What and Why is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday is the day on which Christ entered triumphant into Jerusalem as the rightful king ascending to David’s throne forever. In many ways, Palm Sunday is as significant as Resurrection Sunday because, on Palm Sunday, Jesus announced the work that would be accomplished in the resurrection. God created the earth in one week and rested on the Sabbath (Genesis 1). Jesus renewed the earth in one week and rested on the Sabbath (John 12-19). Historically, this is what the Christian church has celebrated during Holy Week—the fulfillment of Jewish Passover, a holy celebration during which Jews celebrate God’s deliverance and the conquering of His enemies.

The name we use today, Easter, is derived from the Greek Πασχα, which means “Passover.” So, it is not likely derived from the name of a germanic (or English?) goddess like we read in Bede. The painting of eggs and rabbit symbolism that pervaded early Spring pagan worship were appropriated by people in the West to symbolize the second birth and life in Christ. Instead of worshipping the new life and fertility of the world in Spring, we worship Christ because of the new life He gives by His coming and conquering the death curse brought through original sin. Easter, or Passover, means nothing if the Jewish Passover promise was not fulfilled, if Christ did not conquer the curse—sin and death.

John 12:12-19

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”

Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. 

So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”

John’s Gospel

John’s Gospel is the latest of the Gospel accounts. John wrote his Gospel account to a general, mixed audience in order to defend the deity of Christ biblically and philosophically. There are many today who believe that Christ is not currently reigning and is not God. There are many today who believe that the promise of redemption for God’s people and the world was not finished on the cross. John refutes such claims in his Gospel account, a purpose which the other Gospel writers did not have specifically—else John would not have needed to write another Gospel.

Mark—a disciple of Peter who wrote because there was no written Gospel account and the apostles were starting to be martyred.

Matthew—an apostle who wrote to clarify Mark’s Gospel and defend Christ as the Jewish Messiah.

Luke—a Gentile historian who wrote a general Gospel account for Gentiles, showing, historically, that Jesus was real and the events certainly transpired.

John—an apostle who wrote to prove the deity and present lordship of Jesus Christ biblically and philosophically.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke are Synoptic Gospels, which means they literarily parallel one another in the account of Jesus’s life and ministry. John’s Gospel is not synoptic, which mean it is not a literary parallel of the other Gospel accounts. John is doing something slightly different than the other Gospel writers by providing different insight into Jesus life and ministry.

The praise (v. 12-13)

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”

The people in the crowd bear palm branches, a symbol of peace and celebration of a conquering king, and rejoice, singing Psalm 118:26 with reference to Jesus as the rightful heir to David’s throne. Hosanna, meaning “salvation we pray,” to the King of Israel. Blessed is King Jesus. Salvation, we pray, in the highest! The crowds following Jesus sing out, proclaiming their belief that Jesus is here to deliver them and bring salvation by conquering the earth like the prophets foretold.

The prophecy being fulfilled (v. 14-16)

Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Jesus, here, explicitly affirms the crowd’s praise and their belief that He is here to conquer. Jesus is entering Jerusalem like He is in order to fulfill what was written about the coming, conquering king who would ascend to David’s throne. Ultimately, this is the celebration of Palm Sunday—a holiday established to remember the establishment of Christ’s kingdom upon the earth. Jesus enters Jerusalem like a conquering king, assuming rightful lordship over the kingdoms of the world through David’s throne. He does, indeed, enter on a young donkey in order to fulfill what was prophesied concerning the Messiah in Zechariah 9:

The burden of the word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach, with Damascus as its resting place (for the eyes of men, especially of all the tribes of Israel, are toward the Lord), And Hamath also, which borders on it; Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise. For Tyre built herself a fortress And piled up silver like dust, And gold like the mire of the streets. Behold, the Lord will dispossess her And cast her wealth into the sea; And she will be consumed with fire. Ashkelon will see it and be afraid. Gaza too will writhe in great pain; Also Ekron, for her expectation has been confounded. Moreover, the king will perish from Gaza, And Ashkelon will not be inhabited. And a mongrel race will dwell in Ashdod, And I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. And I will remove their blood from their mouth And their detestable things from between their teeth. Then they also will be a remnant for our God, And be like a clan in Judah, And Ekron like a Jebusite. But I will camp around My house because of an army, Because of him who passes by and returns; And no oppressor will pass over them anymore, For now I have seen with My eyes. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:1-10).

John, here, seeks to prove that Christ is currently reigning by showing that He taught He was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about His kingdom coming. Zechariah foretold that the Messiah would come into Jerusalem on a donkey, even a colt the foal of a donkey. Notice a few other particulars about Zechariah’s prophecy:

  1. The nations of the world would be cut off.
  2. What would be left of the nations would be a remnant for God and would be like the Jews and Jebusites (national Israel).
  3. Through the Messiah, at the time of His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, God would end the oppression against His people.
  4. The Messiah would break the bow of war and demolish war chariots against Israel by way of meekness and humility—which would be represented by the donkey and her colt.
  5. The Messiah’s dominion would be from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth from the moment of his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus claims that he is fulfilling this particular prophecy in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You can imagine the confusion of John’s audience (possibly 50 years after the triumphal entry) because many Christians today have the same confusion—we haven’t taken the time to understand the work Jesus has been doing. If the Messiah was coming on a donkey in order to deliver Israel from all her oppressors, graft the nations into Israel, and break war-bows and chariots, why is there still war and oppression after Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and fulfilled the prophecy? Why does Holy Week, or Passion Week, end with Christ’s death? 

