The Return of the King
With the exception of important festivals, Jesus spent most of his 3 year mission teaching away from Jerusalem, mostly in small towns and villages. While annoying and frustrating to the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes, they did not move against him while his movement, like that of the Essenes (Dead Sea Scrolls) stayed primarily in the outskirts of Judea. However, Jesus moves closer to the capitol city as Passover approaches. Preaching and serving in the area, he raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days prior to entering Jerusalem for the Passover. This miracle was greater than any other Jesus had previously performed. It was believed that the spirit of the dead remained near the body for 3 days, after which the spirit was gone forever. Here, Jesus called forth Lazarus on the fourth day, showing he even had power over the grave, something even Moses and other great prophets never performed The news spread quickly, and the Jewish leaders began to plan the murder of Lazarus and Jesus..
During Jesus' mission, he gained followers throughout Israel over the preceding three years, but he also gained many enemies. His critique of the Sadducees and Pharisees increased with each visit to Jerusalem, especially at the previous year's Festivals of Tabernacles and Dedication,
where he called himself the Light of the World, and performed many miracles.
It is Springtime, and the animals are birthing in the fields. It is the time of Passover, when Israel solemnly remembers the Ten Miracles of Moses in Egypt, culminating in the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, sprinkling its blood on the doorposts so that the Destroyer will pass over that household, and eating its flesh as a symbol of salvation.
And now the Messiah enters triumphantly into the city of David. He rides while his followers wave palm fronds and lay their cloaks out for him to ride upon. The laying out of cloaks was a sign of submission, while the palm fronds represented victory. First century Jewish coins had a palm leaf symbol with the phrase “redemption of Zion” on them, signifying that the Jews sought a Messiah who would save them from Rome’s oppression. Jesus’ riding on the ass’ foal fulfilled a prophecy of Zechariah (Zech 9:9). Jesus chose a donkey to ride upon. Horses were used for war. Donkeys were a symbol of peace. The colt especially was a harmless and peaceful animal, just as Christ was come to be the Prince of Peace and not the violent warrior many Jews wished for.
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright (recently quoted in General Conference by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland), noted that whenever a triumphant king came back to his city after battle, the people would come out to him, cheering and praising him. Here, we see the people accepting Jesus as their king and Messiah/Savior. Wright notes that at the Second Coming, the righteous will be translated up to the sky, to meet the triumphant, resurrected and glorified Lord, as he returns to reign during the Millennium.
The people shouted out, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matt 21:9). Hosanna means “save now” or “save us”. So the people were asking Christ to save them. As Son of David, they recognized him as their king. King David successfully defeated the enemies of Israel, and they expected Jesus to do the same.
The shout comes from Psalms 118:
10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.
11They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
12 They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord:
20 This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
We will see that Jesus will quote a portion of this later to the Jewish leaders, telling them he is the stone which the builders (they) had rejected. For now, the people are begging him to “Save now” (Hosanna) and to send prosperity (in the highest). Yet the people do not fully understand the Messianic meaning of the Psalm. For them, the sacrifice would be the destruction of Rome. However, Jesus knows, even as he enters triumphantly into the City of David, he is the sacrifice bound with cords to the altar of the temple.
This triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday will be very different than his exit out the gate on Friday. Instead of riding, he will be carrying his own cross. Instead of shouting “Hosanna!”, the people will shout “crucify him!” Instead of being Son of David and King of Israel, he will be a traitor, blasphemer and a criminal worthy of the worst death imaginable. Instead of being surrounded by believers, he will have thieves to each side. Instead of reviving the dead Lazarus on the Saturday before, he will die.
Crucifixion and Resurrection
Standing before the crowds, Pilate offered them a choice. Every Passover, as a sign of support for the Jewish faith, one criminal's death sentence would be pardoned. Barabbas, or Bar Abbas (Son of Father) stood next to Jesus. Barabbas was a Zealot Messiah, one who truly did seek to overthrow the Roman captivity. While Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Barabbas murdered his Roman enemies. While Barabbas' name claimed him to be the son of God and the Messiah, Jesus' name in Hebrew was Yeshua/Yehoshua/Joshua, meaning "God is Salvation." The prophet Zechariah foresaw a Joshua who would be Messiah. The name "Christ" means "Messiah" and probably wasn't a last name for Jesus in his day, but a descriptive term: Jesus the Christ/Messiah.
The people chose Barabbas, suggesting where their hearts lay. In 70 AD and in 135 AD, Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans because the people followed Zealot messiahs attempting to overthrow Rome's control. Such pride is in great contrast to the humility that Jesus displayed as he was tried, found guilty, whipped, and crucified.
The Pharisees and Sadducees succeeded in turning Jesus from the Returning King, to a treasonous and blasphemous criminal.
The Pharisees and scribes constantly demanded a "sign from heaven." Healing the sick was good, but to ensure that Jesus was truly Messiah and prophet, he would have to do better than that for them. Raising Lazarus from the dead was such a sign, but drove the hypocrites from anger to murderous intent. Even while upon the cross, many still demanded a sign from Jesus: have God rescue him from death. Imagine hearing those surrounding the crucified Christ, "he could heal others, but cannot save himself!" But he would save himself, and all the rest of us as well. Death and Hell no longer held any power over him, or over us, if we but turn to him.
Finally, there are no greater words ever spoken than these:
He is Risen
Previous blog posts on this lesson
Matthew 21-23 - Triumphant Entry and Teaching in the Temple
Matthew 24 - Jesus' Teaching on the Last Days
Matthew 25 - Teaching in the Temple
Matthew 26 - Gethsemane
Matthew 28 - He is not here. He is Risen!
Festival of Tabernacles in Jesus' Day
Jesus and the Passover/Last Supper
N.T. Wright, "How God Became King"
Elder Holland quotes N.T. Wright