At the end of his journey, quite naturally, the destination of Jesus was the Temple in Jerusalem – Mark 11:1-11.
The next several stories prepare the reader for his final days, the so-called ‘Passion Week.’ A full third of the Gospel of Mark concerns the events of that week and culminate in his death and resurrection. All that has preceded his arrival in the city has been moving inexorably forward to his arrest, trial, and execution in Jerusalem.
The next several paragraphs present us with a series of conflicts between Jesus and the religious authorities in and around the Temple. There are five such confrontations that present the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders of Judea and the Temple authorities based in Jerusalem.
‘Triumphal Entry’ is a misnomer. Only on the surface does it appear as a victorious moment upon his arrival in the city. 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 welcome him, but instead, to celebrate the feast of Passover.
HIS TRANSPORT. The town of Bethany lay about three kilometers from the city, and Bethphage was about one kilometer. The Mount of Olives was approximately 780 meters above sea level and 90 meters higher than the city itself.
- (Mark 11:1-6) – “And when they are drawing near Jerusalem, toward Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives, he sends forth two of his disciples, and says to them: Go your way into the village that is over against you, and straightway, as you are entering it, you will find a colt tied on which no man yet has sat. Loose him and bring him. And if anyone should say, Why are you doing this? Say, The Lord of him has need. And straightway, he sends him off again here. And they departed and found a colt tied to a door outside, on the street, and they loosed him. And certain of them that were there standing were saying to them, What are ye doing, loosing the colt? And they said to them, as Jesus said, and they let them go.” – (Parallel passages – Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:29-38, John 12:12-15).
From the Mount of Olives, one could overlook much of the city, including the Temple complex. Jesus passed by Bethany and Bethphage on his way to it, and there he commanded his disciples to fetch the colt.
The Greek term rendered “colt” means a young animal, whether a horse, donkey, or camel. 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, his decision to ride into the city symbolized something about his messianic status. In that society, a donkey or horse was the appropriate beast for a king to ride.
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, and thus his actions pointed to his royal status – (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3, 1 Samuel 6:7).
HIS ENTRANCE. Spreading robes and branches were done commonly to welcome an approaching ruler. This act suggests that the beast on which he rode was an impromptu throne. Pressing it into service for Jesus stressed his royal status as the king of Israel – (2 Kings 9:13).
- (Mark 11:7-11) – “And they bring the colt to Jesus, and throw upon it their mantles, and he took his seat upon it. 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 Jerusalem, into the temple, and looking round on all things, late already being the hour, he departed to Bethany with the twelve.”
The account includes language from the books of Zechariah and Genesis, passages that had acquired messianic overtones in 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 that means “Save now.” Here, it is derived from Psalm 118:25-26, one of the passages from the Hebrew Bible recited during the feast of Passover:
- “Save us, we beseech you, O Yahweh! O Yahweh, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of Yahweh!”
The verse was used as a pilgrimage song. The jubilant cries of the multitude demonstrated their expectation that God was about to save Israel from foreign domination, especially since the “Son of David” had entered Jerusalem, at least, as they understood the term.
Jesus may have entered the city at the same time Jewish pilgrims already 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 his arrival at the Temple.
Despite the day’s enthusiasm, nothing significant occurred after Jesus entered the Temple and inspected it. The crowd dispersed, or at least, disappeared from the scene in the account recorded in Mark.
The description of his brief visit to the Temple is enigmatic. Was this the act of a devout Jewish pilgrim, or perhaps, a kind of quick inspection tour by the Messiah? Or was it a quick reconnaissance of the Temple in preparation for the next day’s activities? Apparently so, for after returning the next day, Jesus took decisive action based on what he had observed.
His specific destination at the end of his journey – “On the way” – was not Jerusalem itself, but the Temple. The events and controversies in the coming days and hours all center on it, its rituals, and his rejection by the priestly rulers of the Temple.