Summary: What image comes to mind when you think about a hero riding in to save the day? Jesus, our ultimate action hero, rides into Jerusalem to save the day for humanity, but not in the way you would imagine, not this time anyway.
When you picture the hero coming in to save the day you probably think of a tall guy in a tall hat riding in on tall white horse with a couple of shotguns off of his saddle and two in his hands. Well, our ultimate action hero, Jesus, rides into Jerusalem all right—but on a tall white horse? Not so much. And the weapon He brings is just His own body. There was great excitement among Jesus and His followers as the Lord approached Jerusalem. The annual Passover feast was one of the three great feasts that saw throngs of people gather each year. Those coming with Jesus no doubt hoped that all of His Messianic signs (like healing blind Bartimaeus) meant He was going to declare Himself Messiah and take over right then and there. He would indeed do the former, but latter was not to happen yet.
This date is one of the most important in human history and following a vital prophetic clock, was the one and only day that the Jewish Messiah could be proclaimed.
Bethphage (means: “house of unripe figs”) and Bethany are small villages one mile apart and one and two miles respectfully from Jerusalem. Bethany was home to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead (a story not included in Mark). It sits on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives from which you have a spectacular view of the city of Jerusalem. Most photos of Jerusalem are taken from the Mount of Olives. It holds a vital place in Biblical prophecy as the location where Jesus will return to and judge when He finally comes to take over (Zechariah 14:1-19).
What we are about to see is actually a carefully scripted event laid out in Biblical prophecy, starting with a colt.
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The colt was probably in Bethany. Jesus sent two of His men on from Bethphage to pick it up. It had to never have been ridden because an animal used for “ordinary” purposes could not be used for “sacred” (Numbers 19:2). Matthew mentions a donkey and a colt, while Mark focuses only on the colt. There were likely both to fulfill Zechariah 9:9, which forms the basis for this event:
Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus knew the men would be challenged. It would have been akin to stealing a car. So Jesus told them to say to anyone who asked that Jesus had need of it. By this time Jesus was well known and especially in Bethany so this word would have sufficed, and it did.
The colt didn’t have a saddle because it had never been ridden so the men threw their cloaks on it, fulfilling another prophecy about declaring someone as a king:
2 Kings 9:13 Each man quickly took his garment and put it under Jehu on the bare steps. They blew the ram's horn and proclaimed, "Jehu is king!"
In fact, this same behavior continued as Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives towards the East gate of Jerusalem.
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Pilgrims walked the last ascent into Jerusalem. For Jesus to ride was significant and the people recognized that He was fulfilling that prophecy in Zechariah 9, so they waved tree branches and leafy branches from the field and some placed them in front of Jesus like in 2 Kings.
They cried Psalms 118:25-26, which was the last of the Hallel Psalms sung over Passover. Though not all of them caught the significance of the words, some realized that this was indeed the Messiah, coming to sit on David’s throne.
For all of the years of Jesus life and ministry, He had purposefully hidden His true identity. But here He puts it on display for all to see in the most public way possible. It was also to fulfill a prophecy given to Daniel:
Daniel 9:24-26 "Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.”