Did Christ Ride an Ass, Its Colt, or Both?
Question: The supposed prophecy in Zechariah:9:9 and the alleged fulfillment in Matthew:21:2-7 both say that Christ came riding into Jerusalem “sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” The accounts recorded in Mark 11 and Luke 19 mention only the colt, so there is an obvious contradiction. Furthermore, it is clearly absurd that Christ would ride upon both a colt and its mother at the same time. How can you make sense of this?
Response: Matthew simply quotes Zechariah:9:9. That statement is easily explained as a common type of poetic emphasis used in Old Testament times. The Messiah sits on an animal. It is an ass. More than that, it is a colt, the foal of an ass, meaning very young. That this expression, “upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass,” was descriptive of the one animal on which the Messiah would sit is clear from the fact that both Mark (11:2) and Luke (19:30) replace that phrase with “whereon never man sat” and “whereon yet never man sat.” It is highly unlikely that no man had ever sat upon the ass, but that statement was only true of her colt.
Mark and Luke are concentrating upon the animal upon which Christ sat. Neither of them quotes from Zechariah, where both the colt and its mother are mentioned, so there is no need to mention the mare. Matthew, who quotes Zechariah, then accounts for the mare as well. Matthew explains that the ass and its colt were tied together and were both loosed. It seems clear that the mare accompanied its colt because it was so young, apparently walking alongside, because garments were placed upon both. One can imagine Christ letting an arm rest upon the donkey as He rode its colt.
Far from being absurd, the picture shows two things. First of all, it reveals our Lord’s control over nature and all created beings. A colt, so young that it has never been ridden and is even accompanied by its mother tags obediently along. Secondly, it emphasizes the meekness with which this One comes, exactly as Zechariah says: “lowly, and …riding upon…a colt….” This is no conquering king who has destroyed Israel’s enemies and is riding triumphantly into Jerusalem at the head of an army, but upon a colt hardly able to support His weight. This is the Savior who has come to die for the sins of the world: “He is just, and having [bringing] salvation…” (Zechariah:9:9).
That the multitude would hail Him as Messiah, as the prophets had said, in spite of such a humble entry, is all the more remarkable. Of course, the same enthusiastic crowd that hailed Him on this occasion turned against Him and demanded His crucifixion a mere four days later. That fact was a no-less-remarkable fulfillment of prophecy.