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Jesu, Juva

Sitting on a donkey

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On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

We might argue that this is a symbolic mark of Israel’s kingship going back to Deuteronomy 17; although the king is not forbidden to ride horses, he is forbidden to multiply them. Several of the judges as proto-kings are noted for their sons who ride on donkeys. By this reasoning, the men who ride mules (David, Absalom, Solomon), which are donkey–horse hybrids, are symbolically pushing the boundaries of God’s law as they are known to have explicitly done in other ways (David with his wives, and Solomon with his wives, horses, and gold).

Both Matthew and John tell us that Jesus is fulfilling Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter 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.

But it is interesting that throughout chapter 9, Zechariah is referring to specific nations around Israel. This leads us to wonder if there is a proximate fulfillment of this prophecy that came before Jesus’s ultimate fulfillment. Very much of Biblical prophecy follows this pattern: a near fulfillment confirms God’s word, and a far fulfillment in Jesus completes the promise. Even in Jesus there are often ways that we say prophecies have been partly fulfilled already, although they are not yet completely fulfilled.

So, we recognize that Solomon was indeed the first promised son of David, but he fell short of the full promise, and Jesus is the greater and true son of David. Likewise, it is no contradiction whatsoever to recognize that Jeremiah was likely the first suffering servant, and yet Jesus was the true suffering servant, the greater Jeremiah. Ezekiel was the first son of man, but Jesus is the greater and truest son of man. Ezra and Nehemiah inaugurate a new covenant (sponsored by Cyrus whom God calls his messiah in Isaiah 45:1) in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, and yet Jesus the greater Cyrus inaugurates the new covenant.

In his teaching, Calvin recognized that most of Zechariah 9 referred to post exilic Israel, but he seems to view verses 9–10 as a parenthesis looking forward to Jesus. However, by thinking in terms of proximate and ultimate fulfillment, we may be able to read verses 9–10 as part of a whole. The beauty of this approach is that we no longer have to limit our applying this passage to Jesus to these two verses.

Peter Leithart proposes an overall proximate fulfillment of Zechariah 9–14 as follows:

  • Zech 9:1–10 = Alexander the Great’s invasion of Israel
  • Zech 9:11–10:12 = battles between faithful Jews and Hellenizing Jews
  • Zech 11:1–3 = the fall of the Hasmonian dynasty
  • Zech 11:4–14 = the Jews’ rejection of Jesus
  • Zech 11:15–17 = the Jews’ being given over to false shepherds
  • Zech 12:1–19 = first Roman siege
  • Zech 12:10–13:6 = conversion of many Jews
  • Zech 13:7–9 = Christians flee Jerusalem, Romans devastate Judea
  • Zech 14 = fall of Jerusalem, establishment of church as New Jerusalem

In this reading, Alexander is the proximate king who comes riding a donkey. Although we have no other evidence that Alexander actually rode a donkey, Andrew Wilson cites Josephus in noting that Alexander was made quite conscious of his fulfilling Biblical prophecy.

So if Jesus is the greater Alexander, as well as the greater son of Zion who deposes Greece and all the nations, what else can we say about him beyond his bringing peace with his worldwide rule? Well, for one, as God’s people gather to the stronghold of the New Jerusalem, God restores to us double.

Restoring double reminds us of Job and his double restoration (Job 42). First and foremost, Jesus himself as the greater Job receives a double restoration of both Jew and Gentile in his resurrection (we are “his offspring” referred to in Isaiah 53). Double portion also refers everywhere to the inheritance of the firstborn; a key example of that is Elisha’s receiving a double portion, the firstborn’s portion, of Elijah’s spirit. Like Elisha, the church receives the firstborn’s double portion of Jesus’s Spirit. Receiving a double portion is itself a sure and encouraging proof of our adoption as sons, which God first announced in Jesus’s resurrection and in our baptism.

Rejoice greatly and shout aloud!

Written by Scott Moonen

April 9, 2020 at 9:15 am

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