EBible Fellowship Sunday Bible Study – 05-Apr-2009


by John McOwen


Today we are going to study the Palm Sunday account as found in John 11:55, which is where it begins.  We are going to read through John chapter 12.  Then we are going to study a little bit about what exactly happened on Palm Sunday and why it is called Palm Sunday that we are celebrating today.  Then we will take a look at some of the meanings that Scripture offers us. 

We are going to start in John 11:55.  I will begin the reading there.  John 11:55-John 12:16 says: 

And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him. Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.

Well, there we have it!  We will end our reading there with the account of Palm Sunday, which most of us are familiar with.  If you are not, we just read what had happened a week before Jesus was crucified.  

So we are going to look today at some of the details surrounding Palm Sunday that we just read.  What exactly happened on that day?  Why do we celebrate it today?  Why were branches of palms thrown on the ground in front of the Lord Jesus, and what does it all mean?

Well, the day before Palm Sunday was actually Saturday of that weekend.  We want to get a perspective here, so let us read John 12:2 again:

There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

There was a supper that Mary had made where Martha served this wonderful meal.  Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead, was there, and he was one of those who sat at the table for this meal. 

I want you to picture Saturday of this weekend and Martha creating this beautiful meal for whoever was there.  Obviously, Jesus was there, Lazarus was there, and there were others, other disciples were also with Him.  But in John 12:4, we read:

Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

So we know that some if not all of the disciples were with Him that Saturday, enjoying the meal that Martha had so diligently prepared.  And I am sure that Jesus, at this point, knew full well what was going to happen the next week.

If we could guess what He was talking about, most likely, I would surmise that He was discussing the Kingdom of God.  If you knew that you only had four, five, six days left to live, what would you be talking about to your friends that were around a table on a Saturday meal?  Would it not be the most important thing in the world, which would hopefully be eternal life, your soul and the eternal state of your soul? 

This is what Jesus came to do, to preach the Kingdom of God, which He did for three-and-a-half years while He was officially preaching as an adult before He was crucified.  This was the whole point.  The whole purpose of His mandate was to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  We do not have the account of exactly what was said, but just picture this.  This was probably much of the discussion at that table on that Saturday. 

Do you remember the two sisters, Mary and Martha?  Their brother, Lazarus, was dead for four days and they went up to meet Jesus when He came to raise him from the dead.  This was the Mary, Martha’s sister, who “anointed the feet of Jesus” with very expensive perfume “and wiped his feet with her hair.” 

Remember, we are still at this Saturday dinner at their house.  And what did Jesus tell us in verse 7 concerning the act of her wiping his feet with her hair and putting expensive perfume on His feet to anoint them?  What did this foreshadow?  Does anyone recall what I read in that passage?  What was that foreshadowing?  Look at verse 7, John 12:7:

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.

So what do you see that this was foreshadowing?  What do we do when a body is dead?  We embalm it or anoint it.  Here she was anointing His feet with this very precious and expensive ointment, and it was a foreshadowing.  Within the week, He was going to be crucified and dead.  So He said, “Against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” 

We also read that Judas was very indignant that all this expensive perfume was, in his eyes, being wasted by just pouring it on Jesus’ feet.  But Jesus said, “Let her alone,” because it was foreshadowing a great picture here of His death and His burial. 

Many people had converged at Bethany at this point for two reasons.  Look at verse 9, John 12:9: 

Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there…  

This is speaking of Jesus.

…and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.

Why were the people coming to Bethany?  They had heard the story of this man who had been dead for four whole days and yet was raised, so they wanted to see Lazarus who, supposedly, was now alive.  

What other reason did they converge on Bethany?  Who else did they want to see?  It was Jesus Himself, of course.  Many, many still had not seen Him as He made His way through Israel during that three-and-a-half years of ministry.  Many still had not seen Him, so they came to see this Man, this Prophet, who had supposedly, as they had heard, raised this man from the dead after he was dead for four days.  This is why a lot of the people had come to Bethany. 

Now we will transition into Sunday, which we call Palm Sunday. Look at verses 12-13, John 12:12-13:

On the next day…

So we were talking about Saturday and that wonderful dinner that Martha had prepared.  Lazarus and many if not all the disciples were with Jesus there and the apostles.  Other people had also converged on the city of Bethany, but on Sunday: 

…the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

The term “much people” that we read in verse 12, literally in the Greek means “a great crowd.”  So there was a huge crowd of people who had come to meet Him, to see this Jesus whom they had heard had done these mighty and incredible miracles, and they: 

…Took branches of palm trees…

This word “branches” is only used once in the Greek of the New Testament, so you cannot really get much further elucidation of this word and how God uses it in the Scriptures.  But in the Greek, it basically means “a branch.”  The word for “palm trees,” though, is used twice in the New Testament and it really means the Date Palm. 

Do you understand what a date is?  It is a very sweet type of fruit.  I was at Whole Foods yesterday and saw a box of dessert and dates were one of the primary ingredients in it. 

Well, these Date trees or Date Palms were used and they had leaves that would branch out usually in some cases six feet high.  So picture a huge Palm that these people had in their hands that they were waving, as well as throwing them on the street in front of the ass that Jesus was riding on. 

Remember that on Saturday, the dinner was at Bethany at Martha and Mary’s house.  The very next day, people had converged on Bethany to see Jesus and they had these branches of Palm trees. 

It is not impossible to imagine where they would have gotten them, because Bethany, the name of the town itself, means “the house of dates.”  So, obviously, dates were very plentiful in this city and the people were grabbing these great big branches that were in some cases six feet high. 

The leaf of the palm has been used in history to symbolize something.  What is symbolized by waving a big, six-foot-tall palm branch? 

In one sense, you can use it as a fan.  Physically, people sometimes fan themselves when it is hot outside.  In worship, especially, it is the symbol of victory and honor. 

Can you picture a parade?  We have ticker-tape parades today.  But back then, this would have occurred when an army had come back victorious.  The people would then wave the palms.  You know how sometimes they do this in sports? 

So when they would do this, the people would be bowing down to somebody.  Waving a big palm branch symbolizes the same thing.  It symbolizes that you were victorious, that you won and you are therefore rejoicing. 

It is almost an idolization, which is what happens when there is a big parade, a ticker-tape parade in our day for the city.  When the Phillies won the World Series last year, throughout the city of Philadelphia, people went crazy.  They were idolizing these sports heroes who had just won a World Series for the first time in 27 years.  So we get the idea of how this was used and what it symbolized in history. 

We are going to take a look at Revelation and see how God is going to also use this same symbol of the palm branch.  The context of Revelation 7 is at the end of the world, and we read of the palm tree and the leaves of its branch in Revelation 7:9:

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude…

Do you remember the great crowd of people who were at Bethany that we read about earlier in John 12?  It is the same thing here.  Here is a:

…great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms…

Here is the same phrase, the same word:

…palms in their hands; 

What were they doing?  Revelation 7:10-11 says that they:

…cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,

So Mary was right.  It is also used to symbolize the worship of someone.  In this case, it is God, Jesus Christ, “Salvation to our God, the Lamb, who is on the throne!”  He was victorious in getting salvation for His people. 

What did they say in verse 12?  Revelation 7:12 says: 

Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.  Amen.

So we get a glimpse here of what eternity is like. 

Someone at work this past week asked me a question.  We were talking about some spiritual things.  She asked me, “After all, what are people doing in Heaven?” 

As hard as this is to believe sometimes, worshipping God is the main thrust of what is going on in Heaven.  We see this here in Revelation 7.  This great multitude of people who are in Heaven are worshipping God.  Jesus Christ is being worshipped because of what He obtained for them: eternal life instead of the wages of sin and death, which is ceasing to exist forever and losing that great inheritance of eternal life that we were created for in the first place. 

Well, it also says that this great multitude of people with the palms in their hands who are bowing down and worshipping Jesus Christ were in “white robes.”  And what do these “white robes” symbolize?  What is this a picture of?  It is a picture of righteousness, especially, as well as salvation: those who have been saved, those who have been cleansed from their sin. 

Let us take a look at Psalm 92 just to build this case and prove it.  In Psalm 92, the same thing is being said here.  In Psalm 92:1, the Psalmist says:

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:

Picture this great multitude of people in Revelation 7 rejoicing before God, and then jump to verse 12, Psalm 92:12: 

The righteous…

We are not talking about “white robes” here but:

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…

So we find the same wording here: 

…the palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

So the righteous are being likened to flourishing like the palm tree.  Those branches that grow, those leaves that grow six feet tall in some cases, are flourishing, and the righteous are likened to them.  

