Holy Week — The Triumphal Entry: Jesus’ Deity Displayed on a Donkey

Imagine yourself amidst the bustling crowd that day, the air thick with anticipation and the earth beneath your feet trembling with the collective excitement of those gathered. The dusty streets of Jerusalem are alive. Palm branches sway like a verdant sea under the emerging warmth of the Passover sun. Voices swell with pleas for salvation – “Hosanna!” – and jubilantly proclaim its arrival. As hearts brim with hope, bodies press in, everyone vying for a glimpse of the long-awaited King. Yet, even in the midst of such fervor and festivities, little do those gathered there grasp that before their eyes, riding in on a donkey, sits God Himself, clothed in flesh and bone, entering His city not to claim an earthly throne, but to sacrificially fulfill a mission of divine love. For, unbeknownst to many that day, the donkey, as foretold in Zechariah 9:9, served not only as a symbol of kingship and peace but also as a testament to the Messiah’s divine nature.

As we read in Zechariah, 

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! 

Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you;

He is righteous and endowed with salvation,

Humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).[1]

Even today, this is a theme that rarely gets discussed, yet a close reading of Zechariah 9:9 within its literary context makes clear that the coming King, who would ride in on a donkey, would be none other than God Himself. 

The Coming of the LORD in Zechariah

The book of Zechariah is constructed around two literary units that roughly split the book into halves (chapters 1-8 and 9-14). Each section is bracketed near its beginning (2:10; 9:9) and end (8:3; 14:5) by a focus on the coming of the LORD.[2] This literary arrangement, established through parallel themes and the repetition of unique terminology, serves two purposes: first, it highlights the coming of the LORD as a central topic in the book; second, it encourages us to read and reflect on these passages in light of each other. This is particularly important when it comes to following how Zechariah presents the King in Zechariah 9:9 as God Himself. 

Therefore, let us examine how Zechariah clarifies the deity of this coming King by examining the passage in light of its literary parallels: the beginning of the first unit (2:8-12), the immediate context of its own chapter (chapter 9), and in relation to the concluding section of the second unit (chapter 14).

Parallels between Zechariah 2:8-12 and 9:9

Zechariah crafts parallels between 2:8-12 and chapter 9 (particularly between verses 2:10 and 9:9) to indicate that they refer to the same coming figure. This is significant, for in Zechariah 2:8-12, the figure is unmistakably identified as the LORD. This is our first contextual sign by Zechariah that the coming King in 9:9 is to be understood as the LORD. You can get a sense of this by comparing the texts below.

“‘Shout for joy and rejoice, daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the LORD” (Zechariah 2:10).

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

There is a lot of interesting material to explore on the divine figure in 2:8-12 and how He connects to 9:9. For a deeper dive, I invite you to read my more detailed analysis in the article, Parallels between Zechariah 2:8-12 and 9:9, where I expound upon these themes and outline their additional emphasis on the inclusion of the Gentiles. 

Along with parallel themes, the passages also feature a parallel literary device—what I call the “He-Me” pattern—which not only strengthens their connection but also sharpens our focus on their matching statements in Zechariah 2:10 and 9:9.[3] This device first appears in chapter 2, developing around a thrice-repeated proclamation by the LORD of armies about how He has been sent by the LORD of armies. Here, the one and only LORD refers to Himself as two distinct agents within the same event, unveiling an intriguing layer within the identity of the coming King. This is a fascinating topic, which you can explore further in my article, The ‘He-Me’ Pattern in Zechariah 2:8-12 and 9.

Parallels within Zechariah 9

The immediate context of Zechariah 9 further evidences that the “King” spoken of in Zechariah 9:9 is the LORD Himself. Let me point out two reasons for this. 

First, the chapter consistently presents God as the central figure, whether He is the one being described in the third person or the one addressing the audience in the first person (for clarification, words like “I” or “Me” depict the first person; “He” or “the LORD” represent the third person). Since this is true for the 16 verses surrounding 9:9, we should be slow to assume the shift to the third person in verse 9 suddenly introduces a new key figure. 

Second, these shifts from the first to third person are skillfully employed as a deliberate literary device – what I call the “He-Me” pattern, as briefly mentioned above – to organize and underscore the passage’s key theological themes. As we follow how God switches between the first and third person, we discover that His alternation in viewpoint serves to divide the passage into nine units that thematically parallel one another in chiastic arrangement. 

[For those who may not be familiar with this term, a “chiasm” is an ancient literary form commonly found in the Old Testament. It involves a series of themes or phrases being inversely mirrored around a central, often unparalleled, unit.  Chiasms generally serve two purposes: 1) they highlight key theological statements and themes, making the author’s desired message more explicit; and 2) they aid in memorizing larger sections of text.]

This switching between first and third person is not only incorporated with careful deliberation in chapter 9, but it is also utilized in Zechariah 2:8-12, as previously noted, to tie the passages together. As we examine these texts, we see Zechariah employing the pattern to focus our attention on his matching statements in 2:10 and 9:9, thereby connecting the coming King to the self-sent LORD of armies. All of this comes together to evidence that Zechariah’s rapid changing between the first and third person is neither random nor intended to introduce a new focal character. Instead, it is a deliberate literary pattern he uses to establish parallels and highlight themes central to his message.

