THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #5 (Most quotes are NIV)
INTO JERUSALEM, PALM SUNDAY APRIL 2, 30 A.D.
Is it possible to know the exact date of these events? Yes, it is. The math needed to arrive at this is too complicated for our purposes here, but 30 A.D. is the only date which will fit all the information we have both within the Bible and outside of it as well. If Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 7, then Palm Sunday was April 2 and the first Easter was April 9.
THE PASSOVER CELEBRATION
This is “Passover Week.” If you study Exodus 12, you will read that God commanded two celebrations which are tied into one another: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15 “For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.”) goes for 7 days and the 8th day is the big celebration and conclusion. Within that 8-day period (liturgically, we call those 8 days “an octave”), the Feast of the Passover occurs on that Thursday ( Ex. 12:8 “That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.”)
The Passover was the greatest event of the year for several reasons: it was a celebration of God’s rescuing his people from Egypt, it was the event that turned slaves into a people and a mighty nation, it was at midnight on the Passover evening when the Messiah was expected to announce his arrival, and it was the one time when even normally-hungry people ate like kings—in anticipation of God’s Kingdom arriving. And they all went to bed with a full stomach.
The “Feast of Unleavened Bread” is sometimes referred to in the Bible as “the Passover.” Thus, when you are reading the Gospels, remember that “Passover” might mean the Passover day—which was a Thursday, OR ”Passover” might refer to the entire week! Either way, keep in mind that the Saturday after the Passover meal was the holiest day of the year.
JERUSALEM: DYNAMITE WAITING TO EXPLODE!
This was a dangerous time in Pilate’s mind. Pontius Pilate, who lived most of the year on the sea coast in Herod the Great’s mighty port of Caesarea, would come to Jerusalem for the Passover week. With him came the entire detachment of Roman soldiers.
Pilate housed himself and the company of perhaps 600 Roman soldiers (a full “cohort”) in the Antonia Fortress, which had been rebuilt by Herod. It was in the northeastern section of the city of Jerusalem, near the temple, and had four tall towers. The tower nearest the Temple courtyards was (according to the historian Josephus) over 100 feet high!
What was particularly egregious for Jewish people was the fact that the Fortress Antonia OVERLOOKED the Temple grounds. For Pilate, this was great! He could keep an eye on what was happening in the Temple area. For the Jews, this was god-awful! A Roman was looking into their religious ceremonies in the Temple.
Why was Pilate so cautious about the Passover? Firstly, Jerusalem at the time of Jesus had a population of about 30,000 people. But during Passover week, Jews from all over the world would flood into the city, swelling the population to around 150,000! Huge tent cities sprang up north of town in the relatively flat area which was within sight of the walls.
Secondly, Passover had a heightened religious significance. The rabbis had been telling people that the Messiah would come during Passover, declare himself to the population, and begin killing all the bad people, starting with the Romans!
Anytime you mix nationalism, religious fervor, and mob mentality the situation is likely to explode. Pilate was no one’s fool. If there was going to be trouble, he and the Roman soliders would be prepared for it. During Passover week, there was a simple rule:
NOTHING HAPPENED IN JERUSALEM WITHOUT PILATE KNOWING ABOUT IT!
JESUS’ TRIUMPHANT ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the donkey from Bethphage (Beth-fa-gee) which in Aramaic means “village of unripe figs.” Bethphage is on the top of the Mount of Olives, between Bethany (home of Lazarus and his sisters) and Jerusalem. It is on the main road from Jericho to Jerusalem. It is the place where the traveler can first see Jerusalem down below.
Christians will often see this event as a miracle: Jesus knew what was going to happen and told the disciples what to say. Luke 19:31 “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Perhaps it was a miracle—after all, Jesus was certainly capable of seeing into the future! But in this case, Jesus probably had the whole thing prearranged.
Why would Jesus prearrange such a thing? Never assume that things are out of His control. It is evident in all four Gospels that Jesus not only knows what will happen, but acts accordingly to make sure the events occur on schedule. This week is orchestrated by God! The Gospel of John is particularly fond of pointing out that “Jesus knew.” John 13:1 is an example: “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.”
All four Gospels have the account of the entry into Jerusalem. But the Gospel of Matthew has a particular interest in pointing out how everything which Jesus does is a fulfillment of the Old Testament, so Matthew quotes the prophet Zechariah: Matt. 21:4-5 “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.’”
While riding a donkey could be seen as a sign of humility, it also avoided the militaristic tone of a stallion. No Messiah is going to war on a donkey! Horses are for war. Donkeys are the animals of toil and abuse. Jesus comes for a different reason, although he DOES come like a King and the crowds are praising him as such.
The Pharisees are having a conniption! It grates on them that this Galilean mob of peasant morons (that’s how they were viewed) think Jesus is some Messiah or King. Yes, that’s bad enough. But Pilate is going to hear this, and if he reacts with Roman soldiers there’s going to be some dead Jews in the streets. They plead with Jesus in Luke 19:39-40: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,” he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”
Jesus won’t quiet the crowd. He deserves His moment in the sun before the painful events of Good Friday are upon Him. Two days earlier, he had acknowledged the crowd back down the hill in Jericho: “Yes I’m the Son of David, I am your Messiah, and I am headed for Jerusalem.” Even Jesus could not have stopped this crowd from shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
TOSS IN A FEW SUNDAY AFTERNOON MIRACLES
Once Jesus had entered Jerusalem, He heals those who come to Him. Mark merely tells us that Jesus went to the Temple. Matthew 21 tells us that once He got to the Temple Jesus performed healings and “wonderful things.” Ecstasy overwhelms the crowd and the children are singing the praises of the Messiah (Matt. 21:15-16 “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise.’”
The “chief priests” (there are five of them—more about that later) are second in command only to the High Priest. They are “high mucky-mucks of Judaism” and Jesus thumbs his nose at them. He throws an Old Testament passage their way and says “Get over yourselves, boys!”
Then, since it was getting late in the day, Jesus returns to Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, and according to Mark 11:11 “he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” Lazarus and the girls must have had a really big house, huh?