#85. The Triumphal Entry (Luke 19:28-40)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Text

Luke 19:28-44

[28] After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. [29] As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, [30] "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. [31] If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "

[32] Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. [33] As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"

[34] They replied, "The Lord needs it."

[35] They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. [36] As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

[37] When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

[38] "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

[39] Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"

[40] "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."


Exposition

I've always puzzled over the Triumphal Entry. On the one hand, the enthusiasm of the crowds is contagious. The King is coming into the Holy City! Hosanna! On the other hand, I see Jesus filled with pain. He accedes to the celebration -- indeed, he initiates it. But he is somehow detached. Instead of lifting his hands in victory as might a politician or conquering general, he is subdued. And when Jerusalem comes into sight he begins to weep -- not for himself, but for the city and its inhabitants. The Triumphal Entry is essential in God's plan -- we'll look at that this week. And so is weeping part of God's heart -- next week we'll consider that.

Today, my dear friends, let's walk with Jesus along the road that leads from Bethany down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, and seek to understand our Master. After all, we are his disciples. We should know him better than anyone.

Bethphage and Bethany (19:28-29)

"After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives.... (19:28-29)

Jesus leads his followers in front of the group. The preposition "on ahead" is Greek emprosthen, "forward, ahead."[1] Jesus leads the way to his appointment with destiny. It doesn't somehow overtake him accidentally.

"Going up to Jerusalem" is literal, since Jerusalem is at a higher elevation than most of the towns of Palestine. The road Jesus is traveling rises from 850 feet below sea level at Jericho, to elevation of 2,100 to 2,526 feet above sea level at Jerusalem. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan is set along the Jericho Road (Luke 10:25-37), though Jesus is in little danger from bandits, since he is traveling with a large number of followers and the roads are crowded with pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for Passover.

The Mount of Olives, located just east of Jerusalem, is a ridge about 2-1/2 miles long, part of the north-south mountain chain. If you stand where the Jericho Road crosses the ridge, to the west is the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, and just to the east of the summit lie the towns of Bethphage and Bethany.

Bethphage is a suburb of Jerusalem, its name in Aramaic meaning "house of the early figs." Scholars aren't sure of the precise location. But the medieval Crusaders accepted a site about 1 km east of the summit where a Franciscan chapel is now located. The site had been occupied between the Second Century BC through the Eighth Century AD.[2]

Bethany is the town where Jesus' friends live -- Lazarus, Martha, and Mary -- at whose home he was a welcome guest whenever he was in the City. It is also the place of the Ascension (Luke 24:50-51), located about 2 miles east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, identified by early Christian tradition with the Palestinian town el-Azariyeh.[3]

The Lord Needs It (19:29b-34)

Jesus looks up to the villages on the hillside just ahead and gives specific instructions to two of his disciples:

"He sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' "
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
They replied, "The Lord needs it." (19:29b-34)

The word "needs" is the Greek noun chreia, "need, lack, want," used in the phrase "has need."[4] I've often looked at this account as supernatural -- that Jesus knows there will be a particular young donkey tied in the town. And I'm sure he does know that supernaturally. On the other hand, Jesus probably has friends in many, many towns where he has stayed before, who have told him, "If you need anything -- anything! -- just let me know!" Jesus is not telling his disciples to engage in "grand theft donkey," but is taking up a friend on his long-standing offer. Notice that once the disciples say, "The Lord needs it," there is no further argument. The owners are happy to have the Lord use their possessions for his work.

How about you? Do you argue when the Lord makes a demand on something that belongs to you? Yes, you have said, "I give you my life, everything I have," but now when he makes a specific request, do you balk?

The Significance of the Donkey

The word translated "colt" is Greek polos, the young of any animal -- from an elephant to a locust. Here the "colt" or "foal" of a donkey is the reference.[5] The specific Greek word for "donkey, ass," hupozugion, is not used in Luke, but found in Matthew 21:5.[6]

Luke and Mark don't discuss the significance of the young donkey, but Matthew and John quote from Zechariah 9:9, a passage that comprises one of the great soprano arias of Handel's Messiah:

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey (LXX hupozugion),
on a colt (LXX polon), the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth." (Zechariah 9:9-10)

The donkey was domesticated in Mesopotamia by the Third Millennium BC and was used as a beast of burden from the patriarchal period. It was renowned for its strength and was the animal normally ridden by nonmilitary personnel (Numbers 22:21; Judges 10:4; 1 Samuel 25:20).[7] The scripture indicates that riding a donkey is not at all beneath the dignity of Israel's noblemen and kings (2 Samuel 18:9; 19:26). Indeed, David indicates his choice of Solomon to be king by decreeing that the young man should ride on the king's own mule (1 Kings 1:32-40).

