Mark Study #25
Mark 11:1-11 is the opening segment to the last section of Mark’s Gospel. Chapters 11-16, which comprise a third of the book, record the key events surrounding the last seven days of Jesus’ life. The weighted emphasis put upon Jesus’ last week highlights how important those events are for grasping the meaning of Jesus’ life and mission.
Mark 11:1-11, which narrates the first day of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, is one episode with three scenes. Ever since 8:27, Jesus and His disciples had been “on the way” to Jerusalem. They have now arrived. The first scene (11:1-7) records the preparations that lead up to Jesus’ arrival. The second scene (11:8-10) reports the Passover festivities that were occurring at the time of Jesus’ arrival. The third scene (11:11) is the brief account of Jesus appearing at the Temple upon His arrival.
The final trek into Jerusalem began with an eastern approach. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem by way of Bethphage, Bethany, and the Mount of Olives. During the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Ezekiel’s vision was that the glory of the Lord departed the Temple and moved eastward settling on the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 10-11). Now the One who is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) approached Jerusalem from the east journeyed to the Temple.
The first scene stresses the initiative that Jesus took in preparing for His entry into Jerusalem. Jesus did not enter Jerusalem as an unknowing victim but as the One who has been intentionally driving to Jerusalem for a clearly understood purpose (Isaiah 50:7-9). The precise details of His arrangements, which were most likely unknown to the people in Jerusalem, nevertheless, demonstrate Jesus’ own understanding of whom He was and what He had come to do. While Mark does not explicitly reference the Old Testament, Zechariah 9:9 prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Genesis 49:10-11). Jesus entered Jerusalem as Israel’s Messiah.
Riding into Jerusalem upon a colt, Jesus indicated not only His royal prerogative to commandeer an animal for His own purposes; He also revealed something about the nature of His royalty. Unlike a plundering king, Jesus promised to immediately return the colt. When Israel’s rulers wanted to present themselves as servants of the people, they rode donkeys (Judges 10:4; 12:14). Thus, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a servant ruler, not as a political conqueror. Furthermore, the selection of a colt that had never been ridden signified that an animal devoted for sacred purposes was to be one that had not been deployed for ordinary uses (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; and 1 Samuel 6:7).
The day of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem was an important day in Israel’s calendar. It was during the Feast of Passover. A vast throng traveling from great distances had assembled in Jerusalem. While the preparations that Jesus has made up to His arrival into Jerusalem demonstrate His understanding of Himself as Messiah, the shouts and celebrations that are recorded in the second scene are not out of the ordinary; they were a part of the annual routine as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem for Passover.
There are strong notes of excitement in verses 8-10. The spreading of the garments was similar to the honor shown to Jehu in 2 Kings 9:12-13. However, it is hard to decipher if the excitement expressed was specifically in regard to Jesus or just simply the normal expectancy that annually resurged during the festival that celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Amid the typically Messianic excitement expressed during Passover, the Messiah had actually arrived relatively undetected.
While it is possible, there is no explicit indication that the acclamations of the crowds in verses 9-10 were intentionally directed toward Jesus as being the Messiah. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” is essentially Psalm 118:25-26. Psalms 113-118 were a long-standing part of a liturgy the Jews used during the Passover. “Hosanna,” which literally meant, “O save us now” (Psalm 118:25), was an exclamation of praise calling for deliverance. The final statement of praise, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” was also a common expression at that time of the Messianic hopes. The statement probably served as a nationalistic slogan about the restoration of power and glory to Israel.
The quick dispersal of the crowds of pilgrims upon Jesus’ arrival suggests that they did not grasp the full significance of Who arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem amid the peoples’ praises to God about launching a new era of deliverance. Of course the fact that Jesus entered as the gentle and peaceable Messiah whose coming was for gathering the nations together (Zechariah 2:11) not brandishing the sword of victory to merely defeat the nations politically, certainly didn’t help them in truly identifying Jesus. The type of deliverance that many had come to expect and desire was more along the lines of political victory rather than true spiritual deliverance. But Jesus arrived, not as a mere regional ruler seeking to restore nationalist pride to Israel, but as the King of the entire world whose death would purchase a people from all nations and whose Kingdom would not fly the flag of any one nation. Jesus had come, not to take the lives of others with a victor’s sword, but to give His life for others upon a shameful cross (10:45).
Verse 11 records the anticlimactic ending to Jesus’ first day in Jerusalem. To whatever extent that it might be said that Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, it is very clear that He was not received in the Temple triumphantly. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, went to the Temple, looked around, and went back to Bethany for the night. It was the come before the storm. Malachi 3:1-2 prophesied, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple… But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” The next day will show that Jesus had come to the Temple, not to restore it, fulfilling Israel’s political agenda, but to pronounce God’s judgment on the whole mess.