28. The Un-Triumphal Entry (John 12:9-19)
Several days ago I was standing outside our church chatting with my friend, Leonard Luton. As we talked, I happened to look down, and there on the parking lot something caught my eye. It was a plastic Ziploc baggie, with something green inside. I picked it up to look at it more closely. At first glance, it looked like a couple of leaves from a rose bush. At I turned the bag over, I could see the reverse side of the leaves. They had small brown spots on them. I turned to Leonard and said something like: “Look at this. It looks like someone has collected some samples of a diseased rose bush to show their nurseryman.” Leonard asked to look at it, and then said, “Looks to me like a sample of poison ivy, left behind by one of the Boys Scouts who was here the other night.” Instantly, I knew Leonard was right. Once he properly identified those leaves, I recognized them for what they were, and what a change it made. I didn’t ask Leonard if I could have that little plastic baggie back. I decided I’d let the expert hold it. After having been run over by a few cars, I wasn’t at all sure that bag offered much protection.
Things are not always what they seem! Such is certainly the case in our text. It reminds me of a statement which Haddon Robinson, my homiletics professor in seminary, made years ago (in relation to something else): It was something “like an army of deep sea divers, marching triumphantly into a half-filled bath tub.” The so-called “triumphal entry” of our Lord into Jerusalem is anything but a triumph, as we can see from the tears shed by our Lord in Luke’s parallel account (Luke 19:41-44). Those who enthusiastically welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as the “King of Israel” are some of the same people who, in a week’s time, will be crying out, “We have no king, but Caesar!” (John 19:15). Those who cry out, “Hosanna!” (Save now!) in our text, will be shouting, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). It is not a triumphal entry at all, but nonetheless it is a very significant event in the life of our Lord and in the history of the nation Israel. This is one of the very few events which is recorded by all four Gospels in the New Testament. Let us seek to learn what is so important about this “un-triumphal entry,” and endeavor to understand and apply what God intends for us to learn from it.
The Uniqueness of John’s
Account of the “Un-Triumphal Entry”
John’s account of our Lord’s final appearance in Jerusalem is indeed unique when compared with the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). For example, Luke’s Gospel makes a point of tracing our Lord’s steps as He makes His way toward Jerusalem (9:51, 53; 13:22, 33-34; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28). Before His arrival at Jerusalem, we read of Jesus in Jericho, where He healed a blind man (Luke 18:35-43), and invited Himself to the home of Zaccheus, the tax-collector (19:1-10).
It is very different in John’s Gospel. Very few details are given concerning our Lord’s ministry in the weeks that precede His final appearance in Jerusalem. We know He healed the man born blind (John 9), and that He taught about the Good Shepherd (John 10). He also made a quick and dangerous trip to Bethany, less than two miles from Jerusalem, where He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). But in John’s Gospel, much of our Lord’s time was spent away from Jerusalem, in out of the way places, to prevent the religious leaders in Jerusalem from taking His life before it was “His time” (see 10:40-42; 11:54). John virtually passes over the ministry of our Lord in these remote places in the weeks preceding Passover.
The “triumphal entry” itself is not described in great detail in our text. At best, John devotes but 11 verses to our Lord’s dramatic entry into Jerusalem before His final Passover celebration there. Matthew’s account has 17 verses, Mark’s 18 verses, and Luke’s Gospel 21 verses. John does not tell his readers how Jesus prearranged for two of His disciples to procure the donkey and its colt. John does not tell us that the Pharisees insist Jesus silence those who are praising Him, and that Jesus refuses, indicating that if He does so the “rocks would cry out” (Luke 19:39-40). John does not report our Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), or His cursing of the barren fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-26). And, strangely, John does not mention our Lord’s cleansing of the temple (see Matthew 21:12-13), nor does he inform us concerning our Lord’s miracles of healings, performed in the temple that final week of His ministry (Matthew 21:14).
John does not record any of the parables Jesus taught this final week of His earthly life and ministry, nor does he record any of our Lord’s numerous debates with His opponents. The so-called “Olivet Discourse” (see Matthew 24:3–25:6; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:5-36), which deals with prophecy concerning the last days, is not found in John. John covers the public ministry of our Lord during His final week in Jerusalem in one chapter (12), while the Synoptics take considerably more time and space. The agonizing prayer of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane (e.g., Matthew 26:36-46) is not mentioned by John. John 13-17 is the private ministry of our Lord to His disciples, not found in the Synoptics. Chapter 18 takes up with the arrest of Jesus, then moves right into the trials, condemnation, and execution of Jesus.
