The A-Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Part 2)
We notice that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is less than triumphal when we contrast the manner of his entry with the pomp and circumstance expected of royal entries in the first century. But we also notice his a-triumphal entry when we observe how Jesus fulfills the messianic prophecy of a humble coming as foretold by Zechariah (Zech 9:9).
Matthew’s account alone, in typical fashion makes the connection between the actions of Jesus and the OT prediction in Zechariah:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them (Matt 21:1–7).
Notice how carefully Jesus stages his entry. Each evangelist details Jesus’s request for the young colt with its mother, and Matthew 21:6 says that the disciples went and did “as Jesus had directed them.” Jesus wants the people to make the connection between his entry and the OT prophecy. And it works! As Jesus approaches the city, the rumors begin that Jesus of Nazareth—the one who could feed people, and heal the sick, even the blind; the one, they say, has even raised the dead—he is coming!
You mean, the one whom people say might be the Messiah?
Yes! And you’ll never believe this: He’s coming in on a young donkey!
Eyes go wide, mouths gape and heartbeats quicken, because the onlookers see in Jesus’s actions a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Their king is coming. And in the full context of Zechariah 9, the coming of the messianic king means that he is about to overthrow their enemies, the Romans, and restore the nation to its greatness. Zechariah says,
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
16 On that day the Lord their God will save them,
as the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.
17 For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
Grain shall make the young men flourish,
and new wine the young women (Zech 9:9–17).
This was one of the prophecies to which the Jews clung in hope. They wanted their nation back, they wanted the promises of national salvation to come true. When Jesus rides toward the city, they people realize that this is the day they have been waiting for, crying out to God as their forefathers had done in Egypt, and later in Babylon, that God would rescue them from their enemies and reestablish his divine rule in the earth. For Jesus is riding, as Zechariah says, on a donkey’s foal.
No wonder hopeful Jews line the streets, pouring forth bodily to meet Jesus, putting their cloaks down in his path, a sign of honor. Matthew 21:8 says,
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The presence of palm branches is highly significant. About 170 years before Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, Simon Maccabees, the leader of Israel at that time had finally won independence from Syria. After Simon led his army against Jerusalem and ousted the last of the Syrian stronghold, he entered the city as its sole leader, along with his people, as they sang praises and waved palm branches. A great enemy had been crushed that day and the Jews had won their freedom. Simon decreed that every year on that day there was to be a celebration marking the event (1 Macc 13:51). So, the fact that the people run to cut palm branches tells us that they are hoping in the messianic claim. They want Jesus to be the Messiah. They want him to take control, to crush the Romans, to liberate the city, to regain independence.
That is why they shout, Hosanna! The Hebrew wordHosanna (or, Hoshea-na) literally means, “Save us, please!” or “Save us, now!” But the word had come to mean, simply, “Salvation!” or “Salvation has come!” They direct this cry specifically to the “Son of David,” or the descendant of David—the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.
Now, had the Romans known what was going on, they would have had something to say about it. Any uprising or royal claim against the emperor was dealt with quickly and harshly. The pax Romana (Roman peace) was at the price of the sword. But the Roman garrison was located on the opposite side of Jerusalem, which would have been two or three football fields away. While we are caught up in the emotion of the Jews and think of this event as an earth-splitting celebration, the Romans would have hardly taken notice. The garrison soldiers may have looked up at the noise and peered far in the direction of Jesus’s entry. They may have thought, “The people seem to be excited about something and there is a man riding on … what’s that? A little colt? Probably one of their strange Passover celebrations.”
For despite the significance of this event near the climax of Jesus’s earthly ministry, this was not a “triumphal entry.” It was an a–triumphal entry. There are no soldiers accompanying Jesus. There are no formal speeches being offered. The city officials have not turned out for the event and the religious leaders are a no-show. And Jesus is not riding the traditional, high mount, but a little beast. This was a humble entry.
When Matthew cites the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9, he omits the phrase, “Righteous, and having salvation is he.” Dropping this phrase juxtaposes the image of the coming king with the image of the humble rider. “Your king is coming to you … humble.” The lowly beast upon which he rides at once connects him to the David throne and highlights his humility. Then, he enters the temple, the seat of Jewish authority, representing both the priestly and kingly vestiges of power at that time in Israel’s history. And after Jesus takes command, asserting his authority (Matt 21:12–13; cf. 23–27), lowly people come to him, the blind and the lame. And he heals them (Matt 21:14).
Matthew’s focus on the humility of Jesus instructs and exhorts us. From the very moment Jesus announces to his disciples that he is going to enter Jerusalem (Matt 16:21) he speaks of his humble entry, an entry marked by suffering and death. This humility is much to the dismay of the disciples who are confused (Luke 9:45; Mark 9:32), and Peter even takes the Lord aside to rebuke him for such an idea (Matt 16:22; Mark 8:32). For in the minds of Jesus’s followers, to enter the capital as the king shares nothing in common with meekness and humility. But after Jesus’s gentle rebuke of Peter (“Get behind me, Satan”), Jesus says to his disciples, “If you want to come after me—if you want to be my disciple—you have to be willing to deny yourself, and take up your own cross—and follow me” (Matt 16:24). And so Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, entering the temple like a king coming to his throne.
In other words, Jesus says, “If you’re going to follow me, then you have to actually follow me. And here is where I am going: I am going to suffer and die.” So, just as Jesus enters Jerusalem, not in the grand style of his contemporaries but in humble fashion, so he invites us to follow his example.