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The Life of Jesus - Series 11: Episode 1

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph

| Martin Charlesworth
Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 11:55-12:1
John 12:9-19

After events in Bethany and Jericho, Jesus orchestrates his provocative entry into Jerusalem. He weeps for Israel and the judgement to come.

After events in Bethany and Jericho, Jesus orchestrates his provocative entry into Jerusalem. He weeps for Israel and the judgement to come.


Hello, and welcome to Series 11 Episode 1, in which we discuss ‘Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem’. This is well documented in all four Gospels and we'll be using passages from different Gospels as we go through the story. But we'll be focusing on John 12, and also Matthew 21: 1 - 11 will be a key text.

Introduction and Recap

We've finally arrived at the gates of Jerusalem after a long period of expectation in the story. If you've been following Series 8, 9 and 10 you'll see the progression of the story as Jesus leaves Galilee, and takes an extended tour around the central and southern parts of the country, in order to arrive finally in Jerusalem for a showdown with the religious authorities. We've been waiting for this moment for a long time. The texts have been hinting at the coming of this time. Jesus has been predicting what's going to happen after he arrives in the city, predicting his own suffering, his own trial, death and resurrection. It's going to be a fairly dramatic moment in this episode as we see what actually happens. In the meantime, the crowds have been getting intensely interested in Jesus and what he intends to do, with tremendous expectations of him perhaps performing some kind of a political coup against the Romans at this particular time. This is the time of the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, is in residence. He doesn't live there generally, but he always tended to come for the main feasts. There's a big contingent of Roman soldiers keeping an eye on a bulging population of pilgrims, visitors, worshippers, and family members, who join together in Jerusalem.

One of the preceding events, that we noted in John's Gospel, that took place not so very long before this arrival in Jerusalem, was the raising of Lazarus from the dead, as recorded in John 11. We looked at that a few episodes back. This took place in Bethany, a village just a few kilometres outside Jerusalem where Jesus visited the area very briefly. It was a sensational and spectacular event where Lazarus was brought forth from the tomb, having been in the tomb for four days, and he was raised from the dead in an utterly miraculous way. Let's pick up the story from John's point of view.

Tension and Excitement Builds

At the end of the story of the raising of Lazarus, just having a look at some of the implications for the future, John 11: 55 to12: 1,

‘When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the Temple courts they asked one another, "What do you think? Isn't he coming to the festival at all?" But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so they might arrest him. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.’

John 11:55-12:1, NIV

Then moving on to verse 9

‘Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there,’ in Bethany ‘and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priest made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.’

John 12:9-11, NIV

John points out the fact that the raising of Lazarus in Bethany, just a few kilometres away, was having a really big impact on the mood of the population, and indeed of visitors. Many had witnessed this resurrection and were in eager anticipation of Jesus' return to the area. John records that he returns to the village of Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived, and this created quite a sense of excitement.

The religious authorities were very concerned about what was going to happen at this particular Passover Feast. They sense that the popularity of Jesus could overwhelm them completely, and they wanted to arrest Jesus if he was arriving at this Passover. These events in Bethany are important, but Luke has also given us, as we've seen in the recent episode, some insight into Jesus' recent visit to a nearby city of Jericho where another huge crowd gathered and they were aware that Jesus was heading up to Jerusalem; they're expecting something dramatic to happen. Both Luke and John indicate, with different parts of the narrative, that there was a great sense of anticipation and excitement concerning this particular visit of Jesus to Jerusalem.

The Triumphal Entry

Let's read the account as given by Matthew which is the main account we're going to focus on, Matthew 21: 1 - 11. This actually describes Jesus coming into the city, just shortly after the events described in John's Gospel that I mentioned a moment ago from John 12 and 11.

‘As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away." This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!" When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."’

Matthew 21:1-11, NIV

It's a very dramatic scene. The crowds are gathering. Jesus approaches the city and he comes to a place called the Mount of Olives, which will feature in the story significantly during the next period of time, because the Mount of Olives is a small hill that sits alongside the city of Jerusalem, and is slightly higher than the city of Jerusalem with a valley in between, the Kidron Valley. As you stand at the top of the Mount of Olives you get a wonderful view of the city of Jerusalem; its walls, Temple, its dwellings, and the structure of the city. Modern tourists to Israel will frequently go to the Mount of Olives to take photos of the modern city of Jerusalem, which also has walls, and various churches, mosques and synagogues scattered across the skyline of the old city of Jerusalem. But in those days the city was smaller. The city was focused much more on the Temple building in the Temple compound, which is a dominant building right in the middle.

