The Triumphal Entry

One of the key events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ is what has become traditionally known as His triumphal entry, taking place on what is sometimes referred to as Palm Sunday – the Sunday before His death and subsequent resurrection.  While only 2 gospel accounts record the birth of our Lord, it seems significant that all four would capture this moment for us.  Clearly then, it is deserving of our attention.  The passages where this account takes place are as follows

  • Matthew 21:1-11
  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Luke 19:29-44
  • John 12:12-19

There are several key points which are recorded by each written account and then some key points which are highlighted by a particular gospel, both serving to draw attention to this event.  First, we need to note our time period.  John’s account places us at the beginning of the feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread which began Passover week.

Next, this event is located in Jerusalem, but more specifically, Bethphage on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.  Bethphage is the village that our Lord instructs His disciples to enter into, in order to find the donkey colt.  Several significant items are worthy of mention with regard to the location.  First, Bethphage in Hebrew means, “House of unripe figs.”  This introduces the event recorded in Matthew 21:18-22 where Jesus curses the barren fig tree, symbolic for the lack of fruit found among Israel.  Next, the location of the village on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, places us in the area of some important events from Israel’s past and lays the foundation for some even more important events that are to come.

For instance, In 2 Samuel 15:30-31, we find King David fleeing Jerusalem from his enemies, namely his son Absalom, and finding refuge on the Mount of Olives.  Then, Ezekiel 11:23 describes for us a scene where the glory of God leaves the temple in Jerusalem and comes to rest on the mountain east of the city, clearly a reference to the Mount of Olives.  Towards the end of Ezekiel’s prophecy, we are once again brought to the Mount of Olives and a vision of a new temple, only this time the glory is returning, Ezekiel 43:1-5

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Note in these passages from Ezekiel the relationship of the Mount of Olives with the temple.  This prepares us for Jesus’ entrance into the temple where He proceeds to cleanse it in Matthew 21:12-17, immediately upon His arrival into Jerusalem as well as the prophecy of the temple’s destruction in Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2.  Finally, Zechariah 14:4-9

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique[c] day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Christ, by beginning His final week on earth at the Mount of Olives, places Himself as the fulfillment of each of these passages cited above.  As Jesus begins His descent towards the cross from this area, the very location where David retreated from his enemies and wept over His betrayal is the same area where Christ proceeds into Jerusalem to face His enemies.  As the glory of the Lord was seen leaving the temple and coming to rest on the Mount of Olives in the vision of Ezekiel, with Christ, the incarnation of the glory of God returns to the temple to prophesy of its destruction and the resurrection of a New Temple, where the Lord would have permanent residence.  Then, we see that in Ezekiel’s final prophecy the return of the glory to the temple a prophecy, at least fulfilled in part by Christ’s descent into the city at His triumphal entry.  Before we get to the last significant Old Testament passage, there are a few points to note with reference to the final week of Jesus’ life.

The Mount of Olives becomes a central geographic location for the last week of our Lord’s life on earth.  This  triumphal entry is the first of three events located at the mount.  The second was what is traditionally called the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13, Luke 21), while the third occurred on the night of Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was at the foothills of Olivet.  Finally, recorded for us in Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:12, is the capstone to our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, namely His ascension, which also took place on the Mount of Olives.  At His ascension, His disciples were told by the angels that He would return just as He left, a prophecy which many think will be the fulfillment of our passage above from Zechariah 14, i.e. Christ’s literal, earthly return to the Mount of Olives.

Summarizing then, from the Mount of Olives, Jesus begins His descent to face His enemies.  Returning to the mount, He prophesied victory over His enemies only later to return there and be betrayed by His enemies.  After His resurrection, He returned again to the Mount of Olives where He ascended to the right hand of the Father to assume His place of victory and rule over His enemies.  And as we are told, He will one day return to the Mount of Olives to judge His enemies.

