In the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, we see that the cross is very much in view. At the same time, it is a triumphal entry because the resurrection is equally central. We might even say that the death of Christ is surrounded by resurrection.
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 12:12-19).
In the previous chapter, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (11:43-44). This caused many to believe in Him, and His enemies began plotting the Lord’s death (11:49-53). Six days before the Passover, Jesus came back to visit the man He had raised (12:1-3). This caused an enormous stir, and a big crowd gathered in order to see Jesus—not to mention Lazarus (v. 9). The chief priests were so worked up by this that they started plotting on how they could kill Lazarus (v. 10). But many believed in Jesus, and dispersed (v. 11). This is what created the huge crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem (vv. 12-13). There is no indication in the Scriptures that this was a fickle crowd, easily turned. This is not the same crowd that a short time later was calling for Christ to be crucified. This was the proto-church.
Why did they receive Him with palm branches? Psalm 118 is rich in messianic allusion, and these people picked a really appropriate psalm to sing. It is a triumphant declaration of life—“I shall not die, but live . . . he has not given men over to death” (vv. 17-18). Jesus was entering Jerusalem, and the psalm says, “open to me the gates of righteousness . . . this gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter” (vv. 19-20). Then comes the passage about the stone the builders rejected, which of course refers to Christ (1 Pet. 2:7; Acts 4:11; Luke 20:17; Mk. 12:10-11; Matt. 21:42). Then there is the cry, “Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord” (v. 25), which is what Hosanna means. Then comes the verse which the crowd cried out–“Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The psalm explains a great deal, including the palm branches. According to at least three translations, v. 27 of Psalm 118 speaks of the festal procession as carrying branches to the altar.
Jesus answers Psalm 118 with a reference to Zechariah (9:9-11). The rejoicing that met Jesus there was righteous and appropriate. Rejoice greatly, the prophet had said. Jesus identifies with this by bringing salvation into Jerusalem, and He does so as a lowly King. But His humility does not diminish the glory of His kingdom, because His dominion will be from the river to the ends of the earth (v. 10). The central thing here is that Jesus is entering Jerusalem by faith. He is receiving the garland before the race. He is crowned before the conquest. He comes in faith, and liberates prisoners from the waterless pit, and He does so by means of the blood of the covenant (v. 11).
The disciples did not understand how important all this was at the time. But later on, after Jesus was glorified, it all came together for them. They recalled what the Scriptures said, and they recalled what the multitude had done (v. 16). Who testifies that Palm Sunday happened this way? Who is qualified to speak to it? John says something fascinating here. “The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record (v. 17). And this is the reason why the crowd was there in the first place—they had heard about Lazarus. “For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” (v. 18). Everyone there was involved in that glorious event because of a raising from the dead. Jesus was there, and the crowd was there, because of their faith in the resurrection, and this was before the resurrection occurred.
The impact of this entry into Jerusalem was profound. Moreover, the triumph is not imaginary, or illusory. The events that the next few days would manifest were going to be the means that God chose to bring salvation, not only to Jerusalem, but also from the river to the ends of the earth. It is an apparent defeat only; this is how God chose to overcome the wickedness of our grubby little world. What a glorious reversal! And this is why the Pharisees, just like Caiphas in the previous chapter, spoke far more wisely than they knew. “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him” (v. 19). Glory to God, yes, it has.