Triumphal Entry (Palm Sunday)

John's Gospel (12:10) says “the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death” because his resurrection had caused another wave of people to believe in Jesus. And the next day, the people heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem from Bethany, so they “took branches of palm trees” and met him, crying “Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord.” And those who had witnessed Lazarus' coming out of the grave “bore witness. …For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.”

The Pharisees began to think that their efforts to dissuade the people from following Jesus were coming to nothing, saying among themselves, “the world is gone after him.” John then interjects that “certain Greeks among them” came up to worship and asked Philip, knowing him to be from Bethsaida of Galilee, how they could meet Jesus. So Philip told Andrew, and they together went and told Jesus. “And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified’” (John 12:23).

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Based on John's Gospel, most Bible scholars agree that this is the third Passover recorded in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry, indicating the end of his ministry's third year, though some dispute that number. Regardless of how many years he and the disciples ministered together, there is no doubt that this was the last Passover they observed together on earth.

Matthew says, “when he came 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 21:10–11).

The reference to the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, the crowds coming out to welcome Jesus with palms, the cries of Hosanna, and (as Matthew and Luke add) the people putting down their garments on Jesus' path as a virtual carpet to follow into the city paint a picture of the festive air that filled the Jewish capital city before the holiday.

Jesus Glorified

All three synoptic Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — specify that the triumphal procession brought Jesus all the way to the Temple, and there children and other followers continued worshipping him, incurring the wrath of the chief priests and Temple leaders. But despite this, Luke says Jesus continued preaching in the Temple every day that first Holy Week.

Only John's Gospel describes Jesus' glorification as the climax of his triumphal entry. After saying he was going to die, like a “corn of wheat” that falls into the ground and dies to be raised up and yield fruit, Jesus prayed, “‘Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.’ Then came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people that stood by and heard it said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:23–31). The grain-of-wheat simile refers to the body being buried and decaying, so that the resurrection body can rise from it as a spiritual body.

Moneychangers Routed

Later on this first Holy Week, Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, saying they had turned his house into a “den of thieves.” He spent the night after that event back in Bethany, and on the way back to the Temple the next morning, he looked in the branches of a fig tree along the way for some breakfast fruit, and finding it barren, “said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again,’ at which the fig tree immediately withered away. And when the disciples saw that, they marveled, ‘How soon is the fig tree withered away!’ Jesus answered to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and doubt not, you shall not only do this that was done to the fig tree but also if you shall say to this mountain, “Be moved and be cast into the sea,” it shall be done’” (Matthew 21:19–21).

Interpreters often see the fig tree as representing the Jewish established leaders, who, that week, would reject him and be quickly replaced in God's reckoning by his church. And if that's so, some propose that the mountain represents the pagan Roman Empire that would fall from its pinnacle of power in Rome, to be recreated under Christ's dominion in Byzantium. The word that the apostles and their successors had to say to “move the mountain” was the good news of the Gospel.

Also that week, the Temple priests tested Jesus with questions like “under whose authority do you teach these things,” to which he replied, “tell me first whether John the Baptist and his baptism were from God,” which they refused to answer, knowing John was revered by the multitude who considered him a prophet from God. So Jesus didn't answer their questions, either.

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Some theologians call Jesus' week of preaching in the Temple and throwing out the moneychangers his “occupation of the Temple.”Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that Pharisees in the Temple asked the people to throw lemons at him and his followers to expel them.

Crowd Pleaser

But Jesus continued teaching the multitudes at the Temple that week (in the courtyard areas inside the walls, but under the sky), with the people waiting for their Passover feast and basking under the power of the master teacher.

Matthew recorded one of Jesus' most controversial teachings:

“Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet (Matthew 21:42–46).

In exasperation, the Pharisees conspired to take him, and found their opportunity in his one skeptical disciple, Judas Iscariot. John 13:21–30 begins the account of Judas' betrayal at the Last Supper, when Jesus hosted his disciples in one last and everlastingly significant meal somewhere in Jerusalem. There Jesus cryptically revealed that Judas would give him into his enemies' hands. After the meal ended, Judas slipped out to the Temple and sold the chief priests and Pharisees the information about where Jesus might be found later that night. In exchange for this information, Judas gained another thirty pieces of silver for the disciples' treasury.

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