In Mark 12, shortly after teaching on marriage and the importance of loving God with your whole life, Jesus observes a poor widow giving an offering to the treasury. He comments, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, *her whole livelihood*” (vv. 43, 44).
That phrase “her whole livelihood” is lifted from two passages in the Hebrew Scriptures—both authored by Solomon, the wealthiest Israelite.
“The heart of her husband trusts in her… for she employs *all her living* for her husband’s good” (Proverbs 31:11, 12).
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love *all the substance* of his house, it would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
Solomon had all the money in the world; but his heart was in the wrong place, so ultimately he had nothing. The poor widow had nothing; but her heart was in the right place, so ultimately she had everything. She was effectively Solomon’s (and Jesus’) perfect woman: someone who, out of overwhelming love, gives everything she has to the bridegroom.
“The LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God With all your heart, With all your soul, With all your mind, And with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29, 30)
The night Jesus was betrayed, Judas led a band of men to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. As the Son of Man was surrounded by soldiers, priests, and Pharisees, Peter charged the captors and struck the high priest’s servant in the head with his sword.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, Jesus and His disciples weren’t surrounded by a small group of religious men. John’s gospel tells us Judas brought “a detachment of troops.” A detachment, for those not familiar with the Roman military, was one-tenth of a legion—a legion being five thousand men. In other words, Jesus was waylaid by about 500 trained Roman soldiers—as well as a group of priests and Pharisees.
So… you have 500 armed soldiers from the world’s most power army on one side… and eleven day laborers with two swords who just woke up from a nap. What was Peter thinking?
To make sense of this, you need to understand the prophecies of Zechariah. In the final chapter of his book, Zechariah foretold of a day when God’s people would be surrounded by enemy nations bent on destroying the Jews (Zechariah 14:2). On that day, the LORD Himself would go forth against the nations to fight on behalf of His people. And His attack would start when the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives (v. 4).
As the Messiah stood upon the Mount of Olives, surrounded by enemy nations, a great earthquake (seismos)—greater than the earthquake in the days of Uzziah—would strike, splitting (schizo) the mountain in two. Uzziah’s earthquake, of course, had occurred when the priests tried to stop the king from making a sacrifice in the temple, causing the roof of the temple to split in two (2 Chronicles 26, Antiquities IX, 10.4). Then the LORD would enter Jerusalem with the saints (hagios) (v. 5).
Next, the lights would be diminished in the middle of the day and living water (hydor) would flow from Jerusalem. Then the faces of God’s enemies would melt (think Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the LORD would be declared King over all the earth (v. 9, 12).
This prophecy may seem obscure to you, but to a persecuted first-century Jew living under Roman occupation, this would have been well-known and oft-discussed. Now consider what the disciples would have thought. They have been traveling with the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, for over three years. Jesus has been constantly talking about finishing His work, and then they head to Jerusalem during the Passover. No wonder His disciples offered to call down fire on those pagan Samaritans a few days earlier (Luke 9:54). This was the end! The time for all of their enemies to be destroyed.
Every night that week they retired to the Mount of Olives. And every night the disciples waited for Jesus to begin His holy war on God’s enemies. And finally, after days and weeks and years and centuries of waiting, five hundred Roman soldiers and a pod of imposter priests launched their attack. On the Mount of Olives, of all places. And Jesus stood to His feet.
Now was the time.
Peter charged, expecting Jesus to begin shooting lasers out of His eyes and melting all these evil men in their armor.
But Jesus’ attack never came. Instead, He reprimanded Peter and surrendered to the troops, to be taken away, tortured, and murdered on a cross.
Where was the victory of the Messiah? Where was the earthquake? The splitting of the mountain? The darkness and the flowing water and the saints? Where was the King over all the earth?
Maybe the disciples were wrong about Jesus. Maybe He wasn’t their Messiah.
But as He hung on the cross, darkness swept across the land. At noon. In the middle of the day (Matthew 27:45). Then as He took His last breath, the earth quaked (seismos), splitting the rocks apart (schizo) and tearing (schizo) the veil of the temple from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51).
After He died, Jesus was pierced by a soldier, and living water (hydor) flowed from His side (John 19:34). Then the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints (hagios) were raised and entered the holy city (Matthew 27:52-53).
Peter and the disciples were expecting the Messiah to attack their enemies as He stood upon the Mount of Olives. And they were right. They just expected it to happen the wrong way. They expected Jesus to wipe out all the Romans. But the Romans weren’t their true enemy. The real enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Just as Zechariah had prophesied, the rocks were split in two. The priests tried to stop the King, but instead the veil was torn apart. The lights were diminished. The living water flowed. The saints entered Jerusalem. Death was defeated. And Jesus became the King over all the earth.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? …Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)
As Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem the week before His death, He told His disciples to bring Him a donkey and a colt to ride upon. And as He entered the Holy City, the people cried out “Hosanna!” and called Jesus “the Son of David.” What was it about those donkeys that caused the crowds to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who had come to deliver them from their Roman occupiers?
Matthew tells us that Jesus made this request “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, …’Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4, 5)
That seems pretty straightforward. Some prophet said something about a colt and a donkey, so Jesus rode those animals to satisfy this prophecy. But there’s more to the story.
