Palm Sunday or the triumphal entry is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-38; and John 12:12-18). There was nothing triumphal about the entry because Jesus was just riding a donkey or a colt, not even a horse. He did not have an army – just a bunch of ordinary people who would desert him five days later. The people who shouted “Hosanna and blessed” (Matthew 21:9) would cry out “crucify him” five days later (Matthew 27:22). The man who was decorated as “king of Israel” would be brutally crucified in five days. So, why is it called a “triumphal entry” and what is the significance of Palm Sunday?
Let us analyze the significance of Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry from God’s point of view and people’s point of view.
Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry – the fulfillment of God’s master plan
The triumphal entry and Palm Sunday are part of God’s master plan. Nearly 600 years before the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, God foretold this event through the prophet Zechariah:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you; righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9).
Furthermore, Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry are the fulfillment of another prophecy as foretold by Daniel:
Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’, and sixty two ‘sevens’. (Daniel 9:25).
While opinion is divided about this verse, some scholars interpret this as seven times seventy years, which is 490 years. The triumphal entry occurred at the end of the seventh sixty nine years, which is 483 years later. If this interpretation is correct, then the triumphal entry and Palm Sunday are the fulfillment of yet another prophecy in the fullness of time.
Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry – the long awaited Savior
The Jews had been waiting for a Savior for centuries. They all knew that the Messiah would come. However, their concept of the Messiah was a mighty warrior who would deliver them from the Roman tyranny. Although Jesus did not fit this profile, they have heard of his miracles, especially the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, which Jesus performed just before the triumphal entry. Therefore, they probably were hoping that Jesus would perform some miracles and get rid of the Romans.
Probably that was the reason why they gave the welcome reception fit for a king. The palms represented victory. That is why they shouted “Hosanna”. Hosanna has many meanings including save (or Savior), rescue, help, or I pray. Perhaps they thought Jesus would help or save them, and establish his kingdom. They were right, but their view of the kingdom was entirely different from the view of Jesus.
Jesus always spoke about his kingdom, or the kingdom of God, but his kingdom is not of this world. When they realized that they got cranky. Was this the reason for brutally crucifying him? I don’t know. The point is, looking at from any angle, the Palm Sunday has no sign of triumph or victory. All we find is a suffering servant, who was brutally defeated.
So what was triumphal about the entry anyway?
Going back to the original question, what is triumphal about the entry? What is the significance of Palm Sunday? The answer would come seven days later or the following Sunday. That entry was the beginning of the greatest triumph ever made in known history – the defeat of death. A victory over death. No one, other than Jesus, has ever been able to defeat death. Death couldn’t contain him. That is why it is a triumphal entry. That is the significance of Palm Sunday.