Today is Palm Sunday, a time when churches throughout the world pause to remember a special event that occurred on the Sunday before the crucifixion. The event is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Many will leave their places of worship today with palm branches as a symbolic identification with the original crowd who cried out,
“Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”
In reconstructing the scene, all four gospel accounts are necessary for a complete picture. This triumphal entry is recorded in each gospel (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12).
The Triumphal entry took place during the time of Passover when hundreds of thousands of Jews made their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.
One historian noted that during this time:
“All the open ground near the city and perhaps the sides of the very hill down which our Lord had recently passed were now being covered with the tents and temporarily structures of the gathering multitudes …” (Ellicott, quoted in Pentecost, pp.372-373)
Matthew 21:1 – offers a geographic point of reference: “When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives…”
Concerning this path, D. A. Carson wrote:
“The Roman military road from Jericho to Jerusalem passed near the village of Bethphage (a name which means “house of figs,” reminding the reader of the many fig trees in the area). The village stood on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives so Jesus’ route would … afford Him a spectacular view of the city, rising to the heights of the next, slightly lower hill, the hill of Zion; but equally it would enable watchers in the city to detect His approach” (p. 128, Themes From Matthew).
“The Mount (of Olives) stands about three-hundred feet higher than the temple hill and about one-hundred feet higher than the hill of Zion, affording a panoramic view of the city.” (p. 437, E. B. C., v. 8)
John 12:9-19 offers a detail that intensifies the excitement and expectation,
“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
“Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
The raising of Lazarus from the dead made a big impact on the expectation of the crowd and on the hostility of the Jewish leadership.
Jerusalem: the destiny to which Jesus has been moving in submission to the divine plan
- Luke 9:31 – And they (Moses and Elijah) were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
- Luke 9:51 – “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
- Luke 13:31-35 – “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.’”
- Luke 18:31-33 – “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
Jesus will only be in Jerusalem for one week but it will be a week that changes the world.
As the scene progressed, Jesus prepared for His entry in a very notable way:
“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Matthew 21:1-3)
What is the significance of this preparation?
Matthew 21:4-5 reveals that it was prophetic, quoting portions of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9.
“This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4-5).
This was a purposeful act of self-disclosure on the part of Jesus sending a clear signal to the Jews of His day that he was presenting himself as their King. The words “King” and “Kingdom” were consistently associated with Jesus from his birth to his death (see: Matthew 2:1-2; Mark 1:14-15; John 18:33-37).
In considering what Jesus did,
Unlike so many other times in Jesus’ ministry, at this point, He does something to purposefully draw the crowd’s attention.
Alexander Maclaren wrote: “If He had planned to create a popular rising, He could not have done anything more certain to bring it about than what He did that morning when He made arrangements for a triumphal procession into the city, amidst the excited crowds gathered from every quarter of the land (p. 291, Mark)
- Although horses and chariots were often associated with the procession of kings, it was not out of the ordinary for kings and rulers to use the donkey in times of peace (Judges 5:10; 1 Kings 1:33—horses w/ war times; donkeys w/ peace times)
At the triumphant re-entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (recorded in Revelation 19), the scene will change.
In Revelation 19:11, John observed “heaven open; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”
But, in this triumphal entry, Jesus clearly presented Himself to the nation as the Messiah/King in keeping with the prophecy of Zechariah given 500 years earlier.
Yet He presents Himself in humility and meekness, riding the lowly beast of burden, preparing to bring a very different peace than the crowd wanted — peace with God—and preparing to bear the burden of their sin — as the Passover lamb of God — not the burden of their temporal circumstances, their yoke under Rome .
Alexander Mclaren wrote:
“For so we see blended two things, … absolute authority, and meekness of poverty and lowliness. A King, and yet a lowly-King! A King claiming His dominion, and yet obliged to borrow another man’s colt in order that he might do it! A strange kind of monarch! — and yet that remarkable combination runs through all of His life. He was obliged to a couple of fishermen for a boat, but He sat in it, to speak words of divine wisdom. He was obliged to a lad in the crowd for barley loaves and fishes, but when He took them into His hands they were multiplied. He was obliged for a grave, and yet He rose from the borrowed grave the Lord of life and death. And so when He would presents himself as a King, He has to borrow the regalia, and to be obliged to this anonymous friend for the colt which made the emphasis of His claim. ”Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.” (292, Mark)
Before moving forward in the account, it’s important to understand an historical reality of the time.
