Up Front and Personal

Palm Sunday Gospel Shows Fulfillment of Prophecies

by Paul Senz

This year on Palm Sunday, we read the account from the Gospel of Matthew of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. Scholars typically recognize Matthew’s as the Gospel with the greatest focus on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and this scene is no exception.

In Matthew’s recounting of the entrance into Jerusalem, he specifically draws attention to Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in Jesus.

We hear that Jesus and the disciples were in Bethpage, one of the last villages on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, and located on the Mount of Olives.

The village is significant in the context of Old Testament prophecy, as Zechariah prophesied that this would be where God’s kingship over the entire world would ultimately be revealed (Zec 14:4-9). This is especially important to remember in light of the great kingship prophecies that would be fulfilled as Jesus continued into the city of Jerusalem.

In the Old Testament, it is often specified that an animal meant for a sacred purpose must not have been put to any ordinary use before. This stipulation can be found in Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3 and 1 Samuel 6:7.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his marvelous book, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” says that this may seem harmless to today’s reader, “but for the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus it is full of mysterious allusions.”

The narrative tells of the crowd covering the ground with their cloaks and palm branches as Jesus passed them by. This gesture is another that is fraught with symbolism and meaning from the Old Testament.

The spreading of cloaks and branches is an image of enthronement in the line of King David, hearkening back to 2 Kings 9:13 and 1 Maccabees 13:51: “The Jews entered the citadel with shouts of praise, the waving of palm branches, the playing of harps and cymbals and lyres, and the singing of hymns and canticles, because a great enemy of Israel had been crushed.”

The people were overcome, shouting the words of Psalm 118, “which on their lips becomes a messianic proclamation,” Pope Benedict writes. Shouts of “Hosanna!” fill the air.

Over the course of Jewish history, the connotations of “Hosanna” developed from a prayer of supplication to one of praise, “joyful praise of God at the moment of the processional entry, hope that the hour of the Messiah had arrived, and at the same time a prayer that the Davidic kingship and hence God’s kingship over Israel would be re-established.”

Jesus has now entered the holy city of Jerusalem, and made clear the divine claim to kingship. His hour has come, and with it, the hour of our salvation – the salvation which God promised his people of old.

Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.