SYNOPSIS – At the end of his journey, the destination of Jesus was the Temple in Jerusalem – Mark 11:1-11.
The account recorded in chapters 11 through 13 of Mark prepare the reader for the final week in the life of Jesus, the so-called “Passion Week.” A full third of the gospel of Mark is focused on the events of that final week, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. All that has preceded in this gospel has been moving inexorably to his arrest, trial, and execution in the city of Jerusalem.
The events recorded in the next two chapters constitute conflict stories – Disputes between Jesus and the religious authorities in and around the Temple. There are five such stories in this section, just as there were five related stories in Mark 2:1–3:6. In it, the running theme is the rejection of Jesus by the Temple authorities.
“Triumphal Entry” is a misnomer. Only on the surface does it appear to be a victorious moment. In the end, Jerusalem failed to accept her true Messiah, the “Son of David” and the King of Israel. The crowds had not gathered to Jerusalem to welcome Jesus but to celebrate the feast of Passover.
(Mark 11:1-6) – “And when they are drawing near unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany towards the Mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,—and saith unto them—Go your way into the village that is over against you, and straightway, as ye are entering it ye shall find a colt tied upon which no man yet hath sat: loose him and bring him. And if anyone unto you should say—Why are ye doing this? say—The Lord of him hath need; and, straightway, he sendeth him off again here. And they departed and found a colt tied unto a door outside on the street,—and they are loosing him. And certain of them that were there standing were saying unto them—What are ye doing loosing the colt? and they said unto them as Jesus said,—and they let them go.” – (Parallel passages – Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:29-38, John 12:12-15).
The town of Bethany was about three kilometers from the city of Jerusalem, and Bethphage about one kilometer. Both were on the side of the Mount of Olives. The elevation of this hill is approximately 780 meters above sea level and 90 meters higher than Jerusalem.
From there, one could overlook much of the city, including the Temple complex. Jesus passed by Bethany and Bethphage on his way to reach the Mount of Olives where he issued commanded his disciples to fetch a colt for him to ride.
In verse 2, the Greek term rendered “colt” means a young animal, whether a horse, donkey, camel. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, it is used for the “colt of an ass.” Throughout his ministry, Jesus walked. This is the first recorded instance of him riding any beast of burden – (Genesis 32:15, 49:11, Judges 4:10).
At times of pilgrimage, the common practice was to enter Jerusalem on foot. Thus, the decision of Jesus to ride a donkey symbolized something about his messianic status. In that society, a donkey or a horse was an appropriate ride for a king.
Images from several Old Testament passages are at play. Jesus specified a colt that no man had ever ridden, an allusion to the requirement for sacred animals not to be employed for ordinary use. Commandeering a beast for official use was the prerogative of a king, implying the regal status of Jesus – (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3, 1 Samuel 6:7).
(Mark 11:7-11) – “And they bring the colt unto Jesus, and throw upon him their mantles,—and he took his seat upon him. And many spread out their mantles along the way, and others young branches,—cutting them out of the fields. And they who were going before, and they who were following after were crying aloud—Hosanna! Blessed is he that is coming in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! And he entered into Jerusalem, into the temple, and looking round on all things, late already being the hour, he went out into Bethany with the twelve.”
Spreading robes and branches is the kind of welcome offered to an approaching king. This act by the disciples suggests the beast was an impromptu throne for the Messiah. Pressing it into service for Jesus lays stress on his status – The king of Israel – (2 Kings 9:13).
This account includes imagery and language from the books of Zechariah and Genesis, passages that had acquired messianic overtones within first-century Judaism:
- (Zechariah 9:9) – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and MOUNTED ON AN ASS, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF AN ASS.”
- (Genesis 49:10-11) – “The scepter will not depart from Judah or the commander’s staff from between his feet, until he comes in as Shiloh, and his be the obedience of the peoples. He ties HIS FOAL to the vine, and his DONKEY’S COLT to the choice vine.”
“Hosanna” transliterates an Aramaic word, meaning, “Save now!,” a term derived from Psalm 118:25-26 – (“Save us, we beseech thee, O Yahweh! O Yahweh, we beseech thee give, us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of Yahweh!”). This very text is in view in this story. In the Psalm, “He who enters in the name of the Lord” refers to a person or persons who entered the Temple.
The jubilant cries of the crowd demonstrated the expectation that God was about to save Israel from foreign domination, especially since the “Son of David” had entered Jerusalem. In the preceding section, Jesus was identified as “son of David” by blind bar-Timaeus. However, as he entered the city, it is more likely this identification was derived from Psalm 118:25-26, used commonly at the time as a pilgrimage song during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Possibly, Jesus entered the city at the same time the Jews were celebrating Passover. That the crowd did not continue with him to the Temple and there proclaim him “king” supports the conclusion that they were not shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus, at least not intentionally. Nothing is said about the crowd celebrating after his arrival at the Temple.
Despite that day’s enthusiasm, nothing significant occurred after Jesus entered the Temple complex. The crowd dispersed or at least disappeared from the scene in the account in Mark.
The description of his brief visit to look around the Temple is enigmatic. Was this the act of a devout Jewish pilgrim or, perhaps, a kind of quick inspection tour by Jesus? Possibly, ‘Mark’ intends us to view it as a reconnaissance of the Temple – After returning the next day, Jesus took specific and decisive action based on what he had already observed.
The specific destination of Jesus at the end of his journey – “On the way” – Was not Jerusalem but the Temple. The events and controversies in the coming days and hours all will center on it – (Mark chapters 11-12).