Remember that these are the ones who are also spoken of in Revelation 7 who have “white robes,” and white is, of course, a picture of purity and righteousness.  If you are righteous in God’s sight through Jesus Christ, this of course means that you have been saved, you have been forgiven of your sin, and you have eternal life. 

What else did the crowd say when they were bowing down?  They were throwing the palm branches on the ground, they were waving them before Jesus Christ as He was riding on this ass, but what were they crying in John 12:13?  What was coming out of their lips as they were praising God, Jesus Christ Himself?  They were proclaiming, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!” 

“Hosanna” means “saved” or “save me” or “save, I ask you.”  Therefore, as they were crying, “Hosanna,” they were asking a question.  They were in actuality pleading and crying, “Save me, please!  Save me!  Please deliver me!” 

We will see this in Ezekiel 36.  Let us turn there.  It is in the same context.  Ezekiel 36:29 says:

I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.

This word “save” is the same word.  It is the word that “Hosanna” in the Greek came from.  If we look at the Greek word, we will see that this is taken from the Hebrew in the Old Testament [note: correction made due to speaker inadvertently confusing the Greek/Hebrew Old Testament/New Testament].  It is translated as “Hosanna” and it is the same word in the Hebrew that is translated “save,” as in “save you from all your uncleannesses.” 

So we are back to this again.  They are crying, “Hosanna!” because they realize that they need salvation, righteousness, and cleanliness. 

We sang this earlier, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.”  This fountain cleanses us from all sin and guilt, and this is what happens when you are saved.  You are clean, and this is what Ezekiel is saying here.  God said through Ezekiel, “I will save you from all your uncleannesses, all your sin.  I want to save you from all of that.” 

So these people were yelling, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!” because they were pleading and crying out.  Salvation has finally come to Israel and they were rejoicing.  This is why they had the palms in their hands and why they were bowing down, as well as throwing them on the ground. 

Let us go back to John 12:13 for the account of Palm Sunday.  We read:

…Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

“Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  Do you think that the people just made this phrase up or did they take this from the Old Testament? 

This is actually taken from Psalm 118.  Let us turn to Psalm 118:25-26, and we read:

Save now, I beseech thee…

This is the word “Hosanna” from the Greek translated back into the Hebrew.  And this is a question; it is a cry, “I beseech Thee,” which means, “I pray Thee; I ask Thee; I implore Thee to save me.”  And this is what the Psalmist is crying out here: 

Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

And here is the phrase:

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.

Do you see this?  “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD.”  This is where these people got that phrase from. This is why they were crying, “Hosanna: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the King of Israel!” 

They were saying this because they knew that the promised Messiah was the One in their midst, right in front of them.  This is what they were crying out, “Hosanna,” because it says, “Save.” 

Is this not what Jesus Christ came to do?  His primary objective was to bring salvation.  The angel told Joseph in Matthew 1:21:

…and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

His very name “Jesus” means “Saviour.”  This is what the word “Jesus” means, “Saviour.”  And this is why they were crying out, “Hosanna!” or “Save now, Lord!  Save me!  Save me!”  This should be the whole plea, hope, and cry of every human being: “Lord, save me, please; I am unclean.” 

In the Old Testament, Isaiah says, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  All my righteousness is as filthy rags.  So in God’s sight, I am unclean; but I ask for that salvation and I cry for it. 

As we continue looking at this account of Palm Sunday and we draw towards the end here, let us go back to John 12.  The people were crying out for salvation.  They were rejoicing because the Saviour, Jesus Christ, had come to offer salvation, and they were asking for it.  They were rejoicing over its possibility.  In many cases, many of these people were probably saved and were rejoicing over Him.  So here in John 12:14, we read:

And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon…

He sat upon a young ass.  Maybe we wonder why He did this.  Why did Jesus ride on a young ass? 

