It is the Sunday prior to Passover and Jesus is leading his disciples towards Jerusalem. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt of a donkey, with people praising his name and children waving palm branches. But Luke records a little more, just a few verses, easily and often overlooked, but possibly the most significant part of this day in the life of Jesus Christ.
Let’s begin with a little reflection. about a year prior to this particular day, the tide of Jesus’ earthly ministry changed with what we know as the Bread of Life discourse. In John 6:22-71, Jesus has just fed the 5000+ Jewish followers and is trying to avoid the crowd due to the fact that they want him to become king (v15). That night, Jesus walks across the Sea of Galilee (v16-21). The next morning, the crowd that Jesus left behind has traveled after them looking for another free meal, which Jesus chastises them for and mentions a food that gives eternal life (v26-27). The crowd then asked him what they could do to obtain this food and Jesus begins trying to explain that belief in him is what is required, but they don’t get it. Jesus repeatedly and, over time, more obscurely explains that he alone is what they require for spiritual sustenance. Finally, Jesus tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life (v53-58). Due to this grotesque and demanding price, many of his followers abandon him and Jesus falls out of favor with the masses.
Jesus spends his remaining time he has training the apostles. Most of his miracles are now directed to Gentile crowds, his teaching are all in parables. There are many times where he tell his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection (Luke 9:21–27; Luke 9:43–45; Luke 12:49–59; Luke 18:31–34). He also has an increasing number of altercations with the religious authorities, increasing their desire to have him killed. By the time we get to Palm Sunday, Jesus is basically public enemy number one.
And the we get to Palm Sunday:
Luke 19:29-44When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
So, why does Jesus ride into Jerusalem with all of this fanfare if he is so despised and so many are looking to take his life? The answer is in Luke 19:41-44. Jesus is lamenting that the Jews have ignored something important. He implies that they should have seen this day coming, but how would they have known that Jesus was going to be arriving in the city this way? Not even his disciples knew what was happening until Jesus told them.
Jesus is actually referring to a prophecy in the Old Testament that any well-respected Jew knew by heart, although many apparently misunderstood. In Daniel 9, God revealed what we call the Seventy Weeks Prophecy:
Daniel 9:24-27“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty- two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty- two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
To get the relevance of this passage, we first need to understand that the word “weeks” is a poor translation. In the greek, it is literally the word “sevens” and, since Daniel is already thinking in terms of years (Daniel 9:1-2), it is accepted that the prophecy is in the span of seventy “sevens” of years, or 490 years. Also, it is accepted that the decree that fits the details in verse 25 is the one that Artaxerxes gave to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8). So, from the issuing of the decree to the Messiah is seven and sixty-two weeks (483 years). And after the sixty-two weeks, Messiah will be cut off (killed).
Following calculations based on the 360-day calendar used in that time, we find that 483 years (173,880 days) after the decree to rebuild (Nisan 1, 444 BC) comes to Nisan 10, AD 33… Four days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion!
This is why Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the Sabbath prior to Passover. It was predicted almost 500 years before! Also notice that the significance is not lost on everyone. The crowds quote Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord”. And when the Jewish leaders are offended by the praise that is being given to Jesus, he tells them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39)