Mark 11:1-11 – Understanding Bethphage, a donkey colt, and palm branches

Updated: Mar 26

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When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”


Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


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This is the outdoor [usually] reading selection [considered Track 1] for Palm Sunday [also called Passion Sunday], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. This is the only time in the lectionary cycle that this selection will be read aloud. As a reading where the congregation gathers outside the nave, this is considered to be the Liturgy of the Palms.


It marks the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding a donkey colt, arriving for his final Passover. Because this outside reading is partnered with the usual indoor readings [Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel], with the Gospel reading being a quite lengthy reading from Mark’s Gospel [either his chapters 14 & 15, or just chapter 15], so much will be presented of Scripture to the congregation, nothing of merit will be preached. With the Episcopal Church the organization that appreciates short sermons, most priests will simply say little more than, "I'll let the emotion speak for itself."


This attitude [biting off much more than one is willing to chew on … in 15 minutes] makes the theatrics of Palm Sunday become a major attraction for church members who rarely attend other services during the church year [Easter and Christmas being other times when people flood into the churches]. Perhaps, the lack of a sermon makes it easier for some to sit through this service. Therefore, for those who seriously seek education and guidance from a church, I feel it becomes important to understand what is divinely stated in this reading; otherwise, people will blindly believe that God wants dried palm branches to symbolize His Son in the flesh.


Because this reading is never deeply discussed, I myself have just now [as I prepared to write this] realized that the place named “Bethphage” is only listed three times in all the Holy Bible (according to Strong’s). The three are all relative to the same story told here in Mark 11, found in Matthew 21, and in Luke 19. In addition to that, when looking up a map to depict the locations of this reading and the others (done previously), I had seen notations that the place known as Bethphage was not clearly known. The map noted Bethphage as “possible site.” Now, as I look things up, I am led to have a better understanding of what is written.

I added some insight to the map I found.


The word “Bethphage” is actually two words in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, which mean “House of Unripe figs” [“Bēth Paggē”]. (Wikipedia) This says to me now that “Bethphage” was not a town by that name, but a “house” that was located in Bethany. It was there that fruitful fig trees were numerous, possible even a fig farm, so to speak.


One of the things I have been led to realize about divine Scripture is it is perfection and cannot be changed by human brains. This means the order of the words is essential to read as ways to find deeper insight. In the order found here in Mark 11: Jerusalem is listed first, as the place the group would go to, for the Passover; Then, Jesus drew near to Bethphage; and third, The place Bethany is named. This order is telling a story that leaps over time and is not simply one instance.


With three Gospels telling of Bethphage, John’s Gospel is the only one not making this mention. In two of the three Gospels (Matthew and Mark), this story begins the chapter that follows that which tells of Jesus having stayed the night in Jericho, healing blind beggars. In Luke’s Gospel the same order exists, with chapter 19 beginning with Jesus meeting Zacchaeus in Jericho and then, while staying at his house overnight, Jesus told the parable of the ten minas. After that, Luke wrote of the triumphal entrance.


John, on the other hand tells of Jesus having been told of Lazarus’ illness, while he was on the other side of the Jordan, where he waited two days before going to Jericho, then spending the night there. John is the only Gospel writer who tells of Jesus going to Bethany and healing Lazarus, after he had been dead four days. John tells of the triumphal entrance [the Track 2 choice, instead of this reading from Mark 11], but begins his twelfth chapter telling: “six days before the Passover, came Jesus to Bethany,” where his feet were anointed by Mary Magdalene. John then wrote of a plot to kill Lazarus, before he wrote of the entrance into Jerusalem. All of this order adds depth to the whole of four Gospels, when they are dovetailed together as one history.


The Greek text of Mark 11 begins with this order of wording:


Kai hote engizousin eis Hierosolyma , eis Bēthphagē kai Bēthanian ,


In this, there are two segments of words, denoted by the presence of one comma mark. Beginning the first segment is the capitalized word “Kai,” which denotes major importance is made in the following words. That shines importance on the statement that says, “when they drew near to Jerusalem.” In that, the third person plural [“they”] refers to the whole group of disciples and followers of Jesus, all having come from the other side of the Jordan.


Following that important statement is then a comma mark that pauses that approach to Jerusalem, such that they had neared as far as “Bethphage.” This says Bethphage is a place of rest, before actually going into Jerusalem. It is here that another “kai” is found [lower-case], which then makes the important announcement that clarifies “Bethphage” as being in “Bethany,” as a “House” [“Beth”] there, known for its figs.


