Christians around the world celebrate the Sunday before Easter as “Palm Sunday.” This year it falls on March 29. The events that occurred on this day are described in each of the four gospels. You may see this day called His “Triumphal Entry.” Palm Sunday begins what is also called “Passion Week” when Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, arrested, tried and sacrificed on the cross.
Palm Sunday begins as a time of great rejoicing and celebration. In Jerusalem, it marked the beginning of the week of Passover – the high point of the Israelite year. Jewish worshipers came to their holy city from all over the world to celebrate this special week. The Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that the population of Jerusalem during Passover often approached one million.
The Gospel writers describe how Jesus, entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding a donkey, amid shouts of praise and adulation. Luke wrote that Jesus came, “near the descent of the Mount of Olives” and “the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice” (Luke 19:37). Matthew added that, “Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest’” (Matthew 21:8-9). “Hosanna” was a word used in Psalm 118:25-27, meaning “Save Now,” which Israelites sang during the Feast of Booths. In New Testament times, the Jewish people, under the heavy hand of an oppressive Roman government, wanted salvation from that tyranny. However, Jesus came the first time to offer spiritual salvation, but it soon became apparent that was not what they wanted.
If you read all the gospel accounts of Palm Sunday, you will learn that no one but the Lord Jesus grasped the full significance of that day. The rejoicing multitudes thought this event was an entrance into the Kingdom Age. Luke wrote, “They supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). The truth about that day became obvious a few days later, when the shouts of “Hosanna” on Sunday, turned to cries of “Crucify Him” on Thursday. Israel longed for a kingly-Messiah, who would throw off the shackles of Rome, but Jesus came as the suffering-Messiah, who would enable believers to throw off the condemnation of sin.
As a whole, the people of Israel did not understand that this was the Messiah’s first coming, which involved His death as a sacrifice. In 750 BC, Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
No doubt, on that Palm Sunday, most Jews believed Jesus would fulfill the prophecy of the returning Messiah given by Zechariah: “Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:3-4). This nation-conquering, King-of-the-world, Messiah will come again in the future because, forty days after His resurrection, the disciples saw Jesus ascend from that same Mount of Olives. Luke wrote, “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The disciples were assured that Zechariah’s prophecy would be fulfilled exactly, by the words of two angels who said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Jesus had tried to correct the thinking of those who thought He would rule and reign then, by giving a parable that began, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself; and then return” (Luke 19:23). He will rule and reign, but not until after He was crucified and resurrected. The old saying is true: “First the cross—then the crown.”
As the crowds cheered Him on Palm Sunday, Jesus realized what was coming, and wept. Luke wrote, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42). Palm Sunday proved to be, instead of the awesome reception, the official rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. However, Palm Sunday was no surprise to God, who planned for Him to be crucified and resurrected so that we can be redeemed. Jesus suffered for our sins on that cross so that we might be saved, forgiven and accepted by God. Paul wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Things are not always what they seem to be. What appeared to be a glorious welcome in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday was, in fact, the first day of Christ’s sacrificial passion and ultimate crucifixion on the cross. But the cruel cross was not the end of the story, because the Palm Sunday of rejection was followed by the Easter Sunday of resurrection! We will rejoice in that next week!