Mark 11:1-11 – The Coming of the Messiah

Each of the Gospels describes Jesus entering Jerusalem as a “triumphal entry.” This is an event which Christians typically celebrate a week before Easter as “Palm Sunday,” at least in my youth by letting little kids wave fake palm branches and retelling the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As is usual, the pop-Christian even misses the significance of the palm branches and the other imagery in the story. There are several important symbols of Jewish nationalism in the Triumphal Entry.

First, palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabees. When Judas Maccabees brother Simon defeated the Syrians in 141 B. C.., the people celebrated with great music and the waving of palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). Palms also appear on the coins dating to the first Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-70. Images of palm branches will be used later in the coinage of the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

Second, the cry of “Hosanna” is drawn from Psalm 118:25-25. The word means “save us, O Lord!” The psalm was one of the pilgrim Psalms, sung by those who were going up to the Temple during a feast. Psalm 118:26 was often taken as a reference to the Messiah, when the true the King of the Jews he will save his people.

The rest of Psalm 118 is important as well. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. Verse 17-18 says that the Psalmist has been disciplined severely, but has not been handed over to death. “I shall not die,” he says, “but I shall live.” Verse 19 describes the gate of righteousness through which the pilgrims must enter, Jesus has already described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. Verse 22 the psalm refers to the stone the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone, a verse Jesus applies to himself in the parable of the Vineyard.

Third, that Jesus rides a donkey is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9, another text associated with the coming messiah. John does not give the details since they are likely well-known by the time he writes his book. He does emphasize the fact that Jesus deliberately chose to ride a donkey, intentionally evoking the prophecy of Zech 9:9.

The point of this sign is often missed since it is thought riding a donkey is a sign of humility and peace. It is true that David came to Jerusalem after his son’s revolt “in peace,” riding a donkey instead of a war horse. A better explanation of the donkey is to see that after Solomon was anointed king, he was placed on a donkey and led up to the city of Jerusalem, through the Kidron valley. The anointed son of David, the king named “Peace,” enters the city of Jerusalem to begin the most peaceful and prosperous period in Israel’s history.

Zechariah 9:9 is alluding to that story in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is the true Son of David who will bring ultimate peace and prosperity, but only after he destroys the enemy of his people. Rather than the Romans, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

What other events of the final days of Jesus ministry hint at his messianic role?

John 12:12 – Why Wave Palm Branches?

As John Dowden pointed out in a comment on a post I made on Mark’s Triumphal Entry, only the gospel of John mentions the palm branches. In John 12:13, the Greek, φοινιξ (palm) is used along with the Coptic loan-word βαΐον (branch). The only other place in the New Testament where this word for “palm” appears is in Revelation 7:9, the martyrs under the throne of God have branches in their hands as they worship the Lamb.

Waving branches is associated with Sukkot (Feast of Booths). At Sukkot, people marched around with a lulav, a bundle of palm branches with an etrog (a citrus fruit) tied to the end, usually with a great deal of singing and dancing. (See b.Sukkah 5.4 for a description of the festival.) The Hallel was to be sung each day, during which the people would shake their lulav.

Certainly there are similarities to the Triumhal Entry, but Jesus enters Jerusalem at the Passover, so the palms cannot be part of the celebration of the Sukkot nor is there any allusion to the fruit used at that feast. Although I am not sure, it is possible the etrog was not ripe at the time of Passover, the early Spring; someone who knows can correct me on this!

The palms are not associate with worship at Passover, but with the liberation and cleansing of Jerusalem more than 100 years prior to Jesus. The image of a king entering Jerusalem in victory appears in 1 Maccabees 13:51.

1 Maccabees 13:51–52 (NRSV) On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there.

Near the end of the first Jewish revolt (141 B.C.), Simon liberated Judea and set up an independent state. In 13:41-42 people begin to sign documents “the first year of Simon the great high priest and commander and leader of the Jews.” He captures Gaza and removes “all uncleanliness” from the city, then in 13:51 he enters the citadel in Jerusalem and “cleansed the citadel from its pollutions.” He establishes peace and provides food for the people starving from famine.

It is not insignificant that Jesus enters the Temple and stages a protest against the “buyers and the sellers” soon after this triumphal entry. In Matthew and the Temple Incident follows directly after the Triumphal entry, in Mark Jesus enters the Temple but returns the next day to make his protest. The Gospel of Mark uses the symbolic miracle of the Cursing of the Fig Tree to explain the Temple Incident. (John has the Temple Incident early in Jesus’ ministry, but that is a problem for another time!)

If anything, the way Jesus enters Jerusalem heightens the messianic hopes of the huge crowds gathered for Passover. Caught up in the messianic fervor, the audience waves palms to welcome Jesus as their ancestors welcomed Simon a century earlier.

Was this Jesus’s intention all along? Was his goal to stir up this kind of frenzy, only to teach in the Temple for a few days that the Messiah is not there to liberate the Temple from the unrighteous Jews or Jerusalem from the pagan Romans?

Mark 11:1-11 – The Triumphal Entry

Each of the Gospels describes Jesus entering Jerusalem as a “triumphal entry.” This is an event which Christians typically celebrate a week before Easter as “Palm Sunday,” at least in my youth by letting little kids wave fake palm branches and retelling the story of Jesus coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As is usual, the pop-Christian even misses the significance of the palm branches and the other imagery in the story. There are several important symbols of Jewish nationalism in the Triumphal Entry.

First, palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabees. When Judas Maccabees brother Simon defeated the Syrians in 141 B. C.., the people celebrated with great music and the waving of palm branches (1 Macc. 13:51). Palms also appear on the coins dating to the first Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-70. Images of palm branches will be used later in the coinage of the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

Second, the cry of “Hosanna” is drawn from Psalm 118:25-25. The word means “save us, O Lord!” The psalm was one of the pilgrim Psalms, sung by those who were going up to the Temple during a feast. Psalm 118:26 was often taken as a reference to the Messiah, when the true the King of the Jews he will save his people.

The rest of Psalm 118 is important as well. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. Verse 17-18 says that the Psalmist has been disciplined severely, but has not been handed over to death. “I shall not die,” he says, “but I shall live.” Verse 19 describes the gate of righteousness through which the pilgrims must enter, Jesus has already described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. Verse 22 the psalm refers to the stone the builders rejected becoming the chief cornerstone, a verse Jesus applies to himself in the parable of the Vineyard.

Third, that Jesus rides a donkey is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9, another text associated with the coming messiah. John does not give the details since they are likely well-known by the time he writes his book. He does emphasize the fact that Jesus deliberately chose to ride a donkey, intentionally evoking the prophecy of Zech 9:9.

The point of this sign is often missed since it is thought riding a donkey is a sign of humility and peace. It is true that David came to Jerusalem after his son’s revolt “in peace,” riding a donkey instead of a war horse. A better explanation of the donkey is to see that after Solomon was anointed king, he was placed on a donkey and led up to the city of Jerusalem, through the Kidron valley. The anointed son of David, the king named “Peace,” enters the city of Jerusalem to begin the most peaceful and prosperous period in Israel’s history.

Zechariah 9:9 is alluding to that story in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is the true Son of David who will bring ultimate peace and prosperity, but only after he destroys the enemy of his people. Rather than the Romans, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

What other events of the final days of Jesus ministry hint at his messianic role?

John 12:12-16 – The Triumphal Entry

The Gospel of John describes the well-known event of the Triumphal entry briefly, only mentioning a few features of the story which serve his overall themes.(See this post for the Triumphal Entry in Mark 11.) The Passover feast was a very nationalistic holiday in the first century since it celebrates God’s redemption of his people and the beginnings of Israel as a nation. Waving palm branches were a part of Jewish nationalism since the time of the Maccabean Revolt (1 Macc. 13:51). Images of palm branches will be used in the coinage of both the Jewish revolt in A.D.70 and the Bar Kohkba revolt in A.D. 132.

1 Maccabees 13:51–52 (NRSV) On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. 52 Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there

Bar Kokhba Coin

Bar Kohkba coin (A.D.) 132-135 Seven branch palm tree with “Shimon” (Bar Kohkba) on the observe and a grape leaf on the reverse.

 

The cry of “Hosanna” is from Psalm 118:25-25. The word means “save us, O Lord!”  The psalm was one of the pilgrim Psalms, sung by those who were going up to the Temple during a feast.  Psalm 118:26 was often taken as a reference to the Messiah, when the true the King of the Jews he will save his people.  As people went up to Jerusalem, they would sing this Psalm and look forward to the coming Messiah.

The rest of this Psalm is important. Verses 10-13 describe the writer as in the middle of his enemies, nations which surround him on every side. In verse 17-18 the Psalmist has been disciplined severely but has not been handed over to death. “I shall not die,” he says, “but I shall live.” Verse 19 describes the “gate of righteousness” through which the pilgrims must enter; Jesus has described himself as the gate through which the sheep must pass. In verse 22 the psalm refers to “the stone the builders rejected” becoming the chief cornerstone, a verse Jesus applies to himself in the parable of the Vineyard.

Perhaps most important is Psalm 118:27: “The Lord is God and has made his light to shine upon us.” A light shining in the darkness is a key messianic image (Luke 1:78-79), but especially in the gospel of John. Jesus is the light which shines in the darkness (John 1:5), those who follow Jesus walk in the light, those who do not remain in the darkness (John 12:35-26).

That Jesus rides a donkey is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9, another text associated with the coming messiah. John does not give the details since they are likely well-known by the time he writes his book. He does emphasize the fact that Jesus deliberately chose to ride a donkey, intentionally evoking the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The point of this sign is often missed since it is thought riding a donkey is a sign of humility and peace. It is true that David came to Jerusalem after his son’s revolt “in peace,” riding a donkey instead of a war horse. But a king often rides a donkey; it is shame for a king to ride a donkey in the first century. A better explanation of the donkey is to see that after Solomon was anointed king, he was placed on a donkey and led up to the city of Jerusalem, through the Kidron valley. The anointed son of David, the king named “Peace,” enters the city of Jerusalem to begin the most peaceful and prosperous period in Israel’s history.

Zechariah 9:9 is alluding to that story in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus is the true Son of David who will bring ultimate peace and prosperity, but only after he destroys the enemy of his people. Rather than the Romans, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

John once again weaves together allusions to several passages in the Hebrew Bible which hint at who Jesus is. in this case, he is the long-awaited messiah, the one who the Psalmist and the prophets were looking forward to. What else does this passage tell us about who Jesus?