It seems odd that any king would ride a donkey, especially during a triumphal entry. But Jesus was not the first Jewish king to do so. On the day of his coronation, King Solomon, the son of King David, also rode on a donkey.
While the mule signified a spirit of humility, the statement was also a poetic and obvious symbol that Jesus was entering Jerusalem in the same manner as Solomon and as the greater Son of David. It also fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 – “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Another interesting fact about the donkey, is that according to Mark’s account, the donkey had never been ridden. Donkeys are notoriously stubborn, and we can only imagine how stubborn an unbroken colt would be. Perhaps we might imagine Jesus’ entry to be somewhat comical, as though he were a president riding in a broken-down motorcade, as it puttered along. Or perhaps, once again, Jesus would demonstrate His power over nature. If He can calm a tempest, He certainly could calm a mule.
As Jesus rode the colt, he took a very specific route. He went down from the Mount of Olives – the mountain next to the Temple Mount. He then passed through the Kidron Valley, and then He entered the City through the East Gate.
This is the exact opposite route that King David took when he was fleeing the insurrection led by his own son Absalom. As King David fled his beloved city, he wept. His own people had sided with his son and turned against him.
Jesus’ entry symbolized the restoration of David’s rightful throne. However, instead of a jubilant entry, Jesus’ was also one marked with tears. As He paused to take in the sights of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, He too wept. He too would face an insurrection. Just like David, His own people would turn against Him.
There were three causes for Jesus’ sorrow. First, there was the insurrection and the hopelessness of a people who would not accept their king. Secondly, there was Jesus’ pending death, which He had alluded to on a number of occasions. Thirdly, Jerusalem would face its doom. Jesus prophesied as such, and about forty years later, the Romans would decimate Israel’s capital.
As Jesus entered into Jerusalem, crowds surrounded him, waving palm branches, and yelling, “Hoshana! Baruch haba b’shem Adonai.” (“God save us now. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord”).
The crowd’s proclamation comes directly from Psalm 118:26-27. “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”
However, there’s another significance. During the festival of Sukkot (a.k.a. Booths or Tabernacles), crowds encircle the Torah scroll and wave palm branches and recite prayers with the refrain “Hoshana” (Hosanna). As the Torah is the written revelation of God, Jesus is the revelation of God in the flesh. And just as Jewish people would encircle the Torah waving palms and proclaiming Hosanna, they encircled Jesus, reciting the same.
The Arrival of the Paschal Lambs
The timing of Jesus’ triumphal entry at the beginning of Passover is significant. According to Jewish Law, part of the requirement for celebrating Passover was a lamb or goat sacrifice. Obviously most families didn’t raise lambs. So leading up to Passover, local herdsmen would provide lambs for the sacrifice. However, in order to ensure that the lambs met the legal requirement, the priests would inspect them before the time of the sacrifice. The sheep entered Jerusalem in the north through the aptly named Sheep Gate. They were then led to the Temple courts where they were inspected and eventually slaughtered.
Because Passover was a significant pilgrimage festival, there were a number of sheep required to meet the demand. Imagine tens of thousands of sheep flowing into the streets of Jerusalem. It would have seemed like a zoo. And given the amount of sheep, we can imagine that the streets were cluttered with sheep dung. When the crowds surrounded Jesus to welcome Him, they laid down their cloaks on the road. Not only was that a sign of respect for royalty, but it also kept their King from having to trod through animal feces.
Jesus’ timing is significant. At the same time the Passover lambs were entering Jerusalem, the Messiah – the ultimate Passover Lamb was also arriving into the city. And like the lambs, He would eventually end up in the Temple courts.
When the sheep arrived in the temple courts, they had to be inspected by the priests. Specifically, the priests were looking for three legal requirements: it had to be a male, it had to be one-year-old, and it couldn’t have any deformities or blemishes.
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem, He also made His way to the Temple Courts, just like the lambs. Immediately as Jesus entered the courts, He began throwing out the money changers and those selling animals, as they were notorious for taking advantage of people. This prompted the Jewish leaders to ask three questions.
First, the priests asked Jesus by what authority he was clearing the Temple. Then the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was right to pay the imperial tax. Then the Sadducees asked Jesus about marriage and the resurrection. These questions were significant theological distinctives for the particular parties. It seems poetic and fitting that just as the Jewish leadership examined three aspects of the Passover lambs, they probed Jesus the Lamb of God with three specific questions.