Did Jesus Ride on a Donkey, or the Foal of a Donkey?
Tom: You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
For a number of weeks, now, we’ve been using Dave Hunt’s book In Defense of the Faith as a resource for questions that pertain to the Bible. The questions are drawn from Dave’s experiences in ministry over the years, and although we don’t cover every possible question, we hope the ones we’ve selected will be more than just interesting—rather they’ll be an encouragement to you in your own study of the Word. If you’d like to have a copy of the book as a resource for your own defense of the faith, Gary will give you the pertinent information later in the program.
Dave, the first question is one that I’ve wrestled with, but let’s get right to it. “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 a colt and its mother at the same time. How can you make sense of this?”
Dave, for our listeners, the verses here are Zechariah:9:9, Matthew:21:2-7, Mark:11:2-7, Luke:19:30-35, and then there’s one verse in John:12:15. That’s as far as I go with this Dave.
Dave: (chuckling) Well, Tom, I can remember—I was just trying to think—this would have been 1956, so that would be . . . well, around 46 years ago. I remember I was general manager of some corporations, and my lawyer, a young man, a sharp guy, well, he was enough interested in Christianity to go to church. I think it was a Presbyterian Church, as I recall, and we would have our discussions, and this was one of them that he threw at me. But, I mean, he’s not the only one. It seems like a bit absurd. Is Jesus sitting on both of them? Well, maybe He’s sitting on the colt sideways and his arms are . . . you know, He’s leaning up against the mother. I don’t think so. First of all, I think the expression, “sitting upon an ass and a colt, the foal of an ass,” I think that’s a poetic way of saying things.
Tom: Dave, this is the KJV you are reading from.
Tom: The other versions say, “even the colt of an ass.” In other words, they’re there together, but He’s sitting on one. That’s the impression that you get.
Dave: Right, so I don’t think we have a problem there. The problem seems to be . . .
Tom: . . . why Mark and Luke specifically deal with just one, whereas Matthew, the term that’s used over and over again in Matthew: “them.” Jesus said, “Ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to me,” and both of the uses of “them” is in italics, but verse 3 says, “The Lord hath need of them.” So, clearly it’s both of them.
Dave: Yeah, well, Tom, there are a number of things. First of all, it’s not too difficult to understand—I mean, to reconcile it. The Bible does not give us the details. It’s an incredible prophecy that you have in Zechariah:9:9. It doesn’t say, “Your Messiah is coming on a white horse with a flashing sword, leading an army to conquer your enemies!” That was, in fact, the Messiah that the Jews were looking for. This was the only Messiah they understood.
He did not come to conquer the Romans; He came to conquer sin and self. You get that when we get to John 8: “You continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And they began to argue with Him: “Oh, we’ve never been in bondage!” and He says, “Well, you’re in bondage to sin.”
And this is the deliverance that the Messiah came to bring. But it’s an astonishing prophecy—one of the many, many indications this is God’s Word. And its fulfillment was just as astonishing! Here He comes (let’s forget the two of them now, for the moment). He’s riding on the colt of an ass. This is not the way you go into battle. I think it was probably wobbly legged, maybe. It’s so young that Jesus has the mother come along with it—out of His kindness, I don’t know. He could have done it without that. I think it enhances, or it accentuates, the humility of the Lord and the ludicrousness of a conquering Messiah coming riding into Jerusalem! And yet they hailed him as the Messiah. And then, exactly as Daniel foretells, Daniel 9: “Sixty-nine weeks of years from the going forth of the command to rebuild Jerusalem, to the coming of the Messiah, the Prince.” And then the next verse says, “. . . and the Messiah will be cut off.” He will be cut off. He will be killed! That doesn’t make sense, either!
When you begin to examine the prophecies, and then you see the fulfillment, Tom, it couldn’t have happened that way. It shouldn’t have happened that way.
Tom: Dave, you also see this isn’t by chance. Jesus knew where this colt and its mare would be.
Dave: Right, exactly.
Tom: And as you said, He was demonstrating something before—He will come as a conquering king, but something needed to take place first. And that is dealing with our sins.
Dave: The prophecy in Zechariah:9:9 says, “Behold your king cometh. He is meek, lowly, bringing salvation, riding upon the colt of an ass.” So this is exactly what Jesus did! I mean He came as the Lamb. Isaiah:53:7: “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb . . . .” And this is just a further demonstration of that fact—His submission to the Father’s will; His willingness to be the sacrifice for our sins. If humans had written this, they would have come up with a difference scenario. They would have had him riding in as a mighty conqueror! That was the way—well there were a number of false messiahs, as most of our listeners probably know, who attempted to be the Messiah, who attempted to throw off the Roman yoke. There were many rebellions, but that is not the picture of the Messiah that we get in scripture.
