In 2 Samuel 15, David and the most loyal members of his household flee Jerusalem ahead of the arrival of his usurping son, Absalom. David, the Lord’s Anointed, stops at the last house on the east side of the city to watch the sad procession of his people. Then he proceeds barefoot and mourning up the Mount of Olives until, just beyond the top, a servant gives him a donkey to ride upon as he goes out into exile in the wilderness beyond the Jordan. Israel has rejected her first messiah, a type of the One to come, and though we know that David returns to Jerusalem a few chapters later, the narrative never brings him back in over the Mount of Olives to bring thematic closure to the episode.
A further, and more tragic, departure from Jerusalem happens in Ezekiel 8-11. As the prophet has visions of the temple and the idolatry that has corrupted its precincts, he sees the glory of Yahweh depart first from the temple, then from the city, passing east over the Mount of Olives. More than once, the people chosen by Yahweh rejected his anointed one. They rejected Yahweh himself and chose other gods. And so two tragic departures from Jerusalem point to the agony between the testaments: when and how and in whom shall the Lord return to visit his people and fulfill his promises?
Isaiah’s servant songs give faithful readers some hint as to how this may one day be accomplished: the Lord will appoint a faithful servant, one of David’s line who will act wisely, and who will bear the sins of many. Thus a truer and better David may one day return to Jerusalem. But more than that, the servant songs suggest that this suffering servant is identified with the Lord himself. The one who carries the iniquities and bears the sorrows of his people is to be at once the Son of David and the Son of Yahweh.
The dramatic fulfillment of these promises and the answer to the agony between the testaments comes in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in the events of the week following that entry. As David went out rejected and barefoot, ascending the Mount of Olives in mourning, Jesus the Son of David enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with the rejoicing of the people all around. It is a moment fragrant with the scent of Old Testament promises. But where there were two significant departures in the Old Testament, there is only one return: great David’s greater son is not only the promised King of the Davidic line, but is also the very glory of Yahweh, come again to dwell with his people. John tells us he is the one in whom we see the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. He himself testifies that whoever has seen him has in fact seen the Father.
So the humble Galilean rabbi riding into Jerusalem on a donkey represents the glorious return of David and David’s God to a city that has rejected both--to the city, indeed, that will continue to reject both. The city and the crowds continue to play their role, but this time the script has changed. Their cries of “Crucify! Crucify!” can no longer send David away, for “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [light] and be satisfied. By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” That is, as Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, bears the sins of his people, he brings the glory of God back to his people such that it will never depart again. The one whom we have pierced and rejected reigns now at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.