Jesus' instructions are clear that the donkey must be one that has never been ridden (see Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7; 2 Samuel 6:3). It is set apart, consecrated for a specific use -- for the Master's use. There is a rabbinical tradition that no one should use the animal on which a king rides.[8]

It is fascinating to me that in Zechariah's prophecy the gentle king that comes into Jerusalem riding a young donkey is the same one who will defeat chariots and war-horses and bring peace to the nations. One of the final scenes of Revelation is a picture of the conquering Christ riding a white war-horse (Revelation 19:11-16), but today he rides a donkey in hope of peace.

When Jesus indicates to his disciples that he should ride on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before, he is initiating a public, kingly act. He is revealing openly that he is the Messiah.

Spreading Their Cloaks before Jesus (19:35-36)

The symbolism is not lost on the disciples and Jesus' other followers.

"They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road." (19:35-36)

The words translated "cloaks" (NIV) or "garments" (KJV) is Greek himation, which can refer generally to any garment, "clothing, apparel," or specifically to outer clothing, "cloak, robe."[9] The word translated "spread" is Greek hupostronnuo, "spread out underneath."[10] It is in the imperfect tense, indicating continued action in the past, meaning "they kept on spreading their cloaks on the road."

Spreading clothing to carpet one's pathway was a way to honor the person. When the people are aware that Jehu has been anointed king of Israel, "They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, 'Jehu is king!' " (2 Kings 9:13) Mark tells us, "Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields" (Mark 11:8). John's Gospel indicates the people were going out to meet the procession with palm branches (John 12:13).

Praise from the Disciples (19:37-38)

It is a day of excitement and jubilation as the King's procession reaches the road's highest point as it crosses the ridge of the Mount of Olives. At this time of year, pilgrims clogging the roads rejoice as they come. And the pilgrims already in Jerusalem hear that Jesus is about to enter the city, and they come out to meet him (John 12:12, 18). The city is abuzz with the news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and the pilgrims are eager to see this miracle worker.

"When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!'
'Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!' " (19:37-38, quoting Psalm 118:26)

The phrase "joyfully to praise" (NIV) or "to rejoice and praise" (KJV) consists of two Greek verbs, chairo, "rejoice, be glad"[11] and aineo, "to praise."[12] The word translated "miracles" is the Greek noun dunamis, "deed of power, miracle, wonder."[13] Also observe that the term "disciples" in verse 37 is used in a more general sense, not of just the Twelve.

As this increasingly large band of "disciples" crosses the ridge and begins its descent into the Kidron Valley the people sing praise from Psalm 118:25, though only one line is quoted in Luke. Read the full passage to see how much refers to the coming of the Messiah:

"Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O Lord, save us; [literally, "Hosanna!"]
O Lord, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever." (Psalm 118:19-29)

The Stones Will Cry Out (19:39-40)

The sound is increasing. The enthusiasm is building with a carpet of clothing and branches on the road, with singing, and with rejoicing. People in the crowd are now shouting out clearly messianic phrases:

  • "Hosanna to the Son of David! (Matthew 21:9)
  • "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!' (Luke 19:38)
  • "Blessed is the King of Israel!" (John 12:13)

The Pharisees present in the crowd are scowling. They are deeply offended and can't suppress their disdain.

"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'
'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.' " (19:39-40)

Jesus could be saying that if the disciples are silent the rocks themselves would be forced to offer praise. Indeed, praise is sometimes poetically attributed to objects and animals (Psalm 96:11; 98:7-9; 114:1-8; Isaiah 55:12). But Jewish writings sometimes mention mute stones bearing witness when sin has been committed -- in this case the sin of not offering praise when praise is due (Habakkuk 2:11; Genesis 4:10; and Joshua 24:27).[14] Next week we'll explore Jesus' sorrow over the Pharisees' unbelief -- over the unbelief of Jerusalem as a whole.

