Summary: Reflections on the Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem
“On a donkey, you must be kidding!” John 12:12-19
Often there’s more to a story than meets the human eye.
And our gospel reading in Jn 12 is no exception
The story is known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
To the Jewish readers of the Gospel, this procession would have had a very special meaning. Because it was very similar to a special ceremony that the Romans had called a Triumph which was granted to very special and successful Generals.
Story: A Roman triumph
A Roman triumph was an impressive celebration and followed a set route.
It was usually only given to a General, who had
won a very important battle in which at least 5000
of the enemy had been killed.
The ceremony usually lasted the whole of a day.
1. The procession started with the leaders of the Roman Senate – that is the Roman parliament - leading the way.
2. They would be followed by trumpeters.
3. Next in the procession would be carriages containing the spoils of war – that is treasure taken from the conquered people and any slaves captured.
4. Then came the flute players, followed by the animals like oxen for sacrifice to the Roman gods.
5. Next came the leaders of the conquered enemy, in chains - forced to walk in front of the General.
And at the height of the ceremony - when the procession would be going up Capitoline Hill in Rome – these leaders of the conquered enemy would be taken to an adjoining prison and executed.
6. Then the General’s own bodyguard followed by
7. The conquering General.
The General would ride in triumph in a gilded chariot led by white horses – known as chargers. These symbolised WAR
He would be crowned with a laurel wreath – symbolising victory - and wear a purple tunic embroidered with palms under a purple toga embroidered with stars.
8. Then the General’s sons followed and finally
9. The General’s infantry would bring up the rear.
The ceremony would be a joyful occasion – a bit like a carnival, where all the inhabitants of Rome would come out to cheer the General and the streets would be full of music, singing and general rejoicing.
The ceremony was designed to show
1. the strength of Rome,
2. its mission of conquest and domination, and
3. the courage of the soldiers.
Question: So how was the triumph of Jesus different to that of a Roman triumphal parade?
1. Jesus came on a donkey, not in a chariot pulled by white horses.
The charger symbolised war – but the donkey signified justice and peace.
In OT times, kings in Israel used to use donkeys to travel when they were dispensing justice through the land and also when they were travelling in peace
2. There were no captives paraded in front of Jesus - captives who if they had been in a Roman triumph - would then have been put to death.
Jesus’ whole mission was to bring life not death.
He came to free the captives not to enslave them and kill them
And ironically it was the King – Jesus who would die for the captives - just the following week later on Good Friday.
So why did Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly and why did the Jews accept him?
The Jews were expecting someone to come and save them from the Romans. They were expecting a MESSIAH.
The word Messiah is simply a term meaning “a person who has been anointed by God as a Saviour for God’s people”.
Why did they want a Saviour – a Messiah?
Being a Jew in Israel in Jesus’ day was very much like being an Iraqi under Saddaam Hussein.
The Jews were a second class nation in their own country. They were a people who had been conquered and were ruled by Rome.
And the Jews hated the Romans, just as much as the Iraqis hated Saddaam’s ruling Baarth party.
So the Jews were hoping for an ALL CONQUERING Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah - who would boot the hated Romans out. (Just like the Iraqis who have spent the last three weeks looking forward to the Americans coming to liberate them from Saddaam’s oppressive regime.)
And the Jews had good reason for their hope.
A Messiah had been prophesied in the Old Testament.
And, almost two hundred years earlier, God had indeed raised up a Saviour for the Jews – Judas Maccabees.
Let me tell you a little bit about him and the history of the Jews up to the time of Jesus:
In 167 BC, Israel was ruled by a wretch called Antiochus IV – the Saddaam Hussein of his day.
Antiochus had rather foolishly decided to insult the Jews by sacrificing a pig on the altar in the Jewish Temple.