SET 2: Season of Great Fast / Palm Sunday
Every year we celebrate Palm Sunday commemorating Jesus’ ceremonial entry into the Temple of Jerusalem before his self-sacrifice. This was an unusual demonstration of Jesus, following the example of some prophets of the old (1 Kgs 11:29-31; Jer 13:1-11; 27:1-11; Ezek 4:1-3; 5:1-4), to establish himself as the Messiah. The kings of Palestine used donkeys during the time of peace for their travel. When Jesus purposefully used a colt to enter Jerusalem as a humble leader of peace, his disciples and the public gladly welcomed him as their king and savior. The people unintentionally selected Jesus as the perfect “lamb” that God sent to replace the animal sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus answered through his passion, death, and resurrection, the traditional “Hosanna” appeal of the people to God for their salvation.
BIBLE TEXT (LUKE 19:28-40)
Jesus Enters Jerusalem
(Lk 19:28) After saying this, Jesus went on ahead of them towards Jerusalem. (29) When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, close to the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples with these instructions, (30) “Go to the village opposite and as you enter it you will find a colt tied up that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. (31) And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying this colt?’ you shall answer, ‘The Master needs it.’” (32) So the two disciples went and found things just as Jesus had said. (33) As they were untying the colt, the owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” (34) And they answered, “The Master needs it.” (35) So they brought it to Jesus and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they mounted Jesus on it. (36) And as he rode along, people spread their cloaks on the road. (37) When Jesus came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road slopes down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen, (38) and they cried out, “Blessed is he who comes as king in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” (39) Some Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Master, rebuke your disciples.” (40) But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they were to remain silent, the stones would cry out.”
Though Jesus went to Jerusalem several times for worship in the Temple and to preach, his main ministry was in Galilee. During his last trip to Jerusalem for his self-sacrifice, he continued teaching the public, and predicted to his disciples in private the passion, death, and resurrection awaiting him in Jerusalem. When he reached Jericho, he healed a blind beggar (Lk 18:35-43), converted Zacchaeus, a rich tax collector (Lk 19:1-10), and continued teaching in parables. The last entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was a symbolic expression of his messiahship. People, especially his disciples, welcomed him with unusual vigor and gladness.
Jesus Enters Jerusalem
(Lk 19:28) After saying this, Jesus went on ahead of them towards Jerusalem.
After saying this
According to Luke, Jesus moved from Jericho to Jerusalem after preaching in the house of Zacchaeus. Jesus told the parable of the ten gold coins either in Zacchaeus’ house or on the way after leaving his house. The parable was to clarify the misunderstanding of his disciples, “because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately” (Lk 19:11). In the parable, a nobleman went “to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return” (Lk 19:12). Though he gave one gold coin each to his ten servants, they yielded different results. The king handed over charge of ten cities to the one who gained ten coins out of the one coin. He entrusted the responsibility of five cities to another who earned five out of the one coin he had received. The king took away from the irresponsible servant the coin he returned without investing for profit.
Thus, Jesus conveyed that he was going to his Father to gain the kingship and will return in glory to establish the perfect kingdom. In the meantime, the disciples must continue his mission. They must be productive and give account of their savings at his second coming. He will reward them according to their productivity. Like the fellow citizens, who objected to the nobleman’s kingship, were slayed, those who reject Jesus would be destroyed at that time (Lk 19:27).
Jesus went on ahead of them towards Jerusalem
Jesus moved ahead of the people means, he was stopping in between the journey healing the sick that approached him and teaching the crowd gathered around him. When he moved forward, breaking the crowd, the people followed him. So, he was leading the people to Jerusalem as God was leading the Israelites in the desert, moving ahead of them in cloud form during the day, and as pillar of fire at night to the promised land (Ex 13:21-22). Later, during the reign of David, he made Jerusalem as its headquarters. Jesus was leading the people to the same city of God.
Another interpretation is that Jesus’ disciples were lingering behind Jesus when they were approaching Jerusalem. The disciples were afraid of how the enemies, who were plotting to kill Jesus, would react in Jerusalem. “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (Mk 10:32). Along with the life-threat of Jesus, the lives of disciples were also in jeopardy.
Jesus had repeatedly predicted his imminent passion and death in Jerusalem. “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve [disciples] aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day’” (Mt 20:17-19). Jesus had rejected Peter’s attempts to prevent him from such a tragic ending (Mt 16:22).
Though Jesus was also concerned about this extremely painful and shameful death on the cross, he was determined to carry out his mission and was sure of his victorious resurrection. He had voluntarily selected that course out of his love for humanity. So, he was moving forward cheerfully to win the lost heavenly citizenship of humanity. When there is assurance of success, a hero would confidently take up the tough means to attain it.
A mother would take up the hardships of pregnancy and childbirth with the goal of having a child of her own. During his last discourse, Jesus told his apostles, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world” (Jn 16:20-21). As Christians, we also take up hardships for the kingdom of God, foreseeing the reward Jesus promised at his return.
Jesus went on ahead of them towards Jerusalem
Jerusalem was former Salem, where Melchizedek offered sacrifices to God (Gen 14:18). He was a priest of the God Most High and king in Jerusalem. He was a prefigure of Jesus. Psalm predicts this, “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:17). When God asked Abram to sacrifice Isaack as a burned offering, He selected Moriah as the place for it. Many scholars hold that Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, was at Mount Moriah. From the time of King David, sacrifices were offered in Jerusalem. Jesus was going up to that mountain to spend his last days subjecting himself to the perfect sacrifice for humanity.
Though Jesus went to Jerusalem several times to celebrate the feasts, his last entry into Jerusalem had special significance. He entered solemnly as a humble king of peace and as a priest to offer himself as the lamb of sacrifice for the atonement of all humanity. That led to his victory over Satan.
(29) When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, close to the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples with these instructions
When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany
Bethphage was a village on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem. It was near Bethany, along the further side of Mount Olivet, east of Jerusalem. The exact location is unknown now. Bethphage means “the house of figs” because farmers cultivated fig there.
Bethany means “the house of dates,” and Gethsemane stands for “the oil-press.” All these were on the Mount of Olives, where olive trees were plenty. Jesus came from Jordan, spent a Sabbath at the house of Lazarus (Jn 12:1) in Bethany, and on Sunday, he entered Jerusalem via Bethphage. So, we celebrate this feast on the Sunday before Easter.
close to the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a hill east of Jerusalem. It has high significance in the Bible.
he sent two of the disciples with these instructions
The Bible does not mention the names of the two disciples. The scholars guess they might be Peter and John, whom Jesus sent later to prepare for the Passover (Lk 22:8).
(30) “Go to the village opposite and as you enter it you will find a colt tied up that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here.”
Go to the village opposite
None of the evangelists specify the name of the village. It could be Bethany or Bethphage.
As you enter it you will find a colt tied up
In Matthew, we read, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me” (Mt 21:2). Since he wrote for Jewish readers, he told the detail to prove the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 in Jesus’ ministry. “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9). Since Luke and Mark were writing for non-Jews and gentile converts, they did not specify that. The Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover, could understand the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 in Jesus as the Messiah when he, who had never used a donkey or colt for travel, was entering Jerusalem symbolically.
that no one has yet ridden.
As the evangelist specifies, the colt would imply that no one had traveled on it. Animals used for sacred purpose should be free from defects and unused. “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron: This is the statute for the ritual which the LORD has commanded. Tell the Israelites to procure for you a red heifer without defect and free from every blemish and on which no yoke has ever been laid. You will give it to Eleazar the priest, and it will be led outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence” (Num 19:1-3). God made a similar requirement in Deuteronomy 21:3 and the priests in 1 Samuel 6:7. No one had used the womb Jesus used for his birth from virgin Mary and the tomb used for his burial (Lk 23:53).
Scholars assume Jesus used both donkey and colt one after another. The Pharisees and Scribes enforced burdensome rites and ceremonies of the law over the Jews like the donkey that had to carry heavy loads. The colt which was untamed was allegorical of the Gentiles. Christ used both the donkey and its colt, symbolizing the Jews and the Gentiles whom he guided to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Untie it and bring it here.
While the two disciples went to get the animal, Jesus continued staying where he was, resuming his preaching to the people who were around him.
