DID JESUS RIDE TWO ANIMALS ON PALM SUNDAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Holy Bible foretold in Zechariah 9:9: “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.” Of course, this was fulfilled 500 years later, when the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday just a few days before His crucifixion.
Matthew chapter 21: “ And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,  Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.  And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.  All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,  Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.  And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,  And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.  And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.  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.”
While Mark (11:1-11), Luke (19:28-38), and John (12:12-16) report this occasion, the Holy Spirit led only Matthew (21:2-3,7) to mention the mother donkey. The other three Gospel Records speak of just the baby donkey (cf. Mark 11:2-5,7; Luke 19:30-31,33,35; John 12:14). Refer back to Matthew 21:5: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” Here is the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of Zechariah’s prophecy, thus explaining the differences in wording. (Zechariah 9:9: “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.”)
One so-called “Bible scholar” struggled with and therefore voiced his disapproval of the King James’ wording of Matthew 21:5. (Recall 1 Corinthians 1–3, wherein “scholarship” and “natural man thinking” are condemned, for God’s wisdom is always foolishness to “wise” man, and man’s “wisdom” is always foolishness to God.) To the textual critic, the expression in Matthew 21:5 was misleading, for it suggested Jesus sat on and rode two animals:“sitting upon [#1] an ass, and [#2] a colt the foal of an ass.” However, the dear brother need only look at other verses to clear up his confusion (and we would do well to study them too!). Jesus rode one animal, the baby donkey:
- “And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him” (Mark 11:7).
- “And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon” (Luke 19:35).
- “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).
Remember, however, Matthew features the baby donkey and its mother: apparently, the mother leads the way and her baby follows. Matthew’s wording of the Zechariah quote reflects the presence of both animals. Read Matthew 21:5 again:“Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” If we expand Matthew’s verse by adding bracketed comments, the result is: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass [baby donkey], and a colt [baby donkey] the foal [baby donkey] of an ass [mother donkey].” Again, Jesus is riding one animal (the baby donkey). The baby donkey has three titles (“ass… colt… foal”), the third appellation linking it to its mother (the final “ass”).
By the way, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, a “colt” is “a young, uncastrated male horse, in particular one less than four years old.” A “foal” is “a young horse or related animal.” Donkeys and horses belong to the same family, Equidae, so they can loosely share descriptive terms. Furthermore, “colt” may be related to the Swedish word “kult,” used to refer to boys or half-grown animals. Whether “ass,” “colt,” or foal,” all three are perfectly acceptable translations of the Greek nouns used to describe the one beast the Lord Jesus rode.
Someone would complain (and, as we have seen, has already grumbled), “Matthew should have simply written ‘sitting upon an ass,’ insinuating one animal! He should not have put ‘sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass!’ That sounds like Jesus is riding two beasts!” Again, the whiner need only do research (as we have done here)—but it is far too tempting and easier to carp instead of think! The explicative “and a colt the foal of an ass” provides extra information that loops back to the mother donkey featured in Matthew. Unlike the limited view presented in Mark, Luke, and John; Matthew (“sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass”) is highlighting the full scope of the Zechariah prophecy (“riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass”)! If Matthew is in error, then we must find fault with Zechariah as well.
Perhaps a simple illustration will suffice as a conclusion. Consider this statement: “The woman is married to her husband and best friend.” Is she joined to one man or two? No one—using common sense anyway!—would be confused here. It is one man viewed from two aspects. He is both her husband and her best friend. Likewise, we have Jesus sitting on an ass (baby donkey), the baby donkey also being a colt as well as a foal, and the baby donkey belongs to its mother (another ass present). Neither Matthew nor Zechariah have a problem. The difficulty is that sinful, “scholarly” man is like a donkey, refusing to submit to a Book, God’s Book, for man “always knows better than God!”
Why does the Scripture feature a donkey here at all? “For vain men would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:12). Do you notice how the language echoes the words of Zechariah and Matthew? This is not by coincidence but by design. A donkey—noteworthy for its stubbornness—is the perfect symbol for sinful man. One reason why the Lord Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem was to demonstrate to Israel He could free her from bondage to the Law (loose the ass!) and make her submit to Him (He will ride her tamely into Jerusalem, His capital city, and she will enjoy subsequent Millennial blessings!).
“And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:9-10).
» How could Israel welcome Messiah on Palm Sunday but then demand His death later that week?
» Why did Jesus offer Himself to Israel if He knew they would reject Him?
» How could Jesus eat the Passover if He were already dead?