“King Jesus Arrives!”

On the calendar for 2023, this is Palm Sunday. The story of Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem is mentioned in all four Gospels. Matthew’s Gospel emphasized the fact that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 by riding into the city on a donkey, and names Jesus as “king.” Mark’s Gospel notes that after his entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus turned around and returned to the city of Bethany to the house of his friends for the night. The next day he left Bethany and began teaching in the temple courts. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, knowing that the “peace” which the people wanted would come at a huge price. The people failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah; they rejected him, and their shouts of joy and praise on this day faded into cries for his crucifixion just a few days later.

In John’s Gospel, this author alone associates Jesus’ entrance with the Passover festival (John 12:1, 12; see 13:1). Thousands of pilgrims filled the city of Jerusalem during the time of Passover. Only John mentions the “palm branches,” which were used on many festive occasions (see Leviticus 23:40; Revelation 7:9-10). John alone refers to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” (1:29), and only John points out that Jesus died on the “day of Preparation” for the Jewish Passover festival (19:31). The Fourth Gospel narrates the story of Jesus’ arrival like the other Gospels, but goes one step further to connect the Passover festival with the crucifixion of the “king,” the promised Messiah, the sacrificial “Lamb of God.”

Putting together all the scenarios into a larger narrative, we can witness Jesus’ final arrival into Jerusalem, his final, “last-minute” teaching and healing, and his final feast/meal with his closest friends. He had only a few days left to complete his job on earth…..

The great irony, then, is that Jesus went to Jerusalem to die — to deliver people from the slavery of sin at exactly the same time they were celebrating the deliverance by God of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Yet, John tells us that even his closest followers “did not understand all of this.” Only later, after the crucifixion and the coming of the Holy Spirit did they fully comprehend that all the prophecies were fulfilled, the connections with the Passover, and the revelation of the glory of “King Jesus” (John 12:16; 17:1; 19:30).

Imagine the doubts, the dashed hopes and dreams and expectations of the followers of Jesus when they saw him die. Was it all for nothing? Did God desert us, and let us down? The thrill of seeing the conquering king on Palm Sunday was crushed less than a week later, and his death was a horrible blow to them. Could they recall everything that he had taught them?

Later, they remembered that Jesus said, “Truly, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).  This is a principle of life through death, as seen in the plant world; a seed must die and be buried in the ground if it is to grow into a mature plant.

Now, so many centuries later, we can understand that Jesus voluntarily gave up his life, for us, for the salvation of humanity. With the gift of his words, and of his Spirit, we can fully praise with joy the coming of our “King!”


Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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