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From John 11, we know that the first thing that Jesus did when He approached Bethany was to raise Lazarus from the dead. That story, however, was omitted by all but John, who finished his gospel decades after the others. The Codex Washingtonensis, according to Lee Woodard (who studied the markings that appears to date the writings), found that the first section of John’s gospel was dated 65-69 A.D. He says it was finalized in 97 A.D.
(See my book, Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1, ch. 24, 2009 revision).
John, of course, had read the other gospels which were written earlier, including the gospel of Luke, and was inspired to give an account of other incidents in Jesus’ life and ministry that were omitted from the early gospels. For this reason, John’s gospel was different, both in content and in structure. John’s account of Lazarus takes up an entire chapter, showing us how this amazing miracle played a role in Jesus’ crucifixion.
In fact, we read in John 12:9-11,
9 The great multitude therefore of the Jews learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might Lazarus to death, 11 because on account of Him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
Because Lazarus lived for many years after being raised from the dead, it is likely that the gospel writers did not want to name him, in case they might put his life in danger. After all, if his story brought about the conversion of too many Jews, the chief priests might feel it necessary to seek his whereabouts and to destroy the evidence that Christ truly was the Messiah. But after many years passed, John saw no reason to omit the story.
Although Luke says nothing of Lazarus, we must understand how the event raised tensions and increased the drama leading to Christ’s rejection and crucifixion.
Luke 19:28, 29 says,
28 And after He had said these things, He was going on ahead, ascending to Jerusalem. 29 And it came about that when He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples…
From Jericho the road ascended to Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples arrived on the first day of the first month, when Lazarus was raised from the dead. We do not know what Jesus did during the following week before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Yet it is certain that the news of Lazarus’ resurrection spread throughout Jerusalem, and that this topic was discussed thoroughly in the temple and in every home. By the time Jesus actually arrived, a great many people believed Him to be the Messiah-King, and so they went forth to meet Him and escort Him as King into the city and temple.
The excitement was enhanced by the fact that in earlier times all of the kings of Judah were crowned at Passover. Even if they had assumed the throne earlier, the first year of the king’s reign was reckoned from the first month in the Spring. If his predecessor died a few months earlier, those remaining months were attributed to the final year of the dead king’s reign, and said to be “the beginning of the reign” of the next king (Ezra 4:6).
When the kingdom was divided, the kings of Israel were crowned at Tabernacles, and their regnal years began in the seventh month. But Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to be crowned as King of Judah (as the inscription read above His head when He was on the cross). The expectancy must have been tremendous as the people went out to meet their King and escort Him into the city.
In more modern times, the idea of meeting Christ (1 Thess. 4:17) has devolved into the concept of the rapture. In fact, the word apantesis, “to meet,” is explained by Dr. Bullinger’s notes for Matt. 25:1,
To meet: for the meeting (of two parties from opposite directions); i.e., the meeting and returning with.
So the people went out to meet the coming King in order to escort Him with honor into the city. The idea of meeting a king or any great official was not to meet and return with him to the city or country from whence he came, but to meet him and escort him to their own city as he comes. (See my book, The Rapture in the Light of Tabernacles.)
So John 12:17, 18 tells us,
17 And so the multitude who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, were bearing Him witness. 18 For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign.
Not only the common people, but also “many even of the rulers believed in Him” (John 12:42). These religious leaders, however, did not confess their belief in Jesus, lest they should be excommunicated from the temple.
We know almost nothing of Jesus’ schedule or His teachings during the week of Lazarus’ purification. We know only that Jesus allowed time for the people to hear of this sign and to discuss it among themselves, so that they might pray to discern whether or not He was indeed the Messiah. This was important, because their discernment was to be tested by the word of the chief priests. Would the people hear God’s voice and trust their own discernment, or would they defer to the word of their religious leaders?
So “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1), Lazarus’ family scheduled a feast to be held in his honor. Since Passover was either Abib 14 or 15, the feast was probably held in the afternoon and evening of Abib 8. That morning, Lazarus, no doubt, had walked the short distance to the top of the Mount of Olives, where he purified himself from the death that had been upon him, according to the law.
