Today is Palm Sunday and on this day the Church celebrates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. It is called Palm Sunday because the crowd “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him” as He entered Jerusalem (John 12:13) and “spread their cloaks on the road” (Mark 11:8) before Him. It is called the Triumphal Entry because on this trip into Jerusalem the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).
Normally, Jesus walked into Jerusalem but on this particular occasion He instructed two of His disciples: “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…the Lord has need of it” (Mark 11:2-3). Why did the Lord need to ride a colt to enter Jerusalem at this time? Jesus rode on the colt as a public demonstration to the Jews that He is the King of Israel who was spoken of by the Prophet Zechariah.
Approximately 500 years before Jesus was born the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was at this time that “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah” (Zech 1:1). Zechariah’s primary message was a call to the Jewish people to repent and renew their covenant with God. The Lord spoke through him: “Return to Me…and I will return to you” (Zech 1:4). Zechariah called the people to repentance and also prophesied of a future time when the Messiah (Future King) would appear. Zechariah prophesied, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). Jesus’ Triumphal Entry is a profound event in Jesus’ ministry. All four Gospel writers refer to it with Matthew and John specifically quoting Zechariah (Matt 21:5 & John 12:15).
The people who were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy rejoiced when they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt. Jesus was publicly declaring that He is the coming king who, as Zechariah prophesied, would “cut off the chariot…and the war horse…and the battle bow…He shall speak peace to the nations” (Zech 9:10). The Lord of hosts said that through the King, He would “set your prisoners free” (Zech 9:11), “protect them” (Zech 9:15), and “save them” (Zech 9:16). They responded with joy and they “spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields” (Mark 11:8). Mark writes, “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).
Why were they shouting Hosanna? Hosanna is a rare word that is transliterated rather than translated. For example, Hosanna is our English word that comes from the Greek word “Hosanna” which comes from the Hebrew word “Hosanna”. It means “Save us, now!” (“now” indicates intense emotion). Literally, it is when someone experiences intense emotion and cries out for immediate help. For example, in Psalm 118:25 we read: “Save us [Hosanna], we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” In this context it is a plea for the Lord to help quickly. The crowd is shouting joyfully (Luke 19:37) because they recognized that Jesus is entering Jerusalem as the King prophesied by the prophet Zechariah.
If you are familiar with the rest of the story, you know that the next week did not go as many of the people expected. Within days of shouting “Hosanna, save us!” they mocked Jesus, saying: “save yourself” (Matt 27:40). A few days after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt is His horrific exit from Jerusalem with a cross. What happened? The crowd was shouting “Hosanna!” because they wanted a King who would drive out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. It is understandable for them to think this because Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of winning battles and setting prisoners free. But what was happening?
What did the Crowd think was Happening?
The crowd wanted Jesus to become King (John 6:15). They wanted Him to go to Pilate’s palace and Herod’s palace and drive them out. They wanted Him to fulfill Isaiah 61:1-2 (see Luke 4:14-19) their way. Specifically, they wanted Him to:
- Proclaim good news to the poor (those who lack money)
- Proclaim liberty (to those who were held captive in Roman prisons)
- Proclaim recovery of (physical) sight to those who are blind
- Proclaim liberty to those who are oppressed (by Rome)
- They wanted the year of the Lord’s favor to be Jesus sitting in Jerusalem on David’s throne having defeated Rome.
What was Really Happening?
Jesus was not going into Jerusalem to sit on a throne (John 18:36), but to the cross to make an atoning sacrifice for sins (1 John 2:2). Jesus didn’t drive out Pilate and Herod, but the money changers in the Temple (Matt 21:12-13). Jesus truly fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2. He:
- Proclaimed good news to the poor (in Spirit)
- Proclaimed liberty (to those who were held captive to sin)
- Proclaimed recovery of (spiritual) sight to those who are blind (cannot see their sin)
- Proclaimed liberty to those who are (spiritually) oppressed (by Satan)
- Proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor in the forgiveness of sins and receiving of mercy and grace.