By Harris Franklin Rall
As was noted in the last chapter, the probable route of this last journey led from Samaria across to the east of the Jordan, and then down through the district of Peraea. Then the road recrossed the Jordan about where the Israelites crossed of old. The journey from the Jordan to Jerusalem was not an easy one. For five to eight hours the road led across a waterless wilderness; and so it came that the road usually taken was by way of Jericho, the rich city surrounded with fields and gardens forming an oasis in the midst of this desert. Jesus had apparently planned his journey so as to be in Jerusalem during Passover week, the presence of the multitudes in the city at that time fitting in with his purpose. On the other hand, there was good reason why he should not reach the city earlier, lest he should be seized before his work was done. Thus Jericho afforded a convenient last stopping place. As the entrance to Jerusalem seems to have been made on the first day of the week, it is quite likely that Jesus spent the Sabbath (Saturday) in Jericho.
Zacchaeus. —The route by Jericho was the one taken by pilgrims from Galilee and Perasa, and Jesus must have passed through this city many times when attending the great feasts at Jerusalem. He may have been here during the time of his public ministry as well, but there are only two incidents in the Gospels connected with Jericho, and both these occurred at this time. The first is the story of another man of wealth, though very unlike the young ruler.
The young ruler was a Jew of exemplary life and high standing: Zacchaeus was one of the execrated class of publicans. He may have been at the head of the customs house in Jericho, as Levi apparently was in Capernaum. It would be a responsible position, as Jericho was a border city and important trade routes from the east and north passed through it. Or he may have been connected with the farming of the taxes. In any case he was a high official, a "chief publican," and very rich. The news of Jesus* coming had preceded him and throngs were awaiting his entrance. Zaccha3us had evidently heard of this astonishing rabbi from the north who did not hesitate to associate with publicans like himself and he was determined to see him. There must have been more than mere curiosity, for, being short of stature and unable to see, he threw aside his dignity as a man of wealth and station, and climbed a tree. There Jesus saw him, read his eager interest, and invited himself and his company to be guests at Zacehaeus' house. Here at the very doors of Jerusalem Jesus went in the face of all orthodox rule and custom. But he cared far less for criticism than for the chance of winning a man; for "the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." And he won the man. While the Jews criticized, Zacchaeus , penitent and yet joyful, solemnly declared his purpose to Jesus: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold" (Luke 19. 1-10).
Bartimaeus. —Zacchaeus was a wealthy official and Bartimaeus a poor blind wayside beggar. They were alike in one respect: both of them needed the help of Jesus and were earnest in seeking it. Bartimaeus had no one to lead him to Jesus; all the people cared for was to stop his persistent crying out. The cry was enough to stop Jesus at once, and the faith of Bartimaeus brought the answer: "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole" (Mark 10. 46-53). It is fitting that the record of Jesus' ministry outside of Jerusalem should close with these two deeds of mercy, for Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus represent the two classes to whom his gracious service had gone: the sick of body and the sick of soul.
The Entrance into Jerusalem
The Last Week. —With the departure from Jericho Jesus enters upon the last week of his earthly life. It is in sharp contrast with what went before. We note its character. (1) A week of appeal. Jesus asserts his Messiahship and offers himself as leader. He does this in acted or spoken parable rather than in so many words, but his claim is unmistakable. Before this he had been publicly silent, and had charged his disciples with silence. (2) A week of conflict. He comes out openly against the leaders and authorities, and seems to provoke the danger from which he had previously turned away. He is not blind to the peril from the Pharisees and priests, and yet he seems purposely to challenge them. (3) It is a week of warnings. Again and again he solemnly warns leaders and people, calling them to repent before it is too late, and appealing to the people to leave their false guides. (4) It is a week of danger. That danger is present from the day of his entrance. It grows more imminent each day because of the very course that Jesus takes, until there comes the inevitable end.