Furthermore, this is a picture that still stands as a stumbling block to the Jews. Because if you ask Jewish people today, “Well, why don’t you accept Jesus? I mean, look, He came at exactly the right time; He did exactly what was said.” Of course, they don’t recognize that the prophets said He would be crucified and rejected. Isaiah says, “He’s despised, rejected of men, we saw nothing in him. We turned our faces away from him,” Isaiah 53 predicts. But the Jewish person today would say, “Yeah, but He didn’t bring peace; He didn’t set up his kingdom.” So that was the picture that was locked into their minds. In fact . . .
Tom: Sure, they could only see the Roman boot or sandal on their neck, keeping them oppressed. Dave, I know you’re going to finish your thought there, but I just want to throw this in—going back to Zechariah:9:9, having salvation. And they were thinking, “Yeah, salvation! We’re going to be freed from the oppression of the Romans!” But how would they reconcile (and this is what makes it difficult)—it begins, “Thy king cometh unto thee. Thy king cometh, lowly . . . .” There’s a contradiction there, or there have to be two possibilities: one that He is king, but one that this salvation has something to do with their sin and has to do with reconciliation to God—the peace that you can only have through what He has accomplished for us on the cross.
Dave: Well, if human beings had written this, they would have written it in a different way. But as we see it all play out exactly as scripture foretold, it is further confirmation that this is God’s Word. This is the Messiah, but the disciples—not only the Jewish people today, but the disciples were stumbled. John the Baptist was stumbled. John the Baptist, in Luke 7, he sends two disciples to Jesus. He’s in prison. He has them ask the question, “Are you the one that was promised, or do we look for another?” Because, I mean, it’s quite obvious what his problem was. He’s in prison about to get his head cut off. He ought to be at least prime minister or something— he’s introduced Jesus to Israel. And if Jesus is going to be the king (this is what they’re thinking) how’s He going to displace Herod? He’s got the troops. Jesus has just a rag-tag band of ex-fishermen, ex-prostitutes, and so forth. It doesn’t look reasonable. And the disciples, they fled.
And when Jesus is taken in the Garden, what a contrast to the power that He showed when He stilled the waves with a word, when He called the dead forth! And then, suddenly, they bind Him, and He allows them to do it! Then they scourge Him and beat Him and mock Him. And the rabbis mock Him on the cross, “If you’re the Messiah, what are you doing up there?” They thought that was the ultimate proof that He was not the Messiah.
Tom: Even though their prophets had said, “Cursed is whoever hangs on a tree.”
Dave: It’s interesting . . . well, of course the prophets had foretold He would be killed, He would be crucified. And the thieves, they mock Him: “If you’re the Messiah, save yourself and us.” And then one of them had some insight and believes in Him. The two on the road to Emmaus are saying, “Well, we thought he was the Messiah, but he couldn’t have been because they killed him.” And they can’t reconcile in their minds: on the one hand, the power that He demonstrated in raising the dead, and yet His apparent weakness when they take Him and beat Him, and so forth.
Well, He was the Lamb, because He took our place. It says, “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” He didn’t answer because He took our place, and we have no answer! We are guilty.
Tom, you’ve been a scriptwriter. I don’t think you could have written this.
Dave: It’s beyond comprehension; it’s beyond our ability to imagine. And who would believe it?
Tom: Yeah. Dave, that’s why, as you said earlier, that’s why we know the Word of God is just that. It’s the Word of God! It’s miraculous! And where we run into trouble is that we try to impose our own ideas. How many times—well, you mentioned some of them, Jesus chiding the two on the road to Emmaus; others not knowing the scriptures. In other words, it was laid out right down to the last detail, and it was all there. But their biases, their flesh, whatever it might be, had them, when they were interpreting, interpreting it in a way that they couldn’t understand what was taking place.
Dave: Paul, in his—this is his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas, and he lays it out pretty clearly in a sermon—he’s preaching to a group of Jews. This is Acts:13:26: “Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.” Paul says, “You guys didn’t know what you were doing!” And maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” They don’t realize they are fulfilling the scriptures, but it all worked out as God had foretold.
And of course, the fulfillment of these prophecies demonstrates (if we have any Jewish people out there)—demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, and the prophets foretold exactly what He would be! He would be led as a lamb to the slaughter; He would come, humbly and meekly, riding upon the colt of an ass. He would not lift up His voice in the street, it says. A bruised reed He would not break; smoking flax He would not quench. He would come so gently. And that, of course, is further condemnation to those who crucified Him. Here is one who did nothing but good—fed the hungry, opened the eyes of the blind, healed the sick, and raised the dead. His love and compassion were demonstrated—and how did men reward him?
It shows our sin, Tom. When we look at the cross, we not only see God’s love, but we see man’s sin. And, as we’ve often mentioned, the fact that He was nailed to a cross—that wouldn’t save anyone, although that’s all that many people see. They look at a crucifix, they think of the physical sufferings of Christ—that would not save anyone. In fact, it would only add to our condemnation because that’s what we (mankind) did to Him. That’s how we treated Him. It’s incredible!
