Updated: Apr 1
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 19:29-40
In this event starting the final week of Jesus' earthly life, Jesus removes all doubt about His identity by entering Jerusalem as the coming Messiah. The Pharisees attempt to reject Him, but it is out of their hands. Sadly, this moment of triumph will end in judgment for God's people, the Jews.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Luke 19:38
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Crossing the Rubicon
I decided to go full history nerd on this one.
In 49 BC, Julius Caesar was a governor of a province of the Roman Empire. Governors were allowed to be generals of the army in their province, but they were not allowed to command an army in Italy. The Rubicon River (north of Rome) was the boundary of Italy at the time; anyone who commanded an army south of the Rubicon would be considered a traitor and at war with the Roman Senate. Well, the Roman Senate decided not to re-up Caesar's governorship, prompting him to lead his army to Italy. Legend has it that Caesar paused at the bank of the Rubicon in a moment of doubt, but then led his army into the river with the now-famous phrase, "The die has been cast".
"Crossing the Rubicon" is a phrase used today for a point of no return. These things are often symbolic -- in Caesar's case, the act of crossing the river gave him greater resolve because there was no going back once he stepped foot in the river. He had declared war, and it would not end until his death or his victory. He won, by the way.
History is replete with these powerful moments, and I feel like I had to learn all of them while in school. Here are some examples you might remember:
In 1519, when Hernan Cortez landed on Mexico, he ordered that the boats be destroyed so the men would have no other option but to advance. It's where we get the phrase "burn the ships".
In 1836, with the Alamo completely surrounded, William Travis used his sword to draw a line in the dirt and told the people there that anyone who chose to cross that line would be fighting to the death. It's the earliest popularized American use of the phrase "draw a line in the sand".
In ancient wars (cf. Sun Tzu), it was commonplace for generals to burn the bridges behind their invading armies so their troops would not have an avenue to escape. Then in WWI and WWII, generals would burn bridges behind their retreats so the pursuing army could not catch them. Today, "burn your bridges" is mostly used for the former.
In 1953, a bridge between North and South Korea was chosen to conduct prisoner exchanges. Once the prisoner got to the halfway point of the bridge, he would not be allowed to return to the other side. This was the "bridge of no return".
My guess is that you've had a few "point of no return" moments in your life that were of extreme symbolic importance. Maybe it was signing enlistment documents. Maybe it was standing at the altar. Maybe it was telling a boss that you quit. Think of a moment like that, and think about the ways it changed the course of your life.
Jesus knew that His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (on what we call Palm Sunday) was a point of no return. There would be no way to stop the events in motion (not that He wanted to) until they ended with His death. What a powerful moment for Jesus!
[Aside: sometimes it's wisest not to burn your bridges. I find myself counseling people "don't burn your bridges" waaay more often than to burn their bridges. Why? Because we don't face nearly as many points of no return as we might think. Sure, you might not like your boss and you're definitely going to quit. But what if that boss leaves the company in a few years and you want to go back? You might be really angry with your acquaintance right now, but what happens when a few days pass and you feel differently about the situation? When the Bible says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19), that's what it's talking about.
Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times over many years before drawing this line in the sand (quite literally going to "a hill to die on"). It was not something He did lightly or rashly.]
-Or- The Grand Entrance
If you're not into history, you're probably into sports or culture or entertainment or people. So you could also get your brain turning with this topic: the grand entrance. I love a grand entrance -- the more over the top, the better (like when the bride and groom arrive at the reception) (although at prom, they can create more spectacle):
Around here, at football season, people love the buildup to the team taking the field. And of course the same is for your high school team! There's usually a hype song played, and then they come charging out of the tunnel. All very fun and exciting. But for my money, there's nothing like hearing the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band approaching from the distance.
There are so many more versions of the grand entrance -- like when the dignitary arrives at dinner, or when the celebrity arrives in a fancy vehicle, or when Darth Vader goes anywhere.
What are some grand entrances you've been a part of? What did it make you feel like? I was at the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M (November 6, 1997) -- with George H. W. Bush, then-governor George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, and even Billy Graham. It was something else. The group of guys I was with was most excited to see Arnold Schwarzenegger (natch). The anticipation was unlike anything else I've been a part of. Wow, that was a long time ago.
We'll talk more about the context below, but Jesus was arriving at Jerusalem on a proverbial hot-streak. He had just raised Lazarus from the dead! And when He came in on a donkey with people waving palm branches, everyone knew what was going on. And they were a part of it. This was probably the second most-important procession in all of history (the most important being Jesus carrying His cross out the gates). Remembering some grand entrances might help you imagine the atmosphere of our passage this week.
