Why Did the Crowd Shout ‘Hosanna in the Highest’ for Jesus?

“Hosanna” is both a prayer and a nationalistic chant. If so, we must ask if the crowd’s praise of Jesus is valid or not. In the main, the crowd is misguided, primarily hoping Jesus will win a military victory over Rome, as later verses show.

Updated May 04, 2021
Why Did the Crowd Shout ‘Hosanna in the Highest’ for Jesus?

Hosanna plays a big role in our worship today. We see the word in worship songs, see children singing it on Palm Sunday as they wave palm branches, and, of course, we witness it playing a major role in the Holy Week narrative we find in the Gospels. But what exactly does this word mean? Did it have some ill-intentions when used in the first century AD? And how can we redeem the phrase, "Hosanna in the highest?" Let's take a look at all these questions below.

What Does Hosanna Mean?

Many of us know that Hosanna typically means, "Save us now." According to Strong's, Hosanna also seems to be a cry for blessing. Its Hebraic origin, Yasha, means to "liberate us" or "save us from battle." We see the word used about 200 times in the Old Testament.

This means that the Israelites throughout all their history had grown used to shouting "Hosanna" or "Yasha" to the Lord. They wanted salvation from their enemies, in most cases. We witness the most usage of the word in the Psalms. This makes sense with Saul chasing after David so much of his life, and with Israel's political enemies looking to take King David down a peg.

In essence, Hosanna means save us, liberate us, and give us favor.

If God saved them so many times in the past from their enemies such as the Philistines or the Amalekites, why do Christians look down upon how they used it in the Gospel narratives (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, John 12:13). Let's examine where the Israelites went wrong and had misused Hosanna.

Why Hosanna Had Political Undertones

Israel had gotten used to God getting them out of difficult situations. They experienced 400 years of slavery in Egypt, and then Moses came onto the scene and led them in an Exodus after God sent the 10 plagues on Egypt. When the Babylonians had taken them into captivity, God had the Medo-Persians wipe the Babylonians out. And after 70 years of captivity, Israel returned.

Even during the silent years (the years in which we don't have any books in the Scripture canon), the Israelites overcame Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who tried to Hellenize the Jewish people and put a statue to Zeus in the temple, an abomination. 

So when Rome stepped onto the scene in 63 BC, by the time Jesus stepped onto the scene a century later, they wanted to see similar results. They'd cried out to God more than 200 times in the past, and the Lord came through. 

But every time they tried to crown Jesus king (John 6:15) or tried to push him to lead an insurrection, he refuses. He calls himself the Prince of Peace, and like Judas who exchanged Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, the Jews were getting desperate. They'd seen so many insurrections fail, watched so many zealots get crucified on the sides of roads. And here walks in this miracle worker. Surely he must be the one to deliver them, as the prophecies foretold, they must've thought.

So they lay down palm branches, a symbol of victory. As a way to say, "Hey, Jesus, get the hint. We like your miracles and all, but we'd like to get Rome off our backs. You've been doing this ministry thing for three years, and we're at the end of our rope." 

Let's take a look at the passages listed above to get a hint of the desperation in the peoples' cries:

Matthew 21:9: "The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Notice the "Son of David" part. They knew that an heir of David would save the people. But they did not know in what way. They'd forgotten the greater enemy, sin. And they prioritized a lesser enemy, Rome.

Mark 11:9: "Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

John 12:13: "They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

How do we know that they were desperate? Because less than one week later, they shouted for the Roman officials to crucify Jesus. By Good Friday, they'd lost all hope. They'd gotten frustrated at God for not sending someone who would liberate them from Rome. And so they waited for God to send someone else, and condemned this Savior to death.

Why Did the Israelites Miss the Point?

Yes, throughout the Old Testament, God had rescued them from their enemies. But especially in the time of the Judges, we see why the enemies step onto the scene in the first place. Let's take a look at those verses found in Judges to discover the common link:

Judges 3:7 (before Othniel the judge steps on the scene): "The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs."

Judges 3:12 (before Ehud): "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel."

Judges 4:1 (before Deborah): "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead."

We could keep going, but we can see the common link: sin. Enemies overtook Israel because they sinned. When Jesus arrives on the scene, he tries to help them see the bigger picture. They don't need to be rescued from Rome. They needed to be rescued from their own sinful nature.

The Israelites got stuck on all the times God had defeated enemies in the past that they had forgotten what got them trapped in the first place.

How Can We Redeem Hosanna?

Yet, we still sing Hosanna in our churches today. Why? Because we have changed the meaning of the word. Instead of asking God to remove us from our enemies, we ask God to rescue us from our sin. We praise him for having pulled us out of the pit and into His glorious light.

I think it's easy to look at the Israelites and scoff. "Why couldn't they see Jesus as their Savior? Why were they so bent on destroying Rome when they had a far greater enemy taking a foothold?"

But think of all the times you've asked God to remove you from a situation that has resulted from your own sin, rather than asking God to forgive you and rescue you from the sin that got you there in the first place. Often as Christians, we focus on the enemies (with a lowercase e) rather than the Enemy. The phrase Hosanna helps to remind us about who liberated us from sin. The same Savior we need to cling to when we face temptations and trials.

For further reading:

What Is the Meaning of Hosanna in the Bible?

What Is Palm Sunday? — Bible Story and Meaning Today

Why Did Jesus Ride a Donkey into Jerusalem? The Triumphal Entry

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Maria Marganingsih

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, book editor for hire, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids. Check out her editing profile at Reedsy.com to find out about hiring her for your next book project.


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