The importance of Bethany (from "kai") can then be seen as where Jesus stayed without his disciples. The segment of words that say, “into Bethphage and Bethany” says “they” [the third person plural of the group from the other side of the Jordan] divided up, “into” two separate places, with both (importantly from "kai") being in Bethany. The use of “kai” then speaks as a divine indication that Jesus stayed in Bethany at the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, while the other disciples and followers stayed on the fig orchard on another side of town.


This not only explains how no one but John wrote about the most remarkable miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from death, but it also adds a clue that is relative to the Passover timing. While the news of Lazarus having died and been raised by Jesus certainly would have reached the group staying at the fig farm, God did not have anyone but John recall this miracle, because he was the only eyewitness to that event. As the only eyewitness to that astounding miracle says two things: 1.) Jesus’ disciples did not go with him to Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had a home; and, 2.) John was not a disciple of Jesus and had not been with Jesus on the other side of the Jordan, instead living with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.


As far as Bethphage being a word that states importantly (through capitalization) “House of Unripe Figs,” that name for a place would become perfect symbolism for all the followers of Jesus, who at that point in time were the fruit of his vine, who were still in need of maturing to turn into good fruit. This name then says the group separated from Jesus and stayed at a place known for unripe fruit, which was metaphor for their spiritual state of being at that time.


This then also becomes an important statement (due to capitalization) that Bethphage was known for delivering to the Temple the first fruits of figs for the Passover, an omer amount [dry weight] picked in an unripe state. This gathering of unripe fruit would then sit in the Temple, along with other first fruits [including grains], which would be blessed on Shavuot, after a counting of fifty days [the meaning of Pentecost]. The first day of that counting takes place on the second day of the Passover festival [16 Nisan]. This symbolism says the disciples and other followers were the first fruits of Jesus, who would be delivered to the temple as unripe figs with his arrest, who would ripen as Apostles on Pentecost Sunday.


In the map that I have modified, one can see the Jericho road as tracking from Bethany due west, until it reaches the Mount of Olives and then tracks north. The place though to be a possible location of Bethphage is then not the House of Unripe Figs, but the “village” Jesus sent two disciples to, so they could get a donkey colt tied up. By sending two disciples there, this says Jesus and the rest of his group went a different route. The only possible place for a village to be [with only two roads out of town] is then the one mistakenly thought to be Bethphage. That acts to confirm this theory, in my mind.


When Jesus told two of his disciples to go and untie a donkey colt that has never before been ridden, one can assume [just as when he told them to go prepare an upper room] that Jesus had a larger network of associates than just his disciples, followers and family. I believe Jesus was an Essene and other Essenes in and around Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee knew Jesus and discretely communicated with him, through messenger or by Jesus meeting with them, with nothing ever recorded and placed in a divine text of those meetings. As such [just like with an available upstairs room], Jesus and others were aware of what was soon to happen and prepared for that event, just as Jesus told them to be prepared.


In the written word of Mark, Jesus prepared his disciples to say, if asked why they were taking a donkey colt, the words “Hoti Ho Kyrios autou chreian echei,” or “Because This Lord has need of it.” While the voice of the spoken word does not denote capitalization by sound, “Because This Lord” is written as important via capitalization. The capitalization in text then explains how those words were designated signal words of preparation. It means Jesus told them precisely what to say if asked why they were taking a colt they did not own; so, “Because This Lord” becomes secret code that allows acceptance of what was taking place.


It says, with the capitalization of “Ho” (typically the article “the”), Jesus instructed them to say slowly, “Because … This … Lord,” where emphasis is placed on themselves (“This”) being “the Lord” in body, and in need of the colt, which would be returned. This becomes comparable to Jesus sending his disciples out into ministry [internship] with specific words to say ["Peace to this house" or "Has come near the kingdom of God"]. This means the two disciples spoke as “This Lord,” not just some stranger walking up.


By seeing how the map shows two routes merging at Gethsemane that would be the prearranged meet up point. That would be where the two disciples with a donkey colt joined to become one whole group again. This becomes symbolism that the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem as a prophesied savior would begin at the same place that Jesus would be returned to Jerusalem as the sacrificial lamb that would become the truth of the savior prophesied. Jesus had prepared to enter Jerusalem just as the prophet Zechariah had foretold:


“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)


By riding on a donkey colt that had never been ridden before, Jesus was demonstrating how weak the rulers of Jerusalem were. They had no power over the Romans, just as the Judah of Zechariah had no way to defeat the Babylonians, who could not defeat the Persians. It means Jesus riding upon a donkey colt, parading before the leaders who overlooked from the Temple of Jerusalem, Jesus mimicked the weakness of the leaders of the Jews [those in the flesh]. As a dismal display of weakness, Jesus (in the flesh) was riding a donkey colt with no battle experience, with him wearing no armor. Still, the gall of doing that meant Jesus was more powerful than anything the Temple rulers could ever be.


