An Insincere Welcome

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Mark 11:1-11 ESV

According to John’s gospel account, when Jesus and His disciples arrived in Bethany, just east of Jerusalem, they attended a dinner given in His honor. It was held in the home of Lazarus, the man Jesus had recently raised from the dead. John indicates that there was a large crowd who had gathered outside the home where the dinner took place, hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus and Lazarus, who had become somewhat of a celebrity because of His unique death-to-life experience. And John adds that while Lazarus’ newfound fame came with adoring fans, it had also earned him some serious enemies.

the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10 ESV

It was now just six days until the Feast of Passover and Jesus had His sights set on the task at hand. He knew He was nearing the final days of His earthly life and would soon be facing the prospect of a horrific death by crucifixion. The events that took place in Bethany and Bethpage were preparatory in nature, setting up all that was going to happen in the days ahead. Even at the dinner in Bethany, Mary had anointed the feet of Jesus with costly nard, a humble act of gratitude for what He had done for her brother, And when His disciples had expressed concern over what they believed was Mary’s wasteful use of the expensive ointment, Jesus had told them, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7 ESV).

The next day, Jesus sent two of His disciples on a rather strange assignment to the nearby village of Bethphage. They were given specific instructions to locate a donkey’s colt on which no one had ever ridden. When they found it, they were to take it and bring it back to Jesus. If anyone questioned what they were doing, they were simply to respond, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately” (Mark 11:3 ESV). Matthew adds that the disciples were instructed to bring the colt and its mother, which indicates that the colt was not yet weaned. And Matthew also indicates that this entire episode was in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah.

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” – Matthew 21:5 ESV

Looking back on the events of that day, Matthew understood that everything Jesus had done had been purposeful and in keeping with the long-standing plans of God.

The disciples found everything just as Jesus had predicted, and soon as they returned, He mounted the young colt and began the last leg of His journey into Jerusalem. As He made His way, the crowds grew. Some had come with Him from Bethany, while others were some of the many pilgrims who lined the streets leading into the city.

There would have already been a festival-like atmosphere because of the close proximity of the Passover holiday. Throngs of people would have been making their way into Jerusalem, eager to participate in the Passover celebrations. But suddenly, all eyes seemed to fix on this strange scene of Jesus riding on a very undersized donkey. It is likely that one of the disciples led the female donkey and the colt simply followed its mother wherever she went. This entire scene must have been somewhat of an embarrassment to the disciples. Despite what the prophet Zechariah had written, this was not how a King should enter His own royal city. All along, the disciples had expected Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a military hero, riding a white horse and leading His army in victory over the Roman occupying forces. But here was Jesus, making His way into Jerusalem “mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).

And yet, what happened next must have taken the disciples by surprise. As their little procession made its way from Bethphage to the gates of the city, people in the crowd began to take off their outer robes and cast them down in the road before Jesus. Others cut palm branches and used them to pave the path into the city. The disciples must have been shocked and pleased by what they were witnessing. These displays of homage to Jesus would have been totally unexpected and when the disciples heard what the people were shouting, their hearts must have soared.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” – Mark 11:9 ESV

This must have been music to the disciples’ ears. The crowds were shouting the praises of Jesus, clearly indicating their belief that He was the Messiah, the son of David and the rightful heir to the royal throne. This was exactly what the disciples had been hoping for all along. At this point, any thoughts about Jesus’ suffering and dying must have disappeared. The disciples must have been euphoric, joyously taking in the thrill of the moment as they walked alongside their triumphant King.

The people, who would have been singing the Psalms of Ascent as they made their way to Jerusalem, began shouting the words of another psalm, proclaiming Jesus to be its fulfillment.

Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! – Psalm 118:25-26 ESV

Hosanna is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew phrase, hosi ah na, which means “Lord, save us!”

When we read the gospel accounts of this remarkable scene, we envision Jesus as the focal point of the procession, like a celebrity on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But it could be that much of what the gospel writers describe is nothing more than the normal activities of the pilgrims making their way into the city. There would have been singing and celebration taking place because this was one of the mandatory feasts of Israel that took place every year. Their shouts of Hosanna would have been a normal part of the occasion because Passover was a celebration of God’s past deliverance of His people from slavery and subjugation. As the throng of travelers caught sight of the gates of Jerusalem, they would have shouted with joy, crying out to God for yet another deliverance from their enemies.

Had Jesus been the main attraction that day, the actions of the crowds would have garnered the attention of the Romans. But evidently, the Roman authorities noticed nothing uncommon taking place. It was all just part of the annual activities surrounding the Jewish celebration of Passover.

It almost appears that Jesus was taking advantage of the usual frenzy surrounding Passover in order to accentuate His entrance. While the people were shouting and proclaiming the salvation of God, the Son of God was riding in their midst. He was entering the city of David, mounted on a lowly colt of a donkey. Their salvation had arrived, in the form of the Savior of the world. But despite all the throwing of cloaks, the casting down of palm branches, and the shouts of “hosanna,” the people failed to recognize Jesus as who He truly was. And it appears that as soon as Jesus entered the city, the crowds quickly dispersed. Much to the disappointment of the disciples, Jesus was no longer the focal point of the moment. He was just another pilgrim walking the crowded streets of the city.

Some of the hype surrounding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem can be explained by the presence of those who had come with Him from Bethany. According to Matthew, these people who accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem were the ones who started the shouts of “hosanna!” And when the crowds began to ask for an explanation as to what was going on, they were told, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11 ESV). And we know from Luke’s account that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke His disciples for stirring up the crowds. But Jesus had told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV).

But Luke also adds that Jesus was aware that the people were unaware of the significance of what they were saying. Their shouts were meaningless and their cries for deliverance would go unheeded because they would not recognize Jesus as their Messiah. And Luke indicates that Jesus wept over the city, saying, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 18:41 NLT).

They were oblivious to what was taking place around them. And despite all the hoopla surrounding His entrance, Jesus quickly became an afterthought, lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. He was just another Jew among the tens of thousands of pilgrims crowding the streets of the city. So, Jesus was able to make His way to the temple without any trouble and free from any further fanfare. And Mark indicates that after taking stock of the scene taking place at the temple complex, He returned to Bethany with His 12 disciples.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson