Mark 11:1-11 – The Triumphal Entry

Each of the Gospels describes Jesus entering Jerusalem as a “triumphal entry.” This is an event which Christians typically celebrate a week before Easter as “Palm Sunday,” at least in my youth by letting little kids wave fake palm branches and retelling the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As is usual, the pop-Christian even misses the significance of the palm branches and the other imagery in the story. There are several important symbols of Jewish nationalism in the Triumphal Entry.

First, palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabees. When Judas Maccabees brother Simon defeated the Syrians in 141 B. C.., the people celebrated with great music and the waving of palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). Palms also appear on the coins dating to the first Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-70. Images of palm branches will be used later in the coinage of the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

Second, the cry of “Hosanna” is drawn 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.

The rest of Psalm 118 is important as well. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. Verse 17-18 says that 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 already described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. 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.

Third, 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 Zech 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. 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.

What other events of the final days of Jesus ministry hint at his messianic role?

13 thoughts on “Mark 11:1-11 – The Triumphal Entry

  1. The palms — although to be totally pedantic, it’s only John who mentions the type of branches in question (12:13, cf Rev 7:9) — probably reference Psalm 118 too. Verse 27 is a bit obscure in the Hebrew, and the LXX uses a word meaning something like “bushy branches”, although this is an uncommon translation in English (it’s found in most RC Bibles (DRB, NJB, NAB), plus the GNT, NIV, NIRV, and the fringe-but-interesting CJB).

    And on a slight tangent, the Lucan version of this pericope is particularly interesting in that omits a lot of the Psalm 118 material: it mentions no branches (keeping just the garments, which seem to have some relation to King Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13, although quite why he was considered a fitting comparison — beyond of course his having been the Lord’s Anointed — is beyond me), and the rather plaintive “hosanna” becomes “peace in heaven and glory on high” (19:38), referring neatly back to the angels in 2:14.

    But returning to those branches, there seems to be a connection to a specific Jewish festival here. Strangely enough it is Sukkoth (aka Tabernacles or Booths), which usually occurs in October (although it can be in late September, because the Hebrew calendar uses a different correction method from the Gregorian one). Both Mark’s leafy branches and John’s palms appear in the laws of that feast (Leviticus 23:40), and the introductory service for each day of it is the Hoshanoth, which takes the form of an elaboration on Psalm 118:25.

    I don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from any of that, but I thought I’d chuck it in.

    • Thanks for the comment, I appreciated it so much that the next post is a kind-of response. I think that the connection is a “messiah as liberator” via 1 Maccabees, although the connection to Jehu fascinates me.

      Do not worry about being pedantic, that is what blogs are for!

  2. There are many other events that hint at Jesus’ messianic role in his last days. These events include Jesus’ selection of the 12 disciples, His association and attitude with sinners and Gentiles, and His clearing of the Temple. The selection of the 12 apostles symbolizes the remainder of God’s chosen people of Israel. His association with sinners and Gentiles showed that there would now be free forgiveness to everyone and the light to the Gentiles prophesy was being fulfilled. Jesus’ clearing of the Temple symbolized the final judgment and the coming new covenant of salvation with the end of Temple worship (Strauss, 489). All of these actions of Jesus show the in-breaking of the kingdom of God through Him. And His purpose is being fulfilled through the prophesy being fulfilled.

  3. So often we overlook the insane amount of detail God took when planning for our salvation. The more I learn and understand all of the connections between events in the Old Testament and Jesus’ life the harder it is for me to understand how the Jews missed it and failed to see Jesus as the true Messiah. He made it so clear. It makes me worried as well though because as you said at the beginning the church often misses the significance of these events as well. I was actually reading something in Hebrews earlier today that got me really thinking about this. It was Hebrews 5:11-14 which says,
    “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

    So many American Christians are still drinking milk and missing a deeper understanding. Myself included. We have become to content with our shallow understanding of God and the Bible.

  4. Closely tied to the Triumphal Entry is the cleansing of the Temple, which I believe is very messianic. As Long already commented in another one of his blog posts, Mark’s narrative of the cleansing involves his “Markan Sandwich.” In Mark 11:11, we read that Jesus “went into the temple” and “looked around at everything.” He surveyed the state of the affairs there. Then Mark suddenly switches to talking about how Jesus approached a fig tree to get some nourishment, only to find it barren and subsequently proclaim a curse on it (Mark 11:12-14). The he immediately enters the story of Jesus overturning the tables and driving people out in vv. 15-16. The Sandwich serves as an interpretive tool. Why did Jesus cleanse the Temple? Because he had surveyed it and found there to be no fruit, there was nothing of worth coming out of the it. He was worthy to be hailed into the city and then judge the Temple. Wright discusses the observation that his cleansing of it was showing just how kingly he truly was. “We don’t, perhaps, always realize that any such action [like cleansing the Temple] was staking an implicitly royal claim: it was kings … who had authority over the Temple” (127). In our modern time, it’s difficult to understand all the implications of an action that have been lost over the many years since the text was written, but the eyewitnesses would have completely understood these implications. Jesus was claiming to be the coming and promised King spoken of in the prophets.