Where We Are in Luke
*Warning* -- passages out of order! Lifeway has altered the order of the study so as to cover the Palm Sunday passage this week and the Easter passage next week. In other words, don't spend too much time establishing context because we will come back and study several of these additional passages in the weeks to follow.
We covered Matthew's version of this event in 2017:
In that article, I talk about the controversies related to the Triumphal Entry, the symbolism of donkey, the word Zion, and the word Hosanna. I'll try to keep repetition to a minimum, just give you the basics in this week's article.
You might remember that last week we covered the parable of the tax collector and the welcoming of little children. The larger point within Luke's Gospel is that Jesus was establishing the identity of His followers -- Jesus' disciples needed to be humble and repentant. Our passage from last week was immediately followed by the encounter with the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his riches in order to follow Jesus.
Luke focuses on one last stop before Jesus completes His journey to Jerusalem -- Jericho. In Jericho, Jesus clearly identifies His mission and motivation. We don't often think of the story of Zacchaeus as anything more than a children's song, but it's actually a high point of Luke's Gospel. However, we're studying Luke 19:1-10 on April 11, so don't go into too much detail on that right now! Here's a short, short overview of what's going on:
Luke 18:35-43 -- Jesus heals a blind beggar outside of Jericho, a miracle that causes people to praise God.
Luke 19:1-10 -- Jesus encounters a tax collector just like out of His parable, and just like in His parable, this tax collector is repentant, and he becomes a follower of Jesus. We have the pinnacle declaration: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
Luke 19:11-24 -- The Parable of the Talents. On its face, Jesus tells this parable so the people would understand that He would not be "bringing the kingdom" at that moment. But there are two deeper revelations:
Everyone who rejected Jesus' claims as King of Israel would be judged.
Everyone who failed to fulfill the mission God had entrusted to them would be judged.
That last truth really crushes the Jewish leaders; God had told them to be the light of the world, and they had utterly failed to do so.
And that brings us to the Triumphal Entry (this week's passage -- Palm Sunday).
John's Gospel gives us a few other details. John is the only author who tells us about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Apparently that severely raised tensions between Jesus and the Jewish leaders so much that they became willing to kill Jesus. After that event, Jesus withdrew back into the hill country (a village called Ephraim) until this final journey to Jerusalem for His final Passover. It makes sense that John would point out that Jesus stopped in Bethany at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus on His way to Jerusalem. So, if Luke intended his events to be strictly chronological, that would mean that Jesus traveled from Ephraim to Jerusalem by way of Jericho and Bethany.
Bethany was a little more than a mile away from Jerusalem. Somewhere in between was this little village called Bethphage (which no one has definitively located; the name means "house of figs"). If this map is accurate, it looks like the possible distance from Bethphage to the temple is about the same as the distance from First Baptist Thomson to First Methodist (if that helps).
John makes it clear that this is the week of Passover, which means that Jews from all over would be traveling to Jerusalem at the same time. That would be the crowd following Jesus into Jerusalem -- including a lot of people from the region in which Jesus had taught and performed miracles. John specifically mentions that people in the crowd who had also been at the raising of Lazarus were particularly involved in spreading the word.
This is one of those events that I think makes more sense when you see it enacted. Here's a compilation video of several different movie versions of the Triumphal Entry. It starts with the classic Jesus of Nazareth scene (that movie takes so many creative liberties, but I still enjoy it), followed by The Gospel of John (that's my personal favorite version), then the Jesus Film, and finally The Gospel of Matthew. (The last 30 seconds are a bizarre quasi music video.)
From those videos, you would get the impression that the people gathered around the gates of Jerusalem. But Luke insinuates that people were alongside the road from Bethphage on. That's actually more than reasonable. The city of Thomson is easily able to fill both sides of the road for a parade of that distance, so that's not an unreasonable number of people.
We'll talk about the symbolism when we go through the passage.
Part 1: Obey (Luke 19:29-34)
29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples 30 and said, “Go into the village ahead of you. As you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say this: ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent left and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 “The Lord needs it,” they said.
[Just a personal observation -- the section titles for this lesson are stranger than usual. They don't contribute to a clearer understanding of the passage.]
