This passage of Scripture is commonly called by Christians the "Triumphal Entry." Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines triumphal this way: "1. a ceremony attending the entering of Rome by a general who had won a decisive victory over a foreign enemy. 2. the joy or exultation of victory or success. 3a. a victory or conquest by or as if by military force; b. a notable success."
All Israel knew that it would be in Jerusalem where Messiah would be enthroned as their King. In the "Triumphal Entry," Jesus' presentation of Himself to Israel as their Messiah is seen as the fulfillment of prophecy.
All four Gospels record the "Triumphal Entry" of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Each one includes information that is unique to the purpose of that Gospel. The Gospel of Mark records the event in subtle terms. It includes the basic information without some of the spectacular aspects found in the other Gospels.
Mark's purpose is to show his readers that the Lord presented Himself as the Messiah to Israel; that this fulfilled the Messianic prophecies; and that while He was received that day, within four days the same crowd that hailed Him as their king would shout out, "Crucify Him."
With Mark, chapter eleven, we begin the final division in the Gospel of Mark: Passion Week--where Jesus prepares for His own suffering and death. Jesus' journey to Jerusalem actually began nine months earlier, and the Lord and the Twelve have passed through 35 locations on the road to the city of the great King. They have zigzagged through Galilee, Samaria, Perea and Judea; stopping, preaching, healing in each place, and then moving on. Soon they will be at the gates of Jerusalem.
The Passover feast was at hand, which brought many pilgrims to Jerusalem and fueled the fires of Messianic expectations. Israelites from all over Israel would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Jesus had performed a number of spectacular miracles, which attracted the crowds and further fueled their Messianic enthusiasm. Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), accompanied by another unnamed blind man (Matthew 20:30), were given their sight in Jericho (Luke 18:35-43). The most spectacular miracle, however, was the raising of Lazarus. The result of this miracle was even greater popularity for our Lord:
John 11:45-46 (NASB) Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.
This popularity alarmed the Pharisees, who met together to discuss the crisis, and who were intent on killing Jesus.
One can hardly grasp the mood of many at that moment in history. They were looking for Messiah, and Jesus was a likely candidate. The moment was right. They looked for Him, watching carefully for any indication of His identity. In contrast, the Pharisees and religious leaders were determined that He was not the Messiah, and that He would have no opportunity to attempt to be acclaimed such by the masses, who would have wished He were their King. They were intent on putting Him to death and were only looking for the right opportunity. These opponents of our Lord feared the crowds and sought to do away with Jesus.
Mark 11:1 (NASB) And as they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples,
Jesus stayed overnight in Bethany the evening before His ascension into the
city of Jerusalem, and He stayed here at least one further evening before the
Passover festival, which was to be celebrated within Jerusalem's city walls. The
inference being that He used the city as the "headquarters" while he was there,
which would be relatively safe and out of reach of the Jewish religious and
Roman civil authorities during the night periods.
Bethany was located about two miles south-east of the city of Jerusalem and situated on the main Jericho to Jerusalem road, which would have been used by the pilgrims ascending into the capital from the East.
What was significant about this village? It was in Bethany that the Lord had raised Lazarus from the dead:
John 12:1-2 (NASB) Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.
It was also the place where the ascension of our Lord took place:
Luke 24:50-51 (NKJV) And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.
In Bethany the resurrection of Lazarus was done before a crowd of people. John tells us of the rumors filling the land:
John 11:55-56 (NASB) Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover, to purify themselves. 56 Therefore they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another, as they stood in the temple, "What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?"
Can you see the buzz of curiosity as to where Christ was, and whether He would be joining them at the feast in Jerusalem?
Mark 11:2-3 (NASB) and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3 "And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here."
The word translated "colt" is Greek polos, which means: "the young of any animal" from an elephant to a locust. Here it is referring to the "colt" or "foal" of a donkey. Mark does not mention that it was a donkey, but Matthew does:
Matthew 21:2 (NASB) saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me.
