Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one of the unique accounts that’s found in all four gospels (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-40, and John 12:12-19). The account fulfills the prophecy in Zachariah 9:9 and reveals Jesus’s Messiahship and Kingship.
Table of contents
- The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Fulfilled Prophecy
- The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Messiahship
- The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Kingship
- The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Omniscience
George IV’s coronation as king of the United Kingdom took place at Westminster Abbey in London on July 19, 1821. George’s extravagant tastes and lifestyle greatly influence the ceremony. It ended up costing 238,000 pounds, which would be 21,000,000 pounds today, or converted to dollars, almost $26,000,000. You heard that correctly: King George IV’s coronation would cost almost $26,000,000 today.
The money went toward renovations and furnishings for Westminster Abbey, costumes and uniforms, jewels and plate armor, and a coronation feast for all 4,656 guests. It proved to be the most lavish and expensive of any British monarch. It was over twenty times more expensive than the previous coronation.
Unlike King George’s coronation, the coronation of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, involved no cost whatsoever. The coronation, like the rest of Jesus’s earthly life and ministry, was characterized by modesty: born in a manger in Bethlehem, parented by two poor people in Joseph and Mary, raised in Nazareth, and baptized in the Jordan.
All of these speak of Jesus’s humility. There is nothing impressive about Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary, Nazareth, or the Jordan. The only reason we know about them is because they are associated with Jesus. But if I had to choose one earthly event that pictured Jesus’s humility better than others, second only to the cross, it would be the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The traditional calendar for events has this taking place on the Sunday before resurrection Sunday. In other words, this is five days before the crucifixion. Typically, we call this Palm Sunday, which is the beginning of Holy week or Passion week, or the last week of Jesus’s earthly life leading up to the crucifixion.
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Fulfilled Prophecy
Let’s begin by looking at the prophecy of the triumphal entry:
Zechariah 9:9a Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you;
Because Zion is another name for Jerusalem, saying daughter of Zion and daughter of Jerusalem are both ways of referring to Jerusalem’s inhabitants, the Jews. They are told to show great exuberance, and rejoice greatly and shout aloud, because their king is coming. A coronation is a time of celebration, but the Jews have even more reason to celebrate, because listen to the way their king is described:
Zechariah 9:9b righteous and having salvation is he,
They should celebrate because of who Jesus is (righteous or just), and what he brings (salvation). Many kings throughout history have been selfish. Instead of serving people, they used people for personal gain.
When Israel rejected God as king, and asked for an earthly, human king, God could have justly given them what they wanted and let them suffer for it. But first, he graciously warned them what it would be like to have their earthly king. Listen to the repetition of the word take:
1 Samuel 8:11 [Samuel] said, “The king who will reign over you will take your sons…13 He will take your daughters…14 He will take the best of your fields…15 He will take the tenth of your grain…16 He will take…the best of your young men and your donkeys. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”
If you would expect anyone to have a good king, it would be Israel. But God said their kings would be unjust takers. But when Zechariah prophesied about Jesus, he would be the ideal ruler. He would be just and give people the greatest gift: salvation or eternal life.
A Surprising Prophecy
Now the prophecy becomes completely shocking and contrary to anything anyone would have imagined for such a king:
Zechariah 9:9c humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
These words don’t reconcile with the previous part of the verse. You would expect to read, “Behold, your king is coming to you, great, mighty, and powerful, riding on a magnificent horse.” Instead, we read this.
Though the triumphal entry was a joyful celebration, anyone watching would wonder what was so triumphal about it. The king himself would not look like some great victor. He would look like a humble servant.
A Full Understanding of the Triumphal Entry
Many of the triumphal entry’s important details can’t be found using just one gospel. If we use just Luke’s gospel, it looks like this is the order of events leading up to the triumphal entry:
- Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus
- Jesus visits Zacchaeus
- Jesus preaches the parable of the Minas
- Then Jesus makes his triumphal entry
But John’s gospel records an important event that took place before the triumphal entry, and that’s when he raised Lazarus. It’s important to know this happened. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), it did two things related to the triumphal entry. First, it caused the religious leaders to start plotting Jesus’s death:
John 11:53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Imagine that: Jesus raised someone from the dead and the religious leaders wanted to murder him. It gets even worse:
John 12:9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
This is the second thing raising Lazarus did: it drew a large crowd. This is why there were so many people at the triumphal entry. Imagine how much raising someone from the dead would excite the masses. Unbelievably, now they want to murder Lazarus too. This is one of the other details that’s not in Luke.
