The King Rides a Colt (Mark 11)

Each Wednesday until Easter I am posting a Lenten reflection, excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” . . . When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. (Mark 11:1-2, 7-8)

Why does Jesus specify a colt, and one that no one has ridden before? Animals without defect, or which had never been worked before, were considered holy–necessary for worship and sacrifices (Lev 22:19-25; Num 19:2-3; Deut 21:1-9). Animals which had never worked before were specified to pull one of Israel’s holiest objects, the ark of the covenant, after it had been taken by the Philistines (1 Sam 6:1-9).

In

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addition, Genesis 49:10-11 associates a king from the line of Judah with a colt. Jesus’s assumption that he could make use of the animal may reflect a royal prerogative of impressment (1 Sam 8:11, 16). We see a similar royal entrance announcing a new king when David designated Solomon to be king after him, with instructions that Solomon ride into the city, escorted by his followers with shouts of acclamation (1 Kings 1:28-38).

Here in Mark its significance is most tied to Zechariah 14:1-5, in which the Mount of Olives is identified as the place to which the Lord will return as a Divine Warrior to finally restore Israel and defeat her enemies. When this happens, Zechariah 9:9 tells us, her king will come humbly, riding on a colt.

Laying

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palm branches and garments before Jesus recalls other such instances in the presence of royalty (2 Kings 9:13; see also 1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc 10:7). The theme of Jesus’ Kingship, however, will reach its peak in Mark 15 which focuses on Jesus’s death by crucifixion. There he is named Israel’s king six times (15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32). Why is this repeated? By doing so Mark signals that Jesus is ultimately revealed as king on the cross.

Jesus’s public ministry opened with a declaration that the kingdom was at hand, just around the corner (Mk 1:15). Now his public ministry is concluded with the announcement to all that the king has in fact fully arrived. Not in military victory but in suffering and death the king is enthroned.

Excerpted and adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes. Used by permission of the publisher.