Below is a condensed presentation of Chapter 9’s chiastic structure, as shaped by this literary technique. It includes a brief depiction of the parallel themes between the mirrored units and displays how the LORD is consistently presented as the central figure throughout the chapter. 

A1 – He (verses 1-6a)Judgment on nations, their fortresses destroyed, their gold and silver discarded as worthless“The LORD” (2x) and “the Lord”
B1 – I (verses 6b-7aa)Wicked bloodshed, violence, and the pride of Philistines removed by judgment or cleansingThe LORD is the 1st person speaker: “I will eliminate the pride of the Philistines”
C1 – He (verse 7aβ-7b)Inclusion of neighboring nations“our God”
D1 – I (verse 8)God’s protection over the temple, no more oppressorsThe LORD is 1st person speaker, calling the temple “My house”
E  –  He (verse 9)The coming King“your King”
D2 – I (verse 10aa)Entire land secure under God’s protection – weapons no longer neededThe LORD is the 1st person speaker: “I will eliminate the chariot … the horse … the bow of war”
C2 – He (verse10aβ-b)Inclusion of all nations“He will speak peace to the nations, and His dominion will be from sea to sea”
B2 – I (verses 11-13)God’s people restored from bondage and desolation by the cleansing blood of His Covenant and made into weapons for war.The LORD is the 1st person speaker: “the blood of My covenant” (see Exodus 24:8)
A2 He (verses 14-17)Salvation of God’s people, vulnerable flock protected, God’s people cherished as precious jewels in a crown“the LORD,” “the Lord GOD,” “LORD of armies,” “the LORD their God”

Although, chapter 9 may initially seem rather scrambled in its message (at least, it did to me), it begins to make sense when we reflect on the developed themes within their corresponding units. If you would like to examine this further, I walk through these parallels in a more detail in my article, “The Chiastic Parallels within Zechariah 9.”

Parallels with Zechariah 14

Chapter 9 also shows close parallels with chapter 14. I have outlined a number of them here if you would like to explore this further, but what is most pertinent to our current examination is how these chapters present an overlapping focus on the coming King who will reign over all the earth. In fact, these are the only chapters in the book that speak of a king for a purpose other than anchoring an event in time (e.g., “In the fourth year of King Darius,” 7:1) or foretelling of their oppression and demise (e.g., “the king will perish from Gaza,” 9:5). 

Below are the key passages from chapters 9 and 14 that foretell of a King who will have global dominion:

“Behold, your King is coming to you . . . And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth” (9:9-10).

“And the LORD will be King over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one” (14:9).

“Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of armies . . . to worship the King, the LORD of armies” (14:16-17; the focus on a transformed remnant is also found in 9:7).

What is most striking about chapter 14 is how it reinforces (and makes undeniably explicit) the identification of this King with the LORD of armies. This is a king who will be “worshiped” by all nations and forever reign as the “only one” – an odd phrase if the King in 9:9 was considered to be distinct from the King in chapter 14. 

When we read Zechariah 9:9 within its literary context, noting its parallels with 2:8-12 along with chapters 9 and 14, it becomes clear that the prophesied King is to be understood as the self-sent LORD of armies (2:8, 9, 11). 

Personal Reflection

So as we reflect back on Jesus’ triumphal entry this Easter season, may our hearts be filled with awe and wonder as we contemplate the significance and fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. As you go back and imagine yourself in the crowd that day, watching Jesus as He rides in, pause and let your heart feel the weight of the one before you. Here is God in the flesh, omnipotent and eternal, the one who spoke every star into being and knows every hair on your head. He comes as the long-awaited King, about to carry, like the beast of burden on which He sits, the weight of your sin. Yet, for the joy set before Him, He rides, choosing to endure the judgment you deserve, that He might bestow upon you a righteousness you failed to earn.  
In the days that follow, as you walk the path of Holy Week toward the brilliance of Easter morning, my prayer is that Jesus’ divine majesty will grip your heart with a joyful and trembling awe. May it be a reality that sinks deep into your bones, stirring you to “rejoice greatly” and “shout for joy” over the arrival of your King who came to speak peace to the nations and peace to your heart this Easter by purchasing you with His blood.

  1. Unless noted, quotations of Scripture are taken from the NASB. This quotation is an adaptation of the NASB and NIV. I don’t think the NASB’s arbitrary addition of the phrase “in triumph” (a phrase that is not present in the original Hebrew) is needed after the verb “shout” as it only distracts from the parallels Zechariah wants us to see. The NIV’s refrain from adding a descriptor here is preferred. I also followed the NIV’s indentation of poetic parallels and capitalized “King” due the arguments laid out in this article.
  2. The ‘LORD’ displayed in all capital letters depicts God’s personal, covenantal name – Yahweh in Hebrew. It is used of no one but God Himself and is to be distinguished from the general title, ‘Lord’ – Adonai in Hebrew – which n @can also be applied to earthly kings and masters.
  3. My recognition of this literary device and the overarching theme of this article was significantly informed by Gregory Goswell’s work in his insightful article, “A Theocratic Reading of Zechariah 9:9,” published in the Bulletin for Biblical Research 26.1 (2016), on pages 7-19.

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