When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus audience knew a good parade when they saw one. They knew how Rome paraded into cities, spreading news of military victories and displaying plunders of captured cities and peoples. They knew the declaration of those gospels.
They were probably well aware of the promised victory parade of God as told by Zechariah.
1 Maccabees 13:51-54
Mark, potentially writing in the late 60s CE, is also familiar with processions into Jerusalem. “Mark was well aware that the image of a march on the city amid Davidic acclaim would have connoted for his first readers the military procession of a triumphal nationalistic hero (Myers, 294).” He potentially knew of Menahem, a Sicarius leader who took charge in the first months of the Jewish revolt that began in 66 CE. Josephus, the Jewish historian, recounts this story in his work The Jewish Wars:
“[Menahem] took some of the men of note with him, and retired to Masada, where he broke open King Herod's armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also. These he made use of for a guard, and returned in the state of the king to Jerusalem, and became leader of the sedition, and gave orders for continuing the siege [Wars, II, xvii, 8] (Myers, 294).”
“Menahem’s procession from Masada to Jerusalem ‘like a king’ and his messianic posturing in the Temple appear as striking comparative material for interpretation of Jesus’ ‘Triumphal Entry’ and ‘Cleansing of the Temple.’…The brief ‘messianic’ episode among the Sicarii in 66 might legitimately be used in the interpretation of how the gospel writers shape certain traditions [Menahem in Jerusalem: A Brief Messianic Episode Among the Sicarii - Not ‘Zealot Messianism.’; 1985, 311] (Myers, 295).”
Mark’s narrative, with these ideas in the background, becomes more politically loaded.
The opposite is also the case. By presenting Jesus as entering on a donkey, another narrative undertone takes shape, one of humility. Another tradition from Zechariah is being alluded to:
“This parade, then, is filled with conflicting signals, as if it intends to be a satire on military liberators (Myers, 295).”
A King like David?
The cry of Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me (10:47),” is already ringing in Mark’s narrative. The return of the cry in 11:10 cements this image in the story. The question could shift to - will Jesus be a king like David?” Will the glory days of Israel be restored and Rome overthrown in a great victory?
This is the narrative that will unfold in the teachings of Jesus in the temple. Jesus’ nonviolence will clash with the militaristic expectations. “In fact, Jesus will repudiate this ideology of restorationism. Consequently, after Jesus is arrested, a different cry will come from the crowd. They will clamor for the release of a ‘genuine’ revolutionary - Barabbas - and demand the execution of the imposter, Jesus (15:13) (Myers, 296).”
After Jesus enters Jerusalem he stops briefly at the temple. If there were any expectations of immediate action, they are dashed with Jesus' quick withdrawal to Bethany.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- What kind of king would we expect Jesus to be?
- Do we expect Jesus to act like our modern day leaders?
- Do we allow our cultural assumptions to dictate how we understand Jesus?
- What would Jesus do if he processed into our towns and cities?