV).