Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11)

Analysis and Commentary

Jesus enter Jerusalem.
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  • 1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, 2 And saith unto them, 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. 3 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. 4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
  • 5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. 8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
  • 9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: 10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. 11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.
  • Compare: Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19

Jesus, Jerusalem, and Prophecy

After much traveling, Jesus arrives at Jerusalem. Mark structures the Jerusalem narrative carefully, giving Jesus three days before the passion events and three days before his crucifixion and burial. The entire time is filled with parables about his mission and symbolic actions referring to his identity.

Mark doesn’t understand Judaean geography very well. He knows that Bethphage and Bethany are outside Jerusalem, but someone traveling from the east on the road to Jericho will pass by Bethany *first and Bethphage *second. That doesn’t matter, however, because it’s the Mount of Olives that carries theological weight.

The entire scene is rife with Old Testament allusions. Jesus begins at the Mount of Olives, a traditional location for the Jewish Messiah (Zechariah 14:4). Jesus’ entry is “triumphal,” but not in a military sense as was assumed about the Messiah. Military leaders rode horses while donkeys were used by messengers of peace.

Zechariah 9:9 says that the Messiah would arrive on a donkey, but the unridden colt used by Jesus appears to be something between a donkey and a horse. Christians traditionally regard Jesus as a peaceful Messiah, but his not using a donkey might suggest a less than perfectly peaceful agenda. Matthew 21:7 says that Jesus rode on both and donkey and a colt, John 12:14 says the rode on an donkey, while Mark and Luke (19:35) say he rode on a colt. Which is was it?

Why is Jesus using an *unridden colt? There doesn’t appear to be anything in the Jewish scriptures which requires the use of such an animal; moreover, it’s completely implausible that Jesus would be experienced enough in handling horses that he could safely ride an unbroken colt like this. It would have posed a danger not only for his safety, but also for his image as he attempts a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

What's with the Crowd?

What does the crowd think about Jesus? None call him Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, or any of the titles traditionally attributed to Jesus by Christians. No, the crowds welcome him as someone coming “in the *name of the Lord” (from Psalms 118: 25-16). They also praise the coming of the “kingdom of David,” which isn’t quite the same as the coming of the *king. Do they think of him as a prophet or something else? Putting clothing and branches (which John identifies as palm branches, but Mark leaves this open) along his path indicates that he is honored or revered, but in what way is a mystery.

One might also wonder why there is a crowd to begin with — had Jesus announced his intentions at some point? No one appears to be there to hear him preach or be healed, characteristics of crowds he dealt with earlier. We have no idea what sort of “crowd” this is — it might only a be a couple dozen people, mostly those who had already been following him around, and participating in a staged event.

Once in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple to look around. What was his purpose? Did he intended to do something but change his mind because it was late and no one was around? Was he simply casing the joint? Why spend the night in Bethany instead of Jerusalem? Mark has a night pass between Jesus’ arrival and his cleansing of the Temple, but Matthew and Luke have one occur immediately after the other.

The answer to all the problems in Mark’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is that none of it happened. Mark wants it for narrative reasons, not because Jesus ever did these things. We’ll see the same literary style appear again later when Jesus orders his disciples to make preparations for the “Last Supper.”

Literary Device or Occurrence?

There are a number of reasons to regard this incident as a purely literary device rather than something that might have occurred just as described here. For one thing, it’s curious that Jesus would instruct his disciples to steal a colt for him to use. On a superficial level, at least, Jesus isn’t portrayed as caring very much about other people’s property. Did the disciples often go around telling people “the Lord hath need of this” and walk off with whatever they wanted? A nice racket, if people believe you.

One can argue that the owners knew what the colt was needed for, but then they wouldn’t need to be told by the disciples. There are no interpretations of this scene that don’t make Jesus and his disciples look ridiculous unless we simply accept it as a literary device. That is to say, it’s not something that can reasonably be treated as an event that really happened; instead, it’s a literary device designed to heighten the audience’s expectations about what is to come.

Why does Mark have the disciples refer to Jesus as “Lord” here? Thus far Jesus has taken great pains to hide is true identity and hasn’t referred to *himself as “Lord,” so the appearance here of such blatant Christological language is curious. This, too, indicates that we are dealing with a literary device rather than any sort of historical event.

Finally, we should keep in mind that Jesus’ eventual trial and execution turns largely on his claims to being messiah and/or king of the Jews. This being the case, it’s odd that this incident would not have been brought up during the proceedings. Here we have Jesus entering Jerusalem in a manner very reminiscent of the entry of royalty and his disciples described him as “Lord.” All could have been used as evidence against him, but the absence of even a brief reference is noteworthy.

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Your Citation
Cline, Austin. "Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11)." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Cline, Austin. (2023, April 5). Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). Retrieved from Cline, Austin. "Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11)." Learn Religions. (accessed June 10, 2023).