You will find a lot of people interpreting this exchange as some sort of miraculous prophesying on the part of Jesus. That is absolutely possible, but also totally unnecessary. As John clarified, Jesus has been "lying low" these past few days (or weeks -- we don't know for certain) following the resurrection of Lazarus. In my opening topic, I said that this act of arriving at Jerusalem was Jesus' proverbial point of no return, and so it would make sense that Jesus had all of the details under strict control.
So that begs the question: why is the Triumphal Entry a point of no return?
Because this is the first time Jesus openly identifies Himself as the Messiah. It starts with Him calling Himself "the Lord" (this is the first time He does this!). But the biggest thing is Him clearly associating Himself with Messianic prophecies.
Gen 49: 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. 11 He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
Zech 9: 9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And we have allusions to spreading cloaks and branches for a ruler in 2 Ki 9:13 and 1 Macc 13:51.
[Note: Matthew's Gospel account also includes a reference to Isaiah 62:11.]
This is a public declaration of being the Messiah. The Jewish leaders -- who already want to kill Him -- would not let this challenge pass unchecked. Once Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, the die has been cast (as Caesar would say).
Donkeys are beasts of burden, not beasts of war. A ruler would ride on a donkey to signify peace (or to signify his utter conquest).
As a result, Jesus would have been very careful in His planning. While it's possible that Jesus simply knew that a colt would be available to Him in Bethphage and that the owners would let His disciples take it, it's also possible that Jesus had prearranged its availability. Bethphage was a small enough village that no one today knows where it is! Maybe a few houses. No one would be able to go in there and take a colt without someone noticing and saying something. Jesus wanted to keep a lid on this event as long as possible -- no one could know that it was going to happen before it did (or else the Jewish leaders might have intercepted Him).
[I'll say more about the colt/donkey thing later.]
In other words, just as Jesus told John the Baptist that He must be baptized into order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus sent His disciples ahead to obtain a colt so that He could fulfill all prophecy. (As an aside: I put the preparations in the Upper Room for the Passover in this same category. Jesus' disciples didn't miraculously find some random guy who had a large ready-to-go private room; He had carefully arranged it. If you want to call something a miracle, it's that these preparations were all kept a secret from the extremely watchful eyes of the Jewish leaders!)
Note: The simple application is this: when Jesus tells you to do something, do it.
Aside: Is It a Donkey or a Colt??
According to our passage in Luke, Jesus rides in on a colt. No problem, right? Well, here are the other three Gospel accounts:
Matthew 21:2 “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me."
Mark 11:2 “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it."
John 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.
And when you read Zech 9:9 (see above), it sounds like the Messiah is riding on a donkey and on a colt. Matthew refers to "them"; the others refer to "it". What is going on?
Well, the Hebrew in Zechariah 9 actually just refers to one animal -- it's a construction called apposition (i.e. "I was talking to David, the pastor" refers to one person). The Messiah rides on a donkey, namely the young colt of a donkey. A "colt" was the term used for any young riding animal. In other words, a young donkey or a young camel or a young horse were all called "colts" in that day. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt/young donkey.
So, why does Matthew mention two animals? (Note that skeptics will say that Matthew misunderstood the Hebrew in Zechariah and mistakenly thought that there were supposed to be two animals. No, Matthew had an exquisite grasp of Hebrew.) Probably because Matthew worried about the detail Luke mentioned - "on which no one has ever sat". For whatever reason, he seemed to have experience with colts in their first time ridden. It usually didn't go well! But a colt near its mother would be calmer. This colt carried Jesus through a raucous crowd down and up a valley for his very first time being mounted! That's a minor miracle.
This means that there were indeed two animals. Jesus rode on the colt, and its mother walked alongside. Scroll up to the set of three pictures -- this means that Jesus should be pictured on the small donkey, not the large one.
Part 2: Praise (Luke 19:35-38)
35 Then they brought it to Jesus, and after throwing their clothes on the colt, they helped Jesus get on it. 36 As he was going along, they were spreading their clothes on the road. 37 Now he came near the path down the Mount of Olives, and the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen:
38 Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
I mentioned above (see 2 Ki 9:13) that spreading out cloaks was treatment reserved for a king/ruler. And if that weren't enough, the disciples are shouting Psalm 118:26, except replacing "he" with "the King". The words and actions would draw a crowd that would immediately know what's going on: Jesus' disciples are declaring Jesus to be the Messiah-King of Jerusalem. Again, a point of no return.
The Mount of Olives peaked about 100 feet above the temple mount, so it provided a beautiful panorama of the city, and anyone in the city would be able to see what's going on on the mountain road.
