We are moving through the final stages of the Lenten season, and this upcoming “Palm Sunday” is what if often thought of as the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday represents the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and it’s the clearest declaration there is of Jesus’ pronouncement as Christ the Messiah.
In the book of Matthew (which we have been studying for awhile at River City), there is a strong theme of Jesus revealing himself. It happens from early on, but continues to intensify as the book progresses. By the time we get to chapter 16, we see Jesus bring the revelation process to a head with his disciples. He circles them up and asks them who the crowds say he is at this point. They answer as they’ve heard: Jeremiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, etc. He then asks this famous question: “And what about you? Who do you say I am?”
There are a series of revelations that follow from that point forward, and with each one we get a greater level of detail as to the full nature of Jesus Christ. By the accounts of most commentators, the clearest revelation of all comes with Palm Sunday. When Jesus triumphantly enters into the city of Jerusalem during Passover, he wipes away any final doubts about who and what he is. Here is Matthew’s account of the entrance:
“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.” 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.’ “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21.1-10)
Much can be said about the this account, but for this post I want to focus just on the revelation piece. Though his entrance was choreographed to send a message to everyone, Jesus was particularly interested in confirming the revelation to the Jewish spectators. There was a lot happening in this account, and it’s been helpful for my own understanding to get a better sense of what Jesus was walking into and what the symbolism of all these different elements pointed to.
In many ways the perfect storm had been forming for this dramatic entrance. Passover was a time when the prophesied Messiah was already a topic of heated conversation. The Messiah was a critically important figure, as he was the one promised throughout Hebrew Scriptures to arrive as a leader from the line of King David and King Solomon. He was to accomplish predetermined things in only one future arrival, including the unification of the tribes of Israel, the gathering in of all Jews to Eretz Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the ushering in of a Messianic Age of global universal peace, and the annunciation of the World to Come (thanks to the trusty Wikipedia for that description 😉 )
So the atmosphere was already ripe for this type of revelation. But the stakes were even further stoked by the fact that Jesus had been increasing the level of difficulty and amazement with his recent miracles. In Matthew’s account we see Jesus heal two blind men in Jericho just before his arrival. But according to John’s account he had just raised from Lazarus from the dead, and this had really gotten the people talking. As Matthew so succinctly summarizes, it seemed everyone was now asking, “Who is this?”
It was into this convergence – interest in the Messiah, and interest in Jesus – that the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem was choreographed. For Jesus, the time had finally come to unequivocally announce himself as the Messiah. And each detail was significant.
According to Matthew, Jesus and his disciples prepare to leave Jericho and head into Jerusalem (interesting side note – the road into Jesus’ final passover went through the exact same terrain as described in the parable of the Good Samaritan), and we see that very specific instructions are put in place. What’s so interesting is the way that these directly align with the ancient prophecies. Zechariah in particular described the future entrance of the Messiah, and watch how closely the actual events match.
First, the entrance through the Mount of Olives:
Matthew 21:1: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives…”
Zechariah 14:3-4, 9: “Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem… The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name… [and] Jerusalem will be secure.”
Second, the conquering king who enters on the foal of a donkey:
Matthew 21.1-3: “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.'”
Zechariah 9.9-10: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
What does all of this mean?
Undoubtedly many things, but here is what I am reflecting on this particular Palm Sunday: When Jesus choreographed his entrance into Jerusalem, he wanted to ensure that nobody was unclear about his own sense of self-revelation.
Jesus was the Christ. The Messiah. The King of Kings. The Son of God. God himself.
Jesus the Christ had come to give himself as a ransom for many. He had come not to be served, but to serve. He had come to pay an incredible price so that we could be set free. He had come as the full embodiment of love.
As this Lenten season winds to a conclusion, those are all things I want to remember and revel in.
And I pray the same will be true of you too.