On the Way. —The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is only about fifteen miles, but it rises some thirty-five hundred feet in that distance. "A more hot and heavy way it is impossible to conceive—between blistered limestone rocks, and in front the bare hills piled high, without shadow or verdure. There is no water from Jericho till you reach the roots of the Mount of Olives" (Smith, Historical Geography, 264, 265). Jesus and his company would therefore make an early start so that the hard climb might be made in the cool of the morning. It was the last stretch on their last journey together. Beside the Master and the twelve, there were the women from Galilee, certain other disciples who had left Galilee with them, and any that might have joined him on the way. Bartimaeus may have been among this number (Mark 10. 52). A couple of miles outside Jerusalem lay the village of Bethany, where we are told by the fourth Gospel that Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived. Here the company probably waited till certain preparations for the entry were made.
Jesus' Purpose in Entering the City. —During all this period that we have been studying, we have watched Jesus going about his quiet work of teaching and ministering, always as a servant, never asking attention or honor. It seems strange now that he should plan thus formally for the manner of his entrance. Jesus sends two of his disciples into the city, while the rest of the company wait. They go apparently to the house of a friend, for they are told in case any question is raised simply to say, "The Lord hath need." Here they get an ass. Seated upon this beast, and surrounded by his followers, Jesus enters the city. It was all very simple and humble, and yet it was done with definite purpose. What did it mean? Among the passages generally held by the Jews to be Messianic was that of Zechariah 9. 9: "Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass." Jesus was speaking here in action, as he had done more than once before. Even in this last week he does not yet say in so many words, "I am the Messiah:" but for those who would understand and receive it he was declaring the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy in himself, and claiming to be the Christ (Matt. 21, 4, 5). Significant too is the passage which he chooses. By this picture of the lowly teacher sitting upon the humble beast, accompanied by friends unarmed and humble like himself, he was setting forth plainly what manner of king he claimed to be. This was his first public declaration of Messiahship.
The Enthusiasm of the People. —Meanwhile the report had spread through the city that Jesus of Nazareth was coming. The city was crowded as usual with pilgrims who had come to the Passover from all over the Jewish world. Many who had not seen Jesus would have heard of him; but there were many here who had seen and heard him. There was probably not a city or village of Galilee in which he had taught that was not represented. These would be the first to go out to meet him. It is true they may not have had a clear understanding of Jesus' message or any strong allegiance to him, but they knew him as the prophet and wonder-worker. Perhaps the Kingdom was drawing near, as Jesus had said. Perhaps he was the forerunner, the one who was coming in the name of the Lord. The crowd increased, the pilgrims being joined by the natives of the city. Some threw their garments in the way, others branches taken from the fields, and all shouted their hosanna: "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David: Hosanna in the highest!"
The Protest of the Pharisees. —The enthusiasm and the cries stirred the whole city. "Who is this?" the people asked of the Galilean multitudes, who were leaders in the demonstration. It is significant that they did not say, "This is the Messiah," but, rather, "This is Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee," the prophet. The Pharisees, whose plans were probably already made to proceed against Jesus, were angered at the demonstration. They came to Jesus with their indignant complaint: What did he mean by allowing such expressions from the people? "I tell you," replied Jesus, "that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out." Once he had restrained such expressions; now he takes them as his right. His words added to their resentment.
A Challenge and an Appeal. —The entrance into the city was Jesus' first challenge to the leaders, to be followed soon by others. It is probable that, even if the common people did not, these shrewd and watchful men knew what Jesus intended. It was a challenge to the people also, or, rather, an appeal. It was for this that he had come to the city, not simply to declare his Messiahship, but to appeal to his nation, here in the proud city of David, to see in him that Son of David to whom the generations had looked forward. Without such an appeal here in this city his work would not be done. And he had chosen with set purpose this week, when not only the men of Jerusalem would hear him, but the Jews from all over the world.
The Cleansing of the Temple
A Visit to the Temple. —Jesus' appeal on the first day had apparently been without word by the simple act of his entry. By the time he came to the temple it was evening, and having looked about he went out to the quiet and safety of Bethany. The next day found him again in the temple and looking upon a sight that must often have grieved him before. Before him was the court of the Gentiles, the outermost part of the sacred precincts. This was the place that belonged to the proselytes, the converts to the Jewish faith from other peoples, and their presence must have appealed to Jesus in peculiar manner. Long ago the prophet had written of such as these: "Also the foreigners that join themselves to Jehovah, . . . even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isa. 56. 6. 7). The words were in his heart as he gazed on the scene, but what he saw was very different.
