This section records Jesus' lowly ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. This takes place three days before His death for the sins of the world. As this event begins to unfold, it would seem that the multitudes of people receive Him as the Messiah. However, just a week later we find the same people crying, crucify Him. Man is a fickle and flighty creature. You may wonder how there could be such a flip flop in such a short amount of time? We find the answer to that question and others in this passage.
The news of Jesus coming to Jerusalem got the attention of thousands of people. There are four points to consider here.
On the next day … (John 12:12a) This would be the day after His supper at Bethany. This events here occur on Sunday, one week before His resurrection.
… much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, (John 12:12b) With thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, the city was packed and bustling with energy and activity. They had heard that Jesus was coming. Excitement was in the air as they anticipated the arrival of the King.
Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, (John 12:13a) This was a riveting scene exploding with emotion and excitement. It would seem that these people had received the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. Matthew says:
And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. (Matthew 21:8)
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, a great crowd gathered and covered the roadway with their coats and outer garments. Others cut palm branches and strawed them in the way. There was great excitement in the air. They were celebrating the arrival of the King.
… and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. (John 12:13b) As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people cried out praises to Him. Hosanna is an acclamation of praise and adoration. It means “save now.” The parallel passage from the book of Matthew says:
And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Matthew 21:9)
This praise is taken from the book of Psalms. It was a part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which was sung every year during the Feasts of Tabernacles,
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. (Psalm 118:22-26)
The people rightly attributed this psalm to Jesus. They clearly identified Him as the King of Israel. (John 12:13) and used the Messianic title Son of David. (Matthew 21:9) They were willing to recognize Jesus as Saviour, but only a political Saviour. The problem was that they didn't want Jesus to save their souls, they wanted Him to save them from Rome. They were willing to accept Him as King as long as there was something in it for them right now. Though He was their promised King, he was not the king according to their preconceived ideas.
And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. (John 12:14-15) In accordance with prophecy Jesus chooses a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. The donkey is a symbol of humility. Five hundred years earlier, speaking of the Messiah, Zechariah had written:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)
According to tradition a king rides on a horse when He goes to war, but on a donkey when He comes in peace. By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus was showing that He had no intentions of fulfilling the political and military expectations of the people. He was clearly signaling His peaceful intentions. At His first coming, Jesus rode in Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. At His second coming He will come in glory riding on a white stallion. What a spectacular sight this will be. In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John says:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. (Revelation 19:11)
Our Lord's Second Coming will be much different from His first. He will no longer be the lowly Babe in Bethlehem's manger, but He cometh with clouds in all His glory (Revelation 1:7). He will no longer be scorned and blasphemed, but here kings and priests fall down and worship …
… Him that liveth for ever and ever. (Revelation 5:14)
No longer is He the lowly carpenter of Nazareth, but the Creator of the universe crying, Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:5) Gone is the wicked bloodthirsty mob shouting, crucify Him. Instead, kneeling before Him are … ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands. (Revelation 5:11) No longer does He ride into Jerusalem on a borrowed colt, but we see Him in all His splendor, riding out of Heaven on a white steed, as a mighty conqueror going to war (Revelation 19).
These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. (John 12:16) The full significance of our Lord's riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey is not immediately comprehended by the disciples.
When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:22)
It wasn't until after the resurrection of Christ that the disciples began to put it all together. It was then that they realized the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ's actions.
The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. (John 12:17) The people who were around Lazarus' grave when Jesus raised him from the dead, went about telling everyone that would listen. We are told that they bare record. These people went about testifying concerning the resurrection of Lazarus which they had personally witnessed. The Lord Jesus had performed many great miracles. He had opened the eyes of the blind. He healed the lame. He had fed the five thousand men plus the women and children (somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand people) with five loaves and two fishes. He had calmed a storm simply by speaking to it. But here is the testimony of a man raised from the dead. Surely this was the greatest miracle that the Lord had yet performed. It got people's attention.
For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. (John 12:18) The people were so impressed by this miracle that they thronged about Jesus. This is the power of witnessing. We tell the world about Jesus and they are drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit. However, they had to hear about Him before they could be drawn to Him (Romans 10:14).
The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? (John 12:19a) The Pharisees were sorely disappointed. All their opposition and efforts to stop Jesus, thus far had come to nothing. They had failed miserably.
… behold, the world is gone after him. (John 12:19b) The more the Pharisees worked against Jesus, the more popular He became. They realized that that the popularity of Jesus had won the day.