Palm Sunday

40 blogs of Lent, day 35

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

How many people entered Jerusalem on donkeys between Zecariah making that prophesy and Jesus entering on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday?

There must have been thousands, given the number of years, probably in millions. The donkey was a common form of transport back then. So if we take Zechariah’s words in that context, what he is saying is: “This is what your king is like when he comes, he is like an ordinary person.”

Triumphal entry

So much for Jesus having a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But there was a triumphal entry that week, and it was not Jesus. So who was it?

Pontius Pilate.

The Roman governor was in Jerusalem that week, which was not where he normally ruled from. The Jewish religious and civil government was in Jerusalem, but the Roman capital was in Caesarea, on the coast.

This is how Pilate would have entered Jerusalem:

triumphal procession

Either on a horse or in a chariot drawn by four horses, Pilate would not have been in the armour of a general, as any Roman victory would have been on behalf of the Roman people and their gods. So the procession would have been unarmed  (palm branches would have replaced weapons), and Pilate would have been wearing a toga.

But what a toga. This was no ordinary toga but the triumphal toga picta, purple and embroidered in gold. He would also have been wearing a crown af laurel leaves. This was the real triumphal entry that week, the Romans really knew a thing or two about pomp and ceremony.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them’, and he will send them at once.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:1-3, 6-9

Note how deliberate it is:

First is that the connection to the Zechariah passage is not by chance. Jesus deliberately takes a donkey colt to show his connection to that passage. Jesus is saying, “I am king.”

Secondly it apes the Roman triumphal procession. People recognise this and act in a way suitable to such an entry into the city, paving the road with palm branches and cheering.

(An aside to churches, notice that what Jesus does is culturally appropriate – ours should be also)

So what Jesus does is deliberate and appropriate. Deliberately winding up both the Jewish and Roman authorities. This is not an example of how to win friends.

This blog is posted on Palm Sunday in the middle of a series on the last words spoken from the cross, so rather than expand on this, I ask you to read those blogs.


Bible quotes are from English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

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