There are many people who tend to read their Bibles in light of the Newspaper. Instead of reading our Bibles in light of the newspaper, we should read our newspapers in light of the Bible. Jesus teaches plainly that He is fulfilling the prophetic vision, renewing the world, on this Passover week in the First Century AD. If we read history as if Scripture is authoritative and sufficient, we can see the progression of Christ’s Gospel and kingdom around the world exactly like the prophets foretold and Jesus taught. Worldly nations are dying, and Christ is saving His people among those nations via the meek presentation of the Gospel. It all started in Jerusalem. Though there is much verbal and violent resistance, people are coming to Christ, because Christ is causing them to realize the foolishness of the world. Christ has conquered and is conquering. His kingdom is present.

These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.

Jesus’s disciples do not understand how Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic vision at this juncture. At His resurrection, they will have the epiphany and realize How Jesus is conquering the world, restoring peace and justice, and calling His kingdom people among the nations. It is not until Christ’s resurrection that they will realized they had really inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on the earth.

The two responses (v. 17-19)

So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign.

In response to Jesus’s proclamation about His present lordship and kingdom coming, the people who had been with Him continue to testify about Him in Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem go to meet Him because of the sign, raising Lazarus form the dead and coming into Jerusalem as the rightful davidic king. Palm Sunday is Jesus’s inauguration as the rightful king of Israel and the whole world. It is the day on which Christ’s kingdom is established on the earth. It is the day on which Christ declares victory over the curse (cf. Genesis 3) and liberates the whole world from the curse. If we are not celebrating such a plainly defined biblical truth, we have no reason to celebrate Easter or any part of Passion Week. We celebrate the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; He shall reign forever and ever—which John later writes in Revelation 11:15. 

So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”

According to John, the Pharisees react to the mass gathering to Christ by pointing fingers at one another. Your ways have not worked. People are flocking to Jesus! Even though Christ’s kingdom is inaugurated, the kingdoms of worldly politics and religion still appose Him. They are at war against the kingdom of Christ on this earth, but they will not be able to acquire the support they need despite their cancellation of biblical culture and teaching. The kingdom of Christ is overcoming worldly nations, politics, and religion but not without opposition. Christ’s kingdom is established and Christ is inaugurated, but the full consummation of His kingdom waits for His just judgment.

In this pericope, Jesus teaches that He came in order to accomplish the Old Testament prophetic vision:

  1. cut off the nations of the world
  2. save a remnant from the nations for God who would be like Israel to God,
  3. end the oppression against His people,
  4. break the means of war and restore justice and peace through meekness and humility, and
  5. establish His authority over all things and all people.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to show that He is saving and renewing the world (cf. John 3:16-17). In six days, His work will be accomplished—which parallel the six days of creation in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, the world was generated. During Easter, Passover, the world is regenerated.

Let’s consider some implications of the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:

  1. The Messiah would cut off the nations of the world.
    1. The Messiah specifically came to tear down worldly nations. Jesus’s triumphal entry indicates that He plans to do exactly that. He came to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. 
  2. The Messiah would save a remnant from the nations for God who would be like Israel to God.
    1. The Messiah would use the rise and fall of nations to save an elect people from among them. The rise and fall of nations is, then, about the building up of God’s people. When nations fall, the Messiah is the one bringing them down according to the prophets and Jesus Himself.
  3. The Messiah would end the oppression against His people.
    1. He would end oppression by converting His remnant among the nations—an end still being worked out through Christ’s church. As a result, there will be no oppressors left because there is only one kingdom remaining—the Messiah’s.
  4. The Messiah would break the means of war and restore justice and peace through meekness and humility.
    1. The Messiah does not establish peace and justice like Rome did—at the edge of a sword on horseback. He does so by changing (converting) His remnant among the nations. The Messiah conquers the world meekly according to the prophets.
  5. The Messiah would establish His authority over all things and all people.
    1. John tells us that the disciples did not understand that this actually took place until Jesus was glorified (raised from the dead; v. 16).

There are some who profess to be Christians but believe not that Christ presently reigns over the earth because they do not believe His kingdom was inaugurated on Palm Sunday like Scripture claims. Many expend so much energy trying to explain why Christ is not currently reigning even though Scripture declares His inauguration and, historically, Christians have celebrated the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom during Passion Week. Brothers and sisters, God is good. Christ reigns. He is renewing the world and calling His kingdom people. Find comfort in this truth. Make disciples of all nations. Around the world, people are flocking to God, and God’s enemies are losing. The kingdom of heaven is consuming the whole world. We look forward to the day of its full consummation—Christ’s bodily return to His earth.

To those in the world who are coming to see the foolishness of worldly politics, religion, and so on. There is victory and wonder in King Jesus. Come and see the one who reigns. Come receive the messianic blessings in the everlasting life He provides despite human sin.

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Andrew Paul Cannon

Andrew has been in vocational ministry since 2011 after volunteering from his teens. He has served in the lead pastorate since he was 25. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry with an emphasis on Youth Ministry and a Master’s of Divinity in Christian Ministry with an emphasis on Apologetics. Andrew is currently in pursuit of his Doctorate of Philosophy, where he will specialize in Systematic Theology. Andrew has written several books, has served in both large and small churches, and started his own non-profit missions organization. Andrew’s wife, Kati, and family serve alongside him.

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