Donkeyology: The donkey was domesticated in Mesopotamia by the Third Millennium B.C. and was used as a beast of burden from the patriarchal period. It was renowned for its strength and was the animal normally ridden by nonmilitary personnel (Numbers 22:21; Judges 10:4; 1 Samuel 25:20). The Scripture indicates that riding a donkey is not at all beneath the dignity of Israel's noblemen and kings (2 Samuel 18:9; 19:26). David indicates his choice of Solomon to be king by decreeing that the young man should ride on the king's own mule:
1 Kings 1:33 (NASB) And the king said to them, "Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon.
Why did Jesus want the colt of a donkey? This is not a case where Jesus suddenly got tired and said that He was too tired to walk the rest of the way, so they would have to go get Him a donkey to ride on. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, He always walked. To my knowledge, this is the first time Jesus is said to have ridden an animal. The purpose for riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was to fulfill prophecy, and thereby, to proclaim His identity as Messiah. Matthew tells us:
Matthew 21:4 (NASB) Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
So what's happening here is very intentional; it's very calculated. The prophecy is:
Zechariah 9:9 (NASB) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
"Daughter of Zion" is used as a synonym for Jerusalem and its people. The people had returned from exile to Jerusalem, but their heads hung low for all that had taken place. The prophet sets their minds on God's promise of deliverance. It would not come with the might of Nebuchadnezzar or Alexander the Great but in gentleness and humility. Think about the conquering kings of history. Who among them were gentle and so humble as to ride on a donkey's colt in solemn procession? Christ's kingdom is not of this world with all of its pride and vainglory.
The Rabbis had a real problem with this verse. They saw the single advent of the Messiah as an advent of triumph and victory. How would it be that the King would enter Jerusalem in such a lowly manner. Eventually, the Rabbis reconciled this by stating in the Babylonian Talmud: "If Israel was worthy, the Messiah would come on the clouds of heaven, if they were not worthy, lowly and riding upon an ass."
Is the King only coming for the "daughter of Zion," Israel? Listen to the next verse in Zechariah:
Zechariah 9:10 (NASB) And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.
The Old Testament context makes it clear that this King came with a different focus than the 43 kings of Israel and Judah. They came to rule over particular geographical realms that were limited by the spoils of war. Christ came to bring salvation to the nations!
Mark 11:2 (NASB) and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here.
There was a small settlement not far from Bethany. As two chosen disciples entered, they would see a colt of a donkey tethered outside a home. They must bring that colt back to Bethany to Jesus. This is a fulfillment of Jacob's prophecy about Judah:
Genesis 49:10-11 (NASB) "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 "He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes.
Jesus is referred to as "Shiloh," the name meaning: "He whose right it is," and a title anciently understood to speak of the Messiah. It had all been prophesied.
Mark 11:3 (NASB) "And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' you say, 'The Lord has need of it'; and immediately he will send it back here."
"The Lord has need of it" this is one of the most misused phrases in all of Scripture. I once heard a man on the 700 Club talking about life verses. His guest on the show wanted a life verse, so he randomly opened his Bible and put his finger on a verse it was this verse in Mark. The man began to proclaim, "The Lord has need of me, the Lord has need of me." I thought to myself, "Yes, in fitting with the context, you are an ass."
At the funeral of a young child, a pastor read this paragraph about the donkey from Mark. You may be thinking, "How could a text pertaining to the acquisition of a donkey possibly bring comfort to those who had just lost a child in death?" The pastor focused attention on the phrase, "The Lord needs it." He went on to say, "All it took was this statement from the disciples, and the owners of these two animals were willing to let them be led away. And all it required for the Christian to release the little child to God's care and keeping was the knowledge that, in His good purposes, God had need of the child. What a beautiful truth. What a marvelous application."
In context, it is a donkey that the Lord needs, and He needs it to fulfill prophecy. We really need to be careful how we handle God's Word. I read a statement over twenty years ago that I have never forgotten. I believe it was Bernard Ramm who said, "If we take the Scripture out of the context for which it was originally intended, it no longer remains the Word of God." This has always driven me to try to study in context.
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem at Passover time was His statement that He was coming to Jerusalem as a King. The whole idea of it being on a donkey no one else has ever ridden is the idea of His exalted position, His sovereignty. He's going to enter the city declaring Himself to be King.
Mark 11:4-6 (NASB) And they went away and found a colt tied at the door outside in the street; and they untied it. 5 And some of the bystanders were saying to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 And they spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission.