The prophet in question is Zechariah, who proclaimed these words in the winter of 518 BC, two years and two months before the second temple was completed. This donkey prophecy comes shortly after God rebukes the nations of Tyre and Sidon, and soon after Zechariah adds that “He shall speak peace to the nations,” “set your prisoners free from the waterless pit,” and “restore double to you” (vv. 11-12).
To fully understand what these prophecies meant—and how they were understood by first-century Jews—we need to consider if these phrases appear anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, they all show up in only two places in scripture.
Joseph in Egypt
All the way back in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, the eleventh and favored son of Jacob. Joseph has received prophetic dreams that he will reign and have dominion over his brothers. His brothers’ response?
“They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Genesis 37:4)
Some time later, Joseph’s brothers find him out in the desert and decide to throw him into a waterless pit (Genesis 37:24)—a phrase that only appears in scripture here, in Zechariah 9, and one other place. Shortly thereafter, Joseph is taken as a slave to Egypt.
After spending years in slavery and prison, Joseph is eventually freed, becomes a leader in Egypt, and is given the Egyptian title, “Savior of the World” (Genesis 41). His brothers eventually travel to Egypt in search of food and, when framed for stealing, attempt to restore double to Joseph (Genesis 43:12).
Jeremiah in Egypt
Other than Joseph, Jeremiah is in the only other person in scripture who spends time in a waterless pit:
“They took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon (Hebrew bor, same word translated “pit” in Genesis 37 and Zechariah 9) of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon (bor) there was no water, but mire.” (Jeremiah 38:6)
After being thrown in the pit by his countrymen, Jeremiah is forced into exile in Egypt, where he lives out the rest of his life.
And Jeremiah also used the other two phrases as well. In Jeremiah 16, God declares that He “will repay double for their iniquity and sin” (v. 18); and in Jeremiah 23, God criticizes the false prophets who have falsely claimed that the LORD has spoken peace (v. 17). Once again, all three phrases that appeared in Zechariah 9 and the story of Joseph also appear in Jeremiah.
But maybe you’re not as impressed with the supposed pattern of Jeremiah. His book is 52 chapters long, after all. Is it really a pattern to find three sentences in chapters 16, 23, and 38 of a book? Is there anything else that ties them together?
And as it turns out, there is. Chapters 16 and 23 both contain a matching prophecy, a prophecy not found anywhere else in Jeremiah:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “As the LORD lives who brought up and led the seed of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.”’” (Jeremiah 16:14-15, 23:7-8)
Just as these prophetic utterances in the story of Joseph all revolved around exile and delivery from Egypt, so too do these prophetic utterances in the story of Jeremiah all revolve around exile and delivery in Egypt. To the average Jewish reader, the words of Zechariah 9 would call them back to the story of Joseph in Egypt, and to the astute Jewish reader they would call to mind Jeremiah’s words concerning Egypt.
But what did those words mean, and how were they fulfilled as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey?
You and Me in Egypt
Joseph and Jeremiah weren’t the only ones who ended up exiled in Egypt. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers—jealous that Joseph was their prophesied ruler—and a few years later his brothers had relocated to Egypt as well, where they ended up spending 400 years in slavery. Jeremiah was also forcefully taken to Egypt by his countrymen—led by a military rebel angry with Jeremiah’s prophecy—and soon after his Jewish captors were exiled in Egypt as well. The captors of Joseph and Jeremiah ended up suffering the same fate.
And just over 500 years after Zechariah’s prophecy, the true King of the Jews was also forced into exile in Egypt by His own people—an imposter king and his Jewish advisers who were troubled by the prophetic fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah.
But this wasn’t the only exile Jesus faced. Before heading for Jerusalem (in a chapter filled with references to the Book of Exodus), Moses and Elijah (two prophets associated with Mount Sinai) visited Jesus and “spoke of his ἔξοδον which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They spoke of His exodus. They spoke of His exile. They spoke of His prison sentence in a waterless pit.
And who were His brethren who sold Him out? Who were the ones responsible for His spiritual exile into Egypt?
You and me.
We are the ones who threw him in the pit. We are the ones who despised the prophesied King and Messiah. We are the ones who wouldn’t speak peace to the Prince of Peace.
And yet, just as Joseph rose out of the pit and became the savior of the world, so too did Jesus rise from the pit and become the Savior of the World. On the anniversary of the deliverance of God’s people from geographical Egypt, Jesus the Messiah delivered us from spiritual Egypt—in a magnificent way that overshadowed the deliverance through the Red Sea, just as Jeremiah predicted.
When the crowds saw Jesus riding upon that donkey, they didn’t just see a fulfillment of Zechariah 9; they saw freedom from slavery. They saw a return from exile. The saw the crossing of a bigger Red Sea. It’s no wonder they cried out “Hosanna”: “Save now, I pray, O LORD!” (Psalm 118:25).
And rather than having our sins repaid to us double what we had committed, instead we are restored double (Zechariah 9:12). Instead of being unable to speak peace and fearing revenge, He Himself has become our peace, He who came and preached peace to His own kin and to the nations (Ephesians 2:14-17).
So this week, as we prepare to celebrate the Passover of our Lamb…
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)