"Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, "The Lord has need of them," and immediately he will send them.' All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: 'Tell the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey."' So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them" (Matt. 21:1-6).
John 12:12 indicates that it is now Sunday (since the feast and anointing at Bethany had taken place on Saturday evening). Although the exact location of Bethphage is unknown, it was evidently very near the Mount of Olives and Bethany (cf. Luke 19:29).
Although Matthew is the only one to mention it, Jesus instructed two of His disciples to go and bring back, from a nearby village, two animals--a donkey and a colt. It was specifically mentioned that no one had ever sat upon the colt (cf. Luke 19:30; and thus, it certainly had never been worked). This was important for it would not have been suitable for Jesus' purposes had it been used by men (cf. Num. 19:2; Deut. 21:3). The older donkey, probably the mother, was likely led in front of the colt to encourage it to proceed with its rider.
"And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them" (Matt. 21:3). Jesus likely provides this instruction to prevent them from worrying about how they were going to get away with taking two animals that belonged to someone else. The owner of the animals must have been familiar with Jesus, perhaps he was even a disciple, or else this answer would not have sufficed.
It is interesting to note that John does not record the details involved in acquiring the colt. This is strong evidence, as is seen throughout his account of the gospel, that John wrote at a later time and knew these details (and many others) could easily be gathered from the other inspired accounts that were written previously (i.e., Matthew, Mark, & Luke). This is certainly the reason why John's account is over 90% unique from the others.
Why did Jesus request a colt be brought to Him? The answer: to fulfill prophecy! "Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey'" (cf. Zech. 9:9). A poetic name for Jerusalem was "daughter of Zion."
There are several Old Testament passages that illustrate the fact that donkeys were well-esteemed by the Hebrew people (cf. Jud. 10:4; 12:14; I Kings 1:33). Horses, however, were symbols of war (cf. Job 39:19-25), and it is significant that Jesus did not choose to ride into Jerusalem on such. Rather, He entered upon a young donkey (i.e., a humble beast and a symbol of peace). Jesus purposefully entered in a "lowly" manner (and in the way that fulfilled prophecy). He was not there to establish a physical kingdom as the multitudes hoped for. The disappointment of this hope would later help lead to the mob mentality demonstrated against Jesus at His trial before Pilate (cf. John 19:5ff). Thus, His triumphant entry on Sunday was an important step in the process leading to His crucifixion on Friday. As a side note, this is the only occasion known with certainty that Jesus ever rode anywhere.
Jesus knew that His time had come to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. He had avoided some publicity earlier, but not any more. He was preparing to enter into Jerusalem as the King (in a prospective sense; cf. Luke 19:12).
The disciples successfully obeyed Jesus' instructions. They found things to be just the way Jesus said they would be (cf. Luke 19:32), down to the last detail. Certainly this would strengthen their faith!
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.