These two disciples went into the village, and, without previously asking permission, started to take the animals. All this was done in the sight of the animals' owners (according to Matthew). We would say that this act was "gutsy." And remember that the two disciples are doing precisely what Jesus instructed them to do.
New Testament students debate whether Christ had prearranged with the owners of the donkeys to borrow them or whether He just knew of their existence by His omniscience. One side says that what is described in that incident is a miracle; nothing short of it. Here is knowledge of the future in the most detailed way, where the colt is tied, and what the owner or his friends will say; donkeys, conversations, and responses are all drawn into the providence of God.
The other side would say that it is very apparent from this brief account that Jesus had made certain pre-arrangements for this day. He knew that He was coming into the city and that He was to fulfill prophecies which had been made hundreds of years earlier. So He had made arrangements in advance for fulfillment of the prophecy concerning this colt. Thus we do not need to see this as some miraculous supply of His need.
William Barclay and others suppose that the phrase about the colt: "The Lord has need of it" is only some prior arranged code. Jesus probably has friends in many, many towns where He has stayed before, who have told him, "If you need anything anything! just let me know!" Jesus is not telling His disciples to engage in "grand theft donkey," but is taking up a friend on his long-standing offer. Notice that once the disciples say, "The Lord needs it," there is no further argument. The owners are happy to have the Lord use their possessions for His work.
Consider the effects all this excitement would have had on the untrained donkey. Yet, it apparently remained calm throughout, for the One Who rode it had authority over all things. Here, again, our Lord's power over an untamed animal, to sit on its back and ride the few miles to Jerusalem, showed his Kingly authority over everything in creation.
Mark 11:7-8 (NASB) And they brought the colt to Jesus and put their garments on it; and He sat upon it. 8 And many spread their garments in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.
By sheer numbers and actions, here is one of the most remarkable displays of honor to Christ in the New Testament. We find an occasion in 2 Kings 9:13 when Jehu was anointed king over Israel, and his followers took their garments and placed them on the bare steps for his feet, to express submission.
Mark 11:9-10 (NASB) And those who went before, and those who followed after, were crying out, "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"
What a scene! Vast crowds of people rejoicing in the presence of Jesus. There was normally a feeling of excitement at this time of the year when crowds from the villages and farms of the nation walked to the city for the festival. Millions of people, Jews and Gentiles, attendedthey were under divine obligation to attend. They were coming to the place where the living God had chosen to put His name and manifest His presence; the place where, through the prescribed daily sacrifices, Yahweh assured His people of their forgiveness, of fellowship with Himself, of hope for their future. They were coming there to celebrate one of the great events of the past, their forefathers' deliverance from bondage; redemption by the bloodshed of a substitute; the gift of freedom to live in their own land. All this was accompanied by the eating of the Passover meal, the lamb and the bitter herbs. They longed that there would be special blessing that year in Jerusalem, that God's sovereign and saving presence would be revealed in quite a new way.
To understand how jam-packed Jerusalem would have been during this Passover period, we could compare it to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. If you have ever been there you can get a little idea of what it was like. People were everywhere! During Jesus' day, Jerusalem had a population of around 25,000 (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 27). The estimates of the size of the Passover crowd range from 180,000 on the low end to 3 million on the upper end (Jeremias, 77-84).
Most of these pilgrims had not seen or heard Jesus, but likely, most of them had heard of Him by those on pilgrimage from the Galilean region. They were already on an emotional high by the excitement surrounding the Passover. Now, added to this, "Messiah fever" began to contagiously sweep through the masses.
Mark 11:9 (NASB) And those who went before, and those who followed after, were crying out, "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD;
On top of this, when He entered the city, Matthew tells us "all the city was stirred."He uses a word that we derive from seismicthe city shook with the excitement of a possible Messiah in their midst!
This crowd was crying out, "Hosanna!" Unlike its use in many choruses in today's churches throughout the world, "Hosanna" is not an expression of praise, but of prayer, supplication, pleading, and almost desperation. Our English word "hosanna" comes from a Greek word "hosanna," which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na. That Hebrew phrase is only found one solitary place in the whole Scripture:
Psalms 118:25 (NASB) O LORD, do save, we beseech Thee; O LORD, we beseech Thee, do send prosperity!