John limits his focus to three important incidents which occur in the final week of our Lord’s earthly ministry: (1) Mary’s anointing of Jesus in preparation for His burial (12:1-8); (2) Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” (12:9-19); and (3) the request of the Greeks to meet with Jesus (12:20-26). He concludes with a divine explanation of human unbelief, rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures and in the words of our Lord Himself (12:27-50).
The so-called “triumphal entry” comes as a surprise, not only to the reader, but no doubt also to the disciples and others who witnessed it. Our Lord’s previous visits to Jerusalem have always brought trouble. His journey to Jerusalem in John chapter 2 is punctuated by the “cleansing of the temple” (2:12-22). In chapter 5, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast (verse 1), and there, on the Sabbath, He heals a paralytic who has suffered from his malady for 38 years. When Jesus defends His actions by claiming to act with God, and as God, this completely sets the Jews off, so that they are even more intent on killing Him than they have been previously (5:18). Our Lord’s appearance in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles results in a failed attempt on the part of the Jewish religious leaders to have Jesus arrested by the temple police (7:30, 44-53). When Jesus makes the statement, “before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (8:58), they immediately seek to stone Him. The healing of the man born blind in John 9 also takes place in Jerusalem, and it further intensifies the animosity of the religious leaders toward Jesus. In John 10, Jesus teaches that He is the “Good Shepherd,” and at the same time implies that the Jewish religious leaders are the wicked shepherds whom He has come to replace. This leads to additional attempts to arrest (verse 39) or kill (verse 31) Him, prompting our Lord to retreat to a remote location along the Jordan River, where John the Baptist formerly ministered (10:40-42). By the time we come to chapter 11, the disciples of our Lord are afraid to go to Jerusalem, fearing that they—along with Jesus—will die there (see 11:16). In chapter 11, Jesus goes to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, where He raises Lazarus from the dead, even though he had been laying in the tomb for four days. Opposition from the Jewish leaders causes Jesus to retreat from Jerusalem, once again—for a time (or should I say, till “His time”).
Intensified Hopes and Fears
9 Now the large crowd of Jewish people from Jerusalem learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, 11 for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus.
Had it not been for the spectacular raising of Lazarus, Jesus might have received a very different reception in Jerusalem. As we learned in chapter 11, a fairly large group of Jews from Jerusalem (John calls them a “crowd” —11:42; 12:17) have gone to Bethany to join Mary and Martha in mourning the death of their brother Lazarus (11:19). All these mourners witness the raising of Lazarus in a way that makes this sign undeniable. Many of those who witness this miracle come to faith in Jesus, but others react negatively, reporting this miracle to the Pharisees (11:45-46). The Jewish Sanhedrin meets, concluding that Jesus must die, to save their own skins (so to speak), and for the good of the nation (11:47-53). Jesus retreats from Judea once again, spending His time in seclusion with His disciples in Ephraim (11:54).
The witnesses to the raising of Lazarus return to Jerusalem, broadcasting their sensational news throughout Jerusalem. Underscoring all of this is the presence of Lazarus, who is “living proof” of this miracle, a man undeniably delivered from the jaws of death. Messianic hopes run high in those difficult days under Roman rule, especially at festive seasons like Passover. It is during Passover that the population of Jerusalem multiplies significantly. Estimates are that approximately 30,000 Jews normally lived in Jerusalem, but that during the Passover, exaggerated estimates run into the millions. More realistic estimates approximate somewhere around 180,000 people.218 Four to six times the population of this city have gathered there to observe Passover, camping all around Jerusalem. You can imagine the excitement that surges through the pilgrims who have come from afar for the Passover, learning that Jesus is there, and that He has recently raised a man from the dead!
As Passover draws near, all eyes are looking about for Jesus. Everyone is wondering if He will dare to show up, in spite of the fact that the chief priests and Pharisees have ordered that anyone who knows where Jesus can be found must inform them immediately. When word gets out that Jesus is in the vicinity (He first comes to Bethany, slightly less than 2 miles from Jerusalem) and is as on His way to the Holy City, a large crowd of Jews sets out from Jerusalem toward Bethany to meet Jesus on His way. They are most eager to see Him, and not just Him but also Lazarus, whom He has raised from the dead. If our Lord’s appearance inspires the messianic hopes of some, it does not do so for all. The chief priests who have determined earlier that Jesus must die, now decide that Lazarus must die as well. In their minds at least, he is also to blame for the fact that many are turning away from them to follow Jesus.
