Jesus’ Triumphal Entry
Looking Forward to Easter Sunday, March 27
By Frank G. Tunstall
“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13).
Jesus’ triumphal entry is all about the historic event when Jesus presented Himself as Israel’s King and Messiah. Jesus had come in an incarnation from His heavenly Father to His own people. He was such a bright light of hope and promise to Israelites anywhere in the world (John 1:4-5, 11).
“The next day” is the day following the feast in the home of Simon the leper. This timing also marks what is known in Christian circles as the beginning of Passion Week, the time of the Lord’s horrendous agony. The word “passion” has its roots in Latin and means suffering. In the late 1500’s the term also began to be used to describe sexual love. In the twenty-first century “passion” is used only rarely by the general public to describe suffering. The Lord’s church, however, has retained the Latin meaning of passion to describe Easter Week, and it includes the events from the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to His crucifixion.
“The great crowd” included Jews and proselytes from all over the world, as many as 200,000 pilgrims, and perhaps more packed into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. This multitude did not realize they were walking into the middle of destiny, but they certainly did. This Passover was the most significant of all the celebrations in the 1500 year history of the Feast because Israel’s Messiah was physically on the scene. These pilgrims just happened to be in Jerusalem when Jesus the Messiah made His triumphal entry. Of course, not all of them lined the road, but enough did to make it a large crowd and a historic event. They were all living history-in-the- making.
“On Palm Sunday,” said Brenda Fossum, “my 5-year-old niece, Stephanie, sat on my lap while we listened to the pastor’s sermon. He described Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem and how the crowds cried, “Hosanna, Hosanna!” At that, Stephanie perked up and began to sing, “Oh, Hosanna, don’t you cry for me! I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.”
Like Stephanie, millions around the world need to hear the story for the first time, and all of us can benefit by having it repeated.
Each of the four gospel writers gave their perspective on the event (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12). Palm trees grow naturally in Jerusalem and would have been readily available. The people obviously took the opportunity to strip them away to carpet the road as Jesus passed by; hence, the term, Palm Sunday. Some even added their coats to pave the road for Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem (Mark 11:8).
The probable route from Bethany was to make the two mile journey to Jerusalem by way of the Mt. of Olives, then down into the Kidron Valley, and then up into Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate. Two crowds escorted Jesus into Jerusalem: those who followed behind Him from Bethany and those who walked ahead of Him as they joined the march along the way.
As Matthew tells the story, Jesus and His disciples walked part of the two miles from Bethany to Jerusalem, until they came near to Bethphage, on the eastern edge of the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1). We are not told at what point in the pilgrimage the crowd picked up its chant: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” But the voices in the throng surely swelled as Jesus neared the beloved city.
Three prophecies come together in this story and they combine to give a powerful witness to the truthfulness of the Bible.
The first is in Psalm 118. This account about Messiah’s entry had been foretold a millennium earlier in a psalm, probably written by King David, that celebrates the unlimited mercies of God. The psalm predicts the wording of the people’s chants a thousand years later. “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:25-26).
Jesus the Messiah, David’s greater Son presented Himself as the God who is so merciful He saves all who repent, no matter the depth of their sin. Answering their petition is exactly what Jesus came to this earth to accomplish. He fulfilled the specific prayer of Psalm 118 at Calvary with a solution so permanent it is eternal.
No evidence exists someone told the crowd there are scriptures that need to be fulfilled today, so here’s what to chant. Quite to the contrary, it was spontaneous. Even the disciples did not understand the significance of the moment (John 12:16). The Holy Spirit put the words in the minds of enough of the people so that the chant quickly moved through the crowd. They were quoting the essence of Psalm 118, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). “Hosanna” embraces the meaning, “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.” Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had summarized His life’s purpose saying He had come “to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).
The Greek word for “blessed” transliterates into English as eulogy. Mary’s Baby is the Son of God who came in an incarnation “in the name of the Lord.” Jesus’ redemptive achievement revealed in the New Birth and sealed in Jesus’ shed blood at Calvary, summarized the benefit Jesus brings to all who believe (John 3:3). The prophecy in Psalm 118 also foreshadowed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who came as Israel’s sovereign and as King David’s greater Son.
To this day, this understanding of Jesus’ ministry lives as a eulogy that summarizes His life.
The praise that went to Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was mixed in its genuineness. Many in the crowd were sincere in their adoration; they knew Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead only a few days earlier, for example. Others were probably just caught up in the crowd. Still others were enemies of everything for which Jesus stood.
That day in Jerusalem Jesus offered Himself in humility to His people as their Messiah-King come in the name of Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Regarding this latter majority, the Apostle John recorded, “He came to his own, but his own received him not” (John 1:11). The great failure of the nation and its religious establishment was when the light shined into their darkness, they did not comprehend what they were seeing (John 1:5). Jesus must have felt very deeply the pain of national Israel’s rejection of Him as their Messiah and King.
“Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt’” (John 12:14-15).
Israel’s King did not enter Jerusalem on a prized stallion like Greek and Roman commanders did.