(31) And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying this colt?’ you shall answer, ‘The Master needs it.’”
‘Why are you untying this colt?’
Jesus did not ask the two disciples to ask permission to get the colt because he was familiar with the owner of the colt and had pre-arranged for its release for him. So, the entry of Jesus on the donkey was his pre-planned activity, though others were unaware of it.
And if anyone asks you
This could mean the owner, who might not be aware of the purpose of it, the servant in charge of the colt, or any bystander.
You shall answer, ‘The Master needs it.’
The owner could also be an admirer of Jesus, and that could be the reason for using the term “master” in answer to the inquirer. The owner and the two disciples were not aware of what Jesus was going to do with the colt. He had never used such an animal to travel or carry goods. Some scholars consider “The Master needs it” as a password pre-arranged between the owner and Jesus to identify Jesus’s representatives who would be assigned to get the animal.
(32) So the two disciples went and found things just as Jesus had said.
Though the disciples were not aware of Jesus’ intention with the colt, they obeyed the order of their master. Mark gives more details of this. “So they went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it” (Mk 11:4).
(33) As they were untying the colt, the owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” (34) And they answered, “The Master needs it.”
Mark documents, “Some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They answered them just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it” (Mk 11:5-6). However, in Luke, the owners of the colt were asking the question. The plural could mean the couple of the family, any two or more members of the family, or owner along with his partner. Both Mark and Luke could be correct if the masters and the bystanders had asked because the disciples or Jesus did not use colt before. The owners allowed the disciples to take away the colt without further question.
(35) So they brought it to Jesus and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they mounted Jesus on it.
The colt had no saddle on it because none had used it before. So, when the disciples brought the colt to Jesus, they spread their garments upon it. They helped Jesus to mount on the untamed colt.
According to Matthew 21:4, Jesus used the ass and a colt for establishing his kingship as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies by quoting from Zachariah 9:9 combined with Isaiah 62:11. Prophets had the practice of using symbolic actions to communicate a message to the people in a non-verbal and memorable manner.
(36) And as he rode along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
as he rode along
The route of Jesus on the colt was from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount. The donkey was an animal of peace, while the horse was the animal of war. A king would ride a horse when going to war, and after winning the war, he returned on a donkey to symbolize the establishment of peace. Ass was also symbolic of service, suffering, and humility that were characteristics of Jesus.
A week-long annual feast of Passover was taking place. So, the Jews from nearby and faraway places were gathering in Jerusalem for sacrifice. They were of different backgrounds: those who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee, the excited people who had seen Lazarus whom Jesus brought back to life from the tomb (Jn 12:17), those who had heard of Jesus but had never seen him before, those who wanted to greet him again, and those whom Jesus cured and wanted to reiterate their gratitude towards him.
spread their cloaks on the road.
This is a reminder of how people had welcomed King Jehu. When the king’s servants came to know that Elisha’s aide anointed Jehu as the new king, “At once each took his garment, spread it under Jehu on the bare steps, blew the horn, and cried out, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kgs 9:13). So, the crowd that welcomed Jesus, who entered Jerusalem mounting on a donkey, recognized the kingship of Jesus and welcomed him like their new king according to their tradition. However, they were not aware that his royalty differed from the past Jewish kings.
Matthew and Mark (11:8) mention the use of tree branches for the reception of Jesus. “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road” (Mt 21:8). Since this symbolic entry of Jesus on a donkey was an unexpected event, the people made use of their cloaks and branches of trees to greet and honor Jesus as the king. It was easy for them to cut olive branches because they were passing through the Mount of Olives.
The people’s reaction was as if they were celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles for which they used olive branches and palm leaves. “On the first day you shall take choice fruits, palm branches, boughs of leafy trees and willows from the riverbank, and for seven days you shall rejoice in the presence of the LORD your God” (Lev 23:40). On the anniversary of the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean war, people used branches of trees with leaves and palms to sing hymns of grateful praise to God (2 Mac 10:7). Jesus was also on the way of purification of the Temple that the Jewish leaders had profaned.