It Is Time to Be Recognized as Messiah

Up until now Jesus has been very guarded about his identity as Messiah (see, for example, Mark 8:30). Rather than using the term Christ (Greek for "anointed one") or Messiah (the Hebrew word for "anointed one"), he identifies himself as Son of Man. (See my essay on "Son of Man" www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/son-of-man.htm) If Jesus had previously acknowledged publicly that he was the Messiah, the political implications would be such that he could not complete his intended ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the Kingdom. But now that ministry is complete. All that remains is to accomplish his "exodus" in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Jesus now moves to fulfill messianic prophecy, and directs his disciples to find the donkey that his Father has prepared for his public entry into the City of Zion.

His claim as King must now be clear. Indeed, this claim of Messiahship, this open acknowledgement of Kingship, seems to precipitate his death. It was certainly on the lips of everyone in Jerusalem that week (Luke 22:67; 23:3, 35, 38, 42; 24:26, 46). Jesus is not crucified for his good works. He is killed for his claim to Kingship.

Lessons for Disciples

What are we disciples to make of this triumphal entry? As I ponder the passage I see several lessons:

  1. Regarding Jesus' instructions about obtaining the donkey, we are to obey Jesus when he tells us to do something. Just because we don't understand how everything will work out is no reason to refuse to budge when it is time to obey.
  2. We must be ready and willing for Jesus to claim use of our possessions and positions. Since he is our Master, they don't belong to us, but to him. When he sends a message, "The Lord has need of it," we must relinquish our control willingly and immediately.
  3. Praise can be received with humility. Jesus did not crave the praise of men, but neither did he silence it. It was fitting. It was appropriate.
  4. There is a time to be guarded about who we are in God, and there is a time to be fully open about it. We must not operate out of fear or self-absorption, but be sensitive to what God wants to do and then cooperate with that.
  5. Rejoicing and pain can co-exist. They did in Jesus at the Triumphal Entry, and they often coexist in our lives, too. There will be no complete rejoicing until we rejoice fully in heaven, after God has wiped away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).
  6. And, of course, one of the strongest lessons of this passage is that Jesus IS King! He IS the Messiah, the Son of David, and as such, it is fitting that we worship him.


Prayer

Lord, please help me to be willing to obey your instructions, even when I don't understand all the details or their importance. Thank you for the immense privilege you grant to me and to my brothers and sisters to be participants in your mission, to play important parts in what you are doing. Help me to rejoice in you and praise you with an open heart, not resist because of my pain or from the wound of a doubting or distrustful heart. In your holy name I pray. Amen.


Key Verses

"Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' " (Luke 19:30-31)

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38)


Questions

JesusWalk: Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All 120 lessons now compiled as a 808-page e-book and paperback. Get your copy for easy reference
  1. Why do you think Jesus gave such cryptic instructions to the two disciples about where to find the donkey and what to say if they were challenged?
  2. What is the significance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why a donkey that no one had previously ridden?
  3. What elements of the Triumphal Entry point to Jesus' claim to be the King of the Jews, the rightful Anointed One, the Messiah?
  4. Why do you think Jesus is now open about being the Messiah, whereas previously this was something he didn't want his disciples to discuss openly?
  5. What was the reaction of the pilgrims to Jesus' glorious entry? What was the reaction of the Pharisees? Why the difference in reactions?


References

Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm

  1. BDAG 325.
  2. Scott T. Carroll, "Bethphage," Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1:715.
  3. W. Harold Mare, "Bethany," New International Dictionary of Bible Archaeology (Zondervan, 1983), p. 97; Avraham Negev (ed.), The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Revised Edition; Thomas Nelson, 1986), p. 56.
  4. BDAG 1088.
  5. BDAG 900. Incidentally, the English word "polo" does NOT derive from Greek polos, but from the Balti (a Tibeto-Burman language of northern Kashmir) word for "ball." Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition.
  6. BDAG 1037.
  7. R.K. Harrison, "Ass," ISBE 1:330.
  8. Green, Luke, p. 685, fn. 9, mentions Catchpole, "Triumphal Entry," in Jesus and the Politics of His Day, edited by Ernst Bammel and C.F.D. Moule (Cambridge University, 1984), p. 324, who cites Sanh 2.5.
  9. BDAG 475.
  10. BDAG 1041.
  11. BDAG 1074-1075.
  12. BDAG 27
  13. BDAG 262-263
  14. Edersheim, Life and Times, 2:369, footnote 1. He cites Taan. 11a; Chag. 16a. Strack and Billerback II, 253. Jeremias, TDNT 4:270.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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