"O Lord, do save !" This is a cry to God for help; like when somebody jumps into deep water without knowing how to swim, they come up hollering: "Help, save me," "Hoshiya na!"
So, as Jesus was riding along the road, the crowds were shouting, "Save us! Save us!" Save them from what? Well, from Roman oppression, of course. Now, Jesus, indeed, had salvation to offer, but a far different kind of salvation than the Jews expected. His salvation would run far deeper than that.
As long as Jesus held this expectation for the people, the expectation of salvation from Roman oppression, the crowd would receive Him with shouts of jubilation. As long as He fulfilled their expectation, they would follow Him. But was their reception a reception of Jesus on His terms? Was their reception a commitment to Him and to His Kingdom? It certainly was not. They are shouting now, but in a few days, they would be shouting a different refrain, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Mark 11:10 (NASB) Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!"
This is not part of Psalm 118 or of any Psalm. The reference to "our father David" isn't found anywhere in the Bible. What the Lord Jesus preached about was the Kingdom of God, not about the "coming kingdom of our father David." The mob was longing for deliverance from Roman oppression; it was muddled in its understanding of Jesus and His mission.
Why the triumphal entry? Why, on this occasion, did Jesus not slip into Jerusalem unnoticed as He had over the years? Why is Messianic secrecy replaced by massive Messianic self-disclosure? From this time on the Lord Christ makes His identity as God's anointed King spectacularly clear. For most of His ministry, the Lord Jesus has been telling His disciples not to disclose to the world that He is the Son of God. Even demons are silenced who cry out, "We know who You are!" When a leper is healed, Jesus says, "See that you don't tell this to anyone" (Mk. 1:44). When a little girl is raised from the dead, we are told, "He gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about this" (Mk. 5:43). When Peter, on behalf of the apostles, says, "You are the Christ," we read that "Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him" (Mk. 8:30). The reasons for this were that there was considerable misunderstanding as to the nature of the Messiah; the crowds thought of that figure as a political revolutionary.
If Rome suspected that He was a revolutionary who claimed to be the Messiah, they'd have taken and arrested Him. If Jesus had immediately thrown down the gauntlet to the chief priests by teaching that He was the promised Messiah, then He wouldn't have survived the two or three years of ministry He had to have.
Does Jesus' attitude of secrecy teach us something about sovereignty and responsibility? Jesus knew He was going to the cross; it was God's will, and it could not be stopped. And yet Jesus uses human means to keep His secret until the proper time.
We know that God is sovereign over everything that happens. Nothing happens outside the sovereign will of God. He controls plants, animals, men, weather, nations, and nature. God controls everything that happens.
Because we are so prone to twist or misuse the truth we find in Scripture, I think we need to discuss the danger of misusing the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. It is the tendency of some individuals to see the doctrine of sovereignty as fatalism.
The fatalist would say, "God is going to do what He wants to do so I'm not going to concern myself about it." If there was a storm coming, they would make no preparations; they wouldn't run to the store or make sure they had batteries or water.
On the other hand, the person who rightly understands God's sovereignty would make all the preparations that wisdom dictates, while the whole time trusting in God and praying for wisdom and protection.
God's sovereignty does not negate our responsibility to act wisely. Acting wisely, in this context, means that we use all legitimate, Biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves or others, and to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.
David gives us a good illustration of acting wisely as he fled from Saul. Saul was determined to kill David. So David did every thing he could to avoid Saul. David acted wisely. David knew that he was to be king some day:
1 Samuel 16:13 (NASB) Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.
He had already been anointed to succeed Saul. And David knew that the Sovereign God would carry out His purpose:
Psalms 57:2 (NASB) I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.
David knew that God would fulfill His purpose for him. Yet David didn't just sit down and say, "Saul can't hurt me because God had ordained that I be king, and I can't be king if I'm dead." David fled from Saul and took every precaution so that Saul could not kill him. David didn't presume upon the sovereignty of God, but acted wisely in dependence upon God to bless his efforts. He ran from Saul, and he prayed to God.
Ecclesiastes 10:18 (NASB) Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.
