John 12:12-16 – The Triumphal Entry

The Gospel of John describes the well-known event of the Triumphal entry briefly, only mentioning a few features of the story which serve his overall themes.(See this post for the Triumphal Entry in Mark 11.) The Passover feast was a very nationalistic holiday in the first century since it celebrates God’s redemption of his people and the beginnings of Israel as a nation. Waving palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabean Revolt (1 Macc. 13:51). Images of palm branches will be used in the coinage of both the Jewish revolt in A.D.70 and the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

1 Maccabees 13:51–52 (NRSV) On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. 52 Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there

Bar Kokhba Coin

Bar Kohkba coin (A.D.) 132-135 Seven branch palm tree with “Shimon” (Bar Kohkba) on the observe and a grape leaf on the reverse.


The cry of “Hosanna” is from Psalm 118:25-25. The word means “save us, O Lord!”  The psalm was one of the pilgrim Psalms, sung by those who were going up to the Temple during a feast.  Psalm 118:26 was often taken as a reference to the Messiah, when the true the King of the Jews he will save his people.  As people went up to Jerusalem, they would sing this Psalm and look forward to the coming Messiah.

The rest of this Psalm is important. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. In verse 17-18 the Psalmist has been disciplined severely but has not been handed over to death. “I shall not die,” he says, “but I shall live.” Verse 19 describes the “gate of righteousness” through which the pilgrims must enter; Jesus has described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. In verse 22 the psalm refers to “the stone the builders rejected” becoming the chief cornerstone, a verse Jesus applies to himself in the parable of the Vineyard.

Perhaps most important is Psalm 118:27: “The Lord is God and has made his light to shine upon us.” A light shining in the darkness is a key messianic image (Luke 1:78-79), but especially in the gospel of John. Jesus is the light which shines in the darkness (John 1:5), those who follow Jesus walk in the light, those who do not remain in the darkness (John 12:35-26).

That Jesus rides a donkey is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9, another text associated with the coming messiah. John does not give the details since they are likely well-known by the time he writes his book. He does emphasize the fact that Jesus deliberately chose to ride a donkey, intentionally evoking the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The point of this sign is often missed since it is thought riding a donkey is a sign of humility and peace. It is true that David came to Jerusalem after his son’s revolt “in peace,” riding a donkey instead of a war horse. But a king often rides a donkey; it is shame for a king to ride a donkey in the first century. A better explanation of the donkey is to see that after Solomon was anointed king, he was placed on a donkey and led up to the city of Jerusalem, through the Kidron valley. The anointed son of David, the king named “Peace,” enters the city of Jerusalem to begin the most peaceful and prosperous period in Israel’s history.

Zechariah 9:9 is alluding to that story in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is the true Son of David who will bring ultimate peace and prosperity, but only after he destroys the enemy of his people. Rather than the Romans, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

John once again weaves together allusions to several passages in the Hebrew Bible which hint at who Jesus is. in this case, he is the long-awaited messiah, the one who the Psalmist and the prophets were looking forward to. What else does this passage tell us about who Jesus?

15 thoughts on “John 12:12-16 – The Triumphal Entry

  1. John’s extensive use of Old Testament prophecy is always something that amazes me. Being a man who has had no formal teaching, he somehow effortlessly alludes to these passages to help evoke the ideas of Messiahship and prophetic fulfillment. This is no less true when it comes to the triumphal entry.
    Kostenberger says that John refers to two Old Testament passages, Psalm 118:25-26 and Zechariah 9:9 (Kostenberger, 120). Psalm 118 is in reference to when the crowds cry out this passage, praising God and blessing Jesus. The passage from Zechariah is the one that I found more interesting. It is in reference to Jesus riding on a donkey through Jerusalem, which was prophesied in this passage. I find this passage interesting for several reasons. First, John normally gives more details than the Synoptics, but in this case, they give a lot more information. Also, the symbolism that comes from this passage is pretty hefty. The donkey, which typically stands for humility and peace, and the waving of palm branches, “which convey the celebration of victory” (Kostenberger, 120), while they may seem like conflicting symbols, really summarize Jesus life. Jesus claims victory over death and Satan through humility and peace, sacrificing himself for the salvation of many.

