Passion Sunday's Dynamic of Location

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Preaching the inseparability of Jesus and Jerusalem is to proclaim God’s Messiah and the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

The events of Holy Week are fixed on a location: Jerusalem. Preaching the significance of location provides a rich dynamic to the gospel events stretching from “Palm Sunday” to the crucifixion of our Lord and His resurrection on Easter.

The fixity of Jerusalem’s capitol location, with its temple and messianic foundations, not only provides the backdrop for every faithful sermon but enliven the imaginations of auditors. Locations are relatable and bear the capacity to carry meaning forward. Preaching the inseparability of Jesus and Jerusalem is to proclaim God’s Messiah and the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

Jesus, of course, was no stranger to Jerusalem. From the time of His infancy, He entered Jerusalem on many occasions, but on Passion Sunday it would be different. It was Sunday, which is typically a workday in the Roman and Hebrew first-century world. But this Sunday was on the cusp of a week-long holy festival. This time when Jesus entered, He would employ symbolic action at a potent moment in the Jewish religious calendar, the Feast of Passover. With irony, the resulting scene would be known as “the triumphal entry,” commemorated throughout the Christian world as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.[1]

Jesus intended this so-called “triumphal entry” to announce He was God’s messiah, the divinely anointed and rightful King. In Greek, “messiah” was synonymous with “Christ” and the “anointing” was not with oil but God’s Holy Spirit. By any measure, it was audacious and certainly a dangerous, even deadly, claim. Jesus, then, was being calculated and purposeful in riding a colt at that moment through the Eastern Gate of the royal city of Jerusalem and conducting Himself into the Temple, the monumental symbolic location of God’s presence and rule on Earth.[2] In everyone’s mind, God’s messiah would rule from Jerusalem with the authority of the Temple. Jesus gathered together all of these loaded symbols pertaining to the rule of God: Riding mounted into the royal city as a conqueror, entering the Temple to associate His rule with God’s rule, and the title of Messiah with the legitimate lineage from the ancient monarch David. Astonishing. Audacious. Dangerous.

Jesus intended this so-called “triumphal entry” to announce He was God’s messiah, the divinely anointed and rightful King.

According to record, no one since the Maccabean revolt nearly two centuries beforehand asserted himself as messiah. None attempted to bring Jerusalem, Temple, and Kingship together in an open claim to the throne of David, and to do so in the face of Rome with the backing of the Sanhedrin. None, except the megalomaniac Herod the Great (reign 37 - 4 BC). He ruled Jerusalem and was ambitiously rebuilding the Temple to associate his name with that sacred place and establish a link between himself and a messianic lineage. His strategy was effective. Following his death in 6 BC, his son Herod Antipas (who died in AD 39) assumed the throne by way of hereditary right. Few, however, countenanced the legitimacy of the Herodians. They were neither fully Jewish nor Davidic in lineage. They were impostors to the throne, albeit impostors with the backing of Rome’s legions.

Now Jesus, a true descendent of David, headed to that same place to bring all three—Jerusalem, Temple, and Kingship—together with Herod Antipas, Rome, and the Sanhedrin watching His every move. Jesus was coming, and He was doing so with a considerable entourage and decidedly better credentials than those Herodian pretenders. But those pretenders retained power, power to crucify.

True enough, Jesus was no stranger to Jerusalem. His supporters and disciples knew they would find Him there during Passover, one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of Judaism. His detractors and enemies knew to find Him there too, heightening all expectations for a decisive confrontation.

Jerusalem, Temple, and Kingship were an inseparable and powerful combination.[3] Jesus’ consciously timed symbolic action was meant to convey a particular understanding about the messiah’s mission and purpose, what He intended to do, and how He was going about it. He purposed to ascend David’s Jerusalem throne to inaugurate the return of God’s Kingdom on earth. That is where the Temple fit into this scenario. But Jesus would also shock and appall the Jerusalem crowds by the way He would be enthroned as messiah, a Roman cross, and how God would rule through Him in a completely unexpected way over their enemies. He reigns not with vengeance but with grace, mercy, truth, peace, and love.

The stage was now set. Three years of public ministry during which He delayed a public claim to the throne of David had driven Jesus to this moment. He would seize the opportunity all at once. His dramatic entry into Jerusalem would be an explicit, multi-layered, and instant claim as the world’s rightful King could not help but trigger a series of explosive confrontations with the religious and political authorities. Astonishing. Audacious. Dangerous. The ascent to Jerusalem would lead Him through hailing crowds mounted on a colt but end with Him being led through a similar crowd to His execution, this time to be mounted on a cross. And as unexpected as it may have seemed to everyone else, this crucifixion was the very coronation He anticipated, the crowning of God’s chosen King, and, at the same time, victory in the holy war.


[1] “Passion” as in the passionate affection of love. The idea of the Passion of our Lord is meant to convey the notion that God in this way—i.e., the way of the events of Holy Week—so loved the world (cf. John 3:16). Passion Sunday was also known as “Judica Sunday” in reference to the Introit “Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta...” The Sunday is also known as Neomania, the Sunday of the new moon, because it always falls after the new moon which regulates the feast of Easter.

[2] N.T. Wright, Jesus, and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 490-93.

[3] This was the case even with the Qumran Essenes near the Dead Sea, who in the Damascus Document seemingly envisioned two messiahs reigning together or, perhaps, successively. See M. G. Abegg, “Messianic Hope and 4Q285; A Reassessment”, Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (1994):81-91; J. Neusner, W. S. Green, and E. Frerichs (eds.), Judaism’s and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).