Thursday, July 04, 2013

Mark 11:1–11

Mark 11:1–11 (ESV): The Triumphal Entry


For much of Jesus’ ministry on earth he set aside his rights as God and ruler of all creation to become a servant. In this passage, however, he acknowledges that he is king, even if only for a brief moment—and even if the crowd probably misunderstands what’s going on.

As Jesus and his followers get close to Jerusalem he sends two of his disciples into a nearby village where he tells them that they will find a colt; they are to bring it to him, and when they are asked why they are doing this they are to say that the Lord has need of the colt, but that they will bring it back immediately. They go to the village in search of the colt, and of course it all works out the way that Jesus said it would.

Upon their return they spread their cloaks on the animal and Jesus rides it. As he goes others spread their cloaks and palm leaves on the road for the donkey to walk on. Lots of people start shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (verses 9b–10 (ESV)).

When they arrive at Jerusalem it’s already late, so Jesus only really has time to look around a bit at the temple, and then he and the Apostles go to Bethany.


There’s some symbolism going on here that might not be obvious, so I’ll just quickly run through what I’ve culled from the ESV Study Bible notes:
  • Riding a donkey: This is done in reference to Zechariah 9:9 (ESV), prophesying the coming of Israel’s king (understood to be the “ultimate” king, meaning the messiah), who would come “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” A militarily-minded king would come riding on a horse, so when the king comes riding on a donkey it symbolizes a king who is bringing peace instead of war. Very symbolic of Jesus’ role as saviour, saving us from the wrath of God—bringing us peace with God, where previously there had been enmity.
    • In parallel Gospel passages where this story is recounted we are told that there are actually two animals, this colt as well as an older donkey. Obviously Mark only cares about the animal Jesus actually rode on, though it’s interesting that they actually did bring the two animals, echoing the repetition in Zechariah 9:9 (common in Hebrew poetry).
  • Spreading cloaks and palm branches on the ground: Spreading cloaks on the ground symbolized the crowd acknowledging Jesus as king, and similarly with the palm branches except that they were also symbols of Jewish nationalism.
Any time I think about this event in Jesus’ life I remember that he was very close to his crucifixion, and that some of the people in this crowd are probably going to be in another crowd, crying for his execution. And one of the main reasons is that they are only praising him now because of a false assumption about what he’s going to do: they’re assuming he is going to set himself up as political king over Israel, gather an army, and smite the Romans. They clearly understand half the symbolism of him riding a donkey—they understand that this is pointing back to the Zechariah passage and that Jesus is therefore claiming to be the prophesied king/messiah—but they are forgetting the other half of that symbolism, mentioned above: riding a donkey instead of a horse symbolizes a king who is bringing peace, not one who is bringing war. The crowd may be assuming that Jesus is going to smite the Romans, but they’re only assuming that because it’s what they want to happen, not because anything in the Scriptures or in Jesus’ words or actions are leading them to believe it.