  2. What I believe is most intriguing about this passage is that it does talk about peace, but there is more to it then that. We see the symbolism through riding the donkey and also how it relates back to the Old Testament prophecies as well as demonstrating that Jesus is the coming messiah. All these things as reflected in this passage, but they are also the reason why on thing is missing. There is this parallel or contrast between this feeling of peace, yet also a feeling of Jesus time is coming. What has been prophesized before is now glooming over his head. Jesus knows his time is coming and as Kostenberger explains, “but the brief flickering up of popularity is not to be trusted,” (Kostenberger, 121). This feeling of peace gives false hope to the people because Jesus knows that his time of death is near, but it is amazing that he instills peace upon their hearts when he knows that his time on earth is little. John explains in 12:32 that he knows he must die and that his death is imminent. Jesus must die, he knows that, because he has to save the world, so with this quarrel between peace and death, how is it that Jesus can instill such peace in such turmoil of his soul?

    • I like how you bring up the fact of how Kostenberger p121 says that “brief flickering up of popularity is not to be trusted”. With Jesus sitting on the donkey, this brings even more of a peaceful feeling for those that were at the crowd, as the donkey is a sign of peace and humility. It would be hard to go to a big crowd and give people hope, knowing that the person they are so excited for to save them is going to be dieing soon. Verse 15 says not to be afraid, showing that the image they seen of Jesus, the King, coming on a donkey instantly giving them peace. In the previous verses they are shouting that he who comes is coming in the name of the Lord. They new that he was from the Lord, and presumably knew that his time on earth was coming to an end. The fact that they were shouting Hosanna with palm branches makes me wonder if they thought Jesus was truly leaving soon. Palm branches are representing victory, and victory will not happen until Jesus dies and returns. I apply the image of Jesus riding in on a donkey to my personal life of preachers that I listen best too. Preachers that I feel I connect best to are those who dress more casual and not necessarily as formal. I think this is partially what Jesus was doing when riding in on a donkey, He was trying to portray peace and not make himself higher than those in the crowd, but connect with them on a more personal level.

  3. The excitement that they feel really grabs my attention. According to verse 16, they did not necessarily know exactly what was so great to be crying out too, but they knew there was something about Jesus to be glorified. Until studying this passage, I did not know the significance with palm branches, and how important it was in their culture, and the fact that they were shouting Hosanna with palm branches shows what it meant to them for Jesus to be coming to town. Kostenberger p120 says “Jesus is here portrayed as the victor who has defeated the enemies; palm branches were commonly used to convey the celebration of victory”. This is a perspective that I did not realize right away, but adds reasoning to why they were shouting Hosanna. With Hosanna meaning “save us, o Lord”, you wouldn’t shout this at someone who you did not believe could truly help. If they already think of Jesus as a victor, I feel like they have a lot of faith. I find it interesting as well how Jesus sat on a donkey, as Kostengerger p120 says how this is viewed as a sign of humility, and of peace. This is in my opinion not what a typical victor would look like. How can a king be on a donkey, as Kings are supposed to be who the people look up too and are seen as strong and assertive. I believe it is possible that these people connected better with Jesus, because he does not try and put himself above other people, and even goes as far as to sit on a donkey in front of a big crowd.

  4. Through Jesus’ triumphal entry and relating it to the Psalm I thought was very cool and something I never would’ve caught if just reading through the triumphal entry of Jesus. One part I liked was that they cried out to Jesus Hosanna which means “save us Oh Lord”. This is unique as they cried this out because they were captives and foreigners in a foreign land. They thought that Jesus would save them from their bondage but that’s not what he came to do. As the Psalm states and is in the setting the psalmist was in the midst of his enemies and yet was scared of death but knew that he wouldn’t die. This is unique by which Jesus coming in knew what his fate would be as he entered into the city, he would die but he would save the people from their enemy which is sin and with that sin is death. I found this Psalm and the triumphant entry to be very unique and cool as it matches up in different ways but at the same time relates to what is and will about to happen.

  5. The triumphal entry is unique in a few ways. From the Old Testament, and even mentioned in Johns writings, Jesus knows about the image he is going to provide for the world, and lives up to the old testament prophecies. Even through all the hatred and mockery Jesus does what he has to because ultimately he is humbling himself before the ones he loves, yet at this time, do not reciprocate this love back to him. Amidst all of this war, Jesus remains completely in a state of peace and humility, where all of us sinners, would be afraid, for if we knew the future would know our lives would come to an end. This just goes to show that Jesus, although divine in his nature could feel the turmoil going through the land, but remained at peace because of his divine presence. Why else does he have the power to just cause things to be still, and to quiet the crowds. Jesus was peace, living, breathing peace. This event demonstrates the peace that Jesus had and presented.

