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CROWDS WERE GATHERING in Jerusalem for the Passover. This was the special time when the whole nation held a feast and remembered how, many years before, God had rescued them out of slavery in Egypt. The streets were buzzing now with the latest story about Jesus, who had actually restored to life a man who had been dead and buried for four days!
Jesus and His disciples had travelled a long way and had arrived some time before the date of the Passover celebration, staying at Bethany. That quiet village was Jesus’ refuge during His visits to Jerusalem. Here lived His dear friends Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus, a family apparently in comfortable circumstances, always happy to welcome Jesus and His friends into their home. From there a pleasant walk over the Mount of Olives would take them to the Temple in Jerusalem.
It may be asked, ‘Why did Jesus need a refuge a safe house away from the city rabble? Surely He was a popular personality?’ It was true that crowds were drawn to Him, to hear His message, to witness His miracles of healing and sometimes to applaud His condemning of wrongdoing. But such popularity was not pleasing to the religious rulers of the nation. His teaching appeared to threaten their positions of power and authority over the people, and He must be apprehended. So their plans were laid, and it would not be difficult to rid themselves of that troublesome preacher while the city was thronged with visitors from far and near.
Strictly speaking, the events of that historical occasion happened on the day we call Monday. Surprising as it may now seem, the Jewish day began at Sunset 6 o’clock in the evening, based on the creative days of Genesis: ‘And the evening and the morning were the first day’ (Genesis 1: 5; see also verses 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). The time of Passover was fixed exactly by Divine decree and was to be kept on the 14th day of Nisan, the month that marked the start of the religious year. On the evening of Nisan 14 each year, every Jewish family would observe the solemn ritual described in Exodus 12.
Jesus intended to go into the city each morning that week to continue His preaching and healing ministry. It wasn’t far to walk – only about two miles but Jesus had planned to arrive there the first day in a rather special way. After leaving Bethany that morning, He asked two of His friends to go into Bethphage, a nearby village, where they would see a colt a young donkey tied to a doorway. ‘Bring him to me,’ Jesus said, ‘and if anybody questions you, say that your Master needs him.’ The two friends found the donkey, and though some people standing about asked why they were taking it away, they were satisfied with the answer. The disciples put their garments on the colt for a makeshift saddle, set the Master upon him, and the triumphal procession set out for the city, accompanied by an excited crowd of travellers eager to witness what promised to be a very special event.
They were not disappointed. People began to hail Jesus as their King and to do him homage, as was customary with celebrities at that time, by spreading their outer garments on the road for His mount to tread upon, and they threw palm branches to decorate the processional route into Jerusalem. In many historical cultures, palms symbolised victory, peace, and prosperity, reflecting on this occasion the optimism of the general populace who believed that here, riding on the foal of an ass, was one who would restore to the nation the freedom and glory of former days.
So it was that excited crowds from all directions pressed on the extraordinary procession, cheering loudly and exclaiming
‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the
Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!’ (John 12: 13).
The Disciples of Jesus were themselves astonished, but delighted of course, at their Master’s reception, perhaps sharing something of His acclaim. But there were among the cheering crowd some stony-faced observers, Pharisees who resolved to put a stop to such nonsense. Annoyed at the scene, some of these drew near and told Jesus to rebuke His disciples for encouraging such a commotion. ‘“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”’ (Luke 19: 39, 40).
Jesus had not forgotten the prophecy of Zechariah 9: 9, being fulfilled that very day.
‘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, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The Disciples remembered it only much later, after the horrific events that followed their Lord’s one day of spectacular public acclaim. And as the tale of the King who road on a donkey is told again, year after year, Christ’s disciples the world over pray for the day when His Kingdom is come, and He is hailed King not of Israel only, but King of the whole world.
Copyright April 2009 UK Bible Students. You may reproduce part or all of this article, but please let us know if you do and link to our site, if possible.