Mark 11:1-11 – The Coming of the Messiah

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.  (See this post on the Triumphal Entry in John 12)

Palm Sunday

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 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. 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?

15 thoughts on “Mark 11:1-11 – The Coming of the Messiah

  1. While affirming what you have written, is it not possible that hearers (mostly non-Jewish and not all that familiar with Zechariah and/or Psalm 118 and/or the Maccabees) in the late first and early second centuries A.D. would have “heard/reflected on” the event as the coming/arrival of a “different king/emperor”—as compared to the arrival of Roman Emperors such as Hadrian (and others) to a city on their “Imperial Tours?”

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    • You are correct the later readers may have missed the more subtle allusions in Jesus’ words since they do not know Aramaic and the word-play is absent in the Greek. For me, this is one reason I think “historical Jesus” said this, since it really requires Aramaic to tease out the full meaning (assuming I am not just seeing things here!) The more the church becomes Gentile (and anti-Semitic), the less they hear these echoes (or refuse to hear the echoes).

      Later readers hear different things as you suggest. Someone living in the early second may have thought of Imperial power on display with Hadrian, a medieval listener may have thought of the arrival as a different kind of king.

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  2. There are many parallels that can be seen when looking at Jesus’s messianic role and ministry on earth. In Exodus 19, Moses went up on to a mountain to receive the ten commandments from God, “Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel…”. Likewise, in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus gives the most well known sermon on the Mount of Olives, preaching about the ten Beatitudes. After Moses came down from the mountain in Exodus 34, the text says his face was shining: “…he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord.” Then in Matthew 17 (the transfiguration), when Jesus and his disciples were on the mountain, the text says, “As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light”. Many things that occurred to Jesus resemble old testament happenings and foreshadow the messianic role of Christ.

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  3. There are many events in Jesus ministry that reflect his messianic role in the synoptic gospels. I think there are so many examples of this because his messianic role was one of the main points of focus in his teachings and ministry so there are a lot of examples and symbolism. For example, Jesus hints at his messianic role throughout his ministry which hints at Daniel 7:13-14. This passage says: “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me” (NIV). This passage prophesied that there would be a coming of a messiah and thought Jesus’ ministry, this is proven to be him. Jesus explains these characteristics in Daniel which reveal his messianic presence. Matthew 28:18 says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (NIV). All in all, there are many of Jesus actions and teachings allude to the Old Testament which prove his messianic role in the future by fulfilling promises and expectations.

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  4. Another great read, I loved the historical background you gave of palm branches and ‘Hosanna’. The palm branches seem to hold great historical value, as well as political significance. I couldn’t help but think that many of the Jews expected the Messiah (at least one of them) to come and be a great political figure. Is the use of the palm branches a reflection of their expectation of Jesus as a powerful political figure, in hopes that He would overthrow the Roman rule?
    However, in answer to the question posed at the end – a simple and yet most amazing messianic ring that Jesus’ life had to it, is the healings He performed. I love that Jesus can make ALL things new. Jesus restores. Through Jesus we will be made whole at His return. Jesus’ healings herald the coming of His kingdom. Just a few examples of the power of Jesus’ healing in Matthew that I love are found in chapters 4,8, and 9.

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  5. Jesus’ healings and raising of the dead hinted at His messianic role and the issuing of the Kingdom. For example, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, how Jesus went in there in spite of mockery from the crowd and laid on her and raised her from the dead. The dead in Christ shall rise as He was risen. An example of Jesus’ healings would be the woman at the well. She was so broken inside and thirsty for love that she looked for it in men. She expected them to love her and give her what she never had, But Jesus came and offered something could actually quench the thirsting in her soul: He became Her Ultimate Love.
    In Isaiah 61:1-3,7 Jesus was to come and heal the brokenhearted (Samaritan Woman), bring liberty to the captives (Gentiles), and the opening the eyes to those who are blind (spiritually and physically. Also to give them double blessings for their trouble (the beatitudes), double honor for their former shame and everlasting joy. He fulfilled all of this in the New Testament and in my life.

