John opens chapter 12 providing us with a clear timeframe for where we are in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In John 12:1 we read, “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came” back “to Bethany” from “Ephraim.” As I noted in our previous study what makes this detail significant is that we’re on the precipice of the week that will include His crucifixion and resurrection. This detail “six days before Passover” places us on the Saturday beforehand.
From this point forward the remainder of John’s Gospel will focus exclusively on the events in Jesus’ life related to Passover — roughly 50% of the book documents this singular week.
Here’s why this is not only appropriate, but in many ways completely warranted… The next seven days commonly known as the Passion of the Christ mark the most influential and significant weeks in the history of mankind. Truly this week changed the world!
Before we continue and in light of this much larger point, I think it would be helpful if you understood a few things about the Feast of Passover… First, according to the Law of Moses, Passover was one of the three main pilgrimage festivals in Judaism.
In addition to the Feast of Pentecost which occurred in the summer and Tabernacles which came after the fall harvest, Passover was the first of the three occurring in the Spring. For this particular week Jews from all over the Roman world would make their way to the city of Jerusalem to join in this incredible celebration.
Secondly, Passover had come to be the most festive and patriotic of the three mainly because it celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian captivity — which was of a present significance as the Jews were currently under Roman occupation.
Aside from this Passover held a deeper more practical religious connotation as it presented the people a chance to offer a passover lamb for their sins on the Day of Atonement.
Finally, while Passover itself wouldn’t officially begin until Thursday at 6 PM with the formal Seder meal — which would have actually been the beginning of Friday (a day was “evening and morning”) — the entirety of the feast and the celebration traditionally lasted for seven days. Every day of this week was important and significant in its own unique way.
John begins this section in verse 12 by saying, “The next day (which would have been the Sunday before Passover) a great multitude had come to the feast…” Because Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem or what we historically refer to as Palm Sunday was such a significant event that all four Gospels include it in their individual accounts, this morning we’re going to first read John’s narrative before supplementing it with additional details provided in Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19 (a harmonizing of sorts).
Let’s begin with John’s account… John 12:12-19, “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!’
Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ (John then adds a little commentary as he often does) His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
Therefore the people, who were with Jesus when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Jesus, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves (this is their ultimate conclusion to the days events), ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’”
Before we continue let’s fill in John’s skeleton account with a little flesh from the others Gospels… “Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage from Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you, and as soon as you have entered it immediately you will find a donkey tied (female donkey), and a colt (younger male donkey) with her on which no one has sat. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?’, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them.’
So the disciples (Peter and John) went and did as Jesus commanded them. They went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But the owners who stood there said to them, ‘What are you doing, loosing the colt?’ And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Jesus on the colt.
And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen crying out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’
And some of the Pharisees called to Jesus from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.’ Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!
But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’ And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
Again John opens his account telling us that “the next day” from Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and supper with His friends (this is the same supper Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a precious oil) “a great multitude” begin making their way into Jerusalem for the Passover Festivities. According to a first-century Jewish historian name Josephus, during this week the population of the city would swell more than 3x times the normal size to 2.7 million.
As you play out this scene know the atmosphere in Jerusalem — even without Jesus’ involvement — was already lit. Aside from the chance to make an offering to atone for sin, as we’ve already pointed out Passover was naturally patriotic and intrinsically nationalistic! As this “great multitude” of people ascended to Jerusalem they would be signing the Hallel Psalms (113-118) as well as the Psalms of the Ascent (120-134).
Setting aside the current political climate related to Jesus, though the Feast of Passover was festive, there was always an uneasiness and anxiety just below the surface.
Because of the massive increase in population, the patriotic nature of the gathering itself, and the ongoing unrest in Judea, the Roman Governor always feared a revolt was possible during this week. As such Josephus again records the increased presence of soldiers would be 10x the norm. Jerusalem was a powder-keg that simply needed a spark.
Another contributing factor to the growing excitement of this particular Passover was the unexpected news that Jesus of Nazareth was actually “coming to Jerusalem.” Keep in mind, because the religious establishment had put out a public warrant for His arrest just a few weeks earlier, most assumed Jesus would be a no-show.
As word began to spread throughout these pilgrims that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, John recalls how the crowds “went out to meet Him.” The people admired His bravery and tenacity. Even with the fear of being arrested Jesus had come to the City of David to publicly present Himself before the nation and the people came out to receive Him.
John also remembers how as they worked their way down the western slopes of the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron the people “took branches of palm trees” and began waving them as Jesus approached. While the other writers remember only tree branches, John was always struck by the palm. You see since the time of the Maccabees in 150 BC, the palm had become a de-facto symbol of Jewish patriotism. It was a way to greet a revolutionary.
In addition to this dramatic effect of waving these palm branches and laying down clothes and fronds along His path, John tells us this great multitude also began actively “crying out, ‘Hosanna!’ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! The King of Israel!”
