Apocalyptic Prophet Arrives in Jerusalem on a Donkey (Mark’s Perspective)

Mark is the earliest Gospel we have and the first record of Jesus entering Jerusalem the week of his death.

Making it unique and should be read without the influence of later text and development to get the full picture of its message and how Mark understood Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Many scholars understand Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet with a knack for telling short, witty stories. In Mark, we should understand Jesus’ actions through this lens.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey symbolizes the coming of a new kingdom. It imitates a historical event where Jerusalem was liberated, and the religious center was cleansed.

There is much to explain there, including symbolism, historical events, and liberation.

It is important to remember that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who announced the arrival of the kingdom of God and the coming end of the world. This understanding is crucial in comprehending Jesus’ actions when he rode into Jerusalem.

Perhaps that’s the best place to start before discussing the other three elements.

Apocalypse

How was Jesus an Apocalyptic Prophet?

Since Johannes Weiss, followed by Albert Schweitzer, this has become the dominant view among Jesus’ scholars. I am not saying it’s the only view or that you cannot understand Jesus through a different lens. But many people have learned more than I and have concluded that the best way to understand Jesus’ teaching of the “coming kingdom,” the coming of the “son of man,” and many of his parables are best understood within the context that Jesus felt the end was near. And he was calling for Israel to get ready for this change.

With some variation, this view is held by some of the more prominent scholars on Jesus.

  • Dale Alison
  • Bart Erhnman
  • E.P. Sanders

To name a few. For a longer list of scholars and those who don’t think of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, check out Was Jesus an Apocalyptic Prophet? It’s Complicated. Where I explain the argument more fully. Along with possible reasons not to think of Jesus as such.

But the short answer is.

  • Jesus regularly prophesied the end.
  • An apocalypse mentored him, and his disciples also taught that the end was near.
  • Jesus’ ministry was building up for a new kingdom to be instated with him at the head, and the 12

Jesus rode into Jerusalem, signalling his intent to establish the kingdom of David.

One more thing to think about before we hear the story through this paradigm:

The Messianic Secret

First proposed by Wilhelm Wrede in 1901. The theory is that Jesus kept his identity as the “Messiah” a secret during his ministry. Wrede suggests that it is possible that Jesus did not view himself as the Messiah, but after his resurrection, the idea was formulated by his disciples.

Secret About Jesus being the Messiah

The popularity of this theory peaked in the 1920s, and now, most scholars disagree with its premise. That Jesus was not aware of his own self-identity.

Even Schweitzer considered it one of Wrede’s worst ideas and soundly rejected it.

But we still need to understand the evidence. The reasons why this theory was developed.

It is largely a Mark idea, as the other gospels do not emphasize it.

But throughout Mark, Jesus regularly commands people not to tell others he was the Messiah. Even not share about the miracles he performed.

Right out of the gate in Mark 1:43-45 Jesus heals a leper and then commands him to tell no one that Jesus healed him.

Later, in Mark 8, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. When Peter says he is the Messiah, Jesus warns him not to tell others. The same story and warning are in Matthew 16:16, 20, and Luke 9:20-21.

Similarly, in Matthew 17 and Mark 9, after Jesus is transfigured on the mount, Jesus tells Peter, James and John to tell no one about what they saw.

A good question is why.

If Jesus was aware of his role in the kingdom of God, why did he tell people not to tell others?

Why did Jesus not want the people of Galilee to proclaim him the Messiah?

Bart Ehrman has a good explanation.

“The most common explanation among most readers, in my experience, is that Jesus does this so he doesn’t get arrested too soon and crucified before his time.”

Bart Ehrman

This makes sense.

But why did Jesus choose now to reveal who he was?

It is impossible to think of Jesus entering Jerusalem as he did without knowing that people would be asking who is this. As they do in Matthew 21:10.

In Mark, Jesus in this moment decided that the risks were worth it now.

For most of His ministry, Jesus did everything He could to discourage people from publicly celebrating Him as the Messiah. Here Jesus went out of His way to invite public praise and adoration as the Messiah.

EnduringWord

That the possible reaction from the authorities no longer matters.

Jerusalem and all Jews now needed to know that he was the promised “Messiah”, the son of David.

Now, with this in mind.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as a symbolic action, compelling the authorities to react.

Now, let’s hear Mark telling of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.

Forgetting Things

Forget All The Other Triuphant Entrances You Have Heard

Contrast with Luke. Check out his version in the thumbnail.

To really hear Mark and how he understood Jesus entering Jerusalem, you are probably better off if you haven’t heard the other versions. Never been to a Palm Sunday service. Or anything else that will taint your view.

So for now, forget all those.

Let’s hear Mark and Mark alone.

Mark starts Jesus’ triumphant entrance as Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem.