When people wanted to make Jesus King of the Jews because he had multiplied loaves of bread (Jn 6:15), Jesus had declined it. People have been expecting that the Kingdom of God would appear soon (Lk 19:11). Jesus received a warm welcome from the people when he revealed himself as the spiritual king of the world and fulfillment of the prophecies.
(37) When Jesus came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road slopes down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen.
When Jesus came near Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a high mountain approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. It is a Biblically significant area.
– Melchizedek, “a priest of God Most High” was also the king of Salem, which is Jerusalem (Gen 14:18).
– God had asked Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, which was later known as Jerusalem (Gen 22:1-14; 2 Chr 3:1).
– Isaiah prophesied Jerusalem as the site for the temple of God. “In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it” (Isa 2:2).
– David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city.
– Solomon built the Temple there.
– As per prophecy, the Jewish scholars and Jesus preached from Jerusalem. “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Mic 4:2).
– Joseph and Mary presented Infant Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22) and was bringing him to the Temple each year for Passover (Lk 2:41).
– Jesus was lost and found in the Temple when he was 12 years old (Lk 2:41-50).
– He took part in the major feasts of the Temple, preached there, and performed miracles.
– Jesus was sentenced, tortured, crucified, and buried here. On the third day, he rose from the dead here.
– According to Jesus, “Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47).
– Peter and John healed a crippled beggar at the temple area (Acts 3:1-10).
– Peter preached in Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin questioned Peter and John there (Acts 4:5-22).
at the place where the road slopes down from the Mount of Olives
Jesus started his triumphant entry to Jerusalem, crossing Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives on a donkey. Formerly, Jesus had gone to the feast of Tabernacles in secret because his time had not yet reached, and the Jews were trying to kill him (Jn 7:1-10). Now the time had arrived for his sacrifice, and he openly and solemnly entered the Temple, allowing the people to honor him with a royal welcome. When the reception was moving down the slopes of the Mount of Olives, people on the Temple Mount also had a panoramic view of Jesus and the surrounding crowd.
the whole multitude of his disciples
The initial people who accompanied Jesus from the Mount of Olives were a few, including his apostles. However, when the procession reached the road that slopes down to the Kidron Valley heading towards Jerusalem, a vast multitude of people greeted him from the two mountain slopes. Since a week-long annual feast of Passover was taking place, the Jews from nearby and faraway places had gathered in Jerusalem for sacrifice.
According to Luke, the whole multitude that greeted Jesus was the wide range of his disciples who admired his teachings and miracles throughout Palestine and the neighboring regions. Many had been accompanying him from Galilee and others were already encamped in Jerusalem.
began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice
By the time Jesus reached close to the Kidron Valley, there was a superb view of him in the middle of crowds greeting him from two mountain tops, the Mount of Olives, and the Temple Mount. They were glad that Jesus, who declined kingship after he had multiplied loaves of bread (John 6:15), was now accepting such an honor. Though unsure of the type of kingship he was accepting, they rejoiced and praised God for sending them the long-awaited Messiah. They had been expecting that the Kingdom of God would appear soon (Luke 19:11). Jesus received the warm welcome of the people when the time came for him to reveal that he was the spiritual king of the world and fulfillment of the prophesies.
The enormous crowd’s rejoicing and praising of God was aloud because of their excitement, and the voice echoed from the two mountains. That might have attracted more crowd and brought the attention of the Jewish authorities and priests to Jesus.
for all the miracles they had seen
The Jews who gathered in Jerusalem for Passover had experienced or witnessed the miracles of Jesus over the past three years. The most recent and greatest of the miracles Jesus performed was raising Lazarus on the fourth day after his burial (Jn 11:38-44). So, they rejoiced at the sight of Jesus again and praised God aloud on behalf of him.
(38) and they cried out, “Blessed is he who comes as king in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”
they cried out
The people who welcomed Jesus were shouting with joy at Jesus as a king of peace. They were excited and made a loud noise that was echoed in between the mountains of Olives and the Temple Mount.
Blessed is he
The priest in charge of the Temple used to welcome the pilgrim caravans with the words of blessing. Here, the people were welcoming Jesus with the same words of blessing.
who comes as king in the name of the Lord.