Tom: Demonstrating the evil within man, and at the same time, demonstrating God’s incredible love. Wow!
Dave: His willingness to let man do to Him what they would, to reveal their hearts, and now, as He hangs upon the cross, they are mocking Him. They’ve done the worst they could do to Him physically. He offers Himself to His Father. And Yahweh, well, Isaiah:53:10 says: “Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin. . . . He is wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace is upon him.” In other words, the judgment that we deserved, that God’s infinite justice required for sin, He took that judgment in our place.
Tom, there’s nothing like this in any religion out there. Hinduism doesn’t have it; Buddhism doesn’t have it, the Qur’an, Islam, doesn’t have it.
Tom: It actually rejects everything you’ve been talking about.
Dave: Absolutely. Every religion out there tries to appease God by its good works, gifts to charity, something I’m going to do to earn my salvation, and you cannot earn salvation. And we’ve been over this before, but we could go over it again: James says if you offend in one point, you’ve broken the whole law. You’re guilty of all ten commandments! That seems unjust, but when you think about it, sin is rebellion against God. The taking of that fruit in the Garden—the simplest thing, the easiest command God could have given them . . .
Tom: Dave, as a former Roman Catholic, I think often—the church would view that, if I took that to confession as a Catholic: “I just took a little fruit; just took a little bite of it,” and so on—“Ahh, that’s a venial sin. Don’t bother me with that. It’s nothing.” But this brought death. This brought separation from mankind forever! There are no venial sins, or mortal sins—sin is sin! And, as you said, you offend in one place, you are guilty of the whole law!
Dave: Why is that? Because it’s a rebellion against God.
Dave: Taking that fruit, Eve rebelled against God. Adam joined her in her rebellion. This is what sin is, and it’s a rebellion against God to offer Him something for salvation in exchange. It’s a denial, Tom, of everything that the Bible, in contrast to all these other religious writings out there, the Bible alone says man is unworthy. He cannot merit God’s favor. He cannot earn his own salvation. The Bible is very clear on that.
And maybe someone out there listening, you’ve never understood that. Well, think about it for a moment. As soon as you have broken one law, you’re finished! Because you cannot make up for breaking the law in the past by keeping it in the future. That’s the nature of the law. That’s the nature of sin. It won’t work!
Tom: And you can’t pay the penalty—that is, you’re going to be separated from God forever. That is the penalty, but you can’t pay it off, and then say, “Oh, I just paid it, and now I can go free.” No, the penalty is separation from God forever! Only Jesus could do that.
Dave: Because He is God, who became a man. He didn’t cease to be God; He’ll never cease to be man—He’s the one-and-only God/man. So, because of who He is, He was able to pay the penalty, and we’ve said it before, but we can say it again. Well, remember, He said, “No one takes my life from Me.”
Yes, they are indicted for killing. I mean, “You crucified the Lord of glory, but you couldn’t do that unless I allowed you to do it.” Jesus made that very clear. He was the willing sacrifice. And, as He gave His spirit—so now, He is offering Himself up, giving His spirit, offering His life—He is laying down His life. He’s not just kind of, “uhhhhh,” you know, expiring with a last gasp of His strength, his waning strength and breath . . .
No! He gives His spirit into His Father’s hands: “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And then He cries with a loud voice (the Bible is very careful to tell us that), He cries with a loud voice, “Tetelasti!” translated in the King James as, “It is finished!” And, as we have probably mentioned before, this was a Greek word that was stamped on promissory notes; it was stamped on documents, invoices, and so forth. It meant, “Paid in Full.” Because He is infinite—although He became a man, but he didn’t cease to be God—He was able to pay the infinite penalty that His infinite justice required for sin.
Tom: Now, Dave, if He didn’t pay it in full, then we’d still have no hope because we can’t pay it! We can’t add anything to it. We have to die in our trespasses and sin and be separated from God, or put our trust in Him, who, we understand—it has to be this way—that He paid the full penalty for our sins.
Dave: Now, Tom, what we’re saying, and what the scripture says, is so reasonable that I don’t know how anyone can argue with it! The only possible objection I think comes from human pride. “I don’t want to admit I’m a sinner. I don’t want to admit I can’t offer God something. I don’t want to admit that I’m so bad that I deserve that. I’m good enough! I can do this. I can give God something. I want to earn my salvation.”
No, forever in eternity. “Our song,” the scripture says, “those who are in glory.” Do you want to be in glory? Then you are going to have to be willing to sing this song from your heart with joy: “Our song is unto Him who loved us and loosed us from our sins, cleansed us from our sins in His own blood. Unto Him is the glory, the power, and the majesty forever and forever.” We will just rejoice in His salvation.
Tom: Amazing, free gift. It’s His gift to us. But to those who won’t accept it, it is incomprehensible.