This then fulfils the insult of Zechariah, who was divinely inspired to write:


“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” (Zechariah 9:10-11)


That says the rulers of Jerusalem were justified to rule only by being blood relations to Yahweh’s ex-wife Israel. Following divorce from Yahweh [and subsequent losses of their lands], Jerusalem had become a cistern without any waters of emotion for Yahweh, as seen in the returning Jews fighting over control of a city and people related by blood. The Jews had become “prisoners of hope,” which was the prophecy of a coming Messiah. The hope was a warrior prince with magical abilities. However, that hope was dashed when the prophesied Messiah was said to be fulfilled by a single man riding a young donkey colt, without armor, nothing like the images their hopes relied upon.


The promise to “restore to you double” becomes metaphor for a double share of spirit [Elisha asking Elijah], where the king would be Yahweh, married to the souls of the hopeful. That tells the truth about the Messiah. He was prophesied to come in the frailty that is human flesh, while also being a prophecy that the Messiah can only return in the frailty of your human flesh [individually], after God marries one’s soul. The return will not be a one-to-one exchange [a lost David for a new David-like king] but a one-for-many exchange [one temple of stone for many temples of flesh].


To get the full scope of this picture of Jesus sitting atop a small donkey colt, never before forced to hold up the weight of an adult human male, Jesus is probably riding side-saddle too (so to speak), because he is wearing the robes of a rabbi (kinda like wearing a dress). That effeminate appearance is clearly designed to display the insult intended by Yahweh speaking through his prophet Zechariah, fully known by Jesus. Additionally, Jerusalem was filled with early-arriving Jews, so there were many outside the walls of Jerusalem, along the road overlooking the Kidron Valley. They would have all be educated to memorize Zechariah’s song, so they all burst out laughing at this miserable sight coming before their eyes. None of them [for the most part] had a clue who Jesus was; but one look at him meant sarcastic humor was readily being mimicked in real life, as if Don Quixote would suddenly appear to those having read Man of La Mancha.


While every Jew in Jerusalem that saw that scene knew the meaning of that prophecy, all had mostly given up hope of a Messiah ever truly coming to free them from their prison of emotionless Judaism, much less the domination of one world power after another who had taken over the land once known as Israel. The zealots of Judaism’s frustration created attempts that always ended up being paper warriors pretending to fight for Israel’s land back. All those "Messiahs" only found themselves charging figments of their imagination. All were as disgraced as was this image of Jesus on a small animal that was placed before them. Therefore, as a joke they began singing praises for their new king having finally arrived, after such a long wait.


This is where the symbolism of branches placed upon the road must be understood properly. They were laid before the donkey colt’s path, with Jesus also being fanned by them, like he was indeed a king. He was shaded by them, so he would not get too hot in the sun. All this mockery is missed by modern Christians, those never taught one iota about Judaism.


Where Mark wrote, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields,” Matthew wrote, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Luke wrote, “As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road,” with John writing, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him.” All are saying the same thing, with three telling of the symbolic act of spreading a cloak before a rider on a horse, and three telling about branches cut from [most likely] date palm trees. Christians ignore the element of cloaks [a statement of laziness] and place great value on dead palms [this this reading is called “The Liturgy of the Palms”].


The element of cloaks, spread both on a donkey colt and then the ground before the donkey colt, has to be seen as symbolic of one saying, “I do not want you to get dirty." In the case of Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak over a mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth I [a myth], it was to keep her royal clothing from becoming soiled [as well as her tootsies in royal shoes]. The same prevention would be to keep Jesus from getting animal hairs or parasites on the beast from getting on him. As for cloaks and branches on the road, those would be to keep the animal from creating a cloud of dust that would dirty Jesus’ feet and robe. Thus, cloaks (and palm leaves to some extent) would keep a king from becoming dirtied, like were the common people. Certainly, none of them saw Jesus as a true king, so the cloaks placed in the dirt were already dirty from a pilgrim having travelled in dust for a day or more.


The symbolism that must be seen from both cloaks and palm branches being used is this: It keep Jesus from coming in contact with the earth. That says the Jewish pilgrims believed their Messiah, promised to them by Yahweh [supposedly their God], would be so holy that he should never be seen as human. Just as Caesar had told everyone he was a god and should be worshipped as such, the Jews were expecting the same kind of deity in a physical body. Simply from that point of view, a palm branch had the same effect as being a way to shield the common people from the glory of God on earth, becoming like the Israelites demanding Moses wear a veil to cover his glowing face, after having met with Yahweh.


