Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

A Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem

Posted by foryourfaith on March 24, 2010

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The four gospels all record that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding an animal in a triumphal procession a few days before his death. Matthew and Mark describe the crowds as holding branches – but only John says that they were from palms.

Although the stories in their present form are probably influenced by early church interpretations, the basic underlying event is easily discernible. Passover was one of the three pilgrim festivals of Judaism. In the days preceding the festival proper, thousands of pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem, transforming the roads into the Holy city into crowded highways. The pilgrimage was a sacred duty ordained by Scripture. Yet it was also a holiday, and no doubt a festive spirit pervaded the growing crowds as they approach the city.

Certain psalms were associated with the various festivals. One such song was Psalm 118, in which the word hosanna occurs, together with a reference to branches used in worship at the Temple. Celebrants sang verses from Psalm 118 at the feast of Tabernacles and at Passover. Words from the song seem directly related to the story of Jesus’ entry before Passover. In Mark’s version, which is probably the earliest, the crowds shout “Hosanna . . . Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Here they are reciting lines from the Psalm (verses 25, 26).

There is, on the surface, nothing remarkable about the event as Mark tells it. Jesus and his disciples are but a few of many pilgrims entering Jerusalem for Passover. The pilgrims are changing sacred psalms and carrying branches in their procession, a description that seems to evoke the feast of Tabernacles, in the fall, better than it does the spring festival of Passover.

Yet the stories say much more than this. In various ways, they all tell the reader that Jesus is not just one among many; he is unique, he is the Messiah-King entering his city. The very fact that Jesus rides on an animal points to Zechariah 9:9, a prediction of a humble king entering Jerusalem. Matthew and John explicitly cite the passage while the other two Gospels indicate that the reader should hear the story with that passage in mind.

And while Mark suggests that the crowds are singing to and about Jesus, in Matthew they specifically acclaim Jesus to be “Son of David,” in Luke and John, the “King.” What on the surface is a simple event becomes a momentous messianic act. The main difference between Mark and the other Gospels is that for Mark the event remains a “secret,” which is not objectively observable though understood by the reader. In the others, the meaning is perceived by the actors in the story itself.

Whether Jesus intentionally acted out the prediction from Zechariah to symbolize his claim to be Messiah or whether the messianic color given to the accounts is due to later Christian reflection upon the meaning of the event cannot be known with certainty. But this ride into Jerusalem has been transformed into one of the joyous celebrations of the Christian year.

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2 Responses to “A Triumphal Entry Into Jerusalem”

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