As I read these verses, I am reminded of the Watergate scandal, just a few years ago. A crime like burglary seemed a small price to pay when committed by “patriots” in the name of “national security.” The personal interests of men like the President of the United States become confused with the national interest. And once one crime was justified, other crimes were excused as well. That is what we see in our text. The chief priests and scribes care little for the people (as, for example, we can see in John 7:45-49). They care about their own positions and power, which Jesus threatens (11:48; see also Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). They conclude that they will violate the law to kill Jesus (John 7:50-53)—in the national interest, of course. The decision to kill Lazarus—a completely innocent man guilty only of returning from the dead—follows quite naturally and easily. One sin so quickly and so easily leads to another.
The “Triumphal” Entry219
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. They began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it,220 just as it is written, 15 “Do not be afraid, people of Jerusalem; look, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!” 16 (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and they had done these things to him.)
If you happen to watch football (at times) as I do, you know the value of “instant replay.” Let’s say that an official has just thrown down the yellow flag. He indicates that the ball carrier stepped out of bounds, or that the pass receiver did not get both feet down before stepping out of bounds. The “instant replay” will usually clarify the facts. Not only are we able to see the play in slow motion (and stop the play at the critical moment), but we can usually see it from several camera angles. This is what the four Gospel accounts of our Lord’s life provide for us. By reading and comparing all the Gospel accounts of the same event, we can view it from several angles. Every one of the four Gospels has an account of the so-called “triumphal entry.” Each account has its own details, its own emphasis, its own significance. These differing accounts are of great value to the student of the Bible.
Before looking at the “triumphal entry” from John’s “angle,” it may be well for us to consider this event as an “instant replay,” taking all four of the Gospel accounts into consideration. Jesus arrives at Bethany, by way of Jericho (see Luke 18:35; 19:1ff.). Before entering Jerusalem, He sends two of His disciples ahead of Him to procure a donkey and its colt (Matthew 21:1-6; Mark 11:1-6; Luke 19:29-34). This is to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (see Matthew 21:5), although the disciples do not understand this at the time (John 12:16). As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, He rides the (as yet unbroken) colt. A crowd comes from Jerusalem to greet Jesus, and they accompany Him into the city, spreading their cloaks and cut branches on the road before Him. The crowds call out expressions of praise and celebration, hailing Jesus as the “King of Israel.” The commotion of this celebration reaches the ears of those in the city of Jerusalem, and many of these citizens of Jerusalem join in with the rest in welcoming Jesus. Some of the Pharisees become indignant, insisting that Jesus instruct the people to cease such praise, but Jesus refuses, indicating that if the people were to remain quiet the stones would cry out (Luke 19:39-40). As Jesus looks upon the city of Jerusalem, He weeps, knowing that their reception of Him is superficial and momentary, and that the day of Israel’s destruction is imminent (Luke 19:41-44). Once in the city, Jesus takes a look around the temple, and because it is late, returns to Bethany with His disciples (Mark 11:11). On His return to the city, Jesus comes upon a fruitless fig tree, which He curses (Mark 11:12-14). He then enters the temple and cleanses it, greatly angering the chief priests and scribes (Mark 11:15-18). It seems that this cleansing makes room at the temple for Jesus to teach and to perform miracles, which draws such crowds that it is impossible for our Lord’s opponents to arrest Him there (Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:47-48). Each day Jesus goes to the temple, and each evening Jesus leaves Jerusalem and spends the night in Bethany, out of the reach of His adversaries (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:18-19).