A palm branch becomes akin to some form of a fan used by fan dancers, where the nudity of a deity must never be seen, only glimpsed from time to time. That symbolism becomes an admission that says, “Great! Our Messiah has come! Now, I can go back to doing what I was doing before, without worrying any more because our Messiah will do everything for us.” Many a Christian today has this attitude, and many a Christian leader has promoted that lackadaisical view that says, "All I have to do is say I believe. So what if I have never seen anything but palm branches. As long as I think Jesus is behind them, everything is going to be okay."


As easy as it might be to see that symbolism, the deeper symbolism of Mark writing, “others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields” speaks of dead branches. Here, the Greek text actually states, “stibadas kopsantes ek tōn agrōn,” or “branches having been cut down from the fields.” This does not state that the Jewish pilgrim carried knives with them for the purpose of pruning trees. It says the farmers who owned the trees had done the cutting, with dead branches piled along the side of the road as trash, to be burned. The reason the branches would be cut from the field is as Jesus had said: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” By realizing this, the use of palm branches to set on the path of Jesus says, “Wherever you are going, I am like a dead branch for your mighty donkey colt to walk over, because I certainly will be of no other use to you.”


Finally, skipping past the adulations of the Jewish expectations for a Saint of God [“Blessed in the name of the Lord”], a Saint in the line of David [“Blessed king like David”], the last verse begins by saying, “Kai he entered into Jerusalem , into the temple”.


Jesus entered Jerusalem through the gate of the lower city, the City of David, which had a long series of steps that led up Mount Zion, to the Temple atop Mount Moriah. Jesus entering the City of David would be symbolic that he indeed was of the lineage of David, also born in Bethlehem (although few realized that truth). That is the importance of the capitalized “Kai.” His going into the temple was not just to see if anyone wanted to pick a fight with him [like a pretend warrior princes would do]. It was to drop off the omer of unripe figs that had been gathered. In the temple Jesus placed first fruits of the field in Bethany with all the other first fruits dropped off at the temple.


When verse 11 then states, “kai periblepsamenos panta , opse ēdē ousēs tēs horas” or (importantly) “having looked around at everything , late already being the hour,” this says Jesus looked at all the other first fruits offered, as well as looking to see if the vendors were still allowed inside the temple. He would have also inspected the processing of donations made to the treasury and looked at the cleanliness of that holy building. When the comma mark then leaps forward in time, “late” is a statement of it being after the three o’clock hour, therefore in the evening of day. The Jewish evening prayer would be at six, so Jesus probably preferred to pray then on the mount of Olives. Therefore the time would have indicated to Jesus (and the disciples, with other followers) that it was time to return to where they were staying in Bethany. That included those staying at Bethphage.


Because no sermon will ever be preached outside an Episcopal church on Palm Sunday, there is no need to associate this reading with a day that somehow falls in the season of Lent, with Sundays not counting, so it is of no consequence worth discussing. The travesty of Palm Sunday is it promotes worship of a system that refuses to become reborn as Jesus, with the Christ Mind being the result of marriage of one’s soul to Yahweh. Instead of being a church lead by individuals who have experienced that rebirth and know the joy in their souls to be servants of God, seeking the lost and showing them how to be found [the original reality of “Christianity”], all churches of Christianity now pander to raking in the cash and handing out trinkets that act as if they have the right to promise any soul other than their own is saved. Christianity has become the Temple and its Sanhedrin, all seeking to kill Jesus, because he is bad for business.


The act of handing out palm branches on Palm Sunday says, as presented here in Mark: refuse to commit to God, because you think He is too aloof to ever be close to. The act of saving those palm “used” branches, to be burned [as a normal act done to trash, not a holy act of sacrifice – see Cain for that lesson], so the ashes that burning creates can then be smudged on someone’s forehead [along with some oil added] means the church promotes its members walking around marked as dead to God. Handing out dead branches and marking members by the ashes of burnt rubbish, all symbols of someone who bears no fruit, is a bad sign


If it were children pretending to be priests, simply because they went to church and liked the activities of children’s church, without having a clue why the adults go to church, all the ignorance of children could be smiled upon. "Look at them playing church. Isn't that sweet and cute!" However, to see adults taking the same ignorance of children and promoting it as the meaning of a religion is absurd and an insult to Yahweh.


It is in that vein of ignorance that this reading from Mark [et al] has to be read: as an insult back to organized religion [Judaic then, all Judeo-Christian today]. An insult was prophesied because God did not send a little-g god in the flesh to be some external king that all can spread cloaks and palm branches out to keep him away. God sent His Son to show all humanity how important it is to become another Son of Yahweh [regardless of one’s human gender].