Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem – Palm Sunday

An unusual encounter happened one day while Jesus was working his way through villages and towns heading toward Jerusalem for the final time. Some Pharisees forewarned him that Tetrarch Herod was looking to have him killed.[1]

No fan of the Pharisees nor Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist, the response was blunt: “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’” [2]Jesus finished by quoting from Psalms 118:26.[3]

LK 13:35 “…I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

PS .118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.” (NKJV)

Lazarus had been raised from the dead in Bethany by Jesus who had then slipped away to Ephraim to escape the constant celebrity turmoil. After a short period of time, he returned to Bethany for a Saturday night dinner at the home of Simon the leper, presumably one of the many lepers previously healed by Jesus.

Martha was serving the meal, her sister Mary and brother Lazarus were also in attendance along with all 12 Disciples.[4] Outside, a crowd of onlookers gathered to see Jesus and Lazarus, the novelty man who had been raised from the dead after 4 days.[5]

Sunday the next morning, Jesus sent Disciples, Peter and John into Jerusalem a couple of miles away to fetch a donkey and find a place to observe the Passover.[6] The entire episode was a mysterious mission – finding a donkey with its young colt with an unidentified person who would also provide a place to eat the Passover meal.[7]

Not knowing any specific details, only clues, the sign for the Disciples would be to find a man carrying a jar of water, a tied-up mother donkey with its colt.[8] They were to untie the donkey and if he asked about it, they were to say, “The Lord needs it.”[9] From there, they were to follow the man to a house, then say to house owner, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”[10]

Exactly as Jesus had predicted, it happened. Peter and John found the donkey with a colt; the person with the donkey asked what they were doing; and after responding as instructed, the man then led them to a house. The owner showed them an upstairs room, fully furnished and prepared for the Passover. [11] Afterwards, the two Disciples then took the donkeys to Jesus.[12]

Matthew and John Gospels point out that this event was a fulfillment of the Zachariah messiah prophecy that foretold the King of Israel would arrive riding on a donkey. Specifically, the foal colt of a donkey – at that age, it had never been ridden.[13]

Zech 9:9:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! 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.” (NRSV)

All four Gospel authors write about that triumphal day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem seated on a donkey colt when people, many of whom had seen Lazarus raised from the dead, began chanting, laying down their outer garments and placing palm branches in his path. Seeing and hearing all the commotion, others asked, “Who is this?” Christianity refers to this triumphal entry as “Palm Sunday.”[14]

JN 12:12-13  “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”” (NKJV)

“Hosanna” is a shortened version of the Hebrew saying “Anna Adonai hoshi-‘ah-nna” from Psalms 118:25.[15] A customary cry of joyful celebration, “hosanna” traces to ancient Jewish times when a marching procession would wave branches of palm, myrtle and willow each day of the Sukkot festival (aka the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles). [16]

“According to John xii. 13…which has the story preserved in its original form, the same cry was raised by the multitude on the occasion of Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem. They “took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”—that is, the verse following “Anna Adonai hoshi’ah-nna” in the Hallel psalm — and then called him “the King of Israel.” … The Psalm verses recited have been interpreted by the Rabbis also as referring to the advent of the Messiah…” – Jewish Encyclopedia:[17]

Sukkot, usually falling in the month of September, begins five days after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the three annual pilgrim festivals required by the Law .[18] Often referred to as the “season of our Rejoicing,” the Sukkot holiday serves a dual purpose to both celebrate the harvest as well as the Hebrews emerging from the 40 years of wondering in the Sinai desert wilderness where they had lived in temporary shelters called “tabernacles.”

Seventh and final day of the Sukkot festival is called “Hoshanna Rabbah” meaning “Great Salvation.” It is the day when the Jewish nation is judged by God whether or not to be worthy of the seasonal rains.[19]

Psalms 118 is regarded in Judaism as the concept of salvation pointing to the arrival of the Messiah.[20] In Rabbi Rashi’s commentary of the Micah 5:2(1) Bethlehem prophecy, he quoted from Psalms 118:22 saying “the stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone” expounding that this refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”[21] In reverse, interestingly the Rabbi sage did not provide this same commentary for the actual verse of Psalms 118:22.[22]

Days earlier, Jesus predicted the Pharisees would not see him until people shouted out the Psalm 118 Messiah praise. The Zechariah prophecy foretold very specifically that the Messiah would come riding on a foal colt donkey. Both scenarios occurred a short time later with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a colt donkey and the throng actually shouting the exact Psalms hosanna praise.

Were Zechariah’s prophecy and the Psalms 118 prediction by Jesus both Messiah prophecies fulfilled that Palm Sunday?

 

 Updated February 6, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 13:31.
[2] Luke 13:32. NJKV.
[3] Luke 13:35.
[4] Matthew 26:6; John 11:43-44, 54; 12:1-2.
[5] John 12:9.
[6] Luke 22:8.
[7] Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 19:28-36. John 11:18; 12:12.
[8] Mark 14:13. Luke 19:30-34.
[9] Matthew 21:3; Luke 19:31-35.
[10] Mark 14:14.
[11] Mark 14:15.
[12] Matthew 21:7; Luke 19:35; John 12:14.
[13] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.
[14] Matthew 21:2-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16.
[15] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7893-hosanna> Psalms 118:25. BibleHub. Lexicon. 2021.<https://biblehub.com/lexicon/psalms/118-25.htm> “3467. yasha.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3467.htm>
[16] “What is Sukkot.” Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4784/jewish/What-is-Sukkot.htm>  Rich, Tracey R.  “Sukkot.” JewFAQ.org. n.d.  <http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm>
[17] “Hosanna.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[18] Deuteronomy 16:9-17.
[19] Lawrence, Natan. HoshanaRabbah.org. “Origin of “Hoshana Rabbash.”” 11/15/2019. <https://hoshanarabbah.org/blog/2019/11/15/origination-of-hoshana-rabbah> Rich. “Sukkot.”
[20] “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13051-salvation> “Salvation.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. Psalms 118:15. BibleHub. Lexicon. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/psalms/118-15.htm>  “3444. yeshuah.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3444.htm>  Psalms 118:15. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16339/showrashi/true>  Psalms 118:25. BibleHub. Interlinear. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/psalms/118-25.htm>  “3467. yasha.” BibleHub. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3467.htm>
[21] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.
[22] Micah 5. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191/showrashi/true> Psalms 118. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.

