Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey for His Triumphant Entry?

Contributing Writer
Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey for His Triumphant Entry?

You may have wondered why, of the many ways Jesus could have entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he decided to ride a donkey. No chariot or litter, no purebred horse; Jesus came on a donkey's colt, using other peoples’ cloaks as his saddle. In doing so, Jesus sent a surprising message to the crowds waiting for him.

How Did Jesus Disciples Find the Donkey?

When Jesus and His disciples approached Jerusalem, Jesus commanded two of His disciples to go into a village (name not mentioned) and retrieve a colt with its mother (Matthew 21:2). Furthermore, Jesus gave the two disciples the response they would provide if anyone asked why they were taking the donkey and the colt (Matthew 21:3). 

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded and found the colt and donkey at the village entrance. Also, some bystanders (who Luke revealed as the colts’ owners) questioned them, and the disciples used the reply which Jesus had given them: “The Lord has need of it.” (Luke 19:34). This response satisfied the owners, and they let the disciples take the colt and donkey (Mark 11:6). 

Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey Instead of a Horse?

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, often called the Triumphal Entry, had to do with Jesus being the King of the Jews. The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was similar to what happened in those days at the coronation of a king. Messiah and kingship were closely linked in the Old Testament. 

However, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey that no one had ever ridden before (Luke 19:30). This created a peculiar scene, contrary to the usual majestic processions which often accompanied kings in those days. This naturally raises the question, "why did Jesus ride a donkey?" 

As we should expect, this was intentional. There is much divine meaning embedded in the fact that Jesus rode a young donkey. We can point to at least three significant factors:

Jesus is King. First, it’s important to note in this passage Jesus is accepting His title as King of the Jews. He entered Jerusalem, the city of David and the city of kings. Upon their coronation, kings would commonly ride in on a mount to distinguish themselves from the rest of the people. Jesus did not ride just any donkey, but He chose to ride on a colt that no one had ever ridden. It was an honor for Jesus to be the first to ride the colt. This is part of His public acknowledgment that He was their King. 

Jesus came as a King of Peace. The kingly image of Jesus portrayed in Revelation 19 would have been closer to what the Jews anticipated. Horses were majestic animals and often the choice mount of a king. They symbolized majesty and power. They were also beasts of war. Whenever a king rode out to meet his enemy in battle, he would do so on a horse. The Jews were hoping for a conquering king, one who would push back against the armies of Rome and establish Israel to its own independent rule. Jesus’ selection of a donkey communicated the exact opposite. He did not come to wage war against Rome as the people hoped, but instead, He came to bring the peace proclaimed by the angels upon His birth (Luke 2:14). This peace was not between hostile nations. Instead, it was peace between sinful people and God. 

Jesus was not the king the people wanted. Peer pressure can be one of the hardest forces to oppose. It preys on our innate desire as social creatures to maintain a level of respect and acceptance among our peers. It can be difficult to recover one’s public image after they upset the masses' expectations. Despite the potent nature of peer pressure or mob rule, God makes it clear the majority rule does not determine what is right or wrong (Deuteronomy 23:2). The expectations of the people did not sway Jesus. He did not adjust Himself to fit the pressing desires of the people, who earnestly hoped for a military conqueror that would oppose and ultimately overthrow their Roman oppressor. 

Did Jesus Fulfill Any Prophecies by Riding a Donkey?

Only Matthew’s gospel mentions Jesus brought both a donkey and a colt with Him when He entered Jerusalem. Furthermore, as other gospels show, Jesus chose to ride the colt instead of the mature donkey (Luke 19:35).

But why did Jesus ride a donkey specifically? The answer has to do with fulfilling Messianic prophecies. Matthew’s gospel was geared towards a Jewish audience and takes special care to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. In keeping with his gospel’s overall focus, Matthew purposefully mentioned the donkey and the colt to show that Jesus fulfilled a messianic prophecy in Zechariah: 

“Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming to you, gentle and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Zechariah 9:9

Since this prophecy mentions both a donkey and colt, Matthew included the detail of Jesus bringing the colt’s mother along so there could be no doubt that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

Did Donkeys Have a Special Meaning in Jesus’ Day?

In Jesus’ day, working in the fields could be related to times of peace. This concept is seen in Isaiah when the prophet says that the Israelites “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4). The men would use beasts of burden (donkeys and oxen), to work the land (Isaiah 30:24). Since Israel dwelt on the Promised Land, which God gave them according to His promise to Abraham, the fruits of the land were closely tied to divine favor.

God told the Israelites, in times of obedience they would enjoy the land’s prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:6-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-15). Obedience to God and peace were closely linked in the Old Testament (Leviticus 26:3-6). Since the donkey was equated with fieldwork, it’s possible that people associated it with times of peace. Contrast that to times of war, when the men would leave their fields and rally together to fight against their enemies who threatened to take the Promised Land. In such times, the donkey had little use in battle. 

How Did People Misunderstand Jesus?

It’s interesting, throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was presented with multiple opportunities to take shortcuts to His throne, all at the expense of obedience to His Father. Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for His worship (Matthew 4:8-9). In John’s Gospel, we learn the five thousand whom Jesus fed wanted to make Him King because of what they thought they could gain from Him (John 6:15). Pilate offered Jesus an ultimatum to avoid crucifixion (John 19:10-11). Even on the cross, others taunted Jesus to save Himself and prove Himself to be their King (Luke 23:35-39). 

Jesus passed all these trials in perfect obedience to the Father, faithfully subjecting Himself to the Father’s will. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey fits this broad narrative. The crowd rejoiced because they acknowledged Jesus as their King. However, they had a different understanding of his kingship. When they cried, “Hossana” (meaning “Save us please!”), they were seeking earthly salvation from their enemies. They were asking Jesus to make Israel a significant world power again as in the days of King David and Solomon.

Jesus rode a donkey in part to protest against the Jews, telling them He would not be the military king that they desired.

Further Reading:

How Does Matthew Prove That Jesus Is the Messiah?

What Are the Prophecies about Jesus?

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/Diy13

Stephen BakerStephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022). 

He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.