A Donkey or a White Horse? | The Significance of the Triumphal Entry and Which Kingdom We Desire

In the West, we celebrate the arrival of “Holy Week” with Palm Sunday, a recognition of Jesus’s “Triumphal” Entry into Jerusalem ahead of his death, burial and resurrection.

But by most definitions, this week was anything but triumphant. Ultimately, Jesus was betrayed, captured, beaten and crucified.

As we dive deeper into the historical context of the events and contrast them against the pressures and cultural challenges we face today, I think we get a deeper perspective.

Two Types of Kingdoms

Each year during Passover, 1 million Jews would flood the city of Jerusalem — an event that would have put the ruling authority on high alert. Besides, the purpose of this festival was to commemorate the Jews deliverance from slavery in Egypt, an event the Romans would have been very familiar with.

In order to communicate a clear message of authority, Rome would have increased security and governmental presence during the week of the festival.

Historians believe that Pontius Pilate, one of the governing rulers would have travelled from his usual palace in Caesarea to be present in Jerusalem to help convey a message of control and dominion to the Jewish people. During his march into the city from the west, he would have been accompanied by trumpets and armed guards and he would have likely been riding a white horse — a symbol of military conquest. This communicated a kingdom rooted in power and authority, one founded on economic superiority and brute strength.

Interestingly enough, there was a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus who was entering the city at the same time. But he wasn’t accompanied by military force, rather by a band of outcasts. Rather than a white stallion, he was riding on the back of a donkey. Just like Pilate, Jesus was communicating a certain type of kingdom. But unlike Pilate, Jesus’s kingdom is rooted in strength through humility, one founded on heavenly superiority and love.

In this moment, onlookers had a decision.

Which king do I follow?

Which kingdom do I desire?

The Humility of a Donkey

When Jesus mounted the donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives, entering Jerusalem from the East, this fulfilled the prophecy from Zachariah which said that Israel’s Messiah King would come “riding on a donkey” from the “Mount of Olives.”

As his followers put the pieces together, they thought this was their moment of triumph. So, they grabbed palm branches, a symbol of the zealot party, a symbol of rebellion, and lined the path ahead of him shouting “Hosanna in the highest.”

It’s important to note that their response indicated their belief that Jesus was going to overthrow Rome the way Moses overthrew Pharaoh. They were ready for a revolution, they wanted a fight. And this is why Jesus wept. After three years of public ministry and teaching, His followers still didn’t get it. He wasn’t there for political prowess and economic dominion, He was ushering in a new type of kingdom, a kingdom built on humility.

Sometimes, I think we want the right king, but we desire the wrong kingdom.

We want Jesus, but we want Him to do our bidding and solve our problems in the way we feel is best. As a result, we forget that true strength comes through humility. Only when we learn to yield to God, when we learn to surrender, when we learn to die, do we truly find victory.

A White Horse is Coming

As the week progressed, Jesus continued to challenge authority and up until he was arrested in Gethsemane, I think His disciples still thought a physical revolution was going to occur. That’s exactly why Peter raised the sword and cutoff Malchus’ ear. But in healing the severed ear, Jesus not only absolved Peter from a crime, He also confirmed that His Kingdom was coming in a way that no one expected.

The beauty of the Easter story isn’t limited to the truth that Jesus was raised from the dead. It also set into motion the promise that He will return. But if you read Revelation 19, He doesn’t come back on a donkey. When He comes again, He’ll be riding on a white horse — the true sign of His authority and power.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” Revelation 19:11-13

There may be some of you who feel relegated to a donkey. This season of life just doesn’t seem to be going the way you want. But the promise of the Resurrection is that a white horse is coming.

Which Kingdom Would You Choose?

This Easter, as you reflect on Jesus’s example and how it influences your own life, I would challenge you to consider, which kingdom are you choosing?

Are you choosing the path of humility and grace and love? Or are you pursing political, economic or physical victory?

For me, the Triumphal Entry is a reminder that God’s Kingdom doesn’t operate in the ways of the world. His success isn’t culturally appropriate. And as I manage my own life and business, I am aware that every moment of every day I have the opportunity to choose which kingdom I want and which kingdom I worship.

I invite you to do the same.

Happy Easter, friends.

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