Not only are they quoting directly from Psalm 118 which was Messianic in nature, this word “Hosanna” literally means save now! As Jesus makes His way into Jerusalem riding on this colt the people are not only hailing Him “the King of Israel,” but they’re making an appeal for Jesus to act as King on their behalf! “You are the King of Israel. Save us now!”
The other writers give us a more complete accounting that the masses “began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen crying out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” There is no question this was quite a moment.
Before we unpack what’s happening and more specifically why it’s all significant, can’t we be honest the whole scene seems oddly out of character for Jesus? Consider that time and time again Jesus has actively and repeatedly discouraged public praise and adulation. Once more Jesus has recently retreated from the large crowds hoping to avoid controversy.
And yet, in this instance something has clearly changed. Not only is Jesus openly embracing and encouraging the praise, but He intentionally orchestrated the events of this day to bring all this attention to Himself! So… Why the dramatic shift in His public presentation?
While not mentioned by John, the first part of our answer is found in the exchange that occurs between Jesus and the religious Pharisees. As this incredible scene is unfolding in front of them and fearing how the Roman’s may respond to such a public outburst the religious leaders command Jesus to “rebuke Your disciples.” Not only does He refuse their suggestion claiming the “rocks would cry out,” but He’s actually crying. It’s all so strange.
Luke tells us that “as Jesus drew near” — while all of this fanfare is happening — “He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’”
Then, as He continues towards the city, Jesus prophesies the coming destruction of Jerusalem citing the reason as being the fact they “did not know the time of their visitation.” Again, Jesus most notably refers to His arrival as being “your day” and “their visitation.”
Don’t miss all of this… In response to His rejection by the religious leaders and their command He knock it off — which only proved they had no idea what was really going on in the moment, Jesus is saying the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed! Their ignorance of His Triumphal Entry would have devastating repercussions.
In order to see why this is the case it’s important we discuss a prophecy given to Daniel some 600 years earlier. For context the prophet Daniel is in Babylon and he’s worried God was done with Israel. To calms his fears God gives him a prophetic vision and timeline for His future dealings with Israel... We know this as Daniel’s “70 Weeks Prophecy.”
Daniel 9:24-26, “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.
And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.”
In this prophetic word God begins by telling Daniel that “seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city.” Within the context of Daniel’s fears God is clearly speaking of the Hebrew people (“your people”) and the city of Jerusalem (“your holy city”).
This phrase “seventy weeks” is a poor translation from Hebrew into English. In the original language God is referencing “seventy groupings of seven.” In context to this being a timeline we understand God is establishing a grouping of 70 sets of seven years. This means God was telling Daniel He’s set aside 490 years to finish His dealings with Israel.
Following this statement God continues by telling Daniel when this 490 year timeline will commence... He says it will start with “the command to restore and build Jerusalem!”
Again, in the moment Daniel is receiving this prophetic word, Jerusalem and the Temple lay in complete and utter ruin. In fact the fulfillment of this prophecy wouldn’t be realized until the Babylonian Empire had fallen and Persian King Artexerxes issued an official decree allowing the Jews to return to the land and rebuild Jerusalem. According to the timeline given to us in Nehemiah 2:1 we understand this command occurred on March 14, 445 BC.
Finally, God gives Daniel another monumental event on this prophetic timeline of His dealings with Israel. He says from this future command “to restore and build Jerusalem… to Messiah the Prince” would be “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.”
What makes this one of the most amazing prophecies in the entire Bible is that God is telling Daniel when the Messiah would present Himself to Israel. “When the decree happens allowing the Jews to return and rebuild, extrapolate out from that date 69 sets of seven years or 483 years and you’ll have the exact date of the Messiah’s appearing.”
Again, according to Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy, God revealed in Scripture that exactly 483 years or 173,880 days using the Babylonian calendar from “the command to restore and build Jerusalem” — which every knew happened on March 14, 445 BC — “Messiah the Prince” would present Himself to Israel in Jerusalem! Historically, we know Jesus’ Triumphal Entry took place on April 6, 32 AD — the very day God revealed to Daniel the prophet!
You see when Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for failing to know this was the “day of their visitation” this is what He’s referring too! As the religious scholars they should have known Daniel’s prophecy. God had been crystal clear they be on the lookout giving them the exact day of the promised Messiah’s appearance. Sadly, the problem was these religious leaders “did not know the time of their visitation.”
There is no doubt Jesus broke with the standard protocol of keeping it low-key because of what this specific day represented. Jesus accepted the praise of the masses because He was officially presenting Himself to Israel as their Messiah! Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the “King of Israel!” This is why to the very suggestion He should tell His disciples to be quiet Jesus replies this would be pointless for “even the rocks would cry out!”
