What Really Happened on Palm Sunday?

John Piper, Desiring God

Luke describes the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week of his earthly life:

As he was drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luke 19:37, 38)

Palm Sunday: Today and To Come

There is no doubt what was in the disciples' minds. This was the fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy given centuries earlier:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9, 10)

The long-awaited Messiah had come, the king of Israel, and not just of Israel but of all the earth. Jerusalem would be his capital city. From here he would rule the world in peace and righteousness. What a day this was! How their hearts must have pounded in their chests! And must not their hands have been sweaty like warriors in readiness just before the bugle sounds the battle! How would he do it? Would he whip up the enthusiastic crowds and storm the Roman praetorium—a people's revolution? Or would he call down fire from heaven to consume the enemies of God? Would any of his followers be lost in the struggle? The tension of the moment must have been tremendous!

The Pharisees had a double reason for wanting this kind of welcome silenced. On the one hand, this Jesus was a threat to their authority, and they envied his popularity (Mark 15:10). On the other hand, they feared a Roman backlash to all this seditious talk of another king (John 11:48). Therefore they say to Jesus, "'Teacher, rebuke your disciples.' But he answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!"' (Luke 19:39, 40). No, he will not rebuke them for this. Not now. The hour has come. The authority of the Pharisees is done for. If the Romans come, they come. He will not silence the truth any longer. To be sure the disciples' understanding of Jesus' kingship at this point is flawed. But hastening events will correct that soon enough. In essence they are correct. Jesus is the king of Israel, and the kingdom he is inaugurating will bring peace to all the nations and spread from sea to sea. The book of Revelation pictures the final fulfillment of Palm Sunday in the age to come like this:

I looked and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9, 10)

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