By Sam E. Stone
The “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem is significant for many reasons. It is one of the few events in his life that is recorded in all four Gospels. It marked the beginning of his last week on the earth. For three years he had taught and lived God’s message for the world. While his popularity was extremely high among the common people, the religious leaders took a different view. They saw him as a troublemaker. Although Jesus was always true to Scripture, he did not go along with their faulty interpretations and misapplications of Scripture. They were headed on a collision course.
The King Prepares
Jesus often stayed just outside of Jerusalem in Bethany. Here Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived. The Mount of Olives was nearby on a hill overlooking the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord assigned two of his disciples a special task. They were to go into a village and bring back a young donkey for him to use when he entered the city. This is the only time in Scripture that Jesus is said to have ridden on an animal. No doubt he was thinking of the prophecies in Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 on this occasion.
Jesus knew where the animal would be tied and who would be nearby to check out the apostles when they went to get it. The words that he told them to use were all that were necessary: “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” No ID required; no deposit requested. It was significant also that the colt had never been ridden prior to this. If the colt had been used by men, it would have been unfit for sacred purposes (compare Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7).
The King Arrives
The foal of a donkey does not sound like a particularly impressive animal, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day, this animal would be seen as most appropriate. After all, Zechariah had said, “See, your king comes to you . . . gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). While the war horse was used for battle, the donkey was a lowly animal of peace. David had used a mule for a royal mount (1 Kings 1:33).
The people regarded Jesus so highly that a great number of the multitude spread their cloaks on the road. Second Kings 9:13 reported acknowledging a new king in a similar way. After the colt passed over their garments, the people would pick them up and lay them down again. The disciples themselves put their cloaks on the donkey’s back (Mark 11:7).
At the same time the people spread branches they had cut from the palm trees in the fields. J. W. McGarvey noted, “The palm branch is emblematic of triumph and victory—Leviticus 23:40; Revelation 7:9. They were used for the Festival of Tabernacles. Date palms were abundant in the area.”
In addition, the people shouted, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” They must have been remembering Psalm 118, a psalm used by worshippers as they traveled to Jerusalem. C. E. Graham Swift added, “His entry expressed the character of His Messiahship . . . . His purpose was not the overthrow of Rome but the breaking of the power of sin.”
Hosanna literally means “save now!” This shout was customarily used at various festivals. Their cries were in keeping with the people’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Others were calling out, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
God had promised David that his throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16). The crowds saw in Jesus the fulfillment of that promise. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost he reminded the people of the fact that they had killed the very one they had previously acknowledged as the Messiah (Acts 2:36; 3:14, 15). Upon entering the city, Jesus went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but . . . went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
James Denney summed it up like this: “The center of gravity in apostolic preaching was not Bethlehem but Calvary; not the life of our Lord, but his death; not his example but his expiation; not his teaching but his atonement.”
The Son of David is the Son of God!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.