November 25, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Entry into Jerusalem

See Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19

All four Gospels tell us that Jesus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey, but Luke displays a more intimate knowledge of “the slope of the Mount of Olives” and other topographical features about the entry route. (That intimate knowledge is lacking in his reports about Galilee.)

When Jesus determined that “his time had come,” he deliberately called attention to himself by riding into the city like a conquering hero. It was a busy time in Jerusalem because Passover was near and apparently news that he was coming brought crowds out to welcome him. Many wanted to see this man who had raised Lazarus from the dead.

His procession began at Bethphage, at the top of the Mount of Olives. Perhaps Jesus had friends there since the donkey was willingly put at his disposal simply because Jesus’ disciples explained, “The Master has need of it.”

As Jerusalem came into view at the top of the Mount of Olives, 300 feet above the city, it was even more impressive than it is today. Today, the Dome of the Rock dominates the view, but then it was the magnificent temple, reconstructed and enlarged by King Herod the Great. There, too, was Herod’s Upper Palace with its three enormous towers, and the palace of the Hasmoneans, now serving as the Praetorium.

Seeing the splendor of the city, and knowing that it would be completely destroyed 40 years later, Jesus wept over it—the second time the Gospels say that he wept, the first being when he shared Martha and Mary’s grief over the death of Lazarus. He loved Lazarus and his sisters, and he loved Jerusalem, too. Today, the Church of Dominus Flevit (the Lord wept) is on that site.

The excitement grew as Jesus continued his descent. The people spread their cloaks on the road and cut olive branches from the trees (John’s Gospel says they were palms) and strewed them on the road. They shouted, “Hosanna,” the Hebrew word that meant “[O Lord,] grant salvation,” from Psalm 118:25, but “Hosanna” had come to be an acclamation of jubilation and welcome. They continued, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” from Psalm 118:26.

John’s Gospel says that some in the crowd added to this psalm verse, “the king of Israel.” But he immediately makes it clear that this king was coming in peace because he quotes the prophet Zechariah (Zec 9:9): “Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.”

Luke, too, says that the people proclaimed Jesus as king, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” inserting the title in Psalm 118:26. He then says that the people echoed the words of the angels at the birth of Jesus, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

This triumphant procession had its desired effect. But Jesus still had much teaching to do in Jerusalem during the next few days. †


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