Old Testament Prophecy

Jesus asked two of his disciples to go and to get hold of a donkey and a colt that miraculously they would find nearby, and he wanted to use these so that he could ride into the city of Jerusalem. The writer, Matthew, tells us that there is a prophecy in the book of Zechariah that is being fulfilled by this particular event. Indeed, there is a remarkable prophecy in Zechariah 9: 9, which is in a prophecy about the first and second coming of Jesus, in which it says that, ‘the Messiah will come, the King will come, gentle and riding on a donkey.’ The donkey appears here to be a symbol of peace, of humility, as Jesus comes into the city in order to bring salvation. It's noticeable, by comparison, that John, when writing in the book of Revelation about the Second Coming, uses the image of a white horse, a military horse that a general might sit on, as the animal upon which Jesus rides, when he comes for the Second Coming, coming in power and glory, and judgement and authority. (Rev 6:1 - 6) But here Jesus is riding on a donkey.

The crowds are large, and expectations that Jesus is going to do something dramatic in Jerusalem are raised, cloaks are placed on the road, branches are cut, put on the road, and the crowds are gathering from all sorts of different places, and they're expecting something dramatic to happen. The crowd spontaneously call out these three different chants: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" and “Hosanna in the highest heaven!" This word ‘hosanna!’ can mean ‘save’, can mean ‘God save’, or it can mean ‘praise to God’. The background to these statements is in Psalm 118. I want to turn to this Psalm very briefly, because there's a lot of fulfilment of Scriptural prophecy in Jesus' death and resurrection and all the events that surround them. This is an interesting Psalm to have a look at. Psalm 118 is one of the Psalms that the Jews consider to be referring to the Messiah, the coming King. They had a number of Psalms which they felt were Messianic, and Psalm 118 is one of those, particularly the last section. I'm going to read a section from this Psalm, from verse 22

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it's marvellous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.’

Psalm 118:22-29, NIV

This particular Psalm was used for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and for singing as people were travelling to the city and coming into the city. Verse 26 is the verse that is quoted in one of these acclamations that are made by the crowd: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" which the Jews considered to be a prophetic statement about the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, who would come in the later days and fulfil the duties of the monarchy of King David, and restore the nation to its former glory. The fact that this statement is being made along with "Hosanna! to the Son of David." shows that the crowd sees Jesus unambiguously as the Messiah, and the saviour who's going to come and redeem the whole nation, and probably he's going to bring about some kind of a political or military coup here in the city against the Romans, and the Jewish religious authorities. That's the kind of expectation that the people had. "Hosanna in the highest heaven!" They were excited by what they anticipated would happen.

Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem

The beauty of having several different accounts is that sometimes we gain a great deal by comparing different accounts of the same events. This is a good example, and you'll be aware from previous episodes, that one of the things we've done in this teaching series, is to always keep in mind the different accounts, the parallel accounts of the same events, because we can learn so much from them. This is a very significant example because Luke adds in a section here that is not present in Matthew or in the others, because Luke sees another dimension of Jesus entering into Jerusalem, which he wants to highlight. I'm going to read now from Luke chapter 19: 41 - 44.

‘As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God's coming to you."’

Luke 19:41-44, NIV

Jesus is coming down from the Mount of Olives and we described the fact that it's a lovely view of the city. He caught a glimpse of this beautiful city, so well-known, so much-loved by the Jews, and it produced an apparently unexpected emotional response in Jesus. He started to weep. It's not often that we hear of Jesus weeping. There's only two accounts in the Gospels and the other one is when he was at the tomb, or near the tomb, of Lazarus, and heard the distress of Mary and Martha and the other mourners; he wept. Here he weeps for the whole city, which represents the whole nation. He's anticipating prophetically that things are going to go badly for the nation of Israel and for the city of Jerusalem.

Not for the first time, Jesus predicts prophetically, an act of judgement by God coming on the city of Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel, for the simple reason that "you did not recognise the time of God's coming to you". The authorities in Jerusalem did not recognise this particular moment, this very moment when Jesus is coming into the city in triumphal power. He's coming to redeem the nation if they will believe in him as the Messiah. As we've stated numerous times in earlier episodes, the religious establishment in Jerusalem had set their face firmly against Jesus, for a considerable period of time. We've seen this theme all the way through the preceding events, right back towards the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Temple where the priests operated the sacrificial system, the official worship centre of Israel, and also the ruling Jewish religious council, known as the Sanhedrin, operated from the Temple compound and made decisions about the running of the Jewish religious system, Judaism in Jerusalem. Their job, amongst other things, was to adjudicate and decide on claims to be the Messiah. These happened reasonably often. People would come and claim they were the Messiah who was coming to redeem the nation. Usually they were rebels against the Romans, who wanted to take up arms against the Romans. The Sanhedrin had investigated Jesus; they'd sent representatives, particularly Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, to follow Jesus around - to question him, to observe him, to report back to them. They'd adjudicated privately that he was a false messiah. This is stated unambiguously in the Pharisees statement in Matthew 12:24 which I've referred to on quite a number of occasions. In a short while, their private judgement amongst themselves, is going to be a public judgement, because they're going to try Jesus. They're going to capture him shortly, in a few days' time. They're going to put him on trial in the Sanhedrin's court, they're going to find him to be a blasphemer who is a false messiah. They're going to hand him over to the Romans, and he's going to die.

