The danger of clichés is that they are usually quite right. To illustrate this, one French poet remarked that, “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.” Because clichés are often right, they too easily get consigned to poster-board behind the goalposts of a televised football game. What should shake the foundations of darkness is met with an eye-roll.
And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes. 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. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.Zechariah 9:8-10
Summary of the Text
Judah was once more enduring an occupation by foreign nations (Zech. 9:1-8). Zechariah assures the returning exiles that God was soon to come and would cast out those powers (9:4), and would see to it Himself (9:8). The assurance of this promised deliverance would be that Messiah would enter Jerusalem upon the foal of an ass, with rejoicing shouts filling Zion (9:9); Zechariah also elaborates on Isaiah’s earlier prophecy of the Messiah entering Zion endowed with salvation (Is. 62:11). This joyful entrance would result in the expulsion of the foreign forces while establishing peace with the heathen (9:10). Messianic texts like this one convinced godly Jews to conclude that under Messiah’s reign, the boundaries of the promised land would be universalized. To the ends of the earth, enemy nations would either crumble or convert.
Riding Upon A Donkey
Roman generals were accustomed to enter a city either on a donkey or upon a horse, signifying peace with the former and as a conqueror in the latter. So some point to this easy explanation. However, at one point in Biblical history, riding an ass was for the illustrious (i.e. Balaam, the early Judges of Israel, etc.). By the time of Zechariah’s prophecy riding upon an ass was a sign of lowliness.
We don’t necessarily have to choose sides here. Was Jesus coming like an ancient judge (i.e. Samson, Gideon, Barak)? Was Jesus taking a Roman custom and using it for his own purpose? Was Jesus coming in humble lowliness to defeat the dragon alone? The answer can be yes to all three.
But the full sum of the picture should be guided by what the text explicitly states. Matthew tells us that Christ riding into Jerusalem was the prophetic sign which Zechariah foretold come alive and fulfilled (Mt. 21:4-5). Which means that Christ’s entrance wasn’t a publicity stunt, it was a fork in the road. Either Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah as attested by His many signs, this being perhaps the most public, or He wasn’t. The gears of war which occupied Israel were soon to be overthrown. The Messiah is described as being just, having salvation, and lowly. Whatever other symbolism might be involved, Jesus riding upon the ass was a claim to be the Messiah.
His kingdom was not of this world, but by His sufferings, He would conquer all the kingdoms of this world. Yes, Israel was once more occupied by a foreign power. But the foreign power which Jesus had come to defeat was the spiritual principality of Satan’s kingdom.
Our Evangelical Heritage
Perhaps no motto shaped 20th century American Evangelicalism than the statement: “Jesus is coming soon.” In the late 1800s a new end-times position rose to popularity. It hinged on a belief that the world was on the verge of an apocalyptic end. One sign of this would be growing apostasy, followed by Jesus secretly rapturing true Christians. At the same time, many of the mainline denominations––which held to the more prevalent postmillennial view––were being duped by various errors: German theologians’ Higher Criticism, the implications of embracing Darwin’s theory of the origin of species, and a Gospel that was neutered into merely a “neighborhood clean up”.
The premillennialists saw that the authority of Scripture was under attack, the Gospel was at stake, and Christian morality would be compromised by these threats. Their defense of Scriptural authority was truly heroic. They sought to return to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and thus this movement came to be known as Fundamentalism, while many leaders in the movement––J. Greshem Machen, as a prime example––sought to retain the more historic term: Evangelical.
The engine driving much of the modern Evangelical fervor was that conviction that “Jesus is coming.” This sentiment motivated the Evangelicals to fight against the looming darkness so as to be found faithful when Christ came. A noble aim, even if situated atop flimsy exegesis. It’s like the Algebra student who, despite faulty steps to solve the problem, comes to the correct answer. The thing which marked 20th century evangelicals was urgency in light of Christ’s imminent return.
Jesus IS Coming
The reality is that Jesus is coming. Our evangelical heritage got that right. Indeed that sentiment outdates 20th century Fundamentalism, and was expressed during the Reformation by the emphasis on living coram Deo.
The true saint, in any age, waits expectantly for Christ’s coming, whether it be in revival, in death, or in the final judgement. Note the rejoicing of the Palm Sunday crowds, and the substance of their song: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus is coming, and their response was the right one, joyfully receiving Him as the Messiah which He claimed to be.
The Christ we preach is ascended to the right hand of the Father. He isn’t playing video games with Cheeto-dusted fingers, until His dad tells Him to come get us. Jesus is not a dispassionate observer of human history. Rather, Christ is ruling the world. He is present and involved in the affairs of history. Jesus is not disengaged from the affairs of history. He is holding the scepter of the universe.
So we rightly join the Palm Sunday crowds in declaring Jesus is coming. He is coming to cleanse the temple. He is coming to make dry bones come alive. He is coming to topple tyrants. He is coming to mend the brokenhearted. He is coming to humble overbearing husbands and rebuke sniping wives. He is coming to rescue prodigal sons. He is coming to defeat His enemies.
He comes in fire and fury. He comes in gentle words of redemption. He comes to usher saints to their eternal rest in His presence. He comes to undo the wicked and their evil designs. Neither you nor I can stop Him. Congress can’t pass bills to halt the advance of His Kingdom. Jesus is coming.
The Kingdom is Christ’s
Ezekiel was given the vision of God’s throne, and it rested upon wheels within wheels (Ez. 1:15-28). The implication being that God’s authority was swift, immediate, and universal. Christ’s authority is not like a bureaucracy of committees, where we need to wait until the regularly stated meeting to take up the business of motioning and seconding to take up this or that question at the next stated meeting. No. When Christ comes, it is as King, endowed with salvation, so as to overthrow the wicked and establish peace.
We’re at the point where a generation will be saturated in their sins (both real and imagined). But there’s no way to be saved, forgiven, atoned. You can’t grovel enough, no one is righteous enough, no one has enough intersectionality points to escape the coming mob. Sooner or later your tweets will be found out, your unorthodox opinion on some vital matter will be discovered, and the pitchforks will come for you. We are a generation laden with guilt and shame. But the black midnight of this generation’s soul, is just the sort of moment in which Jesus will come. His Holy Spirit will convict of true sin, reveal the righteous Judge who comes endowed by the Father with the power to save. Jesus is coming, and when He comes we shall be turned. The enemies will be driven from our midst and we shall be free.
Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem is a claim to be the Messiah, who would not only overthrow evil nations but would overthrow the evil which dwells in you, and then would establish His dominion upon every inch of this world. You must either receive Him as the Lord of all the earth, or reject Him. You must either throw wide the gates of faith to have Him rule in your heart, in your family, in your business, in your temptations; or you must close the doors. But the Gospel which the church has faithfully preached through her many windings, is this: Jesus is coming indeed (Ps. 50:3).