As I was privileged to teach in Ethiopia I observed the numerous and common beasts of burden, the donkeys. The Lord of the universe rode such a beast of burden into Jerusalem on that Sunday before His crucifixion.
Zechariah, often called the prophet of Holy Week, was inspired to predict: 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. (Zech. 9:9b) Among the Jewish teachers this was quite a familiar prophecy, so that “with singular unanimity the Talmud and the ancient Rabbinic authorities have applied this prophecy to the Christ.” (Life & Times, Edersheim, V, p. 370). The humble Christ, as predicted, would ride a donkey.
Likely conscious of this prophecy, Jesus appropriated a donkey for His climactic entrance into David’s royal city. Paralleling Christ’s royal entrance, some have pointed out that King David rode a royal mule, and that Solomon was identified as David’s successor as he too rode David’s mule (1 Kings 1:33-38). Thus Jesus, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, sat upon His “royal” donkey [considered inferior to a mule, but related], and in His procession the people correctly identified Jesus with the Christological title, Son of David.
For the Jewish people God had established a strange regulation for donkeys. Whereas the male firstborn of livestock was to be sacrificed, the male firstborn of a donkey was to be redeemed by a sacrificed lamb (Ex. 13:13). Donkeys were domesticated and useful but a first-born donkey colt was not sacrificed like first-born male livestock because it was an unclean animal and thus was prohibited from being sacrificed. The “dedication” of all first born males was done to sanctify all offspring issuing from that womb as well. The redemption of a fist-born male sanctified all its siblings. Jesus thus rode a sanctified animal, and very possibly this “colt” upon which He sat was that very first born male donkey that had been redeemed by a lamb. All was made holy for the procession of the Holy One of Israel.
In Jewish thinking there was a strong correlation between a donkey and the salvation to be wrought by the Messiah. “There are many traditions about this ass on which the Messiah is to ride.” (L & T, Appendix IX, 736). In relation to Daniel 7:13 the Talmud explained “that, if Israel behaved worthily, the Messiah would come in the clouds of heaven; if otherwise, humble, and riding upon an ass.” (p. 734). Additionally: “If anyone saw an ass in his dreams, he will see salvation.” (p. 736). Such was the Jewish anticipation of the Messiah upon a donkey.
Finally, return to the lowliness of the donkey. Christ does not ride a white stallion, nor does he even ride a royal mule; He rides a lowly beast of burden. How appropriate that the One who would bear our burdens relates to the common beast of burden, the donkey. The donkey bore the Christ, and the Christ rides into Jerusalem to finalize His kingly mission by bearing our misery, our sins, our sicknesses, our death, and our temptations on the cross. His thorny crown would identify Him as the bearer of creation’s heavy curse, which curse was magnified even further as He hung heavily upon the cursed tree. This Lord of lords did this so that we would be blessed as all of our burdens have been removed in Him, and as He, the lamb, was sacrificed to redeem all of us unclean beasts of burden.