As we join Jesus and his disciples on their short journey from Bethany to Jerusalem Matthew records that they arrived at a place named Bethphage. This literally means ‘House of unripe figs’. One wonders if ‘Bethphage’ was named as such at a later date following Jesus encounter with the fig tree that had no fruit we read of in the following verses. (Matt 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14).
To our western 21st century ears Jesus gave a couple of his followers a task of retrieving a donkey and its colt to assist him on his journey into Jerusalem. But why did Jesus choose the lowly donkey instead of getting a magnificent horse to ride on for his entry into the sacred city?
The first one is to fulfil the words of the prophet Zechariah some 500 years before the birth of Christ which we have read in verse 5 of our reading in Matthew today. Most scholars agree that there are much more than 300 prophecies in the Old Testament pointing towards the coming of the conquering saviour the Messiah Jesus.
The famous statement by Saint Augustine “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed”, expresses the remarkable way in which the two testaments of the Bible are so closely interrelated with each other. The key to understanding the New Testament in its fullest is to see in it the fulfilment of those things that were revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for the work of Christ in the New Testament.
Second, in the ancient Biblical world, a leader rode on a horse if he was coming in war and a donkey to signify peace. I am sure you, with me, have watched Hollywood’s epic movies portraying the triumphant parades held in ancient Rome by returning victorious generals or Caesars. But often kings in times of peace rode donkeys as King David did. This image rather than glory was one of humility. Final salvation would not come to the people of God through the traditional route of a conquering king on a noble horse. Instead, it would be achieved in an unexpected way through what men typically regard as weak and despised.
The long-awaited Messiah comes not in human glory, but peculiar glory — the glory of strength in weakness, the glory of indomitable joy in excruciating pain, the glory of the Lion of Judah who gives himself as the Lamb of God. Only a king on a donkey could truly save our souls, and fully satisfy them forever. – David Mathis
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series