Palm Sunday

March 28, 2010 | 8 comments
By
Harry Anderson, "Triumphal Entry"

Harry Anderson, "Triumphal Entry"

Palm Sunday

Matt 21:1–17; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–48; John 12:12–19

  • Triumphal Entry (Matt 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; John 12:12–19)
  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Matt 21:12–17; Luke 19:41–48)

For Further Reading: Thomas A. Wayment, “The Triumphal Entry,” in From the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ 2, edited by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 398–416.

Walter Rane, "The Triumphal Entry of Christ"

Walter Rane, "The Triumphal Entry of Christ"

THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

As noted in yesterday’s post, Mary’s anointing of Jesus in John 12:1–3 can be taken as representing a regal anointing, in which case the events of the next day emphasize Jesus’ role as the true king of Israel.

This becomes apparent in all four gospel accounts, where, on the last Sunday of Jesus’ life, he entered Jerusalem in triumph. John, for instance, notes the following:

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. (John 12:12–16).

The four gospel accounts differ only slightly. The Synoptics, for instance, give greater detail as to how Jesus obtained the donkey on which he rode during his triumphal procession. Luke depicts it as a triumphal approach to Jerusalem, with Jesus stopping some distance from Jerusalem to mourn and lament the city from afar before he entered the holy city (19:41–44).  While a donkey does not seem to modern readers to be a very regal mode of transportation, one must remember that it was commonly the conveyance of Old Testament kings, especially David. The waving of tree branches (only John mentioned that they were palm fronds) is often associated with Sukkot, the autumn festival of Tabernacles that commemorated the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Once in the Promised Land, however, it became above all a harvest festival, but it was also associated with the coronation of the Israelite king and in the intertestamental period developed messianic connections.

Pedro Orrente, "The Entry into Jerusalem," c. 1620

Pedro Orrente, "The Entry into Jerusalem," c. 1620

Reflection

Palm Sunday is a good opportunity to recall one of the rare moments in Jesus’ ministry when he was recognized for the king he was. But depending upon the timing of Passover and the day that Jesus was crucified, this Sunday could also have been “fifth day before Passover” when the Paschal Lamb was selected for Passover and set apart for the Lord, giving special significance to crowd’s recognition of Jesus on this day—they may have been welcoming him as a hoped-for king, but in reality he had come as the Lamb of God who would die for them.

Only John gives a reason why the Jerusalem crowds seemed so united in welcoming Jesus as the possible Messiah: they had heard about the great miracle that he performed in raising Lazarus (John 12:17-12), which of course foreshadows Jesus’ own conquest of death. This explicitly connects the Triumphal Entry to Jesus’ resurrection. It also, however, gave further cause for opposition. John 12:19 notes that “the Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the whole world is gone after him.’” Earlier they and the “chief priests” had, as a result of the raising of Lazarus, already begun to take counsel about how they could put Jesus to death (John 11:47-53).

Consequently, Palm Sunday is also an occasion to look forward to Jesus Christ’s final, triumphal return when all the world will recognize him as Lord and King.  Having conquered death, he will, in due course, return to Jerusalem—and all the earth—in glory.

And [they] brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (Matthew 21:7-11)

Samuel and Rachel on Palm Sunday, 2010

Samuel and Rachel on Palm Sunday, 2010

The joy of the triumphal entry is perhaps best expressed in our modern hymn, “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

All glory, laud, and honor
To thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessed One.


The company of angels
Are praising thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before thee went;
Our praise and love and anthems
Before thee we present.


To thee, before thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the love we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.
(Hymn 69)

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE

In Matthew and Luke, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he proceeds directly to the temple, where, in a familiar scene, he cast out the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrificial animals in its outer courts. Mark delays this scene until Monday for symbolic and literary reasons, while John had recorded a cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13–25). Either there actually were two different cleansings, or John had moved it to the front end to illustrate that Jesus was always sovereign—he always had the authority and right to do what he did. For the Synoptics, however, the cleansing can be directly connected with a royal interpretation of the Triumphal Entry. From the time of Solomon until the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, the temple had been, in effect, a royal chapel adjacent to the king’s palace. There he was coronated and “adopted” as a son of YHWH (see Psalm 2:7), a clear type and foreshadowing of how Christ was not only the rightful king but also the actual Son of God.

Jesus’ rebuke of the temple authorities, that they had made his Father’s house “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46), may explain part of His anger.  The term “thieves” here comes from the Greek l?istai, which not only means “robber” or “bandit,” but also “revolutionary” or “insurgent.”  The temple leadership in this period was notoriously corrupt, so his rebuke may not have been just of the moneychangers and the merchants themselves but also of the temple leadership who was allowing, and perhaps profiting, from what might have been necessary activities. For over two centuries the high priests had been political appointees rather than coming from the appropriate priestly family.  Consequently, Jesus’ rebuke of the leadership as “insurgents” might suggest that he was unmasking them as false authorities who had usurped power over the sanctuary and were misusing their assumed positions.

