Only one week before Easter, Palm Sunday is a day marked with anticipation.
The Passover celebration was only a few days away. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
And one traveler – Jesus of Nazareth – was coming to the holy city to declare his rightful place as king. To fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9 and proclaim that he was indeed the Messiah. The One who was to come.
On his journey into the city, Jesus stopped at the Mount of Olives. This was not random or accidental. It was highly intentional. From there, he sent two of his disciples to a nearby village to secure a colt on which no one has ever sat. Because he was the King, and no one else could sit on the King’s colt.
He then proceeded to enter into Jerusalem, surrounded by a band of excited and hopeful travelers shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
This seems to be the completion of the account. This seems to be the fulfillment of the prophecy, the culmination of his triumphal entry, the conclusion of his declaration of the coming King.
But something else remarkable happens.
Mark’s Gospel adds a concluding verse: “And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:11)
At first glance, this verse seems very anticlimactic. It seems to take away from the energy and the emphasis on Jesus as Messiah from the prior verses with the crowds shouting Hosanna.
It appears as though Jesus got into Jerusalem, went to the temple, looked around, and then went back to Bethany, as if nothing significant had actually taken place. It seems very simple and unordinary.
But two important details make this statement incredibly impactful. First of all, notice that when he got to the city, he went immediately to the temple – the place where historically the sacrifices were offered. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament Law required the sacrifices of countless animals in order to communicate to the people the seriousness of the sin and the blood necessary to atone for it. And these sacrifices happened at the temple.
Now, the Lamb of God – the ultimate sacrifice – stepped into the temple knowing that he would put an end to these sacrifices. Because his blood would cover sin once and for all. The temple was where he would fulfill his call to die.
But something else is happening here. In the opening verses of the triumphal entry account, we are told that Jesus stopped at the Mount of Olives, and it is from there that he finished his journey into Jerusalem.
Back in 586 BC, the city of Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by Babylon as the people of God incurred judgment for their idolatry and rebellion against God’s Law. And Israel was taken into exile and removed from the Promised Land. Just prior to this happening, God gave a vision to the prophet Ezekiel, which was recorded in Ezekiel 11:23, “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.”
So the judgment of God came in such a way that the glory of God was removed from the city of Jerusalem as symbolic of God no longer dwelling among his people. In his vision, Ezekiel saw the glory of God rise up from the temple in Jerusalem. The glory departed from the east side of the city and ascended three hundred feet to rest on the mountain. The Mount of Olives.
Six centuries later, as the Lamb of God was preparing to go to the cross in the place of sinners, Jesus began his final descent into the city from the Mount of Olives. He came into the city. And he went immediately to the temple.
In 586 BC, Ezekiel saw the glory of God leave the temple, leave the holy city, and ascend to the Mount of Olives. At the triumphal entry, the One whom the Scriptures define as the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3) descended from the Mount of Olives, entered the East Gate of the Holy City, and went to the temple.
When judgment came, the glory of God left the temple. But when Jesus came, the glory of God came back.
Palm Sunday is a day marked with anticipation. Because God was on the move. Something world-changing was about to happen.
Nothing would ever be the same.