As Jesus enters Jerusalem, we enter the last week of Jesus’ life—the passion week. The Triumphal entry on Palm Sunday leads to a cross on Good Friday which is reversed by resurrection on Easter Sunday. Mark 11-16, practically one-third of the Gospel, is devoted to the last week of Jesus’ life.
The messianic entourage approached Jerusalem on the road from Jericho near the towns on Bethany and Bethphage which were located on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. They were now only about two miles from Jerusalem. In a short time they will top the Mount and see the temple facing east in their direction. This is a momentous occasion—the Messiah comes to the temple (Mark 11:11).
Jesus, conscious of the Messianic overtones of this moment, instructs his disciples to secure a “colt” (a young animal) for his use. Jesus will ride a donkey into Jerusalem. Mark tells the story in such a way that Zechariah 9:9-10 lies in the background. Jesus will enter Jerusalem on a donkey as the city rejoices over his coming which is what Zechariah announced long ago—the king comes on a donkey as Zion rejoices. In Israel, the donkey—rather than a great steed or a war-horse—was used in royal coronations in order to identity the king with the people as a mark of humility (1 Kings 1:33). Jesus casts himself in this role as his journey now becomes a royal procession into the city.
The narrative’s focus on the colt seems, at first glance, incidental but Mark highlights a couple of particulars. First, the colt belongs to the Lord. Translations rarely render Mark’s wording as “His Lord (ho kurios autou) has a need,” that is, the colt’s true owner is Jesus though he will return it when he is finished. Second, the fact that the colt is tied up identifies this circumstance with the Judah oracle in Genesis 49:10-11 (as Lane has noted in his commentary). The ruler from Judah will tether his colt/donkey to a vine/branch. With these allusions Mark unites two messianic texts(Genesis and Zechariah) from the Hebrew Bible and thereby emphasizes the Messianic nature of this triumphal entry.
The narrator has brought us to this exciting moment. The announcement of the kingdom has dominated the first half of the Gospel (Mark 1:16-8:26) and the second half of the Gospel has identified Jesus as the Messianic king of the kingdom (Mark 8:27 to this point). The King has come to claim his kingdom; he has come to Jerusalem, to Zion. The king enters the city. He receives a royal reception though we know mistreatment and violence lies in his future.
The significance of this moment is not lost on those who lined the highway into Jerusalem. They lay their cloaks over the road as others have done for kings in the past (cf. Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13).. Others spread leafed branches (palm branches, presumably from Jericho, in John 12:13) across the road which mimics the triumphal entry of the Hasmonean Simon in 1 Maccabees 13:51.
More significantly, they praise God with the language of Psalm 118:25-26. Psalm 118 is the last of the Passover Hallel (Psalm 113-118). The Psalm saturated the atmosphere of Messianic hopes that pervaded Passover celebrations. It is the thanksgiving of a king who comes to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s salvation and at the end of the Psalm the people respond with a prayer and a blessing:
O Lord, save us.
O Lord, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
Jesus hears this language when he enters Jerusalem:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in the highest
They pray “save us” (“Hosanna”) and recognize in the coming of Jesus into Jerusalem the coming of the kingdom of David. Here the Gospel climatically and publicly announces the identity of Jesus and the reality of the coming kingdom. The third line in the Markan praise (“Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David”) is added to Psalm 118 and serves to make Mark’s point. This is his interpretation of the triumphal entry. The kingdom of God has come to Jerusalem in the person of Jesus.
As Malachi (3:2) anticipated long ago, the Lord will come to his temple. Jesus enters Jerusalem which is to also enter the temple court through the south-eastern gate. Curiously, Jesus looks around—he “sees everything”—and then returns to Bethany. Presumably, Jesus and his company had traveled in a single day up the Jericho road to Jerusalem which is a distance of less than twenty miles. Since they entered late in the date, they quickly returned to their lodgings two miles away.
What a day! The Son of David entered Jerusalem on a royal donkey. He was acknowledged and blessed by the people as they praised God. The king has come. The kingdom of God has come.
The message of Mark is “repent and believe the good news because the kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15). Jesus has come to Jerusalem to enact the good news of the kingdom of God.
The King has come to bring peace not only to Israel but to the nations. Zechariah 9:9-10 is quite explicit that the King who comes to Jerusalem will reign over all the earth (“to the ends of the earth”) and his reign will mean peace among the nations. War-horses and chariots are no longer needed; implements of war are not excluded from the kingdom of God. This King is the Prince of Peace.
Will Jerusalem receive him in peace? Ultimately, it will not. Will we? Will we practice peace as followers of the Prince of Peace?