What do we first think of when we think of an ass?  We think of a donkey. And what does this picture?  Is this an elegant animal?  No, we think of humbleness, humility, lowliness.  This was not some big horse from an army that would have been very regal and elegant to ride into town upon.  Also, God declared animals to be clean or unclean.  In the Old Testament, God separated the clean from the unclean animals, and asses or donkeys were unclean.  So Jesus Christ chose an unclean animal to ride upon. 

Let us go to Luke 14 and pick up something there where we will take a look at this young ass or donkey.  In Luke 14:5, this is Jesus speaking:

And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

Jesus was foreshadowing the Sabbath day on Palm Sunday.  Remember, the Sabbath was Saturday in the Old Testament.  However, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, He instituted the New Testament Sabbath, as we know from the Scriptures.  He is foreshadowing the New Testament Sabbath day here because it says, “On the Sabbath day, if an ass falls into a pit, which of you shall not pull him out?” 

Are all of us unclean like the unclean donkey?  By nature, we are.  Jesus Christ came to pull us out of that pit.  The pit of what?  The pit of hell, the pit of our eternal existence in the grave, to cease to have that eternal life that God promised Adam and Eve when they were first created.  Yet Jesus Christ said, “You will pull an ass out of a pit on the Sabbath day,” and so will I. 

So we see that Christ rode on an ass.  When you are riding on something, who is in charge?  Who is in control?  Who is the ruler?  The rider is in control, and Jesus Christ is in control of the unclean, of us.  If we are saved, He is our Master.  He is the One who is steering us, we hope, we pray, we ask.  He is the One who has pulled us out of the pit—the pit of corruption, the pit of hell—to give us eternal life.  And this is what was really pictured by Him riding on the unclean animal. 

In Exodus 13:13, we read of the donkey or ass as an unclean animal: 

And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

Let us now look also at Matthew 19 where we read of Jesus Christ ruling, sitting on that ass, ruling over us, so-to-speak.  In Matthew 19:28, we read:

And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus is talking about how He would sit on the throne of His glory.  And what is He sitting on top of on Palm Sunday?  An ass and a donkey, picturing those He came to save and rule over, those He came to pull out of that pit.  And what happens to you, too, in that eternal New Heaven and New Earth?  He tells us here:

…ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones…

So you are taken from the status of an unclean animal—undeserving—and you are seated with Christ.  As we read in Ephesians as well, we are seated with Christ in the Heavenlies, if we are saved. 

It is amazing to even consider this when we do not deserve this at all.  To enjoy this with Him is almost unfathomable, and yet He promises this.  He says this and foreshadows it here. 

Let us look at one more thing before we close this Palm Sunday.  In John 12:15, we read:

Fear not, daughter of Sion…

Remember, when Jesus was sitting on the ass in John 12:14, it said there, “as it is written.”  And we read here in John 12:15: 

Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. 

Fear not; your King comes sitting on an ass’s colt. 

Well, let us go to the Old Testament to see where these things were written.  Let us go to Zechariah in the Old Testament.  Towards the end of the Old Testament, we find what are referred to as the Minor Prophets.  Zechariah is right after the book of Haggai, and Haggai is after Zephaniah.  In Zechariah 9:9, we read:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

And here we find it: 

…behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation…

This is what they were crying out, “Hosanna!  Save, Lord, save!”  Here He is: 

…having salvation; lowly…

There is a meekness or a humility to being on the ass, that unclean and lowly animal.  And it says here that He is: 

…lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

So this is where that phrase and that account was taken from in the Old Testament.  Much of the Old Testament was foreshadowing the coming of Christ, and many things in the New Testament fulfilled what was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. 

I hope that you received an appreciation today for Palm Sunday as we looked at this account from almost two thousand years ago. 

Why were the palm branches waved and thrown on the ground in front of the ass?  Why did Jesus sit on an ass on that Sunday and ride into Jerusalem triumphantly?  Because He had salvation, because He was meek and lowly, and because He came to save those who were unclean. 

If you are saved, you will eventually wind up with a “white robe” and palms in your hands in Heaven, praising and worshipping God, because He saved you and gave you eternal life by which you will enjoy and live and be fulfilled forever in the New Heaven and the New Earth. 

This is why Palm Sunday was so joyous and exciting for these people.  Christ was crucified five days later in order to obtain that salvation for you and for me and for all those who cry “Hosanna!  Lord save me, I beseech Thee.”  Amen.