Bernardo Cavallino, "Christ driving the traders from the temple," c. 1645

Bernardo Cavallino, "Christ driving the traders from the temple," c. 1645

Reflection

If one connects the Triumphal Entry with Jesus’ eventual return, the cleansing of the Temple can be seen as the eventual “cleansing of the earth” and especially Jerusalem and the establishment of Jesus’ reign there.

8 Responses to Palm Sunday

  1. Eric Huntsman on March 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Here is my seven-year-old Samuel’s talk for Primary today (yes, his Dad helped him!):

    Samuel’s Primary Talk on Prophets for Palm Sunday

    Today is Palm Sunday, a day when we remember when Jesus came to Jerusalem and people were happy to see him. A prophet named Zechariah lived long before Jesus, but he knew that this would happen. He wrote: “Behold thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). What Zechariah taught happened. People cheered for Jesus and waved palm branches to show they were happy.

    But soon after that sad things happened. Other prophets taught that Jesus would suffer in the garden for our sins and then die on the cross for us. But they also taught that he would rise from the dead Easter morning.

    Since then, modern prophets like President Monson have taught us that these things really happened. They also tell us that one day Jesus will come again. We will all be happy to meet him like the people in Jerusalem were to see him on Palm Sunday.

    I love Jesus and know that he the Son of God. I am grateful that prophets and my parents have taught me about him. I am happy that it is Easter time, because this tells me that we will all live together forever. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

  2. DavidH on March 28, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for this. What is the proper greeting (or is there one) for Palm Sunday? Also, I struggle with understanding the reasons for the rebuke/turning over tables of money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals in the temple. It does seem to me, as you mention, that these activities were necessary for the temple area. Was there a proper way to do so that was being violated? Are there more writings (by you or others) that expound on this and that you recommend?

  3. Eric Huntsman on March 28, 2010 at 11:41 am

    This is obnoxious, but I am between meetings, and in the interest of time I am going to quote myself from Ensign (Apr 2009):

    The “Cleansing” of the Temple and the Cursing of the Fig Tree

    In Matthew and Mark, Jesus, the recognized king, proceeds directly to the courtyards around the temple, where he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and drove out those involved in the buying and selling of sacrificial animals. These activities were to a certain extent necessary, since foreign coins with images and pagan titles could not be used for temple offerings, and pilgrims coming long distances could often not bring their own animals for sacrifice. Jesus’ rebuke, that they had made his Father’s house “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46), may explain part of His anger. The term “thieves” here comes from the Greek l?istai, which not only means “robber” or “bandit,” but also “revolutionary” or “insurgent.” The temple leadership in this period was notoriously corrupt, so his rebuke may not have been just of the moneychangers and the merchants themselves but also of the temple leadership who was allowing, and perhaps profiting, from what might have been necessary activities.

    For over two centuries the high priests had been political appointees rather than coming from the appropriate priestly family. Consequently, Jesus’ rebuke of the leadership as “insurgents” might suggest that he was unmasking them as false authorities who had usurped power over the sanctuary and were misusing their assumed positions. With this in mind, the royal interpretation of the Triumphal Entry suggests interesting historical connections between Jesus, as king, and the temple. From the time of Solomon until the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, the temple had been, in effect, a royal chapel adjacent to the king’s palace. There ancient kings were “adopted” at their coronations as a sons of the Lord (see Psalm 2:7), a clear type and foreshadowing of how Christ was not only the rightful king but also the actual Son of God. He, then, had the right to enter the temple, to cleanse it of activities that were distracting from proper worship, and retake authority from those who had usurped it.

    Mark, by placing the cleansing of the temple in a more specific chronology, provides an additional interpretation of the “cleansing” of the temple. His narrative notes that Jesus’ activities in the temple took place between the cursing of a fig tree the morning after the Triumphal Entry and the disciples’ finding the tree withered and dead the next day (Mark 11:12–14, 20–21). Since this event took place in the spring, when one would not reasonably expect a fig tree to bear fruit, Jesus’ action only makes sense if the tree represents something else, particularly the House of Israel that had been called upon to produce good fruit but which, as a group, Jesus had found fruitless. As a result, the Jewish nation of that time, Jerusalem, and the holy temple would be overthrown some forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, making the overturning of the moneychangers’ tables a possible image of the destruction of the temple, when “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).

  4. J. Madson on March 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Eric

    I really enjoy your doing this. I want to push a little on a couple of the scriptures because I think they might bear some fruit. I always worry that we have a tendency to want to make these stories just spiritual without recognizing they may have had very real political, social, and economic lessons and meaning as well. And I apologize if this is long winded.

    a couple of observations and questions

    When Jesus enters on a donkey, he takes Zechariah as the text for his demonstration. Matthew quotes Zechariah who tells of a coming king who will be “humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In the following verse of Zechariah we read

    “And 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 (Zech 9:10).”

