By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
Luke 9:51 records:
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 50:7).
Here now, one week before His resurrection, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the northeast, by way of Jericho (cf. Luke 19:1), making the 3,000-foot ascent as He went.
The events behind the name given to this day—Palm Sunday—come from three passages in the gospels:
And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matt. 21:8)
And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Mark 11:8)
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
The King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)
Luke records a portion of the words that the Jewish people sang out as Jesus entered the city, and we construct their complete statement by comparing all four gospel records. The people’s words are drawn primarily from two key verses in Psalm 118:
בָּר֣וּךְ הַ֭בָּא בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה
I offer these Hebrew words to remind those who can read them of the rhythmic beauty of the people’s chant. In this light, Matthew 21:15 also records an interesting detail, explaining that “the children” continued to sing these words after “Jesus went into the temple of God” (Matt. 21:12). What an impression this amazing scene must have made on their young minds! They were hearing the sounds of a nation crying out for its Divine deliverer:
Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:25-26)
O Lord, do save, we beseech You;
O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:25-26)
In essence, these people were asking for the kingdom—and proclaiming Jesus to be their king!
The real question, then, is this: Why did Jesus accept these praises on Palm Sunday—even realizing that some were insincere and would later demand crucifixion for Him (cf. Luke 23:21)? Previously He had resisted any such attempts “to make Him king” (cf. John 6:15), but now was the time for them to respond and for His praise to be heard. Jesus allowed all of their voices to ring out for His glory. There must have been something very special going on here on this first Palm Sunday.
Luke’s unique material (beginning with Luke 19:39-40 where Jesus explicitly encourages such praise) gives us some clues to understand the profound answer to this question.
Distinct from the other gospel writers, Luke alone provides a prophetic perspective regarding the events of this particular day, and leaves us with the distinct impression that it may hold greater significance than many people realize. Thus, while there are so many details in the gospel narratives of Palm Sunday that one could focus on, our purpose in this article is to look at a specific aspect of this day that is often neglected.
Consider the final portion of the narrative regarding Palm Sunday, which again is unique to Luke’s gospel:
Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)
Christ put Israel on notice of the fact that this was “your day” and “the time of your visitation.” But why was this day so pivotal? Why did Jesus—seemingly uncharacteristically—accept such praise on this occasion? Why did He present Himself in this kingly manner on this particular day? Could it be that we have another clue in Ps. 118:24?
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (NASB)
Jesus’ tears in Luke 19:41 remind us of two other incidents in His life which give us great insight into what was happening here. The first incident took place in the months preceding Palm Sunday (Luke 13:34-35) and a second, parallel incident occurred on Tuesday of Passion Week (Matt. 23:37-39).
Considering these passages together, one must conclude that if the Jewish people had truly accepted Christ as their deliverer and king on Palm Sunday, that ride into Jerusalem would have fulfilled the words of Luke 13:34-35 (in the spirit of Ps. 118:26). The fact that Jesus repeated His ominous warning in Matthew 23:37-39, however, proves conclusively the following:
- Jesus had offered Himself as the Savior and king of the nation of Israel on Palm Sunday.
- The people had rejected Him.
- That response would bring judgment (“Your house is left to you desolate” [Matt. 23:38]).
- There would still be another future opportunity for the nation to receive her king (“You shall see Me no more till you say…” [Matt. 23:39; emphasis added]).
I believe that we can narrow the events of Palm Sunday down to an even finer point, however. Why should the people have been prepared to receive Christ as their king on this day? Why did Jesus choose this specific day on which to perform these actions? I believe we have good reason to infer that this day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem was the final day of the 69th of Daniel’s 70 weeks (cf. Dan. 9:24-27)—after which “Messiah will be cut off and have nothing” (Dan. 9:26, NASB).
Alva J. McClain summarizes: “The nature of the circumstances attending this great event add to the impression that we have here no random day, but rather a ‘day’ set by divine knowledge and decree in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy… The closest scrutiny of the gospel narrative will fail to discover any other day in the earthly career of our Lord which is comparable to the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.”
The following chart illustrates the basic chronology of events which is in view here:
It is clear from Daniel 9:26 that the death of the Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem must occur during a gap of time between the 69th and 70th weeks (periods of seven years). The destruction of the city in 70 A.D. would be a direct result of the Jewish people’s rejection of Christ—including His offer on this Sunday of the week of His death, before His resurrection.
Just as Jesus, the eternal Son of God, arrived in this world at precisely the correct time chosen by His Father (Gal. 4:4-5), so His ride into Jerusalem also demonstrates the precision by which God directs the unfolding of His prophetic calendar.
Have you received Christ as your Savior from sin? Are you trusting in His work on the cross as your only hope for forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven? Are you prepared to truly worship Him on this Palm Sunday? Are you sincerely looking for His return and the establishment of His kingdom?
May each of us fully grasp the significance of the events which mark this incredibly important day known as Palm Sunday.
Editor’s Note: For more on this topic, listen to this installment of Ask the Theologian:
Copyright © 2016 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995
by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Hebrew quotations are taken from The Westminster Leningrad Codex. Public Domain.
 This incident may have occurred on Monday of Passion Week. See, for instance, The Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible (NKJV), updated and expanded by John Stephen Jauchen (Indianapolis: Kirkbride, 1997), p. 2,145.
 This entire episode is replete with images that must be referenced to the Old Testament, such as Jesus pausing at the Mount of Olives (Luke 19:29; cf. Zech. 14:4); the significance of His riding on a colt (Matt. 21:4-5; cf. 1 Kings 1:33, 44; Isa. 62:11; Zech. 9:9); and the honor that was shown by the spreading of palm branches (2 Kings 9:13).
 Alva J. McClain documents numerous evidences for understanding Jesus’ Triumphal Entry as “The Royal Entrance into Jerusalem.” See Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974), p. 346; cf. pp. 346-354.
 Dispensationalists regularly rely on the work of Sir Robert Anderson (The Coming Prince [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1984]) to understand the chronology of the 70 weeks of Daniel. See, for instance, J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), pp. 245-246; and Alva J. McClain, Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1969), pp. 25-26. Robert C. Newman summarizes succinctly: “Perhaps the most popular interpretation of this passage has been given by Sir Robert Anderson. He pinpoints the end of the sixty-ninth week, the coming of ‘Messiah the Prince,’ as Sunday, April 6, A.D. 32, and claims that this was the very day of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” See p. 230 of “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the Old Testament Sabbath-Year Cycle,” <http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/16/16-4/16-4-pp229-234_JETS.pdf>; Internet; accessed 18 March 2016. Newman, however, also goes on to show his disagreement with Anderson’s explanation of the details with this statement: “Unfortunately this view, as spectacular as it is, faces some serious problems” (p. 230). For an alternative dispensational understanding of the details of the chronology of Daniel’s 70 weeks, see Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001), pp. 89-90. For a detailed exegetical and theological study of these 70 weeks, see Thomas Ice, “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel,” <http://pre-trib.org/articles/view/seventy-weeks-of-daniel>; Internet; accessed 18 March 2016.