Jesus knew this was going to happen. He'd predicted it a number of times and we've looked at that in earlier episodes. They are resisting, and their resistance will ultimately influence the people, who at this point appear very favourable to Jesus in the crowd. But they're also open to other influences. When they find, just five days later, that Jesus has been crucified, all the enthusiasm and excitement of this Triumphal Entry will evaporate immediately. The crucifixion only came because the religious establishment opposed Jesus and they sought to find a way of executing him. Jesus anticipated all these things.

He knew that the result of their decision would be disaster for the nation. And so it was. We find out from ancient historical documents, particularly the works of the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, writing in a book called ‘The Jewish War’, that between 66 and 70 A.D. there was a war in Israel between Jewish rebels and the Roman army. The Roman army won decisively after a long battle. In 70 A.D. they surrounded the city of Jerusalem, which was a final stronghold. They built an embankment up against it, we know this from the history books, and they entered the city, captured it, destroyed it and destroyed the Temple, taking the Temple down stone by stone. The very things predicted here, happened within a few decades of Jesus speaking them out. God himself came and judged the nation of Israel for missing their opportunity, and formally, from their leadership, turning their face against Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus wept at the thought of this tragic missed opportunity, and the terrible consequences that would take place for the Jewish people in the decades after his death and resurrection.

Jesus' Popularity

Let's return now to Matthew's Gospel. Matthew 21: 10 - 11.

‘When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?" The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."’

Matthew 21:10-11, NIV

And then turning over to John 12:17 - 19:

‘Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"’

John 12:17-19, NIV

Here, in this moment of Triumphal Entry into the city, a moment which the Church has traditionally called Palm Sunday, because of the palm branches that were waved at this particular moment, according to Matthew's account, and even more clearly in John's account here, Jesus' popularity was on a high. But the Pharisees and the other religious leaders were very determined to put a stop to this popularity, to put a stop to Jesus, to overturn his whole mission, to discredit him, to humiliate him, and if at all possible, to persuade the Romans to execute him. They, the Jewish leaders, did not have the legal power to execute people, they had to hand them over to the Roman rulers for execution. They're determined that this great and glorious moment, which we call Palm Sunday, will be a flash in the pan, will be gone quickly and easily forgotten, because they will eliminate Jesus by finding a way of arresting him and accusing him, trying him and getting him executed. On this particular day, Jesus comes from the Mount of Olives. He's riding on a donkey. The crowds are there. He comes through the gates of the city. Mark 11: 11 gives us the final statement on the events of this day:

‘Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.’

Mark 11:11, NIV

So, Jesus goes right into the Temple, and the Temple had a very big compound with various different sections. He had a look round. He was coming right into the heart of Judaism, making his presence felt under the watchful eye of the high priest, the priestly class, the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, the ruling council, the Sanhedrin were all watching. He just came into the Temple and then he withdrew again. He went out of the city to the place where he was going to stay for these few days, Bethany, the village of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We'll find, very shortly after this, that he's going to come back to the Temple, and there's going to be a very dramatic event that takes place at the Temple, a very provocative event.


As we conclude this episode, I want to suggest to you that Jesus is very much in control of events. That Triumphal Entry was a provocative gesture. He was laying down his claims in public. He'd not done this before in quite the same way. What we're going to see, in the subsequent events, is Jesus is bringing about the confrontation. He's, in a sense, forcing the hand of the religious authorities. He's ultimately in control of events even though he will appear to be the victim of them. In the sovereignty of God, he's in control of the events that are taking place on this day, and in the days to come.

This event, Palm Sunday, took place almost certainly on what we would call a Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. We're going to follow the events during the next episodes: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday which includes the Last Supper, Friday the crucifixion, Saturday, Jesus in the tomb, and Sunday the resurrection. All these dramatic events are going to take place within a week of this particular moment. Exactly a week after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus will be raised from the dead, having been crucified in the intervening period. Jesus comes in humbly but confidently into the city of Jerusalem, and the events that follow are dramatic and tense, complex and extremely important, and very interesting to follow. That's the story that we're going to follow as Series 11 continues. Thanks for joining us today.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Imagine you live in Jerusalem at that time. What would you have made of all this? What would you have said to people who asked you about Jesus?
  • Discipleship
    1. Compare Jesus’ popularity at this event with the crowds’ rejection just 5 days later. How does it make you feel?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. List the different Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
    2. Create a timetable of events as they unfolded in the week that started with the Triumphal Entry
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