When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, people laid their robes and palm branches on the street before the Lord, proclaiming him King.
But why did Christ ride in on a donkey?
It was a prophetic act.
The Apostle John wrote that Jesus told His disciples where they could seek out a donkey colt for the Lord’s final journey into Jerusalem (John 12:13-16).
And in this passage, John referred to a prophecy in Zechariah, where the prophet proclaimed that there would be a new King over Israel, the Messiah, who would enter riding a donkey:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:10 NIV)
Donkeys or mules, the interbreeding of a horse and donkey, were often associated with royalty in ancient Israel. During times of peace, kings typically rode donkeys or mules, so they wouldn’t instill fear into a population (John 12:15).
Having just come through a bloody civil war with Absalom, in 1 Kings 1:33, King David did just that when he had his son Solomon ride one of David’s royal mules into Jerusalem to signify his ‘peaceful’ claim to the throne.
However, during times of war or rebellion, the kings rode a warhorse or in a chariot, as Jehu did when he dispatched King Ahaziah of Judah and Israel’s King Joram (2 Kings 9:14-29), and as well Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).
Because Jehu came in a chariot, the choice of ride immediately concerned King Joram, and he asked if Jehu was coming in peace (2 Kings 9:21-23).
But as we discuss this passage in Zechariah 9, we often overlook the very next verse that explains all of this.
In verse 10, we read that this King’s choice of a donkey was significant, as it was not associated with chariots and war horses:
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River[a] to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10 ESV)
Because Jesus was coming as a King of peace, the Lord rode a donkey.
But notice how Zechariah writes that He will proclaim peace to the nations and that His kingdom or rule will extend from sea to sea.
This is no longer talking about the physical nation of Israel, but the dramatic change that would come after Jesus’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit fell.
God’s kingdom will break free from the borders of national Israel and spread to every kingdom of the world, through the church, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).