Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey into Jerusalem? The Triumphal Entry

Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem as king upon a donkey rather than a horse? Read the scriptures quotes of Christ's triumphal entry and learn the meaning of Him choosing a donkey.

Updated Feb 13, 2024
Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey into Jerusalem? The Triumphal Entry

Jesus' Triumphal Entry in Jerusalem on a Donkey

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden." ~ Matthew 21:1-5

And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. ~ John 12:14-16

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of 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." ~ Zechariah 9:9

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Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey?

Though Jesus had traveled to Jerusalem numerous times to observe the feasts, his final entry into Jerusalem had a unique significance. He was triumphantly arriving as a humble King of peace. Historically, entering a city on a donkey signified entry in peace, rather than a conquering king arriving on a horse.

Doug Bookman describes the reason for Jesus entering on a donkey as the following transcription of his explanation:

"Zechariah 9, verse 9 said 'Behold O Jerusalem of Zion, the King comes onto you meek and lowly riding upon a donkey.' Now, by the way, most people have it in their mind that the meekness and the lowliness was the donkey. That's not so. The donkey was a royal steed in the Old Testament. The king rode on a donkey, that's very, very important. Not a horse, because then He'd have to be a conqueror, but because He was in charge here, He rode on a donkey. And remember when Absalom usurped the kingdom from his father, David, the first thing he did was to go get his royal donkey and ride through the streets of the city. When it says He comes meek and lowly, the idea is He comes with no military apparatus. He doesn't bring an army, He comes meek and lowly riding upon a donkey. So, the donkey, I think, is the sign of His kingliness."

Donkeys in the Bible

The following is an excerpt from the Scripture Alphabet of Animals, Bible Encyclopedia, "The Donkey":

[The donkey] has some resemblance to a horse, but is not as large, and generally seems rather sleepy and dull. In some countries, such as those where the Bible was written, it is a fine large animal, and the people use it for riding. Some persons mentioned in the Bible owned a great many donkeys. Abraham had sheep, and oxen, and donkeys and camels; and Job had at one time five hundred donkeys, and afterwards he had a thousand. 

A great many years ago, long before Christ came into the world, the rich men and the judges used to ride upon donkeys: so we read in the 10th verse of the 5th chapter of Judges, "Speak, ye that ride upon white donkeys, ye that sit in judgment." After this time many fine horses were brought into those countries, and the kings and great men liked them for riding: so the donkey was used by the poorer people who could not buy a horse. 

You remember that when our blessed Savior was entering Jerusalem a few days before his death, he rode upon a donkey; thus showing his meekness and humility, even while the multitude were shouting his praises, and spreading their garments in the way to do him honor. How shall we be like our Savior, if we let pride stay in our hearts?

The donkey is very gentle and patient and does not seem angry even when he has a very heavy load to carry. I should be very sorry to have him treated unkindly. Though he seems so dull, he loves his master, and will sometimes find him out and run to him even when he is in a crowd of men. God says, in the Bible, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the donkey his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." Is it not a sad thing that the dull donkey should be more grateful than we are?

How Did the Romans React to Jesus Riding on a  Donkey?

Given that people were calling Jesus the Messiah, it is curious that the Bible includes no records of the Romans being upset by Jesus' triumphant entry. Here is G. Campbell Morgan's view on why Jesus' approach was counterintuitive to their worldly ways:

Look for a moment at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus as a Roman would have looked at it. Has it ever occurred to you that it was a very remarkable thing that the Roman officials did not interfere with this demonstration?

The Romans were there to quell insurrection, to hold in check the turbulent Jews, and yet, there was no interference on their part! They were accustomed to see these vast multitudes gathered for religious exercises at Jerusalem; but they were perfectly aware of this strange movement and this unusual excitement manifest. They knew of the prophet of Nazareth, but they did not interfere. Why not? Because the whole thing was so utterly and absolutely contemptible.

I put it more strongly still and say that which we describe as a triumphal entry would have been in the eyes of the Roman a laughing stock; the Roman who had seen in the eternal city sitting on its seven hills, the triumphal return of a conqueror! I need not stop to describe in detail those triumphal entries, in which the conqueror, with kings whom he had overcome in war chained to his chariot wheels, amid the acclaim of the assembled multitudes, entered the city in military magnificence. Some old soldier who had seen such an entry into Rome would look at this entry characterized by old clothes, broken trees, unarmed peasant folk, and would have held it in supreme contempt.

It was just a mob; unorganized, shouting, tearing branches from trees and casting them in the way, taking their garments off and putting them across the back of the colt upon which a man rode. A man riding upon old clothes, in the midst of broken trees, surrounded by a shouting mob. That would have been the Roman outlook upon the whole scene: Grotesque!

Adapted from The Triumphal Entry, by G. Campbell Morgan.

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