For Luke, this royal reception people offered to Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 118:26-27. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God and has enlightened us. Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar.” The people who came to celebrate the Passover welcomed Jesus as their God-sent king to rule over them. Following the tradition of welcoming a new king, they were earnestly praying for God’s blessing on him, his government, and his undertakings.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
At the birth of Jesus, a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). The acclamation of the disciples of Jesus welcoming to the Temple resembled the words of the angels at the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus gave peace to the downtrodden and his works were manifestation of God’ glory. Jesus had arrived at Jerusalem, that means “city of peace.” He offered peace to his disciples, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). With the advent of the Messianic king, people were wishing for heavenly peace and glory to come upon the new king.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
The Bible speaks of three heavens that are to be distinguished from the context. It begins by stating: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) suggesting multiple heavens or different layers of heaven.
Jesus, the Messiah, would bring peace and salvation on the earth. So, the crowd wished glory to God in the highest heavens on behalf of the king who came in the name of God. Instead of Hosanna, Luke uses glory to God.
Matthew adds more description of the reception of Jesus into Jerusalem. “The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.’ And when he entered Jerusalem, the entire city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee’” (Mt 21:8-11).
Hosanna is two words combined: Hoshia-na means “save now.” It refers to Psalm 118 that had been a liturgical hymn of the Feast of Tabernacle seeking God’s salvation of humanity. Using palm branches was also the native Jew’s acclamation of jubilation and their welcome to the pilgrims.
When the people acclaimed Hosanna to the “Son of David,” they addressed it to Jesus acknowledging him as the Messiah, the successor of David. According to God’s covenant with King David, the Messiah would come from David’s lineage, and he will govern all nations for eternity (1 Chr 17:11-14).
(39) Some Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Master, rebuke your disciples.”
The Pharisees viewed Jesus as a blasphemous person who forgave sins, misguided the Jews from their traditional beliefs and religious practices, healed the sick on the Sabbath, and allowed his disciples to break the traditional customs of purification. Now, the people who had seen the wondrous deeds of Jesus were going after him. So, the Pharisees felt the situation was getting out of their control and wanted to silence the crowd.
The Pharisees were sure that the kingship people acclaimed was not an appraisal against the Roman authorities but favoring the messianic claim of Jesus, to which they strongly disagreed. The disciples, not just the apostles, were leading the approbation for Jesus. Only Jesus could keep them quiet. They thought Jesus, who came as humble and meek, would deny his messiahship, or at least avoid public praise for him.
(40) But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they were to remain silent, the stones would cry out.”.
Though Jesus had revealed his messiahship to the apostles and asked them to keep it secret from the public (Mt 16:20; 17:9), he allowed the disciples and the public to acknowledge it in his last entry into Jerusalem. He was reaching to the peak of his ministry and mission. So, instead of complying with the request of the Pharisees, Jesus told them, “If they were to remain silent, the stones would cry out.” This has resemblance to Habakkuk 2:11 when the prophet criticized the palaces built at the expense of injustice: “For the stone in the wall shall cry out, and the beam in the frame shall answer it!” While addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees, John the Baptist said, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Mt 3:9). These hyperbolic expressions are not to be taken literally, but as an affirmation of what must happen.
PALM SUNDAY AND THE JEWISH PASSOVER
The passion and crucifixion of Jesus matched with the Jewish Passover observance. It started with the sacrificial lamb’s selection that should be free from blemish. Jesus was the perfect “lamb” without blemish from birth, whom God sent to become an atoning sacrifice for all humanity. The Israelites selected the sacrificial lamb on the tenth day of Nisan, which according to Christian calendar was on Sunday, April 2nd that year. The people welcomed Jesus to the Temple that day as their redeemer. After Jesus cleansed the Temple, the agitated priests confirmed the people’s selection by their decision to kill him. The Israelites sacrificed the paschal lamb on the 14th of Nisan. That was on Thursday, April 6th from sunset to April 7th sunset that year. The crucifixion of Jesus was on Friday, April 7th, before sunset.
Pilgrims brought the paschal lamb up from Bethpage and went to the Temple mount. Likewise, the people selected Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, and led him to the Temple for sacrifice along the same route. When Pilate gave them a choice, the people confirmed their selection of Jesus for crucifixion instead of the blemished Barabbas.