- The Jewish people had lived for many years under the domination of heathen nations. Presently they were under the yoke of Rome, and the desire for a Messiah as a deliverer from heathen power ran deep in their hearts and minds.
- When you combine this strong desire with the speculation that surrounded Jesus, you can see why the crowds erupted in praise.
- Since Jesus had demonstrated miraculous powers, maybe He would use those powers against Rome and deliver the Jewish people and establish His kingdom.
- The time seemed right. After all, it was Passover — that feast commemorating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage.
- And the means of Jesus’ entrance — was full of prophetic significance— which no doubt stirred the crowd with even greater expectation.
- And they showed it in their words and deeds. They spread their garments in the road; they spread palm branches down before Him. And putting the accounts together, they cried out, “Hosanna!” – an exclamatory plea meaning “Save now!”
The crowd was filled with excitement and expectation regarding Jesus! And even when some of the Pharisees objected, telling Jesus to rebuke them, so significant was this occasion that Jesus said, “I tell you that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.’”
Their words of honor and praise were appropriate but they were also tragically short-lived.
How little this crowd understood.
- They rightly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah — the son of David, but they misunderstood His purpose at this moment of history.
- They were right in recognizing His kingship, but they had little perception of His kingdom on spiritual terms.
- Jesus did not come to conquer Rome. He came to conquer a greater enemy — sin and death.
- He did not come at this time to make war; he came to make peace with God.
- In fact, Jesus would soon predict the very destruction of Jerusalem!
So, in just a few days, when they realized that He would not deliver them on their terms, they turned on Jesus and unanimously demanded the release of Barabbas (John 18:40) after which, they began an ominous chant concerning Jesus: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
As a nation, they united in official rejection of their Messiah, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us!” And then, the physical sons of Abraham made a chilling request, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
From “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” in just a few days.
Their misguided expectation — broke out into superficial praise — but quickly gave way to a bitter and costly rejection when Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. Isaiah spoke accurately of them saying, “This people draws near to Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me.
One commentator noted that:
“The people wanted Jesus on their own terms, and they would not bow to a King who was not of their liking, even though He were the Son of God. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome but not their cherished sins or their hypocritical, superficial religion. But He would not deliver them on their terms, and they would not be delivered on His. He was not a Messiah who came to offer external peace in the world but to offer the infinitely greater blessing of internal peace with God.”
“Many people today are open to a Jesus who they think will give them wealth, health, success, happiness, and the other things they want. Like the multitude at the triumphal entry, they will loudly acclaim Jesus as long as they believe He will satisfy their desires on their terms. But like the same multitude, a few days later, they will reject Him when He does not deliver as they expect” (Matthew 16-23, p. 262, John MacArthur).
Please understand that no deliverance can compare to the deliverance Jesus provided at the cross. He gives deliverance from the power of sin and the curse of the law.
On a more positive note, we might safely assume that some from among this group were true believers. There were the 120 and the 500 brethren whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.
We can also assume that some of them were among those who heard the apostle Peter’s convicting message —in Acts 2 — on the day of Pentecost when about 3,000 souls were saved.
And, not long after these events, in Acts 3, at the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple, all the people were full of amazement rushing toward Peter and John. And Peter delivered another powerful message to which thousands responded.
Finally, consider another large group who hold palm branches and give praise to God.
In Revelation 7:9, John wrote,
“After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
And verses 14-17 identified this group:
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”
What about you?
- Like the crowd on Palm Sunday, do you draw near to God with your mouth and yet have a heart that is far from Him?
- Have you elevated temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death?
- Many of our songs of praise and worship focus on God’s power to help us and the fact that there is nothing that he cannot do. The danger is that we (like the Palm Sunday crowd) interpret the songs as God’s deliverance from troubling temporal circumstances rather than from sin and death.
- We live in the era of history when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We are not called (at this time of history) to to take up our scepter and rule with him. It’s altogether too easy for us to want a Savior who offers temporal deliverance from difficult circumstances over eternal deliverance from sin and death.
- Romans 5:8- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Romans 8:32 – God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.”
- John 10:18 – “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily.”