Why Did Jesus Send the Disciples to Get the Donkey for Him?
Understand the immense opposition against Jesus, because in Luke, Jesus obtains the donkey in a quiet, almost secretive way. Instead of getting the donkey himself, he sends disciples ahead to get it and bring it back to him. Why? The hostility toward Jesus.1
The religious wanted to murder him. More than likely Jesus had the disciples get the donkey – versus getting it himself – to protect the owners. If the religious leaders knew the owners helped Jesus, they would be in serious trouble.
John 12:12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
We get to see some things that are not in Luke’s gospel. First, the people gathered palm branches. This is why the triumphal entry came to be known as Palm Sunday. Luke doesn’t mention the palm branches.
Second, notice the people were saying, “Hosanna.” Luke is the only gospel that doesn’t record the people saying, “Hosanna.” The word hosanna only occurs six times in the Gospels and only at Jesus’s triumphal entry. Hosanna is often thought of as a declaration of praise, like hallelujah. But hosanna is actually a plea for salvation. It means, “Save us.”
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Messiahship
Psalm 118 is a distinctly messianic Psalm, and it is probably most well-known because of verse 22:
Psalm 118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
We recognize these verses because they are quoted numerous times in the New Testament regarding Jesus’s rejection: six times that I could find.2 That probably makes them some of the most quoted verses in the New Testament.
Psalm 118:25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!
The word “hosanna” is drawn from the words “save us” in this verse. The Hebrew words yasha, meaning “deliver” or “save,” and anna, meaning “beg,” or “beseech,” combine to form the word “hosanna.” So, literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “Please deliver us!”
Psalm 118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.
This is what the people were loosely quoting at the triumphal entry. In Matthew, Mark, and John the people said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as the verse says. But in Luke it says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” Luke emphasizes Jesus’s kingship.
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Kingship
John 12:14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
John and Matthew quote Zechariah 9:9 to show the triumphal entry fulfills this verse. This is when Israel received their king. Verse 14 says Jesus “found a young donkey,” which is almost surprising to read considering everything that went into obtaining the donkey. This is where you need Luke’s gospel to fill in the details.
Luke 19:28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 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.
It says going up to Jerusalem, because Jesus was leaving Jericho and the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was steep, rising about 4,000 feet over 20 miles. Bethphage is a small town near Bethany, which is on the southeast slope on the Mount of Olives. It is only mentioned in connection with Jesus’s triumphal entry.
Why a Donkey “On Which No One Has Ever Sat”?
There seems to be two possible reasons it says nobody rode the donkey before. It could be both reasons or neither of them. One possibility is it shows Jesus’s sovereignty over all creation, including the animal kingdom, because nobody tamed this animal, but it was tame under Jesus.
Another possibility is it says nobody rode the donkey before because this showed the animal was worthy. I lean toward this understanding, because it is a theme in Scripture that when something is new or has not been used before, it tends to be holier or more sacred. Here are a few examples:
- Numbers 19:2 Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer…on which A YOKE HAS NEVER COME.
- Deuteronomy 21:3 Take a heifer that has never been worked and that HAS NOT PULLED IN A YOKE.
- 1 Samuel 6:7 Prepare a NEW CART and two milk cows on which there has NEVER COME A YOKE.
- Luke 23:53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where NO ONE HAD EVER YET BEEN LAID.
It seems to be a theme in Scripture that when something is new or has not been used before it tends to be holier. That could be why the donkey hadn’t been ridden.
Luke 19:31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.”
This prevented the disciples from looking like they were stealing the donkey. Their objections quickly vanished as soon as they learned the Lord needed their donkey.
We Should Be Willing to Give Up Whatever the Lord Needs
This might be a little speculative on my part, but the fact that they were told, “The Lord has need of it,” versus “Jesus has need of it,” tells me they were probably believers. Jesus was more than just Jesus to them. He was also their Lord. Most people in the ancient world were poor. Giving up a donkey was no small thing. A donkey in the ancient world would be like a vehicle today.