John omits many of the details of our Lord’s appearance and ministry in Jerusalem this final week, focusing rather on His ministry to His disciples. John’s account of the “triumphal entry” is dominated by the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, which only his Gospel records. All of chapter 11 is brought to the reader’s attention in John 12:9-11, which links the enthusiasm of the crowds and the intensity of the opposition to the raising of Lazarus. John does not record the process by which the donkey and her colt are procured. From his description, we would not guess that this acquisition is so meticulously planned and executed. We are tempted to assume that the donkey and the colt just happened to be there, and that Jesus somewhat spontaneously makes use of it. This is the way the spectators would “see” the event, being unaware of the preparations our Lord has made.221
The fact is that no one other than our Lord really understands what is happening at the time. In verse 16, John makes a point of telling us that the disciples do not understand the meaning of this event until after the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord: (“His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and they had done these things to him.”) I know that John does not tell us what the disciples are doing at this seemingly triumphant moment, but it is not difficult for me to “imagine” what could have taken place. The disciples are obviously eager for our Lord to establish His kingdom quickly, as are the people (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). They are very aware of the opposition to Jesus, and of the dangers which face them in Jerusalem (John 11:7-8). They accompany Jesus to Jerusalem with fear and trepidation (John 11:16). What a shock it must be to see what appears to be the entire city of Jerusalem welcoming Jesus (and them!) with open arms. I can see Peter and John giving each other a “high five” sign of victory. At last, they’ve truly arrived. This kingdom is here! How deceiving appearances can be.
It is true that the people were welcoming Jesus as their “King.” They say so themselves: “They began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!’” (verse 13).
Their actions are probably patterned after previous incidents in Israel’s history:
When Simon, the Maccabee, entered Jerusalem, in triumph, it is recorded that he entered ‘with thanksgiving and branches of palm-trees and with harps and cymbals and with viols and hymns and songs, because there was destroyed a great enemy out of Israel’ (I Macc. 13:51). And when his brother, Judas the Maccabee, defeated the Syrians, it is said: ‘the people carried branches and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms’ (II Macc. 10:7).222
The words which the people cry out come from Psalm 118:
1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 2 Let Israel now say, “His mercy endures forever.” 3 Let the house of Aaron now say, “His mercy endures forever.” 4 Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.” 5 I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. 6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7 The LORD is for me among those who help me; Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
8 It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man. 9 It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in princes. 10 All nations surrounded me, But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them. 11 They surrounded me, Yes, they surrounded me; But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them. 12 They surrounded me like bees; They were quenched like a fire of thorns; For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them. 13 You pushed me violently, that I might fall, But the LORD helped me. 14 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation. 15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. 16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. 18 The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. 20 This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. 21 I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. 22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. 27 God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You. 29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm, and one of the six Psalms most often referred to in the New Testament. This Psalm is one of the Hallel songs (Psalms 113-118). The Israelites would sing it as they ascended to Jerusalem to worship at one of the feasts. It is, therefore, a song that may well have been sung at Passover every year.223 But this year, it had a very special significance. A look at some of the words explains why. The perspective of the psalmist is that Israel is surrounded by its enemies, but he looks to God for protection and deliverance (see verses 10-14). There is an air of confidence, so that the psalmist need not fear the enemy: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (vs. 6). The psalmist’s confidence seems undaunted, even by death: “I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD” (vs. 17-19).
Would the raising of Lazarus not give special meaning and certainty to these words? There is no need to fear the enemy (verse 6), because no man can ultimately take away the life of God’s own (verses 17-18). Jerusalem therefore welcomes Jesus, even as this psalm welcomes the righteous (verses 19-21). And in light of this, the people cry out “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save now!”) to Jesus, their newly recognized king.
I am inclined to understand that the words of welcome which the Jews call out to Jesus are even more true than they realize. What they say to Jesus is similar to what Caiaphas says of Jesus (see John 11:49-52) in that both speak prophetically, saying much more than they understand. The crowd here is welcoming Jesus as a political deliverer, as the One who will throw off the shackles of Rome. These people want Jesus to be their king, but in the same way (and for the same reasons) that the Galileans wanted Jesus to be their king after He fed the 5,000 (see John 6:15). Were they to understand Psalm 118 correctly, they would realize that Jesus will be their King, but only after His rejection by the nation. They need to read and to understand the verses which immediately precede the words they are shouting: “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes” (vs. 22-23).
We should not be surprised by the failure of these Jews to grasp what is going on. John clearly informs us that even our Lord’s disciples don’t understand (verse 16). It is not to be understood until Jesus is glorified—that is until after our Lord is rejected, crucified, resurrected, and ascended. It is then that the Holy Spirit will make these things clear to them (see John 14:25-31), and through them to us. As John writes this Gospel, he understands what he did not grasp when these things were taking place, and he makes sure that his readers know it as well.
