Triumphal Arrival

At the end of his journey, his destination was the Temple in the center of the city. The next several stories prepare the reader for his final days, A full third of Mark’s gospel account concerns the events of that week that culminate in his death and resurrection. All that preceded his arrival in the city was moving inexorably forward to his arrest, trial, and execution in the city of David and the prophets.

The next several paragraphs present a series of confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem.

His arrival in the city is often called his ‘Triumphal Entry,’ but this is a misnomer. Only on the surface does it appear as a victorious moment. In the end, Jerusalem fails to accept the Messiah of Israel, and the crowds do not gather to welcome him but to celebrate the feast of Passover.

HIS TRANSPORT


Bethany was three kilometers from the city and Bethphage was about one kilometer. The Mount of Olives is approximately 780 meters above sea level and 90 meters higher than the city itself.

  • (Mark 11:1-6) - “And when they are drawing near Jerusalem, toward Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, he sends forth two of his disciples, and says to them: Go your way into the village that is over against you, and straightway, as you are entering it, you will find a colt tied on which no man yet has sat. Loose him and bring him. And if anyone should say, Why are you doing this? Say, The Lord of him has need. And straightway, he sends him off again here. And they departed and found a colt tied to a door outside, on the street, and they loosed him. And certain of them that were there standing were saying to them, What are ye doing, loosing the colt? And they said to them, as Jesus said, and they let them go.” - (Parallel passages - Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:29-38, John 12:12-15).

From the Mount, one can overlook the city, including its Temple complex. Jesus passed by Bethany and Bethphage on his way where he commanded the disciples to fetch the colt.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus walked. This is the first recorded instance of him riding any beast of burden. At times of pilgrimage, the common practice was to enter Jerusalem on foot. Thus, his decision to ride into the city symbolized something about his messianic status, and a donkey or horse was the appropriate beast for a king to ride - (Genesis 32:15, 49:11, Judges 4:10).

Images from several Old Testament passages are in play. Jesus specifies a colt that no man has ridden, an allusion to the requirement for sacred animals not to be employed for ordinary use.

Moreover, commandeering a beast for official use was the prerogative of a king, and thus his actions highlight his royal status as the son of David - (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3, 1 Samuel 6:7).

HIS ENTRANCE


Spreading robes and branches was for welcoming a royal figure. This act suggests the beast on which he is riding is an impromptu throne. Pressing it into service for him stresses his royal status as the king of Israel - (2 Kings 9:13, Mark 11:7-11).

The account includes language found in the books of Zechariah and Genesis, passages that had acquired messianic overtones in Judaism by the first century:

  • (Zechariah 9:9) - “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and MOUNTED ON AN ASS, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF AN ASS.”
  • (Genesis 49:10-11) - “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the commander’s staff from between his feet, until he comes in as Shiloh, and his be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey's colt to the choice vine.”

The term “hosanna” transliterates an Aramaic word that means “Save now.” Here, it is derived from Psalm 118:25-26, one of the passages from the Hebrew Bible recited during the feast of Passover - “Save us, we beseech you, O Yahweh! O Yahweh, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of Yahweh!”

The jubilant cries of the multitude demonstrate their expectation that God is about to save Israel from foreign domination, especially since the “Son of David” has entered Jerusalem.

Possibly, Jesus entered the city at the same time as Jewish pilgrims were celebrating the Passover. That the crowd did not continue with him to the Temple and there proclaim him “king” supports the conclusion that they were not shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus, at least not intentionally. Nothing is said about the crowd celebrating his arrival at the Temple.

Despite the day’s enthusiasm, nothing significant occurs after Jesus enters the Temple and inspects it. The crowd disperses, or at least, disappeared from the scene in the story as recorded in Mark.

The description of his brief visit to the Temple is enigmatic. Was this the act of a devout Jewish pilgrim, or perhaps a quick inspection tour by the Messiah? Or was it a quick reconnaissance of the Temple in preparation for the next day’s activities? Apparently so, for after returning the next day, Jesus took decisive action based on what he had observed.

His specific destination at the end of his journey is not Jerusalem itself, but the Temple. The events and controversies in the coming days and hours will all center on it, its rituals, and his rejection by the priestly rulers of the Temple.


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