The donkey … a gesture of peace

The crowds feted Jesus as a hero as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. The Kings of Kings was hailed, cheered and celebrated. The people could not have been more euphoric.


But five days later Jesus was treated as a common criminal and crucified.


While Jesus had been to Jerusalem beforehand to celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals, his final entry into the city had a special meaning. He was entering as a humble King of peace. Entering the city on a donkey was a traditional symbol of someone arriving in peace, rather than as a war-mongering leader on a horse.


It’s believed Jesus entered via the Golden Gate which is located in the north section of the east wall of the Temple Mount. In Jewish belief, the gate is called ‘The Gate of Mercy’ (Sha’ar HaRakhamim), and is believed to be the place from which the Messiah will enter in the end of days.


According to Jewish tradition, the Shekhinah  (Divine Presence) used to appear through the eastern Gate, and will appear again when the Anointed One (Messiah) comes (Ezekiel 44:1–3).


British scholar William Neil said, “Our Lord enacts his first messianic symbol by entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. This, as Zechariah had depicted, was the means by which the Messiah when he came would enter Zion, not as a conqueror upon a warhorse but as the prince of peace upon a humble beast of burden.”


And theologian Tom Wright said, “Within his own time and culture, (Jesus) riding on a donkey over the Mount of Olives, across Kidron, and up to the Temple mount spoke more powerfully than words could have done of a royal claim. The allusion to Zechariah is obvious … The so-called ‘triumphal entry’ was thus clearly messianic.”


The triumphal entry and the palm branches the people were holding were a celebration of Jewish liberation. 1 Maccabees (13:51) states: “And entered into it … with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs”.


Starting with Palm Sunday, Holy Week is the most important celebration on the Christian calendar. While we mourn the death of Christ on Good Friday, His resurrection three days later gives us hope for the future.


Image caption: Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto di Bondone (14th century).


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