Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday: The Triumphal Entry

by Matt Simpson

When you read the parallel accounts of Jesus entering Jerusalem (found in Matthew 21:1-10, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and John 12:12-19), your Bible probably includes a header that summarizes the content of this narrative as "The Triumphal Entry." Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, displaying his authority over death, and John records that this is the reason why so many had gathered to welcome him into Jerusalem (John 12:18). The stage had been set, and people were prepared to accept Jesus as king. 
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’
Mark 11:1-3
In our modern context, it may seem strange to us that Jesus would "triumphantly" enter Jerusalem on a...donkey. Maybe a great warhorse would seem more fitting, with his multitude of disciples falling in line behind him like an army. However, with some historical context, it is more clear why Jesus would choose to ride on a donkey.

In ancient times, there were a couple of ways that a conquering king would enter a city. He could enter on a horse, displaying his military might, which typically signified that he was coming to continue to make war, to destroy. However, it was common for a king to enter a conquered city on a donkey when he wanted to emphasize that he was coming in peace - for the battle was over. A king would ride a donkey as a sign that there was nothing more to fear, and the king was so confident in his victory that he was willing to ride a donkey into the captured city. The Old Testament has a variety of examples of leaders and kings riding donkeys (1 Kings 1:33, Judges 5:10, 10:4, 12:14, 2 Samuel 16:2). Jesus riding a donkey was no random act - it was a declaration of peace through victory, and furthermore, it was a fulfillment of prophecy. 
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Matthew 21:4-5
Matthew quotes here from the Old Testament book of Zechariah, which prophesies of this exact moment when Jesus enters Jerusalem as king. Zechariah goes on to say that this king coming would signify the coming of peace on earth, freedom for prisoners, and the rule of this king over all the earth (Zechariah 9:10-12).
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!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Matthew 21:8-11
It is significant that the crowds appear to be worshipping Jesus as king, but it is also significant how they are worshipping him. John clarifies that these branches that the crowds are using are palm branches (John 12:13). Palm branches are used throughout the Bible to indicate joy and celebration, typically on festive occasions (Leviticus 23:40, Nehemiah 8:15). In Revelation chapter 7, John is shown a vision of people from "all tribes and peoples and languages" worshipping Jesus with the use of palm branches. Even outside of biblical references, other cultures in this same timeframe utilized palm branches as symbols of victory and celebration. 

What does this mean for us?

If you know anything about the rest of Passion Week, you may read about the triumphal entry and perhaps downplay its significance in light of what is going to happen to Jesus in the days following this event. The picture painted by the account of the triumphal entry, both through the narrative and the symbolism surrounding it, is one of a king who has been so decisively victorious that he rides in on a donkey proclaiming peace. However, since you know what is going to happen to Jesus later that week, you might be tempted to question whether this "triumphal" entry was all for show...and not actually triumphant or victorious.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he knows full well that he is going to his death, but also that in rising from the dead, he will victorious over death. In essence, Jesus is riding into Jerusalem confident in his victory even before it is fully realized. And how can he be confident? Because as fully human and fully God, he shares in the divine will of God, the plan of redemption held by God from eternity past. Nothing can thwart the plan of God for the salvation of mankind, so Jesus can be confident. 

As for you, Christian, have you lost that confidence? Do you truly believe that the victory is already won? In your struggles in this world marred by sin, are you tempted to question whether Jesus' triumph is real?

You may be tempted to qualify your confidence. You could be confident, but only if you no longer struggle with sin, were released from suffering, or perhaps had a plan laid out for your life by God, removing any doubt and anxiety. In those moments remember: Jesus rode into Jerusalem victorious, truly victorious, regardless of the circumstances he was about to face. His confidence was not in those circumstances but in the promised victory, and it is the same confidence you can have that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) You are secure and regardless of your struggle your inheritance is assured: eternal life in Christ.
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1 Comment

Randy - April 6th, 2023 at 9:06am

In a broken world I can have the same confidence in the unseen future, for God is as sovereign today in His plan for redemption as He was on that day, when redemption’s plan was unveiled for those with eyes to see and ears to hear by God’s grace.