It is important to understand that once in Bethany, Jesus could not return to Jerusalem until after the Sabbath day was over. The law concerning traveling on the Sabbath can be found in Exodus 16:29, where Moses tells the Israelites that they cannot go out of their “place” on the Sabbath day. The word for “place” (H4725) is maqowm and means “locality, country, or home.”In other words, Moses wasn’t trying to keep everyone in his tent, but no one was permitted to leave the camp. In Numbers 35:5 the Law fixed the limits of the city to its suburbs of 2000 cubits (3000 feet) on every side. This was considered to be a Sabbath day’s journey, set by ancient rabbis and continued to the time of Jesus (Acts 1:12). That Jesus agreed with this prohibition of travel on the Sabbath can be seen in the Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24:20, where he told the apostles to pray that their flight in persecution would not occur in winter or on the Sabbath day.
“Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day’s journey.”
According to Jamison, Fausset and Brown: “a Sabbath day’s journey is a distance of 2000 cubits, which is about 5 furlongs, which tradition had long been fixed as the proper limit of a Sabbath walk.” Devout Jews might take a Sabbath walk after the worship service was over, so that they might be alone for meditation and prayer.
Some Bible scholars believe that there is a contradiction in Luke 24:50, because it says:
“And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.”
Comparing this with Acts:
Acts 1:11-12,(11) “Which also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner, as ye have seen him go into heaven.’ (12) Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day’s journey.”
One Scripture claims that Jesus ascended from Mt. Olivet and the other from Bethany, and comparing the two might lead one to believe that the village of Bethany was a Sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem, but this is wrong. A Sabbath day’s journey is equal to about 5 furlongs. Bethany is 15 furlongs from Jerusalem, which is three times as far from Jerusalem as a Sabbath’s walk. As mentioned above, the suburbs of a city or village extended to 2000 cubits on every side. This fact made the Mount of Olives the suburb of both Jerusalem and Bethany, and a Sabbath day’s walk from either. So when Jesus led the disciples “as far as Bethany” in Luke 24:50, it means that he led them to Mount Olives past the limit of the Jerusalem suburbs and as far as Bethany’s suburbs.
The Sabbath Law according to the Commandment is:
Exodus 20:8-11 KJV Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (9) Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: (10) But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: (11) For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
The Commandment specifically prohibits one’s cattle to bear a burden upon the Sabbath. If Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt on the Sabbath, he would have given the chief priest and scribes what they needed to take him into custody and kill him before the Passover day, Nisan 14. Jesus would never have done that, because he controlled all the events that transpired that week and would not have given his enemies an opportunity to take control of the events that would occur during the final days of his earthly life. Moreover, the fact that John tells us that Jesus had to look for the donkey that he road on his way to Jerusalem (John 12:14), shows that the previous day was a Sabbath (cp. Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14). The fact that it wasn’t tied as before, (Mark 11:12-14) indicates there was a Sabbath day between the first and second entries the Lord made into Jerusalem that week. Neither his Triumphant Entry nor either of the other two entries into Jerusalem could have been made on the Sabbath, because Jesus rode upon a young colt, the moneychangers were doing business, and at the end of each day Jesus either left for Bethany, which was more than a Sabbath day’s journey, or to the Mount of Olives where they found him at Gethsemane, the same day he was crucified.