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 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.[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 – a gift of a donkey with its young colt by an unidentified person who would also provide a place to observe 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 and 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] It was not a request.

Exactly as Jesus had said, 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] The two Disciples then took the donkeys to Jesus.[12]

Matthew and John Gospels point out that this upcoming 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 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]

Jewish Encyclopedia:  “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…”[17]

Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which is one of the three annual pilgrim festivals required by the Law given to Moses, usually falling in the month of September.[18] Often referred to as the “season of our Rejoicing,” the 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 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” saying it refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”[21] Interestingly in reverse, the Rabbi sage did not provide this same commentary for the actual verse of Psalms 118:22.[22]

Quoting the hosanna praise to the Pharisees from the salvation Psalms 118 pointing to the foretold Messiah, was Jesus referencing a Messiah prophecy about himself? One that was fulfilled a short time later when the throng actually shouted the exact hosanna praise during the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem that Palm Sunday?

 

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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.

The Donkey Prophecy

Zechariah’s Messiah prophecy about a donkey is one of those prophetic rarities that is so unambiguous, there can be no other explanation other than exactly what it foretells. 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)

Not just any lowly donkey, it was prophesied to be a colt, a male; a foal, under a year old. At that age, the colt would be unridden, unbroken. Donkeys are known for their unruly and difficult behavior especially in unfamiliar and frightening scenarios.[2] Yet the future King of Israel was prophesied to bring salvation to Jerusalem riding one such unbroken 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.[3]The 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.”[4]

Decrees  issued by Persian rulers Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem is the Hebrew history backdrop when Zachariah issued the prophecy.[5] Based on the historical timing, the prophecy could only be  about a future King who would bring salvation to Israel.

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi agreed that the Zechariah donkey prophecy refers directly to the prophesied Messiah. In the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commenary the Rabbi’s commented, “It is impossible to interpret this except as referring to the King Messiah.”[6]

Scrolling forward 550 years sets the stage when Jesus of Nazareth was reaching the end of his 3-year ministry. Outside of Jerusalem, oddly some Pharisees warned Jesus that Tetrarch Herod wanted to kill him.

Brushing off the warning, Jesus replied that no prophet is killed outside of Jerusalem. The comment referred to the historical reputation of Jerusalem being known for killing the prophets sent by God.[7] It was an indicting condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders now primarily represented by the Pharisees.

One final comment by Jesus to the Pharisees included a prediction. The next time they would see him a well-known Jewish praise of salvation would be shouted, quoting from Psalms 118:16.[8]

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!’”(NKJV)

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi in his commentary of the Micah 5:1(2) interpreted the Bethlehem prophecy to be about the Messiah. Quoting from Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone,” the Rabbi expounded that the verse refers to “the Messiah, son of David.”

Saturday night before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus was at a dinner event in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. In attendance were siblings Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the 12 Disciples.[9]

Sunday, the next day, began the week that held a special Passover celebration. This particular year, Passover fell the day before the Sabbath causing a doubling of efforts on Preparation Day, now a day earlier, to accommodate the back-to-back work-restricted observances. John referred to this as a “high,” or “special” Sabbath, depending on the translation.[10]

One of the Disciples asked where they would be eating the Passover meal in Jerusalem? Jesus did not answer the question directly. Instead, he sent Peter and John ahead into Jerusalem to find both a donkey with its colt and a room where they could eat the Passover meal. No specific information was given, only clues.

Aimlessly entering the city looking for the clues Jesus had given to them, they found a tethered mother donkey with its colt.[11] If anyone were to ask why they were taking the donkeys, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”[12]

Peter and John found the mother donkey with its colt and were led by the man with the donkeys to a house with a an upper room prepared for the Passover. The owner allowed the Disciples to take the donkeys back to Jesus.

Entering Jerusalem for the last time, all four Gospel authors write about that Sunday when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.[13] The Sunday before Easter, it is known as “Palm Sunday” in Christianity.[14]

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 Christian 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. The original King James Version translates the Greek text more succinctly:

MT 21:7 “And brought the ass and the colt, and put on them their clothes and they set [him] thereon.” (KJV)

Matthew and John Gospel accounts both say that Jesus had asked them to find a mother donkey with its colt – if Jesus only wanted a donkey to ride, then he would have been expected to instruct the two Disciples to simply find a donkey. Instead, he told the two Disciples to find only a mother donkey with a colt and bring back both.

While neither of the Gospel accounts expressly state that Jesus sat on the colt rather than the mother donkey, logic further dictates that if the colt was not intended to be ridden, then no coats would be thrown of its back.

Both Gospels make reference to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy that explicitly states it would be a foal colt donkey.[15] If Jesus was not sitting on the colt, then the Zechariah prophecy was not fulfilled.

Riding on the back of a foal colt donkey into Jerusalem matched the Zechariah 9:9 Messiah prophecy. The prediction Jesus made a few days earlier also came to pass when Jesus entered Jerusalem and people shouted “”Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”[16]

Was this triumphal entry to Jerusalem no more than a two-fold coincidence – or was the Palm Sunday event the dual fulfillment of Messiah prophecies?

 

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] “Understanding Donkey Behavior.” The Donkey Sanctuary. 2018. <https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/sites/sanctuary/files/document/142-1404405754-donkey_health_and_welfare_19.pdf>
 [3] Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introduction to the Book of Zechariah.”
[4] “Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity>
[5] 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>
[6] Zechariah 9:9. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Chabad.org. 2021. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16213/showrashi/true
[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>
[15] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.
[16] Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13.