by Doug Ward

On March 24, 2013, Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig was a guest speaker at Oxford Bible Fellowship in Oxford, Ohio. March 24 was Palm Sunday on the traditional Christian calendar, and so Dr. Craig's text, appropriately, was the account of Jesus' triumphal entry of Jerusalem in Mark 11:1-11.


Dr. Craig prefaced his remarks by observing that we have two independent accounts of the triumphal entry-one that appears in the Synoptics, the other in John's Gospel-which supports the historical veracity of the event. All four Gospels agree that Jesus was hailed by a crowd of people as he entered Jerusalem.


Mark's account begins, "And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives ...." (Mark 11:1, KJV) Craig explained that it was several days before Passover in the year of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Many pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem for the festival, following the Roman road through Jericho. Bethphage was on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, Bethany on the southern slope. Bethany is not on the road, but it is relevant to the story as the place where Jesus was staying during the Passover season (Mark 1:11-12; John 12:1).


A Prophet Like Samuel

Jesus was something of a celebrity at that time, especially as news spread of the resurrection of Lazarus. People were going to Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus, and Jesus was attracting many followers (John 12:9-11). Consequently there was excitement in the air as Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem. Mark reports that Jesus instructed two of his disciples,


"Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither" (Mark 11:2-3).


When the two disciples went to the village (probably Bethphage), they found the colt and were allowed to bring it to Jesus, just as Jesus had indicated (vv. 4-7). Dr. Craig observed that in this passage, and later in Mark 14:13-16, we see Jesus' foreknowledge and control of events. The Gospels portray Jesus as a true prophet, much like Samuel, who once gave King Saul detailed instructions about three groups of people that he would soon meet (I Sam 10).1 In the days leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus was not taken by surprise. Instead, the Gospels show him to be in sovereign control, directing events according to God's purpose.


Mark does not mention the specific type of colt that was brought to Jesus, but Matthew (21:2) and John (12:14) identify it as a donkey. This was a deliberate choice on Jesus' part. Jesus sat on the donkey (the only time the Gospels mention him riding on an animal) in order to carry out the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:


"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."


A King Like Solomon

Riding the donkey was a provocative gesture in that setting. In those days, Craig noted, Jerusalem was a "cauldron of unrest", as the inhabitants of Judea chafed under the yoke of Roman rule. People longed for the coming of the promised Messiah, and many were hoping that it would be Jesus. And so when Jesus sat on the colt, the crowd recognized the import of his actions and responded enthusiastically:


"And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest" (Mark 11:8-10).


This acclamation was reminiscent of that received by King Solomon when he was anointed king and rode on David's mule (I Kings 1:38-40).


After all the excitement on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus did nothing to provoke the crowd further, which must have been puzzling and disappointing to some of those who had shouted and spread palm branches. Mark 11:11 records only that Jesus "looked round about upon all things" in the Temple area, then returned to Bethany that night with his inner circle of twelve disciples. The time for his arrest would not come until a few nights later (Mark 14:27-28). Again, the Gospels imply that Jesus was orchestrating events according to a predetermined plan.


Two Lessons

Dr. Craig concluded his message by pointing out two lessons. First, Mark 11:1-11 proclaims the lordship of Jesus. Here he identifies himself as Messiah and Lord over history. Any biblical theology of divine foreknowledge has to take into account the detailed advance knowledge of events displayed by Jesus in the days leading up to his crucifixion.


Second, Jesus does not always meet our expectations. The crowd was no doubt disappointed when Jesus made no effort to overthrow Jerusalem's Roman oppressors. Some may have lost interest in Jesus as a result. Similarly, we are sometimes disheartened by events in our lives. At such times, we should remember that Jesus is Lord and does not have to satisfy our desires. He did not promise us an easy road. He suffered, and he calls his disciples to follow him.


1For more on Samuel as a type of Jesus, see the article "Samuel and the Gospel" in Issue 7 of Grace and Knowledge.

Issue 28


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On 04 Jun 2013, 09:51.