Luke doesn't mention the palm waving, nor does he mention the shouts of "Hosanna". The "hosanna" part is understandable. It's an Aramaic word that he would have to explain (it means "God, save"), and Luke had just clarified Jesus' mission to seek and to save the lost. I'm not sure why he didn't mention the palms, unless it was for a similar reason (having to explain the symbolism of waving palm branches). (It could be that there was no clear symbolism to the palm branches -- the people just did it while being caught up in the excitement.) In other words, Luke didn't think he needed to include those two details for his readers to understand what's going on.
"The whole crowd of disciples" does not refer only to the twelve. Matthew and Mark make it clear that lots of people had come out to celebrate Jesus. And they almost get what's going on. To Luke, the crowd echoes the host of angels celebrating Jesus' birth in Luke 2:14. They seem to recognize the symbolism of donkey/peace.
[Truly, I eventually get confused by the crowd's perspective. They still seem to think that Jesus has come to overthrow their enemies. But it's not like He has an army; maybe they think He will call down fire from heaven? For all of the things the crowd gets right, the fact that they are so dumbfounded by Jesus' death on the cross indicates that they didn't really know what was going on.]
But this reception to Jesus seems in stark contrast to the crowds in Jerusalem who would with one voice demand that Jesus be executed! That's because these aren't the crowds from Jerusalem. These are the people coming into Jerusalem from afar -- people who knew and (mostly) celebrated Jesus. (If you're looking for another divide between city and country, this is it.) Let's walk through the morning timeline:
Jesus and His disciples leave Bethany, probably in the morning just after breakfast. Other people are passing through at the time. We're only a mile to Jerusalem.
Jesus sends two disciples a half-mile ahead to Bethphage to get the colt. By the time Jesus gets there on His detour, the colt is ready for Him. A buzz would have already attracted a larger crowd on the road to Jerusalem; Jesus' delay at Bethphage would have given plenty of time for word to reach Jerusalem. The moment Jesus got on the colt would have turned the buzz into a roar.
Luke says that the praise and shouting began on the road down the Mount of Olives -- in other words, in full view of Jerusalem, drawing an even larger crowd.
By the time Jesus crosses the valley floor, a huge crowd would have had plenty of time to come out and meet Him.
But the people who would call for Jesus' crucifixion probably would not have come out for this. They were "insiders". This crowd was mostly "outsiders".
Note: the simple application is this: Jesus has done so very much worthy of our praise and excitement.
Part 3: Worthy (Luke 19:39-40)
39 Some of the Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out.”
There are a couple of things to catch here. First, the Pharisees did not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah-King. (Note how closely this resembled the attitudes of the subjects in Jesus' previous parable - Luke 19:11-27!) They wanted Jesus to quell this senseless (and blasphemous) enthusiasm before a riot broke out in the crowded city. Second, Jesus' reply makes it clear that not only are the crowds correct in their enthusiasm, but the Pharisees' opposition to it is further witness to their judgment. "Even the rocks can see what is going on here." Peace with God! Paul later tells us that peace with God can only be found through salvation in Christ. The people were crying out that peace with God was coming (and they were right!) -- how could they not be enthusiastic?
[It's quite possible that these particular Pharisees were not in on the plot to assassinate Jesus, but under any circumstances, the Pharisees just look terrible in Luke's Gospel.]
Verse 40 sounds like a very triumphal place to end this lesson! But if we keep reading, we see so much more to the passage. Luke doesn't follow Jesus all the way into Jerusalem. Jesus approaches Jerusalem in sorrow. Luke skips over the "entrance" such that the next thing we read, Jesus is in the temple courts driving out the merchants. I think Luke is making the point that Jerusalem didn't welcome Jesus as King. The crowds on the outside may have, but the people on the inside were more like the Pharisees. To Luke, Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry, is actually more about Jesus' rejection.
Really -- Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. That's a strange thing for a man currently being greeted with shouts of hosanna and waving palm branches. The people were crying out for peace, but the Jewish leaders were rejecting the One who could bring peace. Jerusalem was doomed. (Note that Jesus' prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem, and the later sermon recorded in Matthew 24-25, mean that even while Jesus was preparing Himself for what the people of Jerusalem were about to do to Him, He was still concerned about their later fate.)
As far as I'm concerned, Luke 19:41-44 reveals to us just why Jesus is so worthy of being the King of universe. He was the model of the humble servant He told His disciples to be.
This Easter Week (we call it "Holy Week"), let's take advantage of all of the worship opportunities we can. Jesus is more than worthy.