We call Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem at the end of his earthly ministry the “Triumphal Entry.” And rightly so, for the scene was one of triumph. As Jesus approached the Holy City, he was met with the jubilant praises of the crowds. They laid down their cloaks on the road for a royal welcome, joyfully hailed Jesus as their King, and waved palm branches – symbols of Jewish nationalism.
But Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem to assume the throne of David and reign in earthly power and glory. Rather, the adoring crowds would give way to opposition, rejection, and ultimately crucifixion. Jesus went to Jerusalem not to be lifted up by the people as their King, but to be struck down by them as their enemy. So the triumph was short-lived.
The donkey should have been the clue to the people that this Christ was coming for a different kind of victory, and to establish a different kind of kingdom. They certainly understood that by riding on an ass, Jesus was fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “… behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey.” So they rightly saw in this Galilean rabbi the long-promised Christ. But they didn’t understand that the Christ came riding on a lowly donkey, rather than a majestic warhorse, because he had to come in humility. They couldn’t see that the Christ must first suffer before he could enter into his glory.
The whole life and ministry of Jesus was characterized by humility and lowliness. He was the eternal Son of God, “very God of very God” in the words of the Nicene Creed, who lowered himself by becoming man. He was born in animal stable, of an humble Galilean girl; he endured all the common miseries of this life. And the triumphal entry was the prelude to Jesus’ act of deepest humiliation: his suffering on the cross. There he endured not only the rejection and reproach of his people, and the shame and pain of crucifixion, but the wrath of his Father whom he loved and who loved him from all eternity. There was no place lower for him to go – Jesus literally endured hell on the cross.
Jesus’ true triumph and glory would come, but only after his death and burial. And as we think of the passion of Christ today, looking forward to celebrating his resurrection this Sunday, we do well to remember that our view of Christ should always include both his suffering and his subsequent glory. Paul, a witness to the exalted, triumphant Christ, nevertheless characterized his preaching this way: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
We need to keep before us the cross of Christ in order to avoid a one-dimensional view of the Christian life. To be sure, we have victory in Christ; in him we are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). But our triumph is spiritual, not earthly. We do not have in Christ power and influence in this world, but victory over sin, death, and Satan.
And if we are tempted to seek accolades and glory from men in this life, let us remember Jesus’ “triumphal” entry. It was only for a moment; he would only emerge the exalted and triumphant Lord of Glory after his suffering and death. If we are Christ’s, we too must suffer in this world. And if we suffer with Christ, Scripture promises that we will be “glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
Keep your eyes on the cross. The true glory is yet to come.
Soli Deo Gloria!