  6. While reading the passage on Jesus’s triumphal entry in encountering John, Kostenberger made his readers aware of other details about Jesus that were not mentioned in John but in the Synoptic gospels. Do not know how significant are these details, but they do add to Jesus’s divine character and the purpose behind the objects he chose during his arrival in Jerusalem. As Kostenberger mentions, the synoptic gospels have pieces of information that pertain to Jesus ordering his disciples to grab a colt in anticipation for his arrival in Jerusalem (Kostenberger, 136). It becomes clear in Mark 11 that Jesus had a specific motive for having his disciples retrieve the donkey. Analyzing Mark 11, Jesus states in verse 11:3, “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly”. Giving these details in Mark it almost seems like Jesus was preparing for his arrival to gravitate towards something more significant. Jesus knew precisely what props he needed in order to have the people draw out conclusions on the nature of his character. As stated in your post, a donkey symbolized humility and peace, which is what Jesus wanted people to understand about him.

  7. This passage is an incredable picture of who Jesus is and what he came to do. The amazing part to me about this picture is how it evokes so many old testament prophescies and plalms that talk about the coming of the Messiah. One thing that is intereting to me is that the Jews were expecting a messiah to come that was a powerful leader, a political leader who would be political king of the Jews and destory Israels enemies (Romans). But then here comes Jesus riding in on a dokey, the way it was prophesised in Jeremiah, but yet it was discracful for a King to ride a donkey… if they accepted Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding a donkey, meaning he was coming in peace, why did they think we was coming to over throw the government? The amazing thing is that Jesus was doing exacly what God said he would do, he is coming in and defeating his peoples’ enemies which is sin and death! No one else is able to defeat that enemie, no other is able to overthrow that power! But Jesus does, because he is God and the perfect lamb and the final sacrafice! He comes riding into Jerusalem as a peacful but yet powerful king who will defeat sin and death with humility and death itself! Wow!

  8. John 12:12-16 discusses the Triumphal entry, which we know in western Christianity as Palm Sunday. I had not really looked into how this moment is tied back to the Old Testament until this class. I knew that Hosanna meant “save us, O Lord!” from various sermons throughout the years. I had not known that this event references Psalm 118 and also Zechariah 9:9. Throughout this class, I have been able to see how certain events and words appeal to passages in the Old Testament. Did John do this on purpose throughout his Gospel? I am sure he did. It seems that John placed certain events and words for a reason, nothing was really put in there for ‘fluff’s sake’. During the Triumphal entry, Jesus rides in on a donkey which is yet another moment in his ministry where he humbled himself to a lower level than he was. Jesus could have come in on a real horse and appeared much stronger but instead he did not. According to prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, the coming Messiah or King “is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey” (HCSB). In order to follow prophecy, for the Triumphal entry, Jesus had to come in riding on a donkey; it could not have been any other way.

  9. I think it is very cool to see all the symbolism that Jesus fulfilled on the entry of Jerusalem which was spoken of in Psalm 118. With the psalm mentioning the gate, a light in the darkness, and the cry of Hosanna, these are all things that point back to Jesus’s title of the Messiah. Each is an example of salvation. Jesus is the gate through which we receive our salvation and the light that overpowers the darkness of sin. The people are longing for deliverance from the oppression which they have been living in, thus shouting “Hosanna!” save us, O Lord. Kostenberger mentions Psalm 118 in his book as well saying, “All four evangelists refer to Psalm 118:25-26: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’ to which John and Mark add references to ‘the King of Israel’ (John 12:13) or ‘the coming kingdom of our father David’ (Mark 11:10)” (Kostenberger, 120). It is a well-known fact that Jesus’s victory and the victory that the Jewish people expected of him were not the same ones in mind. However, Jesus’s plan was so much better than the people could ever imagine. All the symbolism that points back to him makes it clear that Jesus intends to deliver mankind from sin and restore them to a rightful relationship with him. It is only through his death that people receive redemption.