More Mixed Reactions
17 So the crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it. 18 Because they had heard that Jesus had performed this miraculous sign, the crowd went out to meet him. 19 Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world224 has run off after him!”
Jesus’ bold entrance into Jerusalem gets the attention of everyone. It can hardly be ignored. Those who have come from afar likely do not know of recent events, so those who witness the raising of Lazarus tell their story, over and over again to wide-eyed pilgrims. Those who hear the story from one witness may gladly hear it from another. This greatly fuels the flames of messianic expectations. Hearing of this one miraculous sign is the only reason some of these worshippers go to meet Jesus, as He makes His way to the city.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, have been watching Jesus with suspicion from the very beginning. They are continually monitoring their ratings and taking note of how many people are abandoning them to follow Jesus.225 Their popularity has never been lower than at the time of the “triumphal entry,” and they know it. It seems to me that the words of the Pharisees, recorded in verse 19, reflect utter panic. In chapter 11, they see themselves losing ground:
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
This leads them to conclude that Jesus must die, for their own preservation, and for that of the nation (11:49-53, 57). When it becomes apparent that Lazarus also is a threat to them, they decide to kill him also (12:10). And now, after the “triumphal entry,” they are beginning to think theirs is a lost cause. They are now forced to take desperate measures.
Up to this point, the Jewish religious leaders have been unwilling to seize and kill Jesus during Passover:
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by treachery and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there will not be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5; see also Mark 14:2).
During the Passover week, they want to arrest Jesus, but He carefully avoids them at night, and stays surrounded by the crowds during the day, making this impossible (see Matthew 21:45-46; Mark 11:18; 12:2; Luke 20:19; 21:37; 22:2).
I am inclined to think that this panic of the Jews, recorded in our text, and the decision of Judas to betray the Lord Jesus, coincides. I believe Judas decides to betray our Lord at the exact same time the Jews are ready to do whatever it takes to be rid of Him. If they could have their way, it would not be during Passover, because this would put them in danger of inciting the masses against them. But now, as the saying goes, “Desperate straits call for desperate measures.” In their eagerness to put Jesus to death, even during Passover, they perfectly fulfill the will of God and the purpose of our Lord that He die during Passover as the Passover Lamb. God’s timing is always perfect.
The fact that every Gospel has an account of the “triumphal entry” of our Lord into Jerusalem indicates to us that it is indeed a most significant event. On our Lord’s part, it is a most dramatic and emphatic claim to be the Messiah, the “King of Israel.” At the same time, it is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. Jesus does not come as a conquering king, ready to lead Israel against the Romans, overthrowing their rule. He has come as the “Prince of Peace” and as the “Lamb of God,” whose death will provide the cure for sin. I am reminded of the spiritual that goes something like this, “Poor little Jesus boy, they didn’t know who you was …” This song refers to the birth of our Lord, but it applies equally well to His “triumphal entry.” They still don’t know who He is.
This is a major turning point in Israel’s history. To joyfully welcome Him as “their kind of king” is not to receive Him as the “Lamb of God,” sent to “take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). To receive their kind of Jesus is to reject God’s kind of King. This apparent reception is, in reality, a rejection. It is destined to result in rejection. It will take a few days to become evident, but when they finally grasp that Jesus has not come to fulfill their expectations, but rather to be a different kind of Messiah, they will quickly turn against Him, rejecting Him as their king. Those who hail Jesus as the “King of Israel” at the “triumphal entry” will a few days later cry out “Crucify, crucify!” As we continue to read of our Lord’s arrest, trials, and crucifixion in John, the word “king” appears a number of times. It will there be evident that Jesus is not the people’s kind of king.
This shallow reception of Jesus came as no surprise to Him, and as we listen to His words, spoken earlier, it would not surprise us, either:
16 “And these are the ones sown on the rocky ground: whenever they hear the word, they receive it at once with joy. 17 But they have no root in themselves and are temporary. Then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they fall away immediately” (Mark 4:16-17).