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  6. The way I see Jesus as the messiah is in His fulfilling of prophecy. The question asked is how in His later ministry he is hinting at his messianic role. I would say one way is he prayed for His enemies Psalm 109:4 is fulfilled when Jesus prays on the cross. Or Isaiah 53:7 Jesus does this one in Mark 15:4-5. Basically the whole last parts of Jesus life are completing prophecy that points to him being the Messiah. Jesus getting crucified, breaking no bones, crucified next to sinners it wasn’t things he controlled but it was things that were predicted about the messiah and it is was what Jesus went through. These are just the things that come to my mind about Jesus claiming to be the messiah later in his ministry.

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  7. Jesus demonstrated that He was the Messiah throughout his ministry. He performed miracles, and he saved people physically and spiritually for the public to see. He was an example to the people. He taught them how to pray (Matt 6). I think that the Transfiguration in Mark 9: 2-13 was a great revelation of who Christ said that He was, the Savior of His people. When Jesus casts out demons, the demons always address him as the Messiah. Mark 1: 24-25. ” His actions in entering Jerusalem in imitation of Zechariah 9:9 and his clearing of the temple also have strong messianic implications” (Strauss 482). John 2:19 says, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.'” Jesus was always teaching people about being repentant of their sins and to believe in Him.

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  8. It is interesting to see how much symbolism there was in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I think when you are brought up on the Sunday School stories of Palm Sunday, it can be easy to think of it just as a story. To understand that palm branches were a significant part of Jewish nationalism shows just how each seemingly small detail was present with a specific goal in conveying Jesus’ Messianic role. The intricate details of Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem are especially interesting when comparing how Mark and Matthew described them.
    In Mark 11:2, Jesus tells the disciples to find a colt “which no one has ever ridden” (NIV). I have never really thought much of this description of the donkey. But Collins references Num. 19:2 to argue that there is significance that the colt “fit to function in a sacred capacity, carry the king Jesus” (qtd. in Markley) because it had never been used in an ordinary manner.
    Matthew is the only writer who writes about both a donkey and a colt (Matt. 21:2). It is a little confusing because in the following verses Jesus apparently rides them both (Matt. 21:7), which is not a logical image. Some have said this was referencing the garments that Jesus sat on (Markley). But it seems that this wording could have been another way for Matthew to account for the prophecy in Zech. 9:9. This inclusion could be “building his case that the triumphal entry fulfilled Zech. 9:9 (Markley).
    Whether these hypotheses are true or not, the knowledge that every detail was specifically designed to fulfill prophecy brings a new awareness that is important in understanding Jesus’ Messianic role and actions in the final days before his death and resurrection.

    Markley, John R. Triumphal Entry. Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016.

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  9. Palm Sunday is a special celebration that lets everyone know that Jesus has come into Jerusalem. While there are many Jewish aspects to the holiday, it is the symbolism and significance of this event that amazes me the most. The first of these I would like to talk about would be the palm branches. The palm branches help symbolize Jesus’ role coming to order. Jesus finally has come to Jerusalem and is now going to begin his messianic journey. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, everyone rejoiced singing “Hosanna.” This shows the significance of Jesus’ journey and how respected even his name was without anyone knowing him. Zechariah 9:9 shows a similar effect saying, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Even in Zechariah the theme of rejoicing at the sight of Jesus continues. Jesus was an idol and was welcomed into Jerusalem. However, there were also many places that Jesus was not welcomed. This includes where he was crucified, this is the exact opposite of Zechariah 9:9. The entrance to Jerusalem was the beginning of Jesus coming, and the crucifixion was his end. The coming of Jesus was also the most important part for our journey. Without Jesus, we wouldn’t be saved. Naturally we are all sinners and we are born with original sin as well. Considering the entrance into Jerusalem was the beginning of Jesus’ journey, it is nearly required that we sing with praise. “Hosanna,” a prophecy fulfilled.

