Jesus acclaimed as Messiah
The day after the dinner hosted by Simon the Leper, the large crowd that had come to Bethany to see Lazarus now gathered up palm branches, symbols of peace and victory, to follow Jesus into Jerusalem. To give you an idea of how large that crowd was, Jerusalem usually had a population of about 50,000 people. During Passover that number grew to 250,000 people.
It’s a fascinating read when pulling back to take in the details offered by all four gospels together. It seems Jesus had been preparing for this event during the weeks he and the disciples had stayed in Ephraim, near the edge of the wilderness along the Galilean / Samaritan border. Jesus had evidently already made arrangements for the donkey colt, and the room where he and his close inner circle would celebrate the Passover.
Three prophecies were fulfilled
Prophecy #1: Hosanna
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,Psalm 118:19, 21, 26-29 (NRSV)
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Here’s how the Gospel of Matthew described that festal procession:
They brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”Matthew 21:7-10 (NRSV)
When the pilgrims shouted Hosanna, this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of what the people would sing when the Messiah came, according to Psalm 118.
Notice that the people singing were not the people who lived in Jerusalem. They were the people who had seen Lazarus, the people who were streaming in from other cities where Jesus had conducted his teaching and healing ministry.
The people who lived in Jerusalem, most notably the religious authorities and temple elite, were in turmoil, asking “Who is this?” They could not see through the surging throng that it was Jesus, seated on the colt.
All the people there knew the prophecy from Psalm 118 and sang it on purpose, declaring Jesus as their Messiah and King of Israel.
Prophecy #2: A Donkey
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
For hundreds of years, kings entered the cities of the people they had conquered in one of two ways. If they came riding in on a horse it meant the king was not through with that people yet. He was coming in judgment, and there would be more punishment, more bloodshed. But if the king came riding in on a donkey, it meant he came in peace and intended to rule with a gentle hand.
Jesus on purpose came in on the colt of a donkey, a symbol of peace and humility, in order to fulfill Zechariah’s 400 year-old prophecy that the Messiah, King of Judah, would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.
In response—just as their ancestors had honored and celebrated Jehu, who liberated them from Queen Jezebel’s oppressive reign, so now—faithful pilgrims coming into Jerusalem for the Passover honored and celebrated Jesus. As he rode in, everyone made a royal carpet for him out of their palm branches, and cloaks.
Prophecy #3: A Year and a Day
Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.
After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing,
and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.Daniel 9:25-26 (NRSV)
The prophet Daniel had predicted, 483 years previously, the year and day when Messiah would enter Jerusalem. In that passage Daniel said the anointed one, the Messiah would be cut off, referencing Jesus’ death.
[Daniel’s prophecy proved true with astonishing accuracy, down to the last detail. About forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the crown prince to Rome, Tiberius Julius Alexander, did ride into Jerusalem after a three-year siege, and his troops laid such waste to the city, ancient chroniclers report it was flooded with the blood of the people.]
In John’s gospel, the writer noted Jesus’ disciples did not understand any of these things—not the fulfillment of scripture, not the festival goers’ rapturous praise of Jesus, not the donkey, nor palm branches, nor royal carpet of cloaks. Up to this point Jesus had refused to allow the people to make him king.
Now Jesus was accepting and even inviting the praises of the people?
It was not until after Jesus’ glorification was fulfilled in his resurrection and ascension to the Father, that the Spirit began to recall all the teaching Jesus had given them, and prophetic scriptures to their minds.
Pharisees’ Fears Fulfilled
Meanwhile, as these thousands and thousands of people began streaming into Jerusalem, they told everyone around them about Lazarus being raised from the dead, that Jesus had done it, that he was the Messiah. This news spread like wildfire among both the residents of Jerusalem and the incoming worshippers from other regions who had not first gone to Bethany to meet Lazarus and hear his astounding story of life after death.
The Pharisees recognized the situation was quickly getting out of their control
And so the Pharisees said to one another, “Look at this and consider, because you all do not derive even one advantage: behold, the world came behind him.”John 12:19
Their plan had been to arrest Jesus and somehow quietly get rid of both him and Lazarus. But, surrounded by at least a hundred thousand people or more praising Jesus and witnessing about him, there was not a thing they could do.
Praising God has spiritual power
The people’s praise overwhelmed the religious rulers.
Joy is infectious. These people were full of joy and wonder. The joy of the Lord was literally the people’s strength then, and it is the same for you and me today.
Writing this down, I began to wonder what current situation in my life could be transformed just by my being willing to praise God in it. It does not mean being joyful about my circumstances, it just means joyfully praising God for who God is while in my circumstances.
I know Jesus is here with me, the gentle king who comes in peace and brings with him love and grace.
[Triumphal Entry | Nikolay Koshelev, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]