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Luke 19:29-40 – The Return of the King

Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times, including with his parents when he was twelve. Now the king returns to his city. It is his city though the memory of when there was a king over Jerusalem was received into the distant past. The king has been a carpenter for most of his thirty plus years in the wild lands of the north, in Galilee of the Gentiles. From Luke 9:27 the king and his companions have been making their way to Jerusalem.

Finally, in 19:29 Jesus draws near to Bethphage. The name Bethphage means ‘house of unripe figs’ and the Jerusalem that is 2km from it is like a tree that has produced no fruit, either of repentance or faith. Having walked all the way from Galilee Jesus intends to ride a colt for the last 2km. It is not that he is simply tired. The action is a sign with deep significance.

First, there is the way that Jesus acquires a colt. He sends two of his disciples into Bethphage to acquisition the colt from its owners. The act of acquisition was a prerogative of the ancient kings of Israel and Judah, of David and Solomon. Jesus claims this age-old right of acquisition and those with eyes to see recognize Jesus’ claim to the ancient Davidic kingship.

Second, Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is the fulfilment of Zechariah 9. Zechariah having spoken of Alexander the Great’s military sweep through the promised land, goes on to speak of a king beyond Alexander – a king humble in character who in humility brings peace through his trust in the LORD rather than through horses and chariots. Zechariah says: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Third, Jesus instructs his disciples to tell the owners of the colt that “the Lord has need of it.” Luke often refers to Jesus as “the Lord” but while people refers to Jesus as ‘lord’ meaning ‘master’, no one has referred to him as ‘the Lord’. This phrase ‘the Lord’ is used of God. This when the disciples say, ‘the Lord has need of it’, it would have been the same as saying ‘God has need of it’. And yet it is Jesus who needs it. Not only does Jesus, as the son of David, claim the right of acquisition of the ancient kings of Jerusalem – but he also claims the prerogative of God’s claim on creation. This is supported by the fact that the colt has never been ridden before – generally in the divine sphere such an animal belongs to God.

Thus, Jesus’ riding on a colt identifies him as having the prerogatives of ancient kings like David and Solomon, as being the promised eschatological king of Zechariah’s prophecy and as being God, the divine king of Jerusalem.

The return of the king is a glorious moment. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Whereas the multitude of the angels had celebrated (2:13-14) the birth of Jesuspeace achieved in the locale of earth, now the multitude of the disciples celebrate Jesus’ journey which will culminate in his enthronement at the right hand of Godpeace achieved in the locale of heaven. In both cases “there is glory [for God] in highest heaven.”

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”