THINK ABOUT IT: Alexander the Great rode a handsome black horse named Bucephalus that he broke and tamed as a teenager. The stallion took Alexander into all of the battles of his many conquests, all the way to India.
No doubt every Israelite had witnessed at some time arrogant Roman occupiers of their homeland riding their prancing steeds. Not so, Jesus. He rode an unbroken colt, the foal of a donkey. The animal immediately accepted Jesus as his master and let Him ride (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30). Anyone who knows anything about the necessity to break a horse or a donkey before the animal can be ridden finds this part of the story simply amazing! Yes, Jesus is sovereign over the whole of the natural order!
Jesus went into Jerusalem, not as a conquering monarch, but as the humble servant of all (Matthew 9:35). The donkey carried Jesus all the way in, without bucking Him once! The contrast between Jesus and Rome must have been very, very striking to see!
The second prophecy comes from the pen of Zechariah. He foretold some five centuries before it happened additional details of the occasion, including King Jesus’ attitude toward the event.
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
Zechariah predicted the rider on the donkey would be Israel’s monarch who would be sinless and bring salvation to His people. Humility marked His attitude, and He illustrated it by riding on a lowly donkey.
What A Great Donkey He Rides!
“King Jesus, why did you choose a lowly donkey to ride in your parade?
Had you no friend who owned a horse–a spirited royal mount fit for a king?
Why choose me, a small, unassuming beast of burden? Great people just don’t choose donkeys like me to ride.
“King Jesus, why did you choose me, a lowly unimportant person, to bear you in my world today?
“I’m poor and unimportant, untrained and have no experience speaking to kings – let alone the King of kings. And yet you’ve chosen me to carry you in triumph in this big parade.
“King Jesus, please keep me small so all may see how great you are. “And please keep me humble so all may say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and not “what a great donkey He rides.”
Joseph Bayly. Psalms of My Life. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 5.
The third prophet is Jesus Himself.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Matthew 21:1-3).
Seven facts are listed in this prophecy, and all of them had to happen in sequence in the next hour of time. If even one of these had been mistaken, Jesus’ credibility as a prophet would have been devalued. But Jesus’ prophecies are perfect all the time.
- Other villages were in the area. But Jesus named Bethphage as the place where the series of facts would come together. No other village would serve His purpose.
- “At once you will find” the donkeys, Matthew wrote. Mark recorded the disciples were not to look for the animals on the outskirts of Bethphage, but “just as you enter” the village.
- “You will find a donkey.” If they had found a horse with a colt, for example, Jesus’ integrity as a prophet would have been degraded in the eyes of the disciples, and Zechariah’s prophecy would have gone unfulfilled.
- The donkey will be tied.
- The donkey will have her colt tied beside her.
- “Untie them and bring them to me,” Jesus said.
- If anyone says anything to you, tell them “the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
The probability of those seven facts happening in that sequence in the next hour of time in the little village of Bethphage is surely astronomical.
Can you picture the two disciples reporting to the ten when they returned to Jesus with the donkeys, telling them, “Jesus was right again; He is still batting 100% perfect as a prophet!”
Fulfilled prophecy gives compelling proof of the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and witnesses to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in writing the Bible.
Biblical prophecy also forces us to choose. We can accept the evidence and receive Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior. Or we can refuse and walk away. But if we walk away, it will not be because the evidence is weak but the result of the choice of our hearts.
“At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize these things had been written about him and they had done these things to him” (John 12:16).
The Lord’s disciples had to grow in their ability to look back and interpret the Old Testament scriptures though the lens of the Lord’s death and resurrection. On the night of Jesus’ resurrection, in fact, the Lord gave them just that ability. “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
THINK ABOUT IT: Two Old Testament prophets, separated by some five hundred years between them, predicted exactly what happened as Jesus entered Jerusalem. Then Jesus laid the capstone with a seven-fold prophecy that had to occur in sequence in the next sixty short minutes!
It is certainly probable after the Lord’s resurrection the owner of the donkeys looked back and came to understand the meaning of what happened that morning, including how his donkey helped Jesus make salvation history. If he did, for the remainder of his life he surely never tired telling how he loaned his donkey to Jesus to ride into Jerusalem!
The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is marked by “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). But millions of people face a huge hurdle: “If I believe Jesus fulfilled prophecy and walked out of His tomb, I have to change the way I live.” For those who love this world more than they love God, it’s a very dangerous choice to make because the consequences are eternal (I John 2:15).
As we prepare our hearts for Palm Sunday 2016 and Easter week, may we all reconsider the three prophecies that came together in Jesus’ triumphal entry. Yes, fulfilled prophecy is a major confirmation of the integrity of the gospel, including the resurrection of Jesus, The Messiah.
National Israel rejected King Jesus for the last time that day. As for us, let us “bring forth the royal diadem” this Easter and do what Israel did not do: in our hearts “crown Him Lord of all” (see Isaiah 62:3; Romans 9:5; 10:12).