  10. I do like the connection of the Scriptures, though I am not surprised that there is so much significant connection. All throughout the Bible, we can see that there are many instances where Old Testament prophecy has came true and where it is fulfilled. I do think this one is focused on a lot and is super important because these passages allude to the King (Messiah) that is to come. In Psalm 1118:27 where it says “He has med His light shine on us.” I connect that to where Jesus says he is the “light of the world”, not only does this passage line up with the Triumphal Entry but it also lines up with other sections in the Gospel of John. There are many other things to connect the passage in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!” upon arrival in Jerusalem, the people start to shout “Hosanna” while laying palm leaves down on the ground welcoming Christ into the city. Whether it is in the Old or New Testament there are connections to be made in Scripture all over between passages, it’s just the way others interpret on where it goes is what makes the difference on learning what it can tell us.

  11. John mentions the triumphal entry only briefly, but it is told in all four gospels. This gives credit to its authenticity and not just a story made up by the early church (Strauss, 479). The donkey is a symbol of peace and humility, and it is in contrast to a great war horse that a king would usually sit on. This goes to show both the Jewish people that he is not their earthly warrior, bent on destroying the Roman empire, and it could very well be a sign of peace to the Romans themselves. However, a sign of kingship and authority to someone other than the emperor himself would have been treacherous for all involved. The use of the donkey may not have been lost on the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem; they very well may have recognized the proclamation Jesus was making through his actions. Zechariah 9:9 tells a very vivid picture of the King riding in on donkey, being exalted by those that watch. Jesus following this prophecy would have been a declaration of his Messiahship. The Jewish people laid down their palm branches for Jesus as they saw him as their savior from the Romans, not the savior for their sins (Strauss, 480). The passage highlights the quality of humility in Jesus. He could have ridden into the city on any great animal he wished, but chose a donkey, a lowly animal, one that represented peace.

  12. Studying prophecies and their fulfillments throughout the Bible is very interesting to me, and this is one that I have not done a lot of research on until now. As I have come to find out, the Triumphal Entry is an acting out of the prophecy found in Zachariah 9:9 which presents Jesus as the messianic king who is coming to save his people. This is a very intentional event because Zachariah 9:9 states that Jesus would be riding in on a donkey, and that is why Jesus specifically asked his disciples to find the donkey. If they did not it would not line up with the prophecy. Not only does this demonstrate that this was an intentional event but also it proves something about Jesus character. Because Jesus rode in on a donkey instead of a war horse that they would normally use, it shows Jesus intentions of bringing peace and salvation for his people instead of war and harm. The word messiah actually means “anointed one” and often refers to Jesus as “Gods end-times savior sent to deliver His people” (Strauss, p. 640, 2007). It mentions in Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor” (NKJV).

  13. The story of the Triumphal Entry is loaded to the gills with symbolism, metaphors, and rich, historical contexts and meanings. Along with those already mentioned in the above blog post, author Mark L. Strauss mentions even more pieces of symbolism within his book “Four Portraits, One Jesus”. Firstly, Strauss emphasizes that Jesus did not NEED to ride the donkey into Jerusalem for Passover (480). In fact, most Jews entered the town on foot, including Jesus’ disciples, who entered Jerusalem on foot to search for the young donkey that Jesus had sent them to procure (Strauss 480). The reason Jesus chooses a young donkey rather than a more intimidating or mature animal is threefold… firstly, the unridden nature of the donkey is symbolic of its cleanliness and purity (Strauss 480). Thus, the donkey is fit for Jesus’ holy and pure nature as well as being appropriate for a king to ride on (Strauss 480). Second, Jesus is making reference to David’s ride into Jerusalem on a young donkey following his son’s rebellion, which marked a time of renewed peace and prosperity (Long, 2012). Third, Jesus is very intentionally fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, where a prophecy is given describing the Messiah riding to Jerusalem on a colt (Long, 2012; Strauss 480).

    Another detail Strauss covers is the Middle Eastern practice of impressment. Impressment is the expectation for a king’s subjects to make their resources available to the king whenever he needs them (Strauss 480). Jesus, as the King of Kings, requires this man’s colt, and therefore – through the principle of impressment – has a right to utilize this man’s resources to fulfill the goals of the King.

    A third important detail that should be taken from this passage is the phrase Jesus tells the disciples to repeat if they get into trouble while taking the colt. They are told to say “the Lord has need of it”, which both reinforces the practice of impressment and also affirms that Jesus viewed himself as one with the Lord. One could argue that Jesus was telling them to lie and say that a local lord or king needed it (thereby convincing the owner of the donkey to allow them to have it since a local authority needed it), but this is unlikely since it is outside of the nature of Jesus to lie, and because the word “Lord” in the passage is capitalized, leading one to believe that the “Lord” referenced is God, and not some local, human figure.

Leave a Reply