Summary: Palm Sunday: We refer to His entry into Jerusalem on a donkey as "triumphal." But it was not His entry that was triumphal -- it was His love
On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. John 12:12-15
Homilies on the text
The conjecture is that this Greek word “Hosanna” (ýsannà) is the transliteration of )n(#w) a Hebrew word that means “save us.” It occurs six times in Scripture, across each of the four Gospels, and is said to also be comparable to the exclamation of the Saints in white in the passage at Revelation 7:10, when they exclaimed:
“Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
The great African Bishop, Agustin wrote “The branches of palm trees are laudatory emblems, significant of victory, because the Lord was about to overcome death by dying, and by the trophy of His cross to triumph over the devil, the prince of death. The exclamation used by the worshipping people is Hosanna, indicating, as some who know the Hebrew language affirm, rather a state of mind than having any positive significance; just as in our own tongue we have what are called interjections, as when in our grief we say, Alas! or in our joy, Ha! or in our admiration, O how fine! where O! expresses only the feeling of the admirer.” Homilies on the Gospel of John Homily 51.2
The Jews took “Zion” to mean Jerusalem – the “City of David” and therefore the Holy City of God. In 19:39 of his Gospel, Luke says that these events greatly vexed the Pharisees. They no doubt recognized the prophetic significance of Jesus entering Jerusalem (or Zion) this way, because they recalled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” Continuing in Agustin’s Holily we read,
“What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.” Homily 51.4
Thus we come to understand the prophetic significance of what happened this day. We call it “Palm Sunday because John says here that the crowds threw palm branches in front of Him. The other writers say they threw their clothes (although Matthew says they threw both). But in either case it’s really not as important what they threw as it is what these things meant.
The expressions of the crowd were suggestive of the fanfare that would have been accorded to a king – their outcry was precisely what would have been expected from a people receiving their long awaited “King-Messiah”; and the Pharisees knew that Jesus would understand them to have been bestowing just such an honor upon Him. John Wesley points out that up to this point Jesus had rebuffed their public tokens of honor – primarily because He knew that this could potentially give satan the ammunition he needed to interrupt Jesus’ Ministry before its time.
But here we find Jesus – five days before He is to be delivered up – not only accepting their accolades, but accepting these from the very ones who He knew would be demanding that he be crucified.
HE CAME UNTO HIS OWN …
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. John 1:11
For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. John 7:5
Here’s where it really hits home how greatly He must have loved us: and where I know it’s a good thing that it was Him and not me! Looking out at that crowd as they praised Him so highly, He couldn’t help but to have had in His mind the cruel torture He was soon to face for these people who would have no gratitude whatsoever for His price.