by Sam E. Stone
When I was a student in Bible college, one of my professors talked about this text in a chapel service. He explained that this is often referred to as “the triumphal entry,” as Jesus came into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he died. He suggested that the triumphal entry Jesus seeks today can be found as he is welcomed into the hearts and lives of his followers. This is what pleases the Lord, not simply an enthusiastic crowd lining the streets of the Holy City.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover provided ample reason for Jews from around the world to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There they celebrated what God had done for them in the past. These festivals called to mind the exodus from Egypt, including when the death angel “passed over” each home marked with blood on the doorpost.
The Preparation/Mark 11:1-8
A new section in Mark’s Gospel begins here, describing the final week of Christ’s ministry. Although Jesus had repeatedly warned his followers of his coming rejection (see Mark 10:32-35), they appeared unable to comprehend such a thought.
Nearing Jerusalem, Jesus and the Twelve came first to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. The exact location of Bethphage is not known. Although it was obviously a village near Jerusalem, it is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. Bethany, however, is frequently referred to in the Gospels. It is located about two miles from the Holy City and was the final station on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
The assignment Jesus gave two of his disciples included a cryptic message. He did not want to create unnecessary attention and premature crisis. They were told that they would find a colt tied at the entrance to the village, one which no one has ever ridden. They were to untie it and take it, without asking permission. When confronted, they were told simply to say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”
R. C. Foster points out, “Not even the disciples knew, at first, what Jesus intended or the significance of his action” (John 12:16). Matthew cites Zechariah 9:9 here (21:4, 5), explaining that Jesus’ action fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy. He rode on the poor man’s beast of burden, the humblest of the animals of peace.
Jesus was the very picture of royalty as he rode into the city, allowing the people to offer their praise to God. He had turned down the crowd’s offer of a crown when he fed the 5,000 (John 6:15). That was not time to declare his Messiahship. Besides those people had a worldly kingdom in mind, just as did many who lined the path into Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday.” Although their public display of adoration precipitated the crisis that led to his death, Jesus knew that now it was time to boldly announce to the nation, “The Messiah is here!”
In response, many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. John tells us that these included palm branches (John 12:13), an emblem of triumph and victory (see Leviticus 23:40; Revelation 7:9).
The Praise/Mark 11:9-11
The crowd’s adulation included expressions of praise often used by Jewish pilgrims as they assembled for the annual feasts in Jerusalem. From the four Gospels, it is evident that some shouted one thing, some another. When the people called out, “Hosanna!” they were literally saying, “Lord, save us!” This was essentially a prayer, but it was also an exclamation of praise. Quoting from Psalm 118:25, 26, the people praised the Messiah. Although many of them misunderstood the type of reign Jesus would establish, they nevertheless affirmed him as the promised Savior. As they did, they called on their king for salvation.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” The Old Testament declared clearly that the kingdom was promised to the Son of David (see 2 Samuel 7:11-14). J. W. McGarvey reminds us, “The apostles were not conscious that the prophecies were being fulfilled nor did they understand that Jesus was approaching a heavenly rather than an earthly coronation. But after Jesus was glorified, their understandings were spiritually illuminated (John 16:13).”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.