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  • Writer's pictureWayne Shelton

Christ the King!

Matthew 21:1-11

The Passover crowds were enormous by any standards, as pilgrims gathered from all over Palestine and from every corner of the Mediterranean world. We aren’t given any exact numbers of how many people had come to Jerusalem, but attendance at the Passover was a solemn obligation for every Jew, and since the days of King Josiah people had not been permitted to celebrate Passover in their local communities but were called to travel up to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem to keep the feast. We also have the testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus, who estimated the attendance at the Passover in the years AD 64 and 65 to be some 2.7 million Jews. So it is reasonable to expect about two million visitors had come to the Holy City for the Passover mentioned in this passage.

When the people heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. The waving of palm branches in this narrative would seem to indicate that this event took place during the Feast of Tabernacles, observes R.C. Sproul, when palm branches were customarily used as part of the celebration. However, he notes, “But this is one of those few episodes in the life of Jesus that is recorded in all four of the Gospels, so we know that this event actually took place in conjunction with the Passover.” What, then, was the significance of the palm branches? Historically, Sproul, describes this significance:

     “In the intertestamental period, something took place that would define the Jewish people in terms of their national identity for centuries to come. In the second century BC, the temple was desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, leader of the Seleucid Empire. In response, a Jewish man name Mattathias, who was committed to the ancient covenant of Israel, determined to rescue the temple and the nation from the invasion of the Seleucids. Mattathias became the leader of a guerilla group that fought against the Seleucids. When he died, the leadership of this insurrectionist movement passed to his son Judas, who became known as Judas Maccabaeus, which means ‘the hammer.’ Judas Maccabaeus became a national hero, a Hebrew Robin Hood, who wreaked havoc among the troops of the Seleucids. He put so much pressure on the Seleucids that in 164 BC they released the temple for the Jews to practice their own faith. That event was met with so much celebration that a new feast was instituted called the Feast of Dedication or the Feast of Lights. We know it as Hanukkah, which is celebrated even to this day.

     “Later, Judas’ brother Simon Maccabaeus actually drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem altogether, and when that happened he was acclaimed a national hero and was celebrated with a parade, the Jews celebrated his victory with music and with the waving of palm branches. At that point in Jewish history, the palm branch became significant as a sign and symbol of a military victory, of a triumph. In fact, the symbolism became so deeply rooted in the Jewish consciousness that when the Jews revolted against the Romans in the decade of the sixties AD, they dared to mint their own coins with the image of a palm branch, because it was their national symbol of victory.” (R.C. Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, John, pp222-3.)

When the people waved their palm branches to welcome Jesus, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9). John notes that they added the phrase, “The King of Israel!” (John 12:13b). Why did they say this? The word hosanna is derived from a Hebrew word that literally means ‘save now.’ Both this plea and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” are found in the Hallel, a series of psalms that were sung every morning at the Feast of Tabernacles. The series starts with Psalm 113 and goes through Psalm 118.Every Jewish pilgrim was familiar with the words from the Hallel, so when the crowds came out to see Jesus, they naturally used those words. While the shouting of ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ with the additional description by the Gospel of John, ‘the King of Israel!’ indicate that the people looked to Jesus for salvation, though most likely it was in a military sense.

I hope you can join us this coming Palm Sunday as we look at Christ the King! What does it mean when the Bible portrays Christ as our King? How is this like and unlike what the Jews of that day thought? What does it mean that Christ is your King? Bring your family and friends as Chad proclaims the Word of the Lord: Christ is King!


Because He Lives,

Pastor Wayne



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