Author’s Note: It’s been said that familiarity breeds unsuspecting unfamiliarity. This series is meant to help your God-given imagination to see things that might feel familiar, but perhaps can be new again: the true events of the last week before Jesus’ death. These posts are adapted from a sermon, and were written with two texts for study: the Gospel accounts and The Final Days of Jesus by Köstenberger and Taylor.
Passover in Jerusalem was a big deal every year. The city itself is on a hill, surrounded by a wall with different gates in it, and there is countryside all around. In the week leading up to the Passover feast—what we’d know as dinner on Thursday night—there weren’t dozens of people standing around—there were hundreds, thousands of Jews filling the city. Walking the streets, buying, trading, sitting and talking, laughing and connecting with friends and family.
They’d camp outside the walls, crash on the cushions of a cousin’s couch and spend the week getting ready for Passover. It was a hectic, crowded, loud week in Jerusalem, and it was the big show at the Temple. If you’re a religious leader and all your people are in town… it’s conference time. You’ve been tweeting, writing press releases and practicing your sermons. You’re set to to be on all week.
This is the week of hope. Jews have spent this week remembering and celebrating spilt blood since their last night under Pharaoh. They’ve heard the promises of God for a final Savior—a Messiah—and they believe God will keep His Word. They’ve been looking, waiting and hoping for centuries, and this week is the time it all comes back up to the surface.
There have been 400 years of silence from God to His people. Four centuries of longing, of stories, doubts, hopes and tales. Tales from your granddaddy, told by his granddaddy, and his—every year around the table at Passover dinner.
But this year is different. Now there are people in the street whispering rumors and telling stories about a prophet who’s from up north, and He’s making His way south to the city. It’s said He can tell you all you’ve ever done. That He’s been healing people—curing disease, ending blindness with mud and spit, driving out demon possession. His teaching is strong, persuasive and rings with truth. He speaks with authority and is loved by the people. He even spends time playing with the children. There is news that recently He even raised a man, His friend, from the dead with just a word after the man had been dead for days. Could it be? Messiah at last?
Wait—He’s not just heading south… He’s here. Everyone around you on the street is running to the gates, headed out onto the hills to see Him. You leave your lunch half eaten and run after the crowd.
He is coming, and He’s riding on a donkey. It’s Him!
Righteous. Victorious. Humble Jesus.
You see the crowds—people who’d followed Him south, who’ve followed Him for years, along with skeptics, haters, hopefuls and enemies among the faithful.
All there to see this man.
And the crowd recognizes His signals. They’re not subtle. These torah-literate Jews see Him with textual eyes—they cry out that Jesus is the Davidic King! He’s here!
Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
Look, your King is coming to you;
he is righteous and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)
People throw down their coats—the clothes off their backs—down onto the dirt in front of Him. They rip branches off trees and cover the ground—the King needs a carpet—this is the royal treatment, and watch this… Jesus receives it.
There is singing and celebration, quoting the Psalms and echoing the angels. The people are praising God!
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
The skeptics, haters and soon-to-be sworn enemies are also in the crowd, and you can hear them too, yelling at Jesus, trying to be heard above the noise:
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples! What they’re saying is blasphemy! You’re not Messiah, stop them for their own sake!”
What does Jesus say in response? See Him, seated on a donkey, yelling back over the crowd’s praise, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
You can hear His subtext just as loudly: “Their voices could cease, and you could find comfort in their quiet, but creation itself would rise up in this moment and praise God at my entry into Jerusalem. I will not rebuke them, I am their King—and I’m coming for you.”
Make no mistake: this is not a quiet, keep-it-cool, disappear-in-the-crowd Jesus. By this entrance into town, Jesus is making Himself known. He’s pinging the radar in heavy waves, rattling the bunkers of the religious leaders. He’s going to spend the next few days turning up the heat on them, and it’s gonna get unbearably hot in the kitchen.
So much so that coming into town and declaring His Kingship is the first in a series of intentional provocations that, for any sober minded Jew of that day meant that Jesus would either overthrow Rome and the religious leaders, or He would be killed as the threat that He is.
He’s the Bread of Life, born in the House of Bread. Jesus is the promised Davidic King, Messiah, entering Jerusalem on a donkey. Righteous, victorious and humble.
Look again at the Pharisees in the crowd standing tall, clumped together, eyeing the scene, jostled and bumped by the mass of humanity—their guts in knots of rage, anxiety, disdain and fear. They’re listening to the people, and then one says to another, “You see that you gain nothing [by telling Him what to do], the whole world has gone after Him.”
Jesus enters town and goes right to the temple, to His Father’s house. When He hits the gates of Jerusalem, the crowds don’t just disperse, they want to see where He’s going. He enters town amidst praise and shouts and singing and makes a statement by heading right into the temple. But it’s late in the day, this is just a scouting trip. His point made, He leaves town with the disciples and makes the journey east to Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live.
Can you imagine the buzz in town that night?
“What a day! Did you see Him?”
“On a donkey, just like it said!”
“Did He really raise the dead?”
“What is going to happen?”
“I can’t believe it. He’s here! Oh, did you see Him in the Temple!”
400 years of longing, expectation and deafening silence just erupted in songs and shouts of joy. A people who felt forgotten have seen their King. It’s no ordinary Passover in Jerusalem, and if the crowds are feeling that, so are the ones in power.
There is a subtext, a confrontation playing underneath, within and above every second of the week. God and Satan at war for the souls of men. Jesus is carrying out the mission given to Him by the Father, but not without opposition, pressure and attack at every turn.
This week cannot be seen outside of that wider lens. Jesus has entered from the cosmic realm into our human reality and is going to push against every reality until we are freed from blindness and death, brought home as the children of God.
As we enter this week, try and really see Him with your mind’s eye.
See His entry into Jerusalem and hear the joy of the crowd at His coming.
See Him praised on Sunday like a king, and on Thursday arrested like a common thief.
Feel His righteous anger at His Father’s house being misused by those in power.
Feel empathy for the fitful moments in bed those nights before as sleep stole His worries.
Recognize His courage and feel His loss as He chooses each word and provokes His own death at the hands of His enemies—all to further God’s rescue plan.
This week, enter into Christ’s suffering by engaging the story in the hours. Enter into His grief, which might make you reach for Sunday—for resurrection—but that is days and a lifetime away.
It’s Sunday, and the King has come to town.