Very broadly, the Mount of Olives. There are two small communities, Bethany and Bethage. We will return to Bethany at the end of the day for now. Bethpage is unknown. Matthew gives it greater value, but not Mark.

Simple, we are on the Mount of Olives, and Jesus turns to two of his disciples. And sends them ahead with detailed instructions for receiving a colt for him.

Mark doesn’t tell us if this is prearranged or if Jesus knew of the colt without seeing it.

But is probably most straightforward to understand that Jesus had friends in the village up the road that he had arranged to borrow their donkey. It’s very important to Jesus that this colt had not been ridden before. Is this something to do with an unused sacrifice? We are not told. But Jesus is very clear that the colt must not have been broken.

It may also be related to the Mishnah instruction that forbids others to ride a king’s mount (Evans, TLC, 267

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A possible clue that he had prearranged this event is the message given to explain to anyone who questions.

“The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”

The “Lord” is simply a respectful title here referring to Jesus whom the owner evidently had met previously or knew about. If the owner was a believer in Jesus, “Lord” may have had a deeper meaning for him.

Study Light

There were many possible “Lords” in Jerusalem, lord being simply a term for someone with authority. Like we throw around the term, boss.

Regardless, they seemed to know who was borrowing their donkey.

I love how they promise to return the colt after.

This is only a 1-day rental. Don’t worry. You will get your donkey back afterward.

Then, the event starts to expand and get exciting.

The Disciples Laid their Cloaks on the Donkey for Jesus

A make-shift saddle is made for Jesus with the disciple’s cloaks. But soon, others get involved and start spreading their cloaks before the donkey. Drawing from the past of declaring Jehu as king.

 “Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’” 

2 Kings 9:13

Mark says “many people” are spreading their cloaks and waving branches that they cut from the fields along the road. Leaving it open for interpretation. Is it 3 (a crowd) or a million? Mark does not tell, but we can assume the crowds consist of possibly a few hundred people.

It is unusual an unusual sight. A pilgrim riding into Jerusalem before Passover, as traditionally most would walk. Thus, Jesus is drawing attention to himself right away.

But the disciples compound the intrigue.

By yelling

Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Mark 11:9,10

And here, the Apocalyptic nature of the arrival becomes clear in the proclamation of the crowd.

It can be missed with the unfamiliar term “Hosanna.”

“Hosanna” is a transliteration of an ancient Hebrew word meaning “please save us.”

The crowd is petitioning that Jesus will save them. From who or what is unclear in the context, but Jesus is presenting himself as the new king.

The crowd is shouting for him to act.

Repurpose Psalm 118, calling out for salvation. Just like in the Psalm with branches in hand. It is a typical shout of praise during the Passover, but they are directing it towards Jesus. Along with the twist of blessing the COMING kingdom of our father David. They are foreseeing a change in government.

“The coming kingdom of our father David” sounds seditious, and accords with the charges that will soon be brought against Jesus that he is (or has pretensions to become) “King of the Jews” (15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26).

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The coming end to the current leadership of Jerusalem.

Kings Crown

Tie this with Jesus’ many “kingdom of God or heaven” sayings.

And we have a pronouncement of the end. The end of the Jewish world as they know it.

Then, just like Simon Maccabees (1 Macc 13:51), Jesus heads to the highest place in Jerusalem, the temple.

This is the weirdest twist in the story.

Matthew and Luke have Jesus going directly to the temple and cleansing it. Tieing his two big symbolic apocalyptic activities into one.

But Mark is bound by accuracy to the event. He has Jesus arriving late to the temple. He looks around and then heads out to Bethany for the night.

The plan fizzles a little.

Apparently, it was getting dark. And the big punch line couldn’t be delivered. That Jesus was now in charge of the temple.

Or Jesus after looking around the temple. Went to sleep with the shouts of “save us in the highest” playing in his head. Waking up, he knew how he needed to save the people. That loud market in the temple had to be silenced.

The people couldn’t pray with the distracting commerce in the temple. He needs to end it to bring peace to the temple.

Whichever one it was. Jesus now had set the ball in motion for the end.

He would either be declared messiah, or Jerusalem would reject him.

They could no longer sit on the sidelines. The end had come.

Resources

  • https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/mark-111-11/
  • https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/mark-11/
  • https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2015-03-23/mark-111-11/
  • https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/mark-11.html
  • https://interruptingthesilence.com/2018/03/26/returning-the-colt-a-palm-sunday-sermon-on-mark-111-11/
  • https://www.gotquestions.org/Messianic-secret.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messianic_Secret
  • https://ehrmanblog.org/how-do-we-explain-the-messianic-secret/
  • https://danielhulsey.com/2017/10/11/the-genius-of-the-gospel-of-mark-the-messianic-secret/

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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