While they were still a few miles outside of Jerusalem, located upon a hill where they could see the temple, Jesus sent two of his disciples into Bethphage to bring him a donkey and her colt (Matthew 21:1-3). Excitement builds as the men anticipate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city.
We are not told anything about the owner of the animals. Did Jesus arrange this exchange with him on a prior occasion? That’s possible considering he spent several days in Bethany (according to John). Was Jesus practicing the right of requisition? As the true King of Israel, that too is possible. And most citizens would have considered it a privilege to loan the animals for use by an important figure.
The fact that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt reveals his identity and purpose (Matthew 21:4-5).
1. The donkey identifies Jesus as the Messiah
Matthew frequently pointed out whenever Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. He wanted to make Jesus’ Messianic identity explicit as often as possible. The primary point of this action was to fulfill Zechariah 9:9 which spoke of Israel’s future king riding a donkey into Jerusalem and bringing salvation. The arrival of the long-awaited Messiah would be an occasion for great rejoicing!
2. The donkey identifies Jesus as the King
In ancient times, donkeys were associated with royalty and wealth. Jair, one of Israel’s judges, is recognized as having “thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities…” (Judges 10:4). Likewise, Abdon, “had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys” (Judges 12:14). These were the social elites of their day. The ability to travel around on donkeys was a sign of their wealth and authority. Before David’s death, he had his son Solomon ride his donkey to be anointed by the priest and the prophet before the people (1 Kings 1:33-44). Solomon’s access to the king’s donkey marked him out as the rightful heir of his father’s throne.
3. The donkey identifies Jesus as the Peacemaker
Jesus is the one who was meek (Matthew 5:5) and gentle (Matthew 11:29) and lowly, not the colt.
Kings had access to horses, but they tended to serve another purpose. Kings rode upon horses during times of war, while they rode upon donkeys during times of peace. We learn this from the same prophetic passage in Zechariah. The promised Messianic King would not ride a warhorse, because “he shall speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). His worldwide reign of peace is the hope of the gospel message.
Just five days after entering Jerusalem as King, Jesus would establish peace upon a cross. He did not establish peace between political powers but between God and his covenant people from every tribe and language and people and nation! But we also know that Jesus will return in judgment, riding upon a white horse (Revelation 19:11-16). Turn to Jesus in faith before it is too late.