His Triumphal Entry
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. … When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” (John 12:1–3, 9–11).
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying:” (Matthew 21:1–4) “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!” (John 12:15). “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:6–9).
“His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him. The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.” (John 12:16–18).
Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian Church. But besides the kickoff of Holy Week, why is Palm Sunday so significant? To truly understand the magnitude of this part of Jesus’ story, we have to look at the historical significance of the timing of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem shortly before His death and resurrection.
After Herod the Great died, Roman Emperor Augustus placed his son, Herod Antipas, in charge of Galilee – the area of the Roman Empire that included the city of Jerusalem. Herod the Great was the ruler that had killed all male children who were two years old or younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area because he was threatened by Jesus’ birth. (Matthew 2:16–18). Herod Antipas was the ruler who had John the Baptist beheaded to please his step-daughter. (Matthew 14:1–12).
Each year, before Passover, Herod Antipas held a military procession into Jerusalem. Military processions were quite a big deal, especially during the time of the Roman Empire. They were a massive show of force, composed of legions of soldiers and chariots, carrying poles with banners and golden emblems on top. They would have been quite a spectacular event to watch. Close to the rear of the processional, Herod Antipas rode atop his mighty war horse. The processional entered Jerusalem from the west, through the Gennath Gate, and into Herod’s palace.
The message of the processional was quite clear: Herod was in charge of Galilee (under Roman rule) and he had the power to crush uprisings, much like the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate did. Like his father before him, Herod Antipas was a very cruel, jealous, and vengeful man. If you crossed him, you were likely to be put to death. Therefore, people witnessing his annual processional would most likely have bowed in his presence or thrown their cloaks, which was a show of reverence. However, the people’s reverence to Herod would’ve been out of fear of him and his power, not respect and praise.
This is why Jesus’ processional into Jerusalem was so significant. Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east at around the same time (right before Passover) Herod would have been entering from the west. Instead of riding on a mighty war horse, Jesus humbly rode on a donkey. Jesus stood in direct opposition to Herod. While Herod championed the power-hungry, bloodthirsty political powers, Jesus championed the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those reviled and persecuted for His name’s sake – sinners like you and me. (Matthew 5:1–12).
Jesus entered through the northeastern Sheep Gate and headed to the temple to cleanse it. As He rode to the city, many in Jerusalem ran out to meet Him. I wonder if that meant that Herod’s processional had a far lower attendance than usual. The people didn’t just throw their cloaks in reverence, they spread them out on the ground, and they even cut branches from the palm trees to wave as Jesus rode past. In that time and place, palm branches were a symbol of victory and triumph. They were shouting “Hosanna!” (an expression of adoration and praise) as they welcomed Jesus wholeheartedly into their city.
The people saw Jesus as their Messiah, their new king. They saw that He was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9). The people believed that Jesus would save them, but they erroneously believed that He had come only to physically save them from their Roman overlords. This is why they showed Jesus much more pomp and circumstance than they showed Herod Antipas who had not delivered them from the Romans. They had misunderstood the prophecies surrounding Jesus. It had been hundreds of years of silence from God’s prophets. The people had focused on themselves and their temporary physical pain and suffering, forgetting about God’s promise of eternal redemption.
Jesus’ triumphal entry was much more than the physical rescue the people anticipated. The opposition between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God were coming to fruition through Him that first Holy Week. The crowds that had been spreading their cloaks on the ground, waving palm branches, and shouting for joy at His arrival only took days before they were yelling “Crucify Him!” in front of Pontius Pilate. The Pharisees and Sadducees were able to convince those who had been filled with joy and delight at Jesus’ arrival that He should actually be hung on a cross.
FEAR NOT! Jesus did not hold their sins against them, because they did not know what they were doing. And if you repent and turn away from evil, He will not hold your sins against you either. He understands that they (and we) were not perfect like Him. We are forgiven, so long as we believe that Jesus came to die to atone for our sins and sincerely repent of them. Sincere repentance means to ask for God’s forgiveness, then stop living in our sin.
We all have a choice: God’s Law shows us our sin. If what we are doing is sinful, but we choose to continue in it, we are not being sincere in our repentance. And Jesus rose from the dead in order that we too can rise with Him into heaven on the last day. Praise be to God for sending His Son to save us all from eternal damnation. All we must do is not reject His undying love and forgiveness for us.