Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Sunday, March 29, 33 AD


"They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!'" (John 12:13).

The day following a somber dinner party in Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (dated by one source as Sunday, March 27, 33 AD), Jesus made a bold entrance into Jerusalem. This step was taken deliberately, with every consideration for the consequences. Prior to this moment, Jesus had refused to allow any public acknowledgement as his being the Messiah and thus avoided intensifying any conflict with the Jewish religious authorities. But, the time was at hand and his opponents fully understood the strong messianic implications of the manner of his entry into Jerusalem. His riding upon a colt, the garments and palm branches in his path, and the shouts of the Passover pilgrims, all pointed to Jesus as the Messiah.

In the footsteps of Jesus...

According to Matthew, Jesus ordered two of his disciples to bring him a donkey and her colt from the nearby village of Bethphage:

"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away'" (Matthew 21:1-3).

This, Matthew further states, fulfilled a messianic prophecy by Zechariah.

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9 ).

Jesus' riding a donkey, however, was more than just a fulfillment of Zechariah's messianic prophecy. In 1 Kings, David told the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan and Benaiah son of Jehoiada:

"Take your lord's servants with you and set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to Gihon. There shall Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel" (1 Kings 1:33-34).

By riding a donkey from Bethany to Jerusalem, rather than walking, Jesus intentionally brought to mind Zechariah's prophecy of God fighting on Israel's behalf with his feet on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3-21). The action also recalled the tradition of anointing a king from the Davidic line. Jesus, in fact, said "I am the Messiah" without expressing it verbally.

As Jesus road up the steep path from Bethphage over the Mount of Olives, a very large crowd made up of his Galilean followers, those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and even some Judean supporters, spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road," The crowd shouted "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel" (Matthew 21:6-9).

The custom of spreading one's outer garments in the path was reserved for royalty. By shouting "Hosanna" [from Hebrew yasha ("save") + na ("now" or "please") or "save now"], the crowd was pleading for Jesus to save them from Roman oppression and domination.

The accounts of the triumphal entry in the other synoptic gospels (Mark and Luke) vary. In Mark (11:8), the people spread "branches they had cut in the fields;" while in Luke (19:36), branches are not mentioned, only that the "people spread their cloaks on the road."

Only John 12:13 mentions "palm branches," which the people apparently brought from Jericho, since palm trees are not native to Jerusalem (although you do see them throughout the city today). By waving palms the people were fanning the flames of Jewish nationalism, for the palm symbolized the Macabbean Revolt and the subsequent Hasmonean rule from the 160's BC to 63 BC. It was as if the people were waving Jewish flags, hoping to see Jesus do to the Romans what Judah Macabbee had done to the Greeks in 164 BC reestablish an independent Jewish kingdom. Jesus, however, was not a heroic warrior-messiah entering on a horse with battle cries and weapons, but a gentle Prince of Peace, riding humbly on a donkey, bringing salvation.


Bethphage means "house of unripe figs," after a species of late-season figs which never appears ripe even when edible. The exact location of Bethphage is unknown. The only mention of the village in the Bible is in the three gospel accounts:

"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives..." (Mark 11:1);
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives..." (Matthew 21:1);
"As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives..." (Luke 19:29).

Undoubtedly the village was situated in the vicinity of Bethany on the east side of the Mount of Olives. Tradition has placed it near the Arab village of et-Tur on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about one mile west of the Arab village of el-Azariyeh (Bethany). Even today, Holy Week in Jerusalem begins with a palm procession from the Franciscan chapel there, recalling the large crowd of pilgrims coming out of the city with palm branches waving and shouts of hosanna:

"The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!'" (John 12:12-13).

(Below) View of the traditional site of Bethphage.

Already in the 4th century AD a chapel was built there to commemorate the meeting between Lazarus' sister Martha and Jesus, after the death of Lazarus. It was followed in the 12th century by a Crusader church; the present Franciscan monastery and chapel were built in 1883, with the apse and bell tower added later. Near the north wall of the chapel is the Stone of Meeting, a cube-shaped stone from which the Crusaders believed Jesus mounted the donkey before his triumphal entry. Especially interesting is the mention of Galileans on the lid of an ossuary (a carved stone box for secondary reburial of bones) found there. It would seem to shed light on the ease with which the two disciples procured the donkey for Jesus. It appears Bethphage may have been a settlement of people who, like Jesus and eleven of the disciples, were from Galilee. Here, they were among compatriots.

(Above left) Small Franciscan church at the traditional site of Bethphage, built on the spot where Jesus is believed to have mounted the donkey for his triumphal ride into Jerusalem; (Above right) Interior of the Bethphage church with the Stone of Meeting enclosed within  wrought iron.

(Below left) Stone of Meeting at Bethphage. The drawings on the side depict the meeting between Jesus and Martha; two disciples bringing Jesus an ass and a colt, Lazarus rising from the dead, and on the side facing the altar, a drawing of a crowd of people holding palms. (Below right) The wall frescoes colored in shades of brown, portray the people preparing for the procession to Jerusalem.

(Above left) Pilgrims gathering at the small Franciscan church for the annual Palm Sunday procession; (Above right) The steep west slope of the Mount of Olives descending toward the Kidron Valley, also called the Valley of Jehoshaphat.* This approximates the view seen by the  crowd accompanying Jesus as he rode toward the Temple on Palm Sunday.