"A Den of Robbers." —The temple was in control of the priestly party, as was, indeed, the city. This does not mean the common priests like Zacharias, but the coterie of which Annas, former high priest, was the powerful and unscrupulous head. These had made the temple not merely a place of merchandise, but literally, as Jesus said, "a den of robbers." Nominally for the benefit of the pilgrims, they had turned this court of the Gentiles into a place of business. In fact, they were carrying on a monopoly with opportunity for unlimited graft. Here were the tables of the money-changers. The temple tax of half a shekel, due once a year from every Jew, had to be paid in the old Jewish coinage. The pilgrims who came up with their Grecian and Roman coins had to exchange these and pay a good premium in so doing. Here were lambs for sale for the Passover meal, and other animals for sacrifice. It would be very easy for the priests to refuse to approve animals bought elsewhere, and thus practically compel the people to buy them here. Such a monopoly would mean enormous profits. Out of regard for the poor, the law provided that these might offer a pair of doves. But even the poor did not escape their clutches, and there were doves for sale. All this sordid greed Jesus saw, while his ears were greeted with the din of buyers and sellers, the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle.
The Indignation of Jesus. —What followed certainly does not show us the traditional Jesus, whose gentleness has too often been conceived as a kind of weakness. Under the indignities heaped upon himself he could remain quiet, but the wrong done to others stirred his soul. And that was what caused his wrath in this case. It was not so much the greed of the priests, or even their robbery, it was the religious oppression and wrong. Here were the multitudes coming from Judaea and Galilee and lands farther distant. What sacrifices the journey had cost, and with what high enthusiasm they came! For these men from all nations the temple should have been waiting as God's house of prayer; instead it stood defiled by greed, a den of thieves. We are told that Jesus made a scourge of cords. He did not need it so far as these men were concerned. It is true, he overturned the tables, and perhaps with his disciples drove out the cattle; but the men fled before him. There is no mightier force than moral passion.
Why No Resistance? —One wonders at first that the authorities did not resist. The Jews had temple guards of their own, and the Romans also kept a guard near by. How quickly these Roman soldiers could interfere we know from their sudden appearance at the time of Paul's arrest (Acts 21. 32). But Jesus had two allies. One was the guilty conscience of these men. The other was the sympathy of the multitude. The greed and oppression "and even violence of the priestly party were notorious. The people had suffered and been helpless; their sympathy all lay with Jesus. The priests must have been all the more angry because, for the moment at least, they were helpless. If they had been indifferent before, they were now his sworn foes, as bitterly opposed as the Pharisees. They were of that class of men who are stirred by nothing so quickly as to have their purses touched; Paul met that kind of hostility in Ephesus years later (Acts 19. 23-37). It was but a matter of time until these priests would find their chance for vengeance and Jesus knew it when he used that scourge.
Directions For Study
Read Luke 19. 1-10; Mark 10. 46-52; Luke 19. 29-40; Mark 11. 15-18. Read over the chapter and fix its events in mind:
1. The stay in Jericho, and the record of the two gracious deeds.
2. The early morning journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, a toilsome journey on that steep, hot road, and the beginning of a week of burdens that we cannot measure for both body and soul of Jesus.
3. The entrance into the city, the preparation, the enthusiasm, the quiet night at Bethany.
4. The cleansing of the temple on the following day, a wonderful deed of courage and power and the presage of what the next days were to bring.
Study now more closely the two main events of this lesson, the entry and the cleansing. Read the lesson discussion, but make the Bible passages themselves the main subject of your study.
1. The triumphal entry. Keep in mind that it was planned by Jesus, and try to determine its meaning.
2. The cleansing of the temple. Ask yourself how Jesus' character is revealed here, what picture it gives of the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and what this event meant in the bringing about of Jesus' death.
When, if ever, is physical force justifiable?
What qualities of a true soldier did Jesus have? What qualities were absent that too often appear when men and nations fight? Upon what weapons did Jesus rely?
To what extent are our social, industrial, and political ills (including war) caused by the greed of gain?