Zechariah’s Donkey Prophecy

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy focused on a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so unambiguous, there can be no other explanation other than exactly what it foretells. It is more precise even than the Micah prophecy foretelling the future Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem Ephrathah.[1]

Zech 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”(NKJV)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi commented, as it appears in the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary:  “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah.”[2]

Not just any lowly donkey, it was prophesied to be a colt, a foal which is a male under a year old. At that age, the colt foal would be unridden, unbroken. Donkeys have a reputation for their unruly and difficult behavior, even when broken, especially when they are in unfamiliar or frightening scenarios.[3] Yet the future King of Israel was prophesied to bring salvation to Jerusalem riding one such donkey colt.

Written between 520 – 518 BC, the prophecy was issued about 80 years after the last king of Israel, Jeconiah, sat on the Throne of David. The Davidic royal dynasty ended when Jeconiah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 597 BC.[4] The last Jewish King was deported to Babylon along with “the most distinguished men of the land, and the most valuable treasures of the Temple and the palace.”[5]

Decrees issued by successors of the Babylonian empire, Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great each instructed the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem; the backdrop when Zachariah issued the prophecy.[6] Based on the historical timing, the prophecy could only be about a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth had reached the end of his 3-year ministry.[7] Saturday night before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus attended a dinner event at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. In attendance were siblings Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the 12 Disciples.[8]

Sunday, the next day, began the shortened week that ended with a special Passover celebration. This particular year, Passover fell that next weekend on the day before the weekly Saturday Sabbath thereby doubling the efforts for Preparation Day to accommodate the back-to-back, work-restricted observances. John refers to this Passover as a “high,” or “special” Sabbath, depending on the translation.[9]

One of the Disciples asked Jesus where they would be eating the upcoming Passover meal in Jerusalem? He did not answer the question directly and gave no specific information, just a clue.

Matthew and John Gospel accounts say that Jesus had instructed Peter and John to go into Jerusalem to find a mother donkey with its colt and bring them both back. From an investigative viewpoint, if Jesus wanted just a donkey to ride, he would have been expected to instruct the pair to simply find a donkey. Finding a mother donkey with a foal colt made the search much more difficult.

Aimlessly entering the big city looking for the clue Jesus had given to them, the two Disciples found a tethered mother donkey with its colt.[10] Jesus had instructed them that if anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”[11]

As they untied the mother donkey with a coat, indeed, Peter and John were asked what they were doing taking his donkeys? Answering as instructed, they were led by the man with the donkeys to a house with an upper room prepared for the Passover. After they viewed the room, the owner allowed the two Disciples to take the two donkeys back to Jesus.

Entering Jerusalem for the last time, all four Gospel authors wrote about that Sunday when Jesus rode into the city seated on a donkey colt.[12] In Christianity, the Sunday event before Easter is celebrated as “Palm Sunday”:[13]

MT 21:6-9 “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 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 heaven!”(NIV)

Most translations of Matthew 21:7 say that Jesus sat on “them” although it is highly unlikely he sat on two donkeys of different heights at the same time. Mark and Luke are more specific referring to the unbroken colt ridden by Jesus.

Less than a week before his crucifixion, Jesus made his final entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey colt matching the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy.[14] If Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey colt, but was not the Messiah, then the Zechariah Messiah prophecy was not fulfilled.

Was the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem sitting on an donkey colt merely a coincidence – or was the Palm Sunday event a fulfillment of Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy?

 

Updated October 15, 2021.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] CR Micah 5:1(2).
[2] Zechariah 9:9. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad.org. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true
[3] Luke 19:35. “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
[4] Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
[5] “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity>
[6] Ezra 1:1-3, 4:4-6, 6:14-15; Nehemiah 6:15; 12:45. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. 1850. Book XI, Chapter II. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. Commentary by William Whitson. < http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false > “Cyrus the Great.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great>  “Darius I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>
[7] CR Matthew 23:19-39. Luke 13:31-35. I Kings 18:13-15; 19:14. 2 Chronicles 24:19-22; Jeremiah 26:7-16, 18-19, 20-23; 38:1-13.>
[8] Matthew 23:37-39. Luke 13:31-35.
[9] John 12:1-2, 4. CR Matthew 26:6; Mark 11:1, 14:3; Luke 10:38-39, 19:29.
[10] John 19:31. BibleHub.com. 2021. <https://biblehub.com/john/19-31.htm>  CR Mark 15:42.
[11] Luke 19:28-37. CR Matthew 21:1-7.
[12] NASB, NKJV.
[13] Matthew 21:7; Mark 11:7; Luke 19:28; John 12:1.
[14] “Palm Sunday.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021.  <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Palm-Sunday>