Adding to this geographical context are the instructions that our Lord gives to His  disciples to enter into Bethphage and find a donkey colt upon which no one had ridden.  It was on this colt that our Lord would make His descent into Jerusalem.  As with our discussion of the Mount of Olives, so too here with the image of the donkey, there is an Old Testament fulfillment.  First, in the pronouncement of blessing upon Judah in Genesis 49, Jacob says the following

10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.

The former pronouncement is clearly a Messianic reference to the kingship of Christ, however, this latter pronouncement many have also taken as a Messianic reference fulfilled here with the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the donkey’s colt.  Furthermore, though the donkey was surely a sign of humility, it likewise was a symbol of a Davidic King.  Returning to our scene from earlier where David was fleeing from Absalom, David was brought a donkey to ride on.  In 1 Kings 1:33, David, by now old and weak, gives instructions for Solomon to ride on his very own donkey in a procession announcing Solomon as king (see 1 Kings 1:44).  In our gospel accounts of the triumphal entry, we have an explicit prophecy of the arrival of the king on a donkey, from Zechariah 9:9, a prophecy clearly fulfilled with the arrival of King Jesus.

There is undoubtedly much more that could be said and many more connections to be seen with this momentous occasion in the life of our Lord.  The entire scene involving Jesus, the Mount of Olives, the donkey colt, and the procession into Jerusalem, reaches back into the history Israel’s very origins, coming forward through both David and Solomon.  Furthermore, it was a place and an event signifying the arrival of the King in His humility.  However, as we have seen, it will also be the place for the second arrival of the King, this time in glory.

Summarizing the Christian Life

In the final chapter of 1 John, the letter to the believers of Asia minor penned under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we arrive at essentially a summary of the entire book.  Verses 1-5 serve to tie up loose ends and bring to a close the tests of assurance that have been scattered throughout.  The style of this letter, as has been pointed out, resembles closely that of a spiral.  In one instance John may introduce a singular point and abandon it, only to circle around to it again at a later point, which he develops more fully.  In this way, the author certainly is logical in his writing, though the pattern is less linear, as with Paul.  Never is this pattern more clear than at the beginning of chapter 5, as seen below.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Here, our focus is on three main ideas, seen in the passage above, which have been instrumental throughout the letter and often presented in a kind of test or measuring stick for professing believers.  They are, faith – sometimes expressed as an intimate knowledge of God, love – for both God and the brethren, and obedience.  Knowing God – Showing love – Growing in Obedience. (I write this just shy of a decade since I once preached these three themes at a fall youth retreat.)

Our first idea, faith, introduces the passage cited above.  Everyone who believes…that is those who have placed their faith in something, or better Someone.  This is the faith rooted in a knowledge of Who the object of faith is.  It is never a blind faith, never an ignorant faith, rather it is an informed faith, one that has come to know and believe that Jesus is the Christ.  Perhaps it should be pointed out that Jesus Christ is not our Lord’s first and last names.  Jesus is His name, Christ is His title.  It means Anointed One, or Chosen One, i.e. Messiah.  He is the object of the faith expressed here as the outcome, or evidence, of regeneration.  Without delving into a deep discussion on the ordo salutis (order of salvation), it seems most consistent to conclude that the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart giving a person the ability to repent and believe in Jesus, which is contrary to the idea that faith precedes regeneration.  The order in this verse describes those who have been born again are those who believe that Jesus is the Christ.  With this first summary point, John is wrapping up earlier  passages which expressed a similar idea, noteworthy among them are 1 John 2:22-23 and 1 John 3:23.

