Yesterday we saw Jesus’ anointing in Bethany by Mary, and today we come to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And it is his entry into Jerusalem one final time that sparks the events that will lead to the fulfillment of mission, while he was here on earth. And that mission was his death, burial and resurrection.
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”—12:12-13
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Sunday is narrated in all four Gospels. A large crowd went out to meet him, waving palm branches as he approached the city. The waving of the palm branches means that some recognized Jesus to be something of a national hero. In Christian history, this day has become known as Palm Sunday. The crowd’s excitement is evident in their enthusiastic exclamations. Many shouted out the words of Psalm 118, which is a royal psalm sung in thanksgiving for victory in battle. While some in the crowd though Jesus was the Messiah, many of them did not.
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”—12:14-15
The focus of these verses is on Jesus. These verses depict what kind of Jesus came to be. He intentionally entered the city on the back of a donkey, a symbolic act fulfilling Zechariah 9:9. Many people anticipated a militaristic Messiah riding into Jerusalem on the back of a white horse; Jesus came as the Prince of Peace.
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”—12:16-19
John describes how various groups responded to Jesus’ entry. The disciples saw the events unfolding but did not understand their true meaning until after Jesus’ glorification. Those who had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead continued to talk about the miracle. Others, who had heard of the raising of Lazarus, went out to greet Jesus. And when the Pharisees saw this crowd’s enthusiasm, they felt utterly frustrated.
Now that we discussed in general what has happened during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, let’s deal with somethings in greater detail. And we are going to do that by addressing the two big questions that arise out of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: why did Jesus participate in this procession; and why did Jesus ride a donkey?
- Why did Jesus participate in this procession?
Jesus, at the climax of his ministry, was making a very public identity statement that proclaimed who he was—the Son of David, the king of kings, the conqueror of sin and sickness. Conquering generals at that time were given a “triumphal entry” upon their return to their home city. Palm branches were often waved during such times of celebration and victory. This procession caused the city, crowded with people for Passover, to consider Jesus’ claims.
- Why did Jesus ride a donkey?
Donkeys or mules were often associated with leaders. By riding this young colt, however, Jesus demonstrated his humility and gentleness. He also vividly fulfilled one of the prophecies of the Messiah. However, there is another reason Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem during his triumphal entry and that reason is: In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses of they rode to war, but donkeys if they came in peace. We see 1 Kings 1:33 mentioning Solomon riding a donkey on the day he was recognized as the new king of Israel.
The mention of a donkey in Zechariah 9:9-10 fits the description of a king who would be “righteous and having salvation, gentle.” Rather than riding to conquer, this king would enter in peace.
Zechariah 9:10 highlights this peace: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
You should note the many details symbolic of peace.
- “Take away the chariots”: an end to the main vehicle of war.
- “Take away…the war-horses”: no need for horses used in war.
- “The battle bow will be broken”: no need for bows or arrows for fighting.
- “He will proclaim peace to the nations”: His message will be one of reconciliation.
- “His rule shall be from sea to sea”: the King will control extended territory with no enemies of concern.
Jesus fulfills this prophecy of Zechariah. The worldwide peace proclaimed by this humble King will be a fulfillment of the angels song in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (NKJV). For you see Jesus came not as conquering general whose aim is to destroy and subjugate, but as the ruling and reigning sovereign who has come to restore peace to a world that is in desperate need of restoration. And we will pick up from here tomorrow as we continue on with John’s brief account of Holy Week.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 22:1-23:23, Acts 2, Psalm 122:1-9 and Proverbs 16:19-20
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