  5. Joe Furno wrote in a previous post, “So often we overlook the insane amount of detail God took when planning for our salvation”. Although I’m sure Joe isn’t the first who has thought or written this, he is spot on. The planning of our salvation was not taken lightly and there is serious support not only in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well. There are many different hints in Jesus’ final days that point to his Messianic role. The Last Supper is one event that has definite implications that hint to Jesus being the Messiah. There are a couple elements that I deem significant regarding Jesus and his messianic features. Firstly, Jesus shares with his disciples the cardinal importance of the work of Jesus on the cross. He declares the bread broken represents his body given for us and the wine represents his blood poured out on us for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 2:28). At this meal he teaches them the significance of his atoning death pointing towards his Lordship. Secondly, Jesus makes promises of his resurrection and of the kingdom of God. Thirdly and finally,the betrayal of Judas. Perhaps the third element seems false because of its contrast in comparison to the former two. But, the significance of this element alludes to the Old Testament and is found in prophecy. Psalms 41:9 states, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me”. Judas was a close friend of Jesus, being one of his 12. He ate this meal with Jesus and the disciples and shared the bread. Judas’ betrayal of Judas fulfills Old Testament prophecy which definitely hints towards Jesus being the Messiah. Jesus’ last couple of days are loaded with messianic significance and evidently was prepared and planned by an Almighty sovereign Creator.

  6. I love reading about Bible stories that I’ve heard since I was a little girl and being introduced to a whole new level of understanding and significance within those stories. One such story is the Triumphal Entry which as a little girl I viewed as Jesus being praised as he was riding through a town, and I now view it as a prominent and intentional event in Jesus’ ministry that hinted at his messianic role. This event- so significant that it was recorded in all four of the gospels- seems to be a deliberate fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 that speaks of the righteous and victorious coming king riding in on a donkey. While this approaching of the city would have usually been done on foot, Jesus intentionally asked his disciples to bring him a donkey. While there is more to be said about this triumphal entry and the implications that it had in terms of Jesus’ messianic role, another event that had similar implications directly follows the triumphal entry account in Matthew. This event is Jesus’ clearing of the Temple. In this story, Jesus comes to the Temple only to find the people misusing it and turning the house of God into a “den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13). It seems, however, that Jesus did more than simply clearing and cleansing the temple in this incident. This could indeed have been a symbolic action to declare himself as the temple which would be destroyed and later rebuilt. Strauss speaks to this idea saying, “In the new age of salvation, forgiveness of sins would no longer come through the temple and its sacrificial system but through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, ‘the temple of his body’ destroyed and rebuilt through death and resurrection” (481). These are just two events during Jesus’ ministry on earth in which he symbolically pointed to himself as the messianic king that the people had been waiting for. The disappointment being that although it seems he clearly declared himself to be the Messiah, many people did not believe or recognize him to be their messianic king whom they had been expectantly waiting for. As John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

  7. First of all, I really like the imagery that Joe uses with the milk. “So many American Christians are still drinking milk and missing a deeper understanding.” He goes on to say that we are just content with our shallow understanding of the bible and God. And how true can that be for a lot of us. One thing we lack is the knowledge of the culture and the time the people were in during the time of Christ. Obviously it was such a different time and the culture of the Jews and Gentiles was completely different. Take for instance the book of John. John was the only one to elude to the fact that the head piece of Christ (in the tomb) was folded up and placed off apart from the rest of the linen. (ESV) This has big significance through the Jewish culture from the OT through the NT and it could still have significance today, but I am not sure. But the fact is that we do not understand the culture and I would even say there could be more to the eye that points at the Messianicness of Christ.

  8. I may not know many bible stories from when I was younger, but I’m pretty sure even non-believers know about this one. The Triumphal Entry has such a powerful name to it, and rightly so. It was the coming of the king of peace and he was bringing his ministry along with him. It’s crazy to me, that if we don’t dig deeper into a story like this one, it’s so easy to miss the little things that makes the rest of it that much better. For example, the donkey that Jesus rode in had never been ridden before. Strauss mentions that the reason for this is to show that the fact that he’s riding a pure donkey, it makes it fit for a king. Also, the book talks about what P Long said about the word “Hallelujah” means “Save us, O Lord” in Hebrew. It’s little things like that that make the story so great, and we miss it so easily due to either lack of interest or contentment.

  9. There is nothing to indicate that Jesus was not incredibly intentional in everything he did in light of his understanding his messianic vocation. He cleared out the temple (Mark 11:15-19), claimed to be the “Son of God” (which is not talking about his divinity, but instead his kingship/messianic role), was anointed at his baptism, and he was clear to establish his line to David.

  10. Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. There is an incredible amount of symbolism, prophecy and history in the Triumphal Entry of Messiah. I have been studying this event in detail and looked at multiple resources. One concept that I had not heard before is the donkey and colt represent Judaism (the mature mother donkey) and Christianity (the colt that had never been ridden). This is one for our “intellectual gizzards” as my mentor used to say. We can also see in the donkey and colt the covenant with Yisrael and the covenant with Messiah. Yeshua rode into Jerusalem on the covenant with Yisrael and brought the “New Covenant” (or renewed covenant) that He established with His sacrifice. We can see various passages featuring the Kings of Yisrael entering Jerusalem on a donkey creating a link with Messiah. Also Moses brought his family on a donkey to do God’s will creating a link with Moses. Abraham brought Isaac to Moriah on a donkey. Has anyone considered Balaam beating his donkey who tried to save him?

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