While being born again is the point of connection in the opening of this section, there is a transition from the evidence of faith to the evidence of love, our second major idea.  Expressing love for God the Father is a reality for those who have been born again.  This has been a prominent theme throughout the letter, most notably in 1 John 2:10-11; 3:1; 3:11-18; 4:7-21 and is really the central theme in the section before us today. The vertical love that a believer has for their heavenly Father is complimented by the horizontal love that they have for others who have also been born again, i.e. the brethren.  This common new birth creates a familial relationship.  Just as we have love for our physical, blood relatives, in a deeper and more profound way are we to have love for our spiritual brothers and sisters.  To love God without loving other believers is inconsistent, put more strongly according to 1 John 4:20-21, it is impossible.  We may conclude then that belief is the personal evidence of being born again while love for God and other believers is the outward, relational expression of that inward faith.

But this is not the only outward expression.  In verse 2 above, we are reminded again of the previously developed relationship between love and obedience, our third major idea or test in the letter.  To get there, we must circle back through the evidence of our love for the brethren, namely love for God, then arrive at obedience to Him.  In verse 1 we saw the order of:

regeneration –>faith–>love for God–>love for the brethren.

Here we see:

love for the brethren–>love for God–>obedience to God’s commands.

On a whirlwind summary of the Christian life, John has led us back to the starting point.  Faith and obedience are not contradictory, rather they are complimentary.  This isn’t a legalistic, external obedience, rather it is gospel obedience, obedience that comes from the heart.  Similarly, in 1 John 3:23 we see that the commandment of God is to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.”  Furthermore, we have the commandment to love God and love the brethren (1 John 4:21, etc.).  Commandments to believe and commandments to love, neither of which can be accomplished in any meaningful way apart from the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, changing our heart’s affections and giving us the desire to obey.  In a sense, we are not blazing a new trail in this 5th chapter, we are backing up over familiar ground laid down throughout the book in order to drive home these points.

This idea of obeying the commandments of God is further developed in verse 3, crystallizing the relationship between love for God and obedience to His commands.  This is one of the promises for believers in the New Covenant, that with the regenerate heart comes faith and obedience – a desire to obey, the law that has been now written on our hearts.  God says as much in His promise of the New Covenant found in Ezekiel, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:27

In the latter half of verse 3, we find, as is typical with John, a pithy commentary on a point he’s just made.  In effect he says, evidence of loving God is obeying His commandments, and by the way, His commandments are not burdensome.  They’re not tiring.  They’re not laborious and draining as were their Old Covenant, external, written on stone counterpart.  Rather, because we now have the law written on our hearts, having been given both the ability and desire to obey, we therefore obey not merely as a duty, rather as a delight.

Bringing this passage to a conclusion, verse 4 serves somewhat as a note of application, bringing us back to the practical realities of regeneration and faith.  Having already seen that faith, love, and obedience, are interrelated, and that those who have these qualities, have been born again, further we read that those who have been born again have “overcome the world.”  Added to this is the supporting clause acting again as a commentary, And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  Then Finally, this passage concludes with, Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”   Three times we see the author’s use of world, cosmos, which is a key word used throughout the letter, as well as in John’s gospel account. 

In order to understand what is referred to by the use of world, we need to at least look at some previous uses of it in 1 John.  In 1 John 4, we read that the spirit of antichrist, those who do not confess that Jesus is from God, is in the world.  Following that, we find a parallel use of world and overcomer, Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  Here we see that one aspect of the world is its universal denial of Christ.  In contrast, overcoming the world is directly related to our union with Christ, a point we’ll need to tuck away for understanding chapter 5. Furthermore, in chapter 2, we read of the exhortation to not love the world, nor the things in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, all of which are contrary to the Father, and that this corrupt world is temporary and passing away.  The world, that which we overcome by faith, via our union and communion with Christ, is replete with those things which are contrary to the person and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as contrary to those who have been born again.  Our victory comes because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33) and greater is He, in me, than he that is in the world.  This victory is secured by the supremacy of Christ, through His finished work on the cross, and His gift of faith to the regenerated hearts of all of God’s children. 

This is the summation of the Christian life, and it is a grand encouragement in this present evil age.  In all of the things that this world brings, we are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)  

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"