The house is not said to decay because of God's sovereign plan, but because of man's laziness. If a student fails an exam because he did not study, he can't blame it on God's sovereign will, but on his own lack of diligence. God is sovereign over every thing that happens in life, but we are still responsible. Don't ever use God's sovereignty as an excuse for your failure to use wisdom.
Back to our text, we pick up from Luke's Gospel another distinction of Jesus' coming into Jerusalem. It is a sorrowful cry, or the King's lamentation, over Jerusalem.
Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the East, coming from Jericho. About two miles from Jerusalem, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, He came to Bethany. Continuing on His journey around the south side of the Mount of Olives, He passed by Bathphage, which was a little hamlet, almost at Jerusalem. From there, the road descended into a shallow valley, and ascended very quickly to a rock plateau. In a moment in time, the entire city burst into view. And what a glorious view it was! The entire city could be seen from this vantage point. From the East, this was the most spectacular view. Below was the Kedron Valley, which was at its greatest depth as it joined the Valley of Hinnom. The walled city of Jerusalem seemed to rise out of a deep abyss, with the golden Temple occupying center stage. From this vantage point, Jesus could see the entire citythe Temple with its courts, the magnificent city behind, and the gardens and suburbs a little further back on the Western plateau. He could see, as well, the thousands of travelers, who were camped out on the hillside surrounding Jerusalem, there for the Passover celebration. As many as three million people would gather for this feast. It is thought by historians that almost half of the population of Judea and Galilee may have been there. Jesus saw the multitudes of people and the holy city, and He wept. He wept because His heart was broken. They were a blind people. Listen to what He said:
Luke 19:41-44 (NASB) And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 "For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."
Amazing words, fulfilled to the letter forty years later when the Roman legions under Titus invaded Jerusalem and laid it low. Titus appeared with 80,000 men and laid siege to the city. After several initial assaults and the Jews' refusal to surrender, Titus built a wall around the city, determined to starve them out. The Romans captured almost all of those seeking to smuggle food in. Titus ordered all who were captured outside the city to be crucified. About five hundred were crucified every day. Every tree in the area was cut down for wood, including those on the Mount of Olives.
Famine hit hard. People were dying in the streets. Dead bodies were everywhere. When the people no longer had the strength to bury their dead, they threw them over the wall. Finally, the city fell. And in August of A.D. 70, the city and the Temple were destroyed. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that 97,000 people were taken captive, and that 1,100,000 people were killed during the entire siege. You see, there were multitudes who had been trapped during the Passover in Jerusalem.
This was the horrible end, the tragic end, of Jerusalem. This is what Jesus foresaw as the judgment of God for a people who were blind. Jesus said it came because they "did not recognize the time of [their] visitation." They had missed their "day." They had not received Jesus for who He was. Their hearts were hardened, and Jesus' heart was broken.
Mark 11:11 (NASB) And He entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking all around, He departed for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
This was an official visit of the King of Israel, an inspection tour of the heart of the nation. He went into the temple where the very heartbeat of the nation was throbbing, represented in the worship that was lifted up to God. And he looked at everything. We know what He saw: commercialism, moneychangers, exploitation, corruption, and injustice. He saw dirt, filth, and squalor, pride, hypocrisy, and haughtiness. He saw that religious ceremonies were being carried on without any meaning whatsoever.
The Triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on the tenth day of Nisan, which roughly corresponds to our March/April time. John 12:1 refers to the day before the Triumphal entry as being six days before Passover (that is, the ninth of Nisan if Passover is taken to refer to the day on which the lamb was eaten, which is the 15th).
This was the day on which the Israelites were commanded to take a lamb into their households for the Passover:
Exodus 12:3 (NASB) "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household.
In this event, therefore, we see the fulfillment of this part of the Passover
festival. Jerusalem, the place where God's people are encamped around God (who
dwells within the Holiest of Holies in the Temple), has received within its
walls the ultimate Passover sacrifice.
The crowds were telling Jesus very plainly that they were expecting Him, as Messiah, to deliver them from the Roman occupation and to establish the Messianic Kingdom. The Jews, then, only saw Him coming as the conquering King and not as the Passover Lamb. They were looking for a physical deliverer and not a spiritual one.
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