As we pick up the narrative in Luke 19, Jesus and his disciples are traveling toward Jerusalem for his final Passover festival. The day of the week is Sunday and as Jesus and his party approach Bethany, a village just a couple of miles east of Jerusalem, Jesus sends two of his disciples into Bethany to get a young donkey. Jesus seems to have prearranged the borrowing of the colt with the owners.
The disciples bring the colt to Jesus and place garments on the colt to act as a saddle. Jesus sits on the colt and then his disciples spread additional cloaks on the ground for the donkey to walk on (see 2 Kings 9:13). The other Gospels mention that palm branches were spread out on the ground as well. David Garland, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book), notes:
Luke omits the reference to palm branches found in Matthew and Mark, probably because his Gentile audience would not have recognized these as symbols of Jewish nationalism. Palm branches, praise, hymns, and songs are associated with the entrance of Simon Maccabeus into Jerusalem after his victory over the Syrians.
As they descend the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (see Psalm 118:26)! Since there are likely over one hundred disciples traveling with Jesus, they are making quite a ruckus. Some Pharisees who are on the same road into Jerusalem command Jesus to quiet his disciples, but he refuses to do so and says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
What is the meaning behind Jesus riding on a donkey and receiving shouts of praise from his disciples? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, explains:
They praised God for all the mighty works that they had seen, i.e. those miraculous deeds that Jesus had done throughout his ministry which showed so plainly that he had come from God. Luke nowhere explains the enthusiasm, but Matthew and John both quote the prophecy that Zion’s king would come on an ass’s colt (Zech. 9:9). There can be no doubt but that the multitude saw Jesus’ entry to the city in the light of this prophecy and greeted him as king.
Now a king on an ass was distinctive. The ass was the mount of a man of peace, a merchant or a priest. A king might ride on an ass on occasion, but he would be more likely to appear on a mighty warhorse. Zechariah’s prophecy saw Messiah as the Prince of peace. The Galilean disciples, now streaming up to Jerusalem for the Passover, knew that Jesus had done many mighty works. They had for a long time watched and waited for him to proclaim himself as the Messiah of their hopes. Now they saw him as doing so. He was riding into the capital in a way that fulfilled the prophecy. He was showing himself to be the Messiah. They did not stop to reflect that he was also proclaiming himself a man of peace and giving no countenance to their nationalistic fervour. They wanted a Messiah. And now they saw one.
Regarding Jesus saying the very stones would cry out, Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, writes:
The most likely [interpretation of the verse] is, ‘If the disciples would stop their praising of God and his Son, then the stones would take their place and cry out praise in their stead.’ Nothing can detract from this day. There may be an allusion here to Hab 2:11. Whereas earlier Jesus had given a command to silence, this day there was no silencing the welcoming of the Son of David, Israel’s King.
As Jesus approaches the city, he pauses and weeps. In verses 42-44, Jesus prophesies that the city of Jerusalem will be surrounded by an enemy army and besieged. Eventually the army will break through the walls and destroy the city and everyone inside it. This would all happen because Jerusalem rejected her Messiah, Jesus. Leon Morris remarks,
The Jerusalemites did not know the things that make for peace. There is irony here for the name ‘Jerusalem’ has ‘peace’ as part of its meaning (cf. Heb. 7:2). But those in the city of peace did not know what made for peace! Especially important in the Hebrew understanding of peace (which carries over into the New Testament) is its emphasis on peace with God, right relationship between the creature and the Creator, as a necessary ingredient in true peace. It was this that the people of Jerusalem had failed to realize. And their failure to get to grips with the message of God was now final. These things, Jesus says, are hid from your eyes.
Roughly forty years later, the Roman army besieged and destroyed Jerusalem in the war of AD 66–70. David Garland cites the Jewish historian, Josephus, as he describes the details of the war:
Josephus portrays in great detail the terrible and gruesome suffering of the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the three-year siege of the city. Many died by a terrible famine. Others were killed by desperate bandits within the city. Thousands were slaughtered by the Romans when they breached the walls. Josephus claims that eleven hundred thousand perished during the siege and ninety-seven thousand were taken captive. Though the number is almost certainly grossly exaggerated (it may have been between one-quarter and one-half million), these numbers reveal the horrible sufferings the city will experience.
When Jesus finally enters Jerusalem, he goes to the temple complex and drives out those buying and selling merchandise in the Court of Gentiles. Morris explains:
Jesus found traders in the temple. Some were changing money (only Tyrian coinage was accepted for the temple offerings, and other coins had to be changed into this currency); others were selling sacrificial animals. They were apparently plying their trade in the court of the Gentiles, the only place in the temple where a non-Jew could go to pray and to meditate. If the temple system was to carry on it was necessary that such facilities be provided. But it was not necessary that they should be in the temple precincts, and it is this to which Jesus took exception. He began to drive out those who sold. Luke does not mention those who bought nor the money-changers, but Matthew and Mark tell us that he dealt with them as well. Jesus upbraided the traders by pointing out the difference between their dishonesty (cf. Jer. 7:11) and the true nature of the temple as a house of prayer (cf. Isa. 56:7).
Jesus appears at the temple complex, during the next few days, to teach. Although the ruling Jewish authorities want him arrested and executed, his popularity prevents them from seizing him in public. They will have to find another way.