The owners set a good example for us. They seemed to need to hear little more than, “The Lord has need of it,” to offer it for Jesus’s service. Hopefully if we thought there was something the Lord needed from us we would respond quickly and willingly too. Let’s ask ourselves if there is anything in our lives the Lord would have us give up for his service. Could the Lord want us to give up more time, energy, or money for him? Could it be something we have been using selfishly that the Lord wants us to use for his glory? Or could it be something immoral, or even sinful, that the Lord wants us to give up completely?
My hope is that if there was something the Lord wanted us to give up, we could do so as quickly and willingly as the donkey’s owners. I’m disappointed in myself at how reluctantly I am willing to give up certain things.
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Reveals Jesus’s Omniscience
Notice the certainty with which Jesus spoke to the disciples getting the donkey. He didn’t tell them what might happen. He told them what would happen. This as an incredible demonstration of Jesus’s omniscience. There are different examples of Jesus’s omniscience in the Gospels. Here are a few. When Jesus wanted to pay the temple tax, he told the disciples they would find a coin in a fish’s mouth:
- Matthew 17:27 Go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
- John 1:48 Nathanael said, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
- John 2:25 Jesus needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
- Mark 10:33 See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles.
We see a similar example of Jesus’s omniscience a few chapters later when Jesus told the disciples to prepare the Passover feast:
Luke 22:8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” 9 They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
This looks very much like the situation with the donkey. Jesus told the disciples what to expect, and that’s exactly what happened. We see Jesus orchestrating the triumphal entry in such detail to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
Luke 19:35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 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,
The garments served as a kind of saddle for Jesus. People also put their cloaks on the ground for the donkey to walk on as Jesus continued from Bethany toward Jerusalem.
Why did they praise God for the miracles Jesus performed? Why wouldn’t they praise Jesus himself? They recognized Jesus was God’s Messiah, so they praised God for sending him. The mighty works they praised God for are the miracles Jesus performed recently. This refers to Jesus raising Lazarus, and also probably healing blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18 and cleansing the 10 lepers in Luke 17. They were shouting, “Save us!” Surely someone who could raise the dead would also be able to deliver the Jews from their enemies and restore Israel as a great and independent nation.
Jesus Came to Bring Peace Between God and Man
If you understand the peace Jesus brought, you will understand why the Jews turned on Jesus. You will understand why many of the same Jews who were thrilled with Jesus at the triumphal entry were calling out for his crucifixion only five days later.
Luke 19:38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
The people were quoting Psalm 118:26. But they also added, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” which is not in Psalm 118. Notice it says “peace in heaven” versus “peace on earth.” Jesus is heading into Jerusalem. The Jews expect him to sit on David’s throne, overthrow Rome, and bring the Jews peace. It would make sense to say, “Peace on earth.” But Jesus was not bringing peace on earth. He was bringing peace in heaven between God and man. He was reconciling men to God by his sacrifice on the cross:
Romans 5:10 While we were enemies we were RECONCILED TO GOD by the death of his Son…11 We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom WE HAVE NOW RECEIVED RECONCILIATION.
2 Corinthians 5:18 God…reconciled us to himself…19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.
Our sin created an infinite chasm of separation between God and us. How could the separation be so great? Because God is holy and perfect. Even one sin disqualifies us from heaven and makes us deserve eternal punishment. There was nothing we could ever do in our own effort to fix this separation. No amount of church attendance, works, giving, communion, baptism, you name it, could ever reconcile us to God. But what we couldn’t do no matter how hard we try, Jesus did for us on the cross:
Romans 8:3 God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
It was not possible for us to be reconciled to God in our own effort, but God loved us enough to send his Son to be a sacrifice for our sins so we could be reconciled to him. This is the peace Jesus brought in his first coming and he made this clear at the triumphal entry.
- When Jesus healed the blind man:
John 9:22 (His parents…feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)
The blind man’s parents knew that the religious leaders said anyone aligning with Jesus would be excommunicated from the synagogue. Other verses demonstrating the hostility to Jesus:
John 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.
John 7:19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”
John 7:25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?
- Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:4-7.