By Peter Amsterdam
January 5, 2021
In this article, we’ll look at the Gospel account of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem for the last time. All four Gospels give an account of His entry into the capital city.1 The focus in this article will be on the account in the Gospel of Luke, which begins with Jesus traveling to Jerusalem.
He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’”'2
When Jesus was about two miles (3.2 kilometers) from the capital, near the town of Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, and near Bethphage (the exact location of this village is uncertain, but it was near Bethany), He gave instructions to two of His disciples. They were to go into the town, where they would find a colt, which could refer to a young horse or a young donkey. In the Gospel of Matthew, it is assumed to be a colt of a donkey, as it quotes from the Old Testament:
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”3
The donkey that the two disciples would find in the town had never been ridden. In the Old Testament, a young animal which had not yet been ridden was considered qualified to perform a sacred task. This donkey was about to carry the Son of God.
So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.”4
When the two disciples did as Jesus had instructed them, they found that everything Jesus had told them came to pass just as He had said it would. As they were preparing to take the animal according to Jesus’ instructions, the owners questioned their actions. The reaction of the owners indicates that Jesus hadn’t worked out an arrangement with them ahead of time which would have allowed Him to take the colt. Yet, when hearing that Jesus had need of it, the owners let them proceed.
And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road.5
While Jesus started out traveling to Jerusalem on foot, He was now riding on a colt. Some of those who were with Him took their cloaks and put them on the donkey so that they would serve as a kind of saddle. Others laid their cloaks on the road ahead of Him. Spreading cloaks on the road was an act of homage, a public show of honor and respect. An example of such honor is found in the Old Testament when Jehu was anointed as king of Israel. When his men found out that he was king, we’re told that in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”6
Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey was a highly symbolic action. An earlier scriptural reference of a king riding a donkey is found in 1 Kings:
King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel.”7
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in this fashion was foretold in Zechariah 9:9, which says: 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.
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”8
Starting His descent from the Mount of Olives placed Jesus about half a mile from the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The focus of the disciples’ praise was God’s miraculous works done through Jesus. His ministry was a demonstration of the power of God as the blind had received their sight, the lame could walk, lepers were cleansed, the deaf could hear, and the dead were raised.9 It’s important to note that in this Gospel it was the whole multitude of his disciples that were rejoicing and praising God, not necessarily the people of Jerusalem.10
And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”11
This is the last time that the Pharisees are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. Their demand for Jesus to rebuke His disciples indicates that they were offended and/or worried by the disciples’ messianic proclamations. However, Jesus’ reply shows that He embraced these claims, and that He commended those who made them for their insight. Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus asked His disciples, Who do you say that I am? Peter responded: “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one.12 On this day, however, there was no keeping it quiet, as the disciples openly welcomed the King who comes in the name of the Lord!13
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”14
As He approached Jerusalem, Jesus wept. He knew that the people of Jerusalem had turned their backs on the message of God given through Him. The Greek word used for wept is a strong form, referring to sobbing and wailing. Elsewhere in the New Testament, this word is also used in reference to rain showers. Jesus was deeply distressed by what He knew would be the consequences of their rejection.
The phrase the days will come was used by the Old Testament prophets to indicate future events of great significance.15 Jesus told them that the days would come when Jerusalem would be under siege, with a barricade built around the city by their enemies. The end result would be the destruction of the city. Historically this happened in AD 70 when the Roman army, led by Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem, surrounding the city for about five months. Titus’ army then entered and sacked the city and completely destroyed it, including the temple.
According to Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, after the fall of the city, the Jewish survivors all became prisoners. The captured Jewish soldiers, along with the elderly of the city, were all put to death. Of the 97,000 citizens who remained, those under 17 years old were sold into servitude. A number of those who were older were forced to become gladiators, and eventually died in the arena. Others were forced to work on building the Colosseum in the city of Rome. Near the Colosseum stands the Arch of Titus, which was built to commemorate Titus’ rule as emperor. One of the scenes which is carved into the arch depicts the captured citizens of Jerusalem and a large menorah being led into captivity.
Jesus’ statement, because you did not know the time of your visitation, gives the reason for Israel’s defeat and Jerusalem’s destruction. The nation missed their opportunity to respond to the presence of the promised Messiah, God’s Son, and the result would be God’s judgment on the nation.
He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”16
Jesus went into the outer part of the temple known as the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only location in the temple where non-Jews could go to pray. This area, which was meant for prayer, was being used for the sale of animals which would be used for sacrifices, as well as for the payment of the temple tax. While these two activities were part of the functioning of the temple, it wasn’t necessary for them to be done within the temple precincts. Jesus therefore drove them out of this area. The account in the Gospel of Mark adds a few more details of Jesus’ response. There we read that he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.17
And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.18
While Jesus continued to teach in the temple, behind the scenes three different prominent groups of the ruling class were plotting to destroy Him. They needed to have some reason to arrest Him so that they could be rid of Him, but at this point there was no possibility due to His popularity among the people, who were captivated by His teachings. For the time being, Jesus was safe, but not for much longer.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–11, Luke 19:28–48, John 12:12–17.
2 Luke 19:28–31.
3 Matthew 21:3–5.
4 Luke 19:32–34.
5 Luke 19:35–36.
6 2 Kings 9:13.
7 1 Kings 1:32–34.
8 Luke 19:37–38.
9 Luke 7:22.
10 In the books of Matthew (21:9) and John (12:12) it was the crowds, not the disciples, who were rejoicing and praising God.
11 Luke 19:39–40.
12 Luke 9:20–21.
13 Luke 19:38.
14 Luke 19:41–44.
15 1 Samuel 2:31; 2 Kings 20:17; Jeremiah 7:32–34, 31:38, 33:14, 49:2; Isaiah 39:6; Zechariah 14:1.
16 Luke 19:45–46.
17 Mark 11:15–16.
18 Luke 19:47–48.