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What is the Meaning Behind Jesus Riding a Donkey?

As a young girl, I listened intently and looked forward to my Sunday School teachers sharing the story of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey. A few church plays portrayed the scene. Have you ever considered why did Jesus ride a donkey into Jerusalem? A donkey. A domesticated hoofed mammal of the horse family. Long ears and a distinct braying sound. What could this mean?

When Did Jesus Get A Donkey to Ride into Jerusalem?

Scripture shares that before entering Jerusalem for Passover week, Jesus and his disciples stopped at Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave specific and detailed instructions to two disciples. He told them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matthew 21:1-3).

According to the Bible, the disciples didn’t hesitate when they got his request. Jesus asked, and they went to get the donkey. A few people asked what they were doing, and the disciples responded just as Jesus told them (Luke 19:32-33) (Mark 11:4). Once they had the donkey and the colt, they brought them to Jesus and placed their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on (Matthew 21:6) (Mark 11:7) (Luke 19:35).

Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey into Jerusalem?

When Jesus requested a donkey to be brought to Him, Jesus was preparing to fulfill prophecy. Donkeys were portrayed in Scripture as symbols of service, humility, suffering, and peace. Therefore, riding a donkey symbolized the arrival of peace.

Jesus asked for a donkey because the animal would show the kingship of Jesus was not from man, but from God. A colt is a young male donkey less than four years of age. A colt was often ridden by a new king, which showed a transfer of rulership. 

A king would have ridden a horse when he was ready for war. A king riding a donkey would symbolize peace. Jesus could have chosen to ride on a powerful horse. Yet, prophecy would be fulfilled when Jesus made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding a lowly animal as a symbol of peace (Zechariah 9:9).

Scripture shares about another donkey in the Old Testament (Numbers 22:23). God sends an angel to change the wicked prophet Balaam’s path on the road to Moab. The verses share how Balaam couldn’t see what his donkey could see. In Balaam’s anger, he proceeded to beat the animal. After a third beating, the donkey speaks to Balaam. What a shock for Balaam! A speaking donkey. At that point, Balaam repents when God opens his eyes, and Balaam sees an angel in the road with a sword drawn.

There are extreme differences in these two stories including donkeys. Jesus is riding on the donkey as a symbol of humility. Balaam shows harm to his donkey. There is a stark difference between love and anger: Jesus showing compassion and Balaam showing hate.

Why Do We Call it Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter. That Sunday begins Holy Week. Palm Sunday is the day we remember and celebrate Jesus entering Jerusalem as our Savior and King. 

On the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a large crowd had gathered. Can you imagine the conversations between the people awaiting Jesus? How would you have felt when you saw Jesus approaching on a donkey? The crowd laid down palm branches and their cloaks across the road. This action was to give Jesus royal treatment. 

The people shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). This entry into Jerusalem was an important one. Jesus was showing humility and not any intimidation.

Notice that Jesus came in peace, yet the city was in turmoil. Some people asked, “Who is this?"  (Matthew 21:10). The answer came quickly. “The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:11 NIV).

The book of Matthew tells how the large crowd spread their cloaks on the road while other people cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. Perhaps not everyone had a cloak, so they chose to cut the palm branches to place on the ground. The palm branch represented victory and goodness.

Churches today have Palm Sunday celebrations, including distributing palm leaves for the congregation to wave in the air. Also, crosses are sometimes made out of palm fronds. Some churches offer special services to remember Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday reminds us of the beginning of Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Jesus was arrested on Holy Thursday, and His crucifixion was on Good Friday. The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem began His journey to the cross (John 3:16-17). Every moment of the life of Jesus was and is important. Every moment of our life is important, too. We have the ability to share His love and glory.

Reading about Jesus riding a donkey is a great reminder that every creation of God has a unique and meaningful purpose. God breathed life into every animal and human. Each creation is important.

Did People Expect Jesus to Ride a Donkey?

The Jewish people knew of Zechariah’s prophecy. They believed the Messiah would enter in a humble way to show His love. Jesus would not enter as a king with chariots of fire and parties full of self-serving guests. 

Jesus would enter in humility. He had love and compassion. The choice of a donkey instead of a powerful horse showed that Jesus was there to serve and save the people.

There were believers, and there were skeptics, just as there are today. Reading Scripture helps us to understand the messages God has for His children. Even a donkey plays an important role. This is a great reminder that God can use any person or animal to further His kingdom.

A Prayer for Palm Sunday

Father, Thank You for the gift of Your Son Jesus. May we remember the way He entered Jerusalem and the importance of each moment. Help us to show Your love and glory to everyone. May we remember the sacrifice of Jesus. In the name of Your Son, Amen.

In His Name,

Melissa Henderson

Thoughts to Ponder About Jesus Riding a Donkey

“You remember that when our blessed Savior was entering Jerusalem a few days before his death, he rode upon a donkey, thus showing his meekness and humility, even while the multitude were shouting his praises and spreading their garments in the way to do him honor. How shall we be like our Savior if we let pride stay in our hearts? … The donkey is very gentle and patient and does not seem angry even when he has a very heavy load to carry. I should be very sorry to have him treated unkindly. Though he seems so dull, he loves his master, and will sometimes find him out and run to him even when he is in a crowd of men. God says, in the Bible, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ Is it not a sad thing that the dull donkey should be more grateful than we are?”

(Excerpted from “Scripture Alphabet of Animals - The Donkey” by Harriet N. Cook)

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Tim Mossholder

 

Melissa HendersonAward-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers. 

Melissa is the author of Licky the Lizard and Grumpy the Gator. Her passions are helping in the community and church. Melissa is an Elder, Deacon, and Stephen Minister. 

Follow Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and at http://www.melissaghenderson.com


This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

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What Is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What Is Good Friday?

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