“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”” (John 12:12–19, ESV)
Many of the events leading up to this day are not recorded in all four of the gospels, but Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for this last time is. We find this record also in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; and Luke 19:29-38 where more details are given including the disciples being sent to gather the donkey and the people spreading their cloaks on the road. All of the gospel records speak of the people standing in worship of the Christ as palm branches are waved and they loudly cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” John adds that they proclaimed Him as King of Israel. Matthew points to their recognition that this coming King was of the family of David and would was coming to take up his throne. Mark added their great hope that Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God, and Luke records them proclaiming their hope that He would bring peace as God is glorified.
The scene must have been amazing as most of the people (as Matthew wrote) laid down their cloaks to spread out a carpet before their coming King. It was truly a royal welcome. The miracle worker, who raised Lazarus from the dead and spoke of Himself as being sent by the Father, was now being welcomed by the people. This miracle worker who slipped away from their grasp on numerous occasions because His time had not yet come was now presenting Himself knowing that His time had indeed come. As this special Passover approached when lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was now presenting Himself as well.
The words that the people were proclaiming are the same words we find in Psalm 118:25-26, “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:25–26, ESV) The opening words of verse 25, The word “Hosanna” is a transliteration (or word converted from another language) of the Hebrew words meaning “Save us” or “save us now.” Psalm 118 is one of those strongly messianic Psalms and as such it was regularly quoted at Jewish feasts including the Feast of Dedication and Passover. The people had been holding onto this hope for a long time, and on this day they stood together proclaiming Jesus as that long awaited king and deliverer.
As they chanted Jesus entered Jerusalem before their eyes. He did not do so with a lot of fanfare of His own doing or with fancy clothes riding at the center of an impressive parade. No. He came in riding on the back of a donkey, and even then the colt of a donkey. For those who knew the prophecies of old, this would have been what to expect. In our passage John even quotes this specific prophecy of God through Zechariah found in verse 9 of chapter 9, where see prophesied along with verse 10 both the first coming (here) and the second coming of Jesus which is yet to come. Jesus was the coming righteous, just, and humble King. And in His humility He came into town in the most humble of ways.
There is so much that could be said about any of the aspects of His entering on that day. If you were to take time to read the four gospel accounts you will see how each man was moved by the Spirit of God in cohesive but unique ways to record their cherished thoughts of that day. John adds for us, again writing from the perspective of time gone by, that even the disciples did not understand what was going on before them or what was soon to happen. They did not yet see how quickly the people would turn on Jesus or have any idea of how He would take His life back up and be fully glorified. The crowd knew even less, having either been there when Lazarus was raised from the dead or having heard about it. And the Pharisees who did not believe in Him saw all of this worship as a gross waste of time and effort. From their perspective the people (the world) was chasing after Him, but in the end they would gain nothing from their effort.
Not one of them knew what was going to happen, but all of them at that moment saw this One man arriving before the people. Some of them would believe and for them this moment of worship without understanding would later turn to worship resulting from salvation. For the others, this moment of worship of a man or observing that worship would result in one day having to bow before Him as the one true King who they turned their backs on and in whom they did not believe.
Worship is truly an amazing thing when the object of your worship is worthy. But when the object of your worship is temporary or limited in some way, that worship will eventually turn to disappointment and disillusionment. Whether these people saw Jesus as the temporary answer to their oppression and the solution to their national hopes or they saw Him as the long awaited Messiah who was bringing salvation and life to man made all of the difference. It makes that same difference today. If Jesus is nothing more than a hopeful solution to a problem or a cry in an emergency and that’s all He is to a person, then that person is no different than those who sang His praises in Jerusalem and then stood by as He was crucified. God loves us so much, and He proved it in the most incredible way by God the Son at the will of God the Father taking on the form of man to give Himself up for us as the perfect sacrifice for our sins leading to perfect forgiveness. And beyond that He took His life back up again giving to all who believe the promise and for many now the actual realization of eternal life.
The next time He comes it won't be on a donkey.
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”” (Revelation 5:11–13, ESV)