The Triumphal Entry

19 Mar 2016
Bill Lofthouse
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Jesus, despite his disciples’ misgivings, was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem via Jericho and Bethany. Several incidents en route are recorded, by all four gospel writers, albeit with minor differences which merely go to show the individuality of the four. Matthew, Mark and John tell of the restoration of sight to a blind man on the outskirts of Jericho – Matthew mentions two men as Jesus was leaving the city whereas Mark and John tell of one man (Mark even naming him) as Jesus was approaching the city. Only Luke tells of the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus just outside Jericho and it is left to John, alone, to record the raising to life of Jesus’ friend Lazarus at Bethany.

It was the end of the week preceding Passover when Jesus, approaching Jerusalem from Bethany rested a while just outside Bethphage at the foot of the Mount of Olives and sent two of his disciples into the village telling them to untie an un-ridden colt (the foal of a donkey) which they would see and bring to him. The owners (note the plural – Mark says “people standing there”) were quite happy to accept “the Lord has need of it” as sufficient reason to let the disciples take the animal. Scholars are divided as to whether this was a pre-arranged code between Jesus and the owners or, as seems more likely, Jesus knew that the hearts of the owners / bystanders would be moved to accept the disciples’ explanation.

It is left up to John to explain that Jesus’ riding of the colt was in fulfilment of the prophesy made by Zechariah in 9:9 of his book. What the gospel writers do not explain, but would no doubt not be lost on the crowds, is the significance of Jesus riding a previously un-ridden colt. The donkey or mule was a lowly beast, associated, in contrast to a war-horse, with peace. Furthermore, in Davidic times it was used as a royal mount. David had his own personal mule which no-one else, under penalty of death, was allowed to ride. As he lay on his death-bed, he instructed Zadoc and Nathan to “set Solomon, my son, on my mule…….and anoint him king over Israel” (1 Kings 1:32-35). Setting Solomon on David’s own mule was confirmation of his kingship, his ascendance to the throne about to be vacated by his father.

In John 12:9 we read that on the day before Christ’s Triumphal Entry, a large crowd of Jews, hearing about Jesus’ presence in Bethany, had gathered, not only to see Him but also to see Lazarus who He had raised from the dead. It is also noted that the chief priests were intent on killing the pair of them, blaming Lazarus for the increased number of people putting their faith in Jesus.

Little wonder that the crowds gathering in Jerusalem for Passover and who doubtless had heard of this and other miracles performed by Jesus, seeing Him riding on a colt, cried out in the words of Psalm 118:25-26:
“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

In reply to the Pharisees telling Him to quieten the crowd, Jesus told them that nothing could silence the praise – if the people didn’t shout, creation itself, the very ground on which they stood, would take up the cry. The crowd, we are told, spread their cloaks on the road ahead of Him – an act of royal homage, a rolling out of the red carpet. Only John specifically mentions the waving of palm fronds, an act usually used in victory celebrations.

Hosanna, in Hebrew this means “Lord save us”. Save us from what? At times of Jewish festivals and especially during Passover, Jewish national passion was at a peak and in the light of all they had heard and seeing Jesus riding on a royal mount they were hoping that He would be the conquering Messiah King that the prophets had written about. The waving of palm fronds was in anticipation of victory over the Roman oppressors.

For the first time in His earthly ministry, Jesus was openly proclaiming His Kingship. Previously, whilst claiming to be the Messiah – at the beginning of His ministry, after reading Isaiah 61:1, 2 in the synagogue He announced “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18 – 21) – and had alluded on a number of occasions to the kingdom of God, He had never laid claim to being King of that kingdom. Now, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a deliberate act on Jesus’ part to proclaim to the people and, almost provocatively, to the Jewish rulers, that He was indeed King.

One other person was making his appearance on the scene – Pontius Pilate! The Jewish writers Philo and Josephus both remark on Pontius Pilate’s irascibility and say that whereas his predecessors respected Jewish customs and kept their entry into Jerusalem low key, he most certainly, and often deliberately, didn’t. They both tell of several events and incidences that took place during his tenure as pro-consul that caused near-insurrection among the Jews because of his insensitivity to their customs. It was customary for the Roman Proconsul to reside in Jerusalem during the time of Passover in order to maintain order and be ready to act at the first sign of any unruly Jewish nationalistic behaviour. So it was then, that Pontius Pilate’s arrival for this purpose from Caesarea, his normal residence, would most likely have been a high key affair with all his insensitive pomp designed to show off the power of Rome. No doubt he was resplendent in a war-horse drawn chariot accompanied, for added effect, by a contingent of armed mounted and foot soldiers and It doesn’t take too much imagination to put words to Pilate’s actions – I know you Jews are celebrating Passover in remembrance of your release from the Egyptian bondage and I know that your national pride and passion are at a peak, but if you have any thoughts of revolt against Rome and set up your own king, I am here to make sure that you acknowledge only one king – me, as a representative of Caesar.

Two kings arriving in Jerusalem, but on two entirely different missions – Pilate on an aggressive war-horse signifying the power of oppressive, but fleeting kingship, and Jesus on a lowly donkey, signifying the power of eternal peace

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