When thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world this weekend take up palm branches and together descend the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley to re-enact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, they celebrate with full knowledge of the crucifixion and resurrection that followed. Not so the throngs joining and welcoming the procession in A.D. 30.
Jesus did not just “enter Jerusalem” – he paraded. Like the presidential candidate who goes to Mt. Vernon to announce his intention to seek office, Jesus linked himself – historically and geographically – to a particular event and place in Israel’s past that would resonate with the tens of thousands of Jews who had come to Jerusalem from throughout the Roman world to celebrate this Passover.
To see what they saw, we have to go back to about 975 B.C. to a time when King David was rejected by Israel and driven into exile by his own son.
It’s a fascinating story and well worth a read, but for the sake of time, we’ll focus on those details Jesus used – and the details his contemporaries, who were hoping for the restoration of David’s throne and the return of Solomon’s golden age, would have recognized.
Pay attention to David’s tale. Jesus – the consummate story teller – will draw on its words and props in a bit of “street theater” on the same stage to send an unmistakable signal: The Messiah has come.
King David had been promised by God he would always have an heir on the throne, but that did not alleviate the problems of succession. Who would be king when David died?
Absalom, his son, was unwilling to wait for his father’s death or to risk a later power struggle with his brothers. So he plotted, enticed David’s most trusted adviser, Ahithophel, to join him, and led a rebellion against the king. When messengers arrived announcing, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom,” David had no choice but to flee Jerusalem.
The Bible story says the “whole countryside wept aloud” as a barefoot David and his “weeping” entourage – their cloaks covering their heads – left the city, crossed the Kidron Valley and ascended the rocky road to the crest of the Mount of Olives to begin their exile across the Jordan River.
Indeed, those loyal to David had barely crested the Mount of Olives when Absalom and his rebels marched into Jerusalem. Had not an ally of the king unexpectedly met them “a little past the top of the mountain” with saddled donkeys for David’s household to ride and food and wine to sustain the party as it made the steep descent into the Jordan Valley, he might not have gotten away. Even so, at least one of David’s enemies felt emboldened enough by the retreating monarch’s change of fortune to curse him and pelt him and his officials with stones as he passed by.
“Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue!” the man named Shimei yelled, even as David refused his military commander’s request to silence the pest.
Israel was torn by civil war. The cry of the day became “We have no share in David … Every man to his tents, O Israel!” Eventually, however, the rebels were defeated and Absalom killed in battle – a result that left David almost inconsolable: “O my son Absalom – my son, my son Absalom,” he wept. “If only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
In time, God kept his promise to David. Solomon came to the throne in 971 B.C. and vastly expanded the borders, influence and wealth of Israel. Renowned for his wisdom, Solomon, the righteous son of David, went on to build the First Temple and reigned during a time of prosperity and peace. In the centuries that followed, when Israel was taken captive to Assyria and Babylon, or lived under the domination of the pagan Greeks and Romans, and there was no heir of David on the throne, the golden age of Solomon became the archetype of the messianic age that would one day come.
On this spring day in A.D. 30, the Sunday before Passover, there were many hoping for a messiah like Solomon to drive out the hated Romans and restore Israel to its glory days. After all, this was the 1,000th year since Solomon had been crowned king.
For Jesus, the time had come. He chose as his stage David’s path of retreat – traveling back to Jerusalem along the same route – communicating by his words and actions he was the righteous son of David returning to restore his father’s kingdom.
Jesus and his entourage began their journey from the east side of Jordan, where David ended his. As Jesus passed through Jericho, at the base of the steep escarpment that leads up to the plateau, word was already out he was coming – and the expectations were clearly messianic.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” a persistent blind beggar kept shouting until Jesus healed him. The man joined the gathering throng as it began the 3,750-foot ascent to Jerusalem.
As they approached the summit, Jesus, who had long given warnings to his disciples that this bold march to Jerusalem would end in his rejection and death, told a parable that echoed the earlier rebellion against David: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return … But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’”
Onward the swelling crowd marched toward the crest of the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead to Bethphage – the modern Arab village of et Tur that now occupies the summit – to get a donkey colt for his final entrance. There was less than half a mile to go to reach Jerusalem’s gate and all of it downhill. Jesus didn’t need the donkey for transportation – it was a prop in the unfolding drama, and he appropriated it at the same place David had received his donkeys.
Some 500 years before, the prophet Zechariah described the coming of a king who would rule to the ends of the earth and bring peace to all nations. The good news was He was coming to restore, not destroy – He would be as gracious as David had been to those who had rebelled against him.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Zechariah prophesied. “Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Cue the donkey … Center stage … Return of the king … Take 1 … Action!
Jesus and his supporters began their descent from the Mount of Olives, following the road that faced the Second Temple and its massive platform, then the single largest man-made structure in the world. Whereas David’s journey on this section of road had been marked by widespread weeping, heads covered in sorrow, robes and cloaks torn in grief, Jesus’ followers were exuberant, lining the roadway with their cloaks and palm branches – making a smooth path so unlike the one the barefoot David walked.
And they were boisterous: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
“Hosanna” – hosha’na in Hebrew. “Save now!”
By now, the crowd was massive and it distressed some of the Pharisees who watched. “Look, the world has gone after Him!” they said, echoing “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.”
A demonstration like this could upset the Romans, especially if it continued into the city walls.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples!”
Jesus refused. David may have been pelted with curses and stones, but on this day, he said, those stones would cry out to praise Him if His followers were silenced.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke both record Jesus stopping in the midst of the pandemonium and weeping over Jerusalem. In a dirge that mirrored David’s for his dead son Absalom, Jesus cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …”
Anyone there that day who didn’t understand what Jesus had just done simply wasn’t paying attention. His dramatic use of history and geography left few ambiguities. It certainly wasn’t ambiguous to those who began plotting to derail the Galilean before His apparent ambitions brought the wrath of Rome down on everyone’s head.
Enter Judas, the treasurer for Jesus and his disciples. He’s another link to David’s story.
He, like David’s most trusted counselor, Ahithophel, who had advised Absalom on how best to capture and kill the king, was a traitor. Judas told Jesus’ enemies where his rabbi could be found and led the Temple guards to Gethsemane to take Him prisoner. His stint as traitor, however, was short-lived and ended in suicide. So was that of his predecessor, Ahithophel.
“Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and … threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
“Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself …”
Jesus’ re-enactment of the Davidic drama had, by all appearances, been a catastrophic failure.
The masses that followed Him to Jerusalem scattered. Some, undoubtedly, joined the crowd that called for His crucifixion. His top disciple denied ever knowing Him. He was turned over to the Romans, stripped and executed.
Some king. Some restoration. Some making the past right again.
Even the disciples missed it. They’d heard Him talking about doing His Father’s will which, He kept saying, included Him being killed. But the miracles and the crowds and the adulation on that perfect Sunday as He came down the Mount of Olives had made it easy to ignore what Jesus had said was really happening. And now, it was easy to see it all as one big failure.
But it wasn’t.
Jesus had succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination. He had reclaimed a kingdom – his Father’s kingdom. He had conquered – sin and death, those twin tyrants that had occupied and oppressed all creation since Adam. The old church creed says he descended into hell – it’s the image of a conqueror marching through his enemy’s capital, wreaking havoc and collecting spoils, like Sherman through Atlanta. And, the gospels conclude with Him ascending into Heaven, enthroned to rule forever.
Hail, King Jesus! Hosha’na!
Jay Baggett is a news editor with WorldNetDaily.com.