Luke 19:29 says that Jesus sent His disciples to find a colt “when He approached Bethphage and Bethany.” Bethany has been easily located by historians, now an Arab village called El-Azariye, meaning “of Lazarus.” Alfred Edersheim tells us,
“More difficulty attaches to the identification of Bethphage, which is associated with it [Bethany], the place not being mentioned in the Old Testament, though repeatedly in the Jewish writings. But even so, there is a curious contradiction, since Bethphage is sometimes spoken of as distinct from Jerusalem, while at others it is described as, for ecclesiastical purposes, part of the City itself. Perhaps the name Bethphage—‘house of figs’—was given alike to that district generally, and to a little village close to Jerusalem where the district began.” [The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, p. 364]
It appears, then, that Bethphage might be considered as part of Jerusalem itself, at least “for ecclesiastical purposes.” Would this not identify Jerusalem and its district to be the “house of figs,” from a prophetic standpoint? This connection brings up the whole point about the two baskets of figs in Jeremiah 24, one containing good figs and the other evil figs. Since Bethphage is not mentioned in the Old Testament, it has no prophetic significance of itself, but only as it is an extension of Jerusalem.
Jesus instructs two of the disciples in Luke 19:30,
30 saying, “Go into the village opposite you, in which as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it, and bring it here. 31 And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ thus shall you speak, ‘The Lord has need of it’.”
Mark 11:2 adds, “you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat.” In other words, this was an unprecedented prophetic event.
Matthew says that the two disciples would “find a donkey tied there and a colt with her.” They were to bring both of them to Jesus. The mother-daughter relationship is thus established prophetically as Jerusalem (“Zion”) and “the daughter of Zion.” Luke speaks only of one donkey, in order to focus prophetically on the first appearance of Christ, while Matthew adds prophecy about Christ’s second appearance toward the end of the age.
In other words, there would be two triumphal entries into Jerusalem, the first when He entered the earthly Jerusalem, and the second to the New Jerusalem, which is presented as a “daughter,” or the next generation, moving from the earthly to the heavenly.
Matt. 21:4, 5 explains Jesus’ actions, saying,
4 Now this took place that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 5 Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The prophecy was from Zech. 9:9,
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; he is just and endowed with salvation [yasha], humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah’s word translated “salvation” is actually yasha, the root word of Yeshua, which was Jesus’ name. Hence, Zechariah not only tells us of His just character but also gives us the king’s name. Kings normally rode on horses, but this King was “humble and mounted on a donkey.” This was appropriate for Christ’s humiliation at that time and should be contrasted to His second appearance on the white horse (Rev. 19:11). This does not mean He is less humble when He returns, but that His second appearance will be in victory and in glory.
The name Yeshua, as I have shown, means “salvation.” This name came into the Greek language as Iesus, which is a transliteration of two Hebrew words: Ie (or Yah) and sus, “horse.” In the Greek, then, His name means “Yah’s Horse.” The horse was a symbol of salvation (victory) on account of its advantage in battle.
The law thus forbids kings to trust in horses for their salvation (Deut. 17:16), and Isaiah 31:1-3 prophesies against those who relied upon horses from Egypt rather than upon God Himself for their protection. Scripture admonishes us to rely upon Yeshua, who is the true “salvation” of God, rather than fleshly horses. Isaiah 31:3 says, “Now the Egyptians are men, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit.”
The two comings of Christ are pictured by the mother donkey and its daughter in Zechariah’s prophecy. But in a broader revelation we see these “comings” contrasted by the donkey and the horse. Likewise, because the donkeys were found in Bethphage, the “house of figs,” there was a choice to be made, either as a good or an evil fig.
Some believed in Him, while others did not. Most would have wanted Him to be the Messiah, but they accepted the word of their religious leaders and set aside the word of God. The disciples, however, said in Acts 4:19 and 20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge, for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”
In the past century we have all been presented with a second choice as the “white horse” draws near. Shall we support the true Messiah’s claim to the birthright of Joseph? Or shall we support the usurpers’ claim? The conflict in the New Testament was over the claim to the throne of Judah/David. The conflict today is over the birthright and the right to the name Israel. Once again, we stand at Bethphage, the house of figs, to determine from which tree we came and from which “basket” we are.