    In the context of the temple cleansing we read Jeremiah in his entirety as stating:

    “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”

    For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.… Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?”
    (Jeremiah 7:3-11 NRSV)

    How has the temple become a den of robbers? Two observations: a den of robbers is not where the crime takes place. In other words, I feel he is not condemning the temple because robbery is taking place within its walls but that it is the den or place were those who commit such crimes hide or take refuge. It is the place where “they flee for safety after having done their robbing elsewhere.” You mention that the robbery may have consisted in them being politically appointed but would not Jeremiah’s text point to a robbery of the underclass all the while walking around in robes of piety. It is doing justice to one another that God requires. It is oppression of the alien, the orphan, the widow, the shedding of innocent blood, that merits Jesus’s condemnation.

    I agree that the word “lestes” is important here but would read it more politically perhaps. Does this word possibly refer to Zealots or rebels who engage in violence and not just the idea that the leaders were political appointee/insurgents? We know that the temple eventually became a den of Zealots when the Roman-Jewish war took place between 60-70ad and the temple was converted into a military garrison to fight the Romans. Interestingly enough, this is when the temple was torn down as Jesus prophesied in conjunction with them turning it into a place of violence. It seems to me Christ is making a very pointed criticism about the Jewish revolutionary tendency to use violence. This is why I think NT Wright is correct in calling Jesus a double revolutionary. He challenges the powers but challenges them in a way no other revolutionary did, non-violently.

    It seems to me that the framing of this incident with the fig tree by Mark is meant to emphasize that the Temple, just as the fig tree, would soon wither up and die because the people were performing acts without Godliness. There was worship but no justice. Specifically, the temple had become a den of robbers where the religious and political leaders could claim righteousness and piety all the while oppressing the people and in 30-40 years the temple would actually become a refuge for violent revolutionaries who would turn a house of worship into a den of brigands and revolutionaries.

    This meshes well with the account in the book of Luke where we see Jesus weeping over the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I would read it as a lament over the entire human race.

    “If you, even you, had only recognized the thing that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

    So I guess my overall point in writing this is that I think these scriptures and historical context give us some better idea about not just what occurred on passion week but what Jesus was passionate about.

  5. Eric Huntsman on March 28, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Josh, I think that you are right on target with the Marcan framing of the temple cleansing, which he places, as you note, in between the cursing and withering of the fig tree. I actually plan to point that in tomorrow’s post, since Mark places the “cleansing” on Monday rather than Palm Sunday.

    I tend, however, to see the priestly establishment as the “usurpers” more than looking forward to the zealot parties that eventually take over the temple during the Roman-Jewish War of A.D. 66-72. I think that there is too much of a tendency to read back into the period of the Roman prefecture (A.D. 6-41) the situation of the Roman procuratorship (A.D. 44-64). Raymond Brown was the first one who brought this to my attention in _Death of the Messiah_, where he pointed out that the upswing in political violence, etc., follows the period of the Herodian Restoration of M. Iulius Agrippa II (A.D. 41-44).

  6. Hunter on March 28, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks, Eric. And I enjoy the art that you’ve included. We put up the images from the Church Art kit tonight, but I like these better. Great stuff.

  7. J. Madson on March 29, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Eric

    I think thats a good point about the later upswing in political violence. However, if the framing points towards the eventual destruction of the temple than it seems at least possible that lestes refers to that future event as well.

    On the other hand, the jeremiah text I cited describes the characteristics of the “usurpers” as oppressing the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and shedding innocent blood (which is an interesting discussion from a Girardian perspective) all of which would read more towards the priestly establishment of usurpers you argue for. I would, however, suggest that the imagery points to the leaders as using the temple to cover up their sins which consist of social and economic injustices against the people as a whole.

  8. Carolee on March 29, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Thanks for this! I’m looking for topical bloggernacle posts this week in addition to my own private devotion for Holy Week, as I’m not getting anything on the subject this year in communal devotion from church. Our branch in Lagos, Nigeria had a Sacrament meeting theme yesterday on the Relief Society anniversary. But I get to choose the music and, after reading your post yesterday right before church, I changed the closing hymn to “All Glory Laud and Honor.” The congregation really didn’t know it at all, and I doubt that many made the Palm Sunday connection, though someone afterwards did thank me for choosing some different hymns for them to learn. I did hear that chorale again last evening when I went to a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. It was performed here in English, which I was grateful for because I could appreciate the story even while trying to avoid mental criticism of the painfully awful musical performance. But the choir made their offering with great devotion and emotion and the conductor even invited the congregation to join with the chorus in singing the chorale that is the melody for our hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor.” Next week is Fast Sunday here (we’ll watch some General Conference later in the month) but we’ll be traveling in an area where there’s no LDS congregations, so I hope to find an Easter service in some Christian church, hopefully with some good music. I always feel so bad when Easter passes with barely a mention in our church services. So thanks for adding to my personal remembrance of Palm Sunday.