*Valley of Jehoshaphat (Hebrew valley of the judgment of Jehovah); mentioned only in Joel 3:12 as the place where, after the return of Judah from captivity, Jehovah would gather all the heathen, and would there sit to judge them for their misdeeds to Israel. The site of "Jehovah's judgment" as been localized, and the name has become attached to the Kidron Valley, the deep ravine separating the walled city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. When this identification was first applied to this locale is unknown. It is not mentioned in the Bible or in the writings of Josephus. Both Moslems and Jews believe that the last judgment will take place there. The steep sides of the ravine are crowded with tombs awaiting the last judgment. Almost the entire southern half of the Mount of Olives is now a massive Jewish cemetery, where burial plots reportedly sell for $30,000 each.

Dominus Flevit (below left), a small Franciscan chapel on the west slope of the Mount of Olives, commemorates an incident recorded in Luke 19:

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you'" (Luke 19:41-44).

The Franciscan Church of Dominus Flevit, about halfway down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, was designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1956. The roof is shaped like a teardrop. The church's Latin name means "the Lord wept," recalling Jesus stopping before entering the city to grieve over its future destruction. (Below right) Window behind the altar of Dominus Flevit framing a view of Jerusalem.

During preparatory excavation work prior to construction of the church, a cemetery dating back to 1500 BC was uncovered containing many ossuaries small stone boxes for reburial of remains a number of which can be seen in a grotto just inside the entrance to the Dominus Flavit grounds (below left). Around the time of Jesus, it was customary to wrap the dead in linen shrouds and place them in small niches cut in the walls of tombs. About a year later, after the flesh had decayed, the bones were placed in ossuaries, to save space in expensive rock-cut tombs. As we shall later see, Jesus' burial was actually the first step in this burial process practiced by Jews in the 1st century. (Below right) Palm Sunday procession nearing the Kidron Valley.

As the procession on that Sunday crossed over the crest of the Mount of Olives directly east of, and rising some 200 feet higher than walled city it would have come into view of the Antonia Fortress, the Roman military headquarters in Jerusalem, situated at the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. The Roman soldiers stationed there would have called the demonstration to the attention of their superiors who certainly took action to find out who this man was and why the people were so excited by him. Another group, the Zealots, might have been energized by this procession, for they were seeking a charismatic figure to help them rally the people to revolt against the repressive Roman rule. Seeing Jesus so well-received by the masses of common people must have stimulated their hopes. On the other hand, the Jewish leaders standing around the Temple Mount would have been aware of the danger posed by this spontaneous demonstration and they asked Jesus to silence the crowd: "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" (Luke 19:39) To this Jesus replied: "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40). (Right) model of 1st century AD Jerusalem at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem: looking south toward the Temple Mount, with the Antonia Fortress (building with four towers, far right).

After crossing the bridge that traversed the steep Kidron ravine between the Mount of Olives and the walled city, Jesus entered the Temple precincts, presumably through an eastern gate which led directly there. Today that would be the now closed Golden Gate.

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate (below left) of today dates to the Muslim Umayyad period (7th-8th centuries AD) long after the time of Jesus. The story is told that the gate was walled-up to prevent the entry of the Messiah, who was expected to come from the east and enter through that very gate. Even now, there is a belief among Christians that these measures are futile, and that the Golden Gate will miraculously reopen when Jesus comes for the second time. In truth, it was closed after the Muslim conquest, when the Dome of the Rock and aI-Aksa Mosque were built, to prevent unsupervised access to the Temple Mount by "unbelievers." At the time of the Crusades it was opened twice a year, on Palm Sunday and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Under Turkish rule it was finally closed and has remained so to this day.

However, evidence exists of an earlier gate beneath the Golden Gate, possibly the one used by Jesus. Its remains (above right) were accidentally discovered in 1969 by James Fleming, a young Bible student who was exploring the Golden Gate after a heavy rain the previous day. While kneeling to frame a picture of the gate in his camera view finder, the ground beneath him gave way. He found himself in an eight-foot hole, in a mass grave full of human bones. To his astonishment, directly beneath the Golden Gate, were the remains of a hitherto unknown earlier gate. He managed to take a few pictures of the five trapezoid-shaped stones that made up the arch of the gate. The similarity of the stones to the Herodian masonry of other gates leading to the Temple Mount suggests that this lower gate was also Herodian. If so, it very well could have been the gate Jesus rode through when he entered Jerusalem. Another theory suggests that the arch supported the bridge that spanned the deep Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives known as the "Causeway of the Heifer," since the High Priest used this way to reach the place on the Mount of Olives where the ritual burning of the Red Heifer took place, to purify the pilgrims with its ashes (see Numbers 19:2). If so, than Jesus crossed this bridge supported by the stones of this arch, entered the eastern gate, then proceeded to the Court of Gentiles surrounding the inner Temple precincts.

Mark tells us that upon entering the Temple precincts, Jesus "looked around at everything." Probably he saw the merchants and money changers who were actively conducting business with the pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover later in the week. And what he saw disturbed him. Sellers shouted and waved at pilgrims, haggling over prices. Animals bleated and snorted and filled the serene beauty of the Temple courts with the ammonia-like fumes of urine and the stench of dung. However, because it was already late and many of the people had left for the day, he returned to Bethany with his disciples, intending to return early the next day when there would be a larger audience to witness what he needed to do.

Herod the Great began construction on the Temple in 19 BC; it took 46 years to build and only 6 years after it was completed (in 64 AD) it was totally destroyed (in 70 AD) by the Romans. All the money, artistry and skill that had been lavished on it became irrelevant.

Jesus' Life Home n Monday, March 30, 33 AD