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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, 5 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
4 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. 5 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.
6 On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 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.
8 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.
9 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.