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  10. This blog post truly enlightened me of the meaning behind the symbols used to represent peace and humility related to Christ. In Sunday school I would learn about Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, passing on top of palm leaves. With this symbolism, we can understand the Sunday before Easter as “Palm Sunday”. The history behind all of the symbolism represented in this story gives the significance to the palm branches and the donkey. The donkey representing humility and the palm branches representing peace really shape the scene of the grand entrance into Jerusalem. Mark 11:8 says, “And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields” (ESV). There is also the use of cloaks used to spread on the road for the donkey to tread over. I wonder if this is possibly symbolism to the glorification of God’s holiness, based on the fact that the intentions were to not allow the donkey to tread on the road. Not only does the use of cloaks seem to represent the glorification of God’s holiness, but the other uses of symbolism (palm tree branch and the donkey) seem to attribute God being set apart from His creation. Another piece of Jesus’s ministry while on earth is found in the gospel of John. In this passage, Jewish leaders (Pharisees) were confronting Jesus about healing on the Sabbath and how He should not heal on the Sabbath. Jesus immediately answers them with, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing…How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:36-44, ESV). In this part of Jesus’ ministry, He had explained to the Pharisees of His ultimate authority using the Law, which they read and teach, to remind them of His sovereignty. While this may not be as close to Jesus’ “final days”, once read further, this passage demonstrates God’s sovereignty over mankind. After all, the Messiah is the Savior of the world. It is and was important that the Pharisees had this interaction with Christ in order to speak truth to His people.

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  11. I remember as a kid on palm Sunday waving the palm branches to symbolize the celebration. When you are a kid they tell you about Jesus coming into town, but they do not tell the details of the story or why we use palm branches or the underlying details that are significant to understand. Palm branches were not used because they were the first thing they saw when they thought, what can I wave around, it goes deeper than this. Palm branches had significance as they were used for other important celebrations like winning a battle. It was not about convenience but intentional celebration. They also yelled “Hosanna” which means “save us, oh Lord”. As a kid, I did not realize this significance. Jesus was riding into town to save everyone through His death. These words carry real weight as Jesus knew what was coming, and He was preparing Himself to be able to fulfill this. Even Jesus riding in on a donkey can be a fulfilling prophecy as Jesus chose to be doing this. This, however, goes deeper than just prophecy as there is significance to the donkey and the sign of humility and peace it brings. All of these signs can be seen throughout the Bible in earlier times. There are many more signs to look for, but I think it is important for church leaders and teachers to go deeper into explaining why these elements are important to the story.

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  12. One of the the last events of the final days of Jesus ministry that hint at his messianic role would be a pretty known one–the Last Supper. Now, during this time Jesus knew that Peter would deny him and Jesus knew that his crucifixion was coming pretty quickly, but Jesus still continues to fulfill his ministry and his messianic role. In Matthew 26 Jesus says, “drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29, ESV). This shows Jesus’ messianic role because he has claimed authority on sin when he says “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (ESV). Only God can forgive sin, so Jesus claiming authority over sin is extremely significant. Strauss says in his textbook, Four Portraits, One Jesus that “the two kinds of healings–spiritual and physical– are two sides of the same coin, both evidence of the in-breaking power of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ words and actions” (p. 473). Even as Jesus knew that His life was coming to an end, he stayed true to his messianic role and his mission to fulfill God’s promises to the people of Israel.

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  13. The major significance of Jesus entering the town as symbol of peace, is that he is setting an example to the people on what the kingdom of God should look like. Jesus uses symbolism that he knows the people will correlate with peace, to show them his intentions and his ultimate goal with his ministry. Jesus’ ultimate goal is to have as many children of God reap the benefits of his sacrifice so that as many people as possible will be able to enjoy the peace Jesus is exemplifying by riding in on a donkey. The symbolism is rich and culturally, which is a common trend with Jesus’ actions, an example of that being the cleansing of the temple, which also shows his messianic role.

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