In addition to presenting Himself to Israel as the Messiah, there is another reason Jesus orchestrated the events of this day the way He did. Though John doesn’t provide us any of the specific details surrounding the preparation of Jesus’ entry other than to say He sat on a “young donkey” to fulfill the prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9 (“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt”) the others have much to say.
Without taking a hard-right, I do want to explain why Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a “young donkey” was so significant — aside from the fact it also fulfilled prophecy. Please understand riding on a donkey was not demeaning. In actuality, when a king would return following a great battle the act of riding into town on a donkey signified peace and victory.
Though this isn’t Biblical, there was even a Rabbinic tradition popular during the first-century that said if the people were ready to receive their Messiah he’d come ridding into Jerusalem on a white horse. But if the people were not ready he’d come ridding into town on a donkey.
Again, this should have provided even more evidence as to what was happening. And yet, the fact Jesus entered Jerusalem the Sunday before the Feast of Passover ridding on a donkey meant so much more than even this Rabbinical tradition suggests!
According to the Law pilgrims for this feast were required to bring with them a lamb for the yearly sacrifice for sin. Aside from this it was also stipulated the lamb had to live with the family at least three days prior to the offering in order to develop that relational connection.
As you’re playing this scene out it your mind… A weeping Jesus coming down the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem, riding on a donkey with mobs of people surrounding Him crying out “Hosanna, Hosanna” — As you picture the makeshift pathway of tunics and coats and palm branches being waved in celebration there is one more element you need to see.
Because it’s Passover people are coming to the Temple to make a sacrifice — ever day had a significance. Most notably, it was on this very Sunday beforehand the passover lambs were to be presented by the people in the Temple before the priests. Then over the next three days this would be followed by a period of inspection and examination in order to insure the sacrificial lambs was pure and spotless — an acceptable offering.
Please realize, as this scene is unfolding with Jesus making His triumphal entry into the city, there are literally sheep everywhere. In fact Josephus recorded in his annuls that during the Passover some 256,500 lambs were brought to Jerusalem to be sacrificed.
And do you want to take a gander how these lambs were transported? Because the lamb had to remain pure and spotless, without any blemish in order to be an acceptable sacrifice — a challenge because of such a difficult journey through the Judean Wilderness, it was normal for young lambs to be transported in satchels carried by donkeys!
As you imagine this Triumphal Entry scene here’s one more element you should include… Jesus is not the only one riding a donkey — He just happens to be the only human! All around Jesus are donkeys loaded down with lambs coming to be sacrificed!
You see Jesus broke protocol this day not only because He was presenting Himself to Israel as their Messiah — a day long predicted by Daniel the prophet, but Jesus came on this Sunday in order to present Himself as the ultimate Passover Lamb!
Don’t forget the testimony of John the Baptizer all the way back in John 1:29. We read how “John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” Never forget Jesus was not the lamb sinful man would offer for the atonement of sin, but was instead the Lamb God would offer on man’s behalf!
Again this was always the plan! Back in Genesis 22:7-8 — an event foreshadowing this one — we read how “Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father! Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’” It’s in this moment God is doing just that… He’s come to Jerusalem to “provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” How so very fascinating this very scene with Abraham and Isaac occurred on Mount Moriah!
As we close our time together, in verse 16, John honestly admits that “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” What a sad admission that in the moment they all completely missed what was happening.
For starters, it is clear the first component to their ignorance was a lack of Biblical understanding. If anyone knew the Scriptures, what occurred on that day would have been correctly seen for what it was and I can imagine the atmosphere would have been much different. It wasn’t as though God had been vague or Jesus unclear.
While the people rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah, tragically they missed the significance of the moment because they didn’t know what He’d come to Jerusalem to accomplish. Yes, “Save now!” was the appropriate appeal for such a moment, but it was sin Jesus had come to save them from as the Lamb of God and not the tyranny of Rome.
Ultimately the grand lesson of this passage is the fact you will always miss the importance of the moment if you fail to recognize what Jesus has come to save you from! Beyond this, if you fail to see Him as a Savior for sin, what will result will be an inevitable judgment.
While in some regards you can give the masses a pass, these religious men were without any excuse. They should have know what was happening, but they choose ignorance fearing the repercussions accepting Jesus would have for their lives. These men rightly understood accepting Jesus would threaten their power and moral standing.
Their reaction to the scene unfolding was pitiful. John closes this section writing, “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’” Instead of possessing any measure of self-awareness, Jesus’ Triumphal Entry only served to steel them in their resolve to have Him killed.
None of this was lost on Jesus… While all of this is happening He’s weeping because He knows what will come next. According to Daniel 9, “The Messiah shall be cut off... and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.” Of course the fulfillment of these things happened in two phases: Later that week Jesus was crucified and then in 70 AD Titus Vespasian would sack and destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.
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