It was the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth. He had set His face to go to Jerusalem for some time (Luke 9:51). As He and His disciples were approaching Jerusalem, He instructed two of them to stop off at Bethphage—a tiny village about one-half mile east of Jerusalem on the south slope of the Mount of Olives. They were told they would find a female donkey and her foal that they were to untie and bring to the Savior. When questioned about their action, they were to assure the questioners that the Lord had temporary need of them, with the implication being that the owner—no doubt a disciple himself, or at least sympathetic to Christ—would give his consent.
Upon their return from this assignment, the disciples placed their outer cloaks (worn over their tunics or shirts) on the unbroken, saddleless colt, implying royal honor, even as in the case of Jehu’s elevation to kingship in 2 Kings 9:13. With Jesus seated on the colt, they continued their approach to Jerusalem, and were met by a considerable multitude of Jewish pilgrims who had come to observe the Passover. They had heard of His approach, and went out to give Him escort. The inspired writers inform us that this circumstance was a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy—specifically, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9: “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.”
The crowd of enthused worshippers commenced to litter the roadway with tree branches and articles of clothing, and to wave the branches of palm trees. To Jews, palm branches symbolized rejoicing and victory (Leviticus 23:40). The great multitude of Revelation 7:9 uttered praise and adoration to God and the Lamb, while holding palm branches in their hands.
Notice what some members of the crowd shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” What an incredible scene! The entire scenario fills us with wonder and a sense of awe. But what does it mean? Why did this event occur? Why did Jesus even participate in a so-called “triumphal entry”? What is with the crowds? Why did they come forth and hail our Lord as if they were convinced that He was the Son of God, especially in view of the fact that in just four days they would turn on Him and clamor for His execution?
Two textual indicators help us to size up the situation. First, the people were curious about Christ’s ability to perform signs. John informs us that many people had been informed of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the crowds were still buzzing about that (John 12:18). But keep in mind that most people ultimately did not view the miracles of Jesus as proof of His divine identity (and therefore their need to bow before Him in obedient submission). Rather, they saw Him as a curiosity—someone Who could offer them physical advantages. Remember the comment Jesus made to the crowd whom He fed miraculously with a few loaves and fish? “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). In other words, just like people today, they were after the thrill, the excitement, and the materialistic possibilities—not the spiritual, eternal riches.
Second, it is clear that most of the Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a physical king. The people of Jesus’ day were restless and waiting. They were looking and expecting. They were yearning and hoping for someone to change their oppressed condition. The foreign invader—the mighty Roman—had entered their land and subjugated them to foreign rule. What a degrading, humiliating situation! The average Jew hated the Roman invader, and saw him as low-class, pagan trash. Jews constantly were looking for every possible opportunity to antagonize their Roman oppressors with ultimate hopes of driving them from Palestine. These nationalistic hopes and expectations were centered on the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets.
But a major misconception dominated the Jewish mentality: they were certain that the long-awaited Messiah would come in the form of a worldly, militaristic king Who would sit on an earthly throne—the throne of David—and reign in Jerusalem over a renewed Davidic kingdom. Even the apostles were infected with this materialistic understanding of the kingdom of Christ—as is evident in such incidents as Peter’s attempt to defend Christ with a sword (John 18:10), and the disciples’ question just prior to Christ’s ascension, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). On one occasion, the crowd even tried to take Jesus forcibly and make Him a king (John 6:15). Notice—in the four accounts of this triumphal entry—the terminology of the crowd in alluding to Jesus: “son of David”; “kingdom of our father David”; and “king of Israel.” These appellations show they were looking for a physical kingdom.
What was the significance of the expressions shouted by the crowd? What did they mean by their use of the term “hosanna”? These Jewish pilgrims simply were alluding to Psalm 118:25-26, which was a customary psalm to recite at the Feast of Tabernacles and other Jewish festivals. “Hosanna” is two words in the Hebrew—hoshea-na. “Hoshea” is an imperative meaning “Save!” “Na” is a particle of entreaty tacked on to the imperative, meaning “I pray” or “I plead.” So it roughly means, “please save.” In the context of the psalm, “hosanna” is a cry for help, a supplicatory plea for God to extend salvation. “In the highest” means in the highest degree or heavens. They were calling for salvation from the ultimate source—Heaven itself. “Hosanna” seems to have evolved through the centuries to the point that, by Jesus’ day, it was more of an exclamation of joy—a shout of praise and acclaim. People probably so use it today. But notice carefully its true biblical import.
Here is Jesus, sandwiched within a throng of people offering an imploring cry to God to bring to reality the salvation expected at the coming of the Messianic King. Though they conceptualize a physical kingdom, here is Jesus, fulfilling the kingly prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 in a joyous, triumphant setting reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles, with palm and willow branches waving and littering the pathway. The scene evoked, from those who were present, an exclamation appropriate to that occasion. But in the process, they were, in fact, unwittingly greeting the true King David and Messiah! Here was the King of kings, and Lord of lords—and they did not even grasp it! Here was the One Who could bestow upon them a salvation far beyond what David or any human king could offer. “Hosanna in the highest” actually refers to the fact that Jesus was the King who was about to bring salvation to the people from Heaven—not the ridding of the Romans from their land, but the eradication of sin from their lives, making it possible for them to enter the kingdom that cannot be shaken and that will last eternally (Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 11:15). Only deity can save in the true sense (Psalm 3:8; Isaiah 43:11; Jeremiah 3:23; Hosea 13:4).