Jesus’ tears rightly appraise the real meaning and significance of this “triumphal entry.” They have not received Him as the One who will be “lifted up” on the cross of Calvary. They are not willing to think of His glorification as taking place on Calvary. This reception is but a step along the path of Israel’s rejection of Jesus, which leads to the destruction of this nation in but a few years. The occasion is not triumphant at all, but tragic. And what is tragic as well is that no one but our Lord understands this at the moment. He alone knows what lies ahead. We will look at the conclusion of this chapter in our next lesson, but suffice it to say that the conclusion of this chapter is about unbelief, not belief. The “triumphal entry” is about Israel’s unbelief.
Lest we hastily condemn the nation Israel for their unbelief and hardness of heart, let me conclude by pointing out that Israel’s error in our text is one of the most common errors evident in the professing church today—triumphalism. It is our insistence that Jesus be now what the Bible says He will be and do then—in the future. We all wish to identify with the triumphant Jesus, who overthrows the wicked, and brings prosperity, peace, and freedom from pain to His people. But we do not wish to identify with the “suffering Savior.” Jesus’ words for us are not, “Take up your crown and follow Me,” but “Take up your cross and follow Me.” This is not to say that this life has no triumphs, no blessings, no deliverances from suffering and pain. It is to say that the blessings our Lord has promised at His second coming must not be demanded before they take place. Peter speaks to those who are suffering and uses the example of Christ as our example:
18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may leave sin behind and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).
Paul, likewise, speaks of the certainty of troubles and suffering in this life:
2 We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith, 3 so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened as you well know (1 Thessalonians 3:2-4).
Let us therefore not demand in the present what God has promised in the future.
I should also add that a time is coming when our Lord will make a truly “triumphal entry”:
11 Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice he judges and goes to war. 12 His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. 13 He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is named the Word of God. 14 The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God the All-Powerful. 16 He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” 17 Then I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he shouted in a loud voice to all the birds flying high in the sky: “Come, gather around for the great banquet of God, 18 to eat your fill of the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of powerful people, the flesh of horses and those who ride them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slaves, and small and the great!”
19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. 20 Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. 21 The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh (Revelation 19:11-21).
Are you ready for this day, when our Lord returns to this earth triumphantly, to deliver His saints, and to destroy His enemies? It is a much awaited day for those who have placed their trust in Jesus, due to the work He accomplished at Calvary at His first coming. It is a dreaded day for those who have rejected Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” May each of us be ready and waiting for Him when He returns to this earth in triumph.
218 “The Passover festival at Jerusalem in the days before the temple was destroyed was an impressive occasion. Perhaps the only comparable event in the modern world is the annual Haj to Mecca. From all over the Eastern Mediterranean world, wherever Jews had settled or foreigners had embraced the Jewish religion, they came each year. Nobody knows exactly how many came. Ancient reports range from half a million to twelve million! A more conservative modern estimate reckons that Jerusalem, quite a small town by modern standards (perhaps 30,000 inhabitants), was swollen to six times its normal population at Passover time. The city itself could not hold them, and they filled the surrounding villages, while large numbers set up tents outside the city.” R. T. France, I Came to Set the Earth on Fire (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 126. It should be noted, however, that Joachim Jeremias (on whose calculations France rests his estimate of 180,000 people) later suggested that this estimate might still be a bit too high. Cf. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), p. 84.
219 “Sir Robert Anderson by a careful analysis of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 calculated that Jesus, to the very day, fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy concerning the appearance of the Messiah. Dr. Alva McClain has written, ‘April 6, 32 A.D., therefore, is fixed definitely as the end of the era of the first 69 Weeks; and according to Daniel’s prophecy, it should mark the very day of Messiah’s manifestation as the Prince of Israel.’ Without attempting to enter into the clear but intricate chronological calculations set forth by Anderson in his book, The Coming Prince (Pages 95-105), I shall simply state his conclusion that April 6, 32 A.D., was the tenth of Nisan, that momentous day on which our Lord, in fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, rode up to Jerusalem on the ‘foal of an ass’ and offered Himself as the Prince and King of Israel.” Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), p. 20.
220 “The ass or donkey is commonly associated with pursuits of peace (Judg. 10:4; 12:14; II Sam. 17:23; 19:26; Is. 1:3); the horse, with warfare (Ex. 15:1, 19, 21; Ps. 33:17; 76:6; 147:10; Prov. 21:31; Jer. 8:6; 51:21; Zech. 10:3; and Rev. 6:4).” William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-1954), vol. 2, p. 191.
223 “Also this psalm may have been sung in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:30).” Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.), 1983, 1985.
Related Topics: Christology