Imagine the anticipation people in Jerusalem felt, gathering for Passover and praying for their freedom from the oppression of Rome. They had heard the prophecies of the coming Messiah, a powerful king like David who would lead them to liberation. And then, on a day known as Palm Sunday, a man riding on a donkey entered the city, surrounded by crowds shouting “Hosanna!” At this moment, Jesus established himself as much more than a traveling preacher or miracle worker. He fulfilled a prophecy that people had anticipated for centuries through his actions. While this day is often seen as a celebration, many in Jerusalem may have seen it as a threat. Let’s take a closer look at the significance of Palm Sunday and what it means for us today.
Before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, several things happen that we need to understand. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sends two disciples ahead of him to procure a donkey and her colt, which he intends to ride into the city. “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” ‘ The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.” Matthew 21:1-7. This act is significant because it establishes who Jesus is to anyone who might have thought that he was just some traveling preacher. By commanding his disciples to procure a donkey, Jesus participates in a custom called “Hungaria,” where a prominent religious or political figure could request livestock if needed. Jesus, at this moment, signifies that he is much more than a miracle worker, rabbi, or craftsman. He is the fulfillment of prophecy.
Zechariah wrote about a day when the Lord’s feet would stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Lord would be king over the whole earth. “When the Lord’s feet would stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Lord would be king over the whole earth.” Zechariah 14:4. People knew this prophecy and had been waiting for it to unfold. Crowds came into town for Passover, praying for the day when God would free them from the bondage and oppression of Rome.
Jesus fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy by riding on a donkey, the foal of a donkey, into Jerusalem. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – Zechariah 9:9. Many went ahead of him, and many followed him, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” With this reaction, the crowd says they believe what Jesus is proclaiming. In this act, how they welcome him is similar to how they welcomed Solomon as king and Son of David. They declare the arrival of a new Son of David, who has been prophesied and will not lead the people astray but will redeem them.
A king is what the people were looking for; a king is what they expected of the Messiah. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Isaiah 9:6-7a. The common belief at the time was that the Messiah would take back the throne of Israel and that he would be a great king like David, a son of David who would remove foreign powers. Jesus fulfills this expectation and makes it clear that he is the king of a new kingdom.
Many people living in Jerusalem may have felt terror on Palm Sunday, despite its typical portrayal as a day of excitement. “For I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side!’ They conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.'” Psalm 31:13-14. However, it is also significant in establishing Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and the king of a new kingdom. Today, Palm Sunday remains a momentous day in the life of Jesus, reminding us of his mission and ultimate sacrifice for humanity. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11.