Notice, then, the following observations and lessons to be gleaned from this biblical account:
First, perhaps the central purpose of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem was to demonstrate Jesus’ approach to His coronation—which was heavenly rather than earthly. People constantly look in all the wrong places for the fulfillment of their dreams and wishes. They thought they wanted an earthly king to give them physical, psychological, and emotional relief. But they did not need that! What they needed was a divine king who could give them spiritual and eternal relief from the true hardship of life—sin.
The Jews had gone through this once before—in 1 Samuel 8. They thought they needed an earthly king then, too. But they did not—God was their king. Here they are again seeking earthly salvation, when the One Who could give them eternal salvation was in their very midst. Earthly kings fail and fade. Jesus was about to experience the ultimate death of human history, and then to rise victoriously from the dead and to ascend into Heaven itself in order to sit down upon His throne to rule and reign over a kingdom that would last throughout time—throughout all of world history—at which time He would turn the kingdom over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Second, notice the sharp contrast between the triumphal entry of King Jesus and the triumphal entries of worldly rulers. The Romans were well known for their triumphs. A Roman triumph consisted of the conqueror returning from his victorious campaigns to Rome, where he was greeted by throngs of grateful citizens. The road was strewn with flowers. Trumpet blasts heralded his procession through the city. He rode in a magnificent, gilded chariot pulled by four white horses. He wore a royal, purple robe, laced with gold and hung by jeweled shoulder clasps. He held an ivory scepter in his hand, and wore a laurel crown on his head. He was surrounded by lictors and slaves who lined the street with golden bowls of rare perfumes that were burned to fill the air with fragrance. On his way to the Senate, he would pause to offer a sacrifice to the gods, consisting of a splendid horned bull.
But look at Jesus! He was surrounded by crowds that did not even comprehend the true significance of the occasion, and that soon would clamor for His blood. He was seated on a donkey—a symbol of peace, unlike the horse and chariot, which are symbols of war. There was nothing degrading about riding on a donkey, but it signified his meekness, humility, and nonviolent intentions. There were no trumpet blasts, no flowers on the pathway, no incense fragrance filling the air. The only sacrifice was the one that He Himself soon would make in behalf of others.
If you had been a Roman bystander observing this incident, you surely would have considered this entrance to be somewhat cheap, second-rate, and even laughable. It lacked the pomp and circumstance so typical of human invention. Surely you have noticed the element within churches of Christ in our day that is attempting to refurbish worship and doctrine. Some wish to include solos, choirs, and worship teams who use microphones and electronic synthesizers to “enhance” the song service. They want to lift up their arms and sway to the music. They want to choreograph dramatic performances, and even incorporate orchestral and instrumental music. Can we not see that such self-centered, self-serving activity does not represent or please God? God’s handling of the promotion and propagation of His will lacks the hype, the bells and whistles, the smoke and mirrors, and the theatrics of humanly instigated religion. God does not approve of “showbiz religion” or “Hollywood hallelujahs” (Matthew 23:5-7; Mark 5:15). Our culture is entertainment oriented and emotion driven. Hence, the tinsel and glitter associated with physical stimulation and fleshly pleasure in the world has made its way into many congregations, and Christians are falling prey to the false notion that “God is pleased when we’re pleased.” But Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:9 still ring relevant today: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Third, do we understand the genuine joy, the happiness, and the gladness that is ours in Christ? When we sing “hosanna,” we ought to be conscious of the fact that we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus in the waters of baptism. His triumphal entry into heaven has paved the way for us! Salvation is available to us! The cry, the earnest plea for God to save us, is realized in the person of Jesus Christ our Savior, Who gave Himself on our behalf and extends perfect peace and complete satisfaction to us if we will but obey the Gospel plan of salvation and live the Christian life.
I wonder how many people were in the multitude that escorted Jesus into Jerusalem? Scores? Hundreds? But we know for a fact that all of that seemingly genuine religious expression was short lived, if not fake. The people were just going through the motions. They must have felt extremely religious and right with God. But human feelings never have been a trustworthy barometer of one’s spiritual status.
Are you a Christian? Have you submitted yourself to the specific prerequisites enjoined upon us before we can receive the atoning benefit of Christ’s blood? Have you confessed your faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24; Romans 10:9-10)? Have you repented of your sins, and turned to God Almighty (Acts 26:20; Luke 13:3)? Have you scripturally acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus in your life by implementing your penitent trust in the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38)? Do not be influenced by family or friends. You must make the decision on your own, and refrain from being influenced by the opinions of mere humans. When the Pharisees heard the crowd referring to Jesus as the King Who comes in the name of the Lord, when they heard the cries of “hosanna to the son of David,” they called to Jesus from the crowd and urged Him to rebuke the people for making such statements. Jesus responded, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). Oh yes, you and I must render submission to the King of kings, even if everyone else forsakes Him.
As a Christian, are you merely going through the motions? Do you worship sincerely? Do you seek to serve other people every day? Do you strive to eliminate from your mind and life those things that are unbecoming of a child of God? Do you know that as Jesus drew near to the city of Jerusalem, with all of those people expressing apparent recognition of His person, He began to weep over the city’s inhabitants because He knew they just did not understand. He offered them forgiveness, blessing, and peace, but their failure to embrace and practice genuine Bible religion meant He would give them instead judgment, wrath, and destruction. May none of us fall short of His intention for us, and may we be willing to do what it takes. May we sing with genuineness the words of Carl Tuttle:
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest;
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest;
Lord, we lift up Your name,
With hearts full of praise;
Be exalted, O Lord my God,
Hosanna in the highest.