The Triumphal Entry
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles to John, chapter 12. In this lesson, we are going to think about the Lord Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We have been studying the life of Jesus, and down through the centuries people have talked about the lessons and the example of His life. No matter what lessons we may learn from the life of Christ, the most important thing that we can learn about Him is the truth about His death. He did that because He loved us and He loved the Father. God knew that this was the only way that we could enjoy His love and benefit from His love.

Even though these events of the last week of His life cover several chapters, it is just one week in the life of Christ. From here to the end of John's Gospel, we will be dealing basically with the last week of His life on earth. As we work our way through chapter 12, we are seeing in verses 1-11 the tender encouragement that He received. Then in verses 12-19, we want to look at the triumphal entry. In verses 20-50, we see the teaching of eternal principles.

In our last lesson, we looked at the tender encouragement that Jesus received from Mary's anointing His feet with perfume and wiping them with her hair. We now move on to the next part of the chapter, which is the triumphal entry, in verses 12-19. Before we look at the actual details of this last week of Jesus' life, I want us to think about what I am going to call the placement of the entry in the overall chronology of the last week of Christ's life. What I mean by that is the things that took place day by day during that last week.

Traditional Chronology of Jesus' Last Week

The standard chronology, what we have always been told and the way that we practice it in the church today, was actually developed by the Catholic church. We have always been told that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on a Sunday, and then on Monday there was the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree. Then on Tuesday there was the conflict with the leaders, His condemnation by the Pharisees and the discourse on the Kingdom in Matthew, chapter 24—the prophetic description of things that would take place from that day until this. Wednesday there was no recorded activity; apparently it was a day of rest. Then on Thursday there was the Last Supper, which has become known as the Upper Room Discourse , where Jesus taught His disciples for the last time in a teaching situation. That night there was the betrayal by Judas. On Friday, He was arrested and then there was His trial and crucifixion and entombment. Then on Saturday He would have been in the tomb. Early on Sunday morning the Resurrection occurred.

That is such a standardly accepted chronology that no one ever stops to think about it very much except the skeptics. There are some problems with this chronology. First, Jesus had to be taken off the Cross at about three o'clock so He could be buried before the Sabbath started at 6 o'clock in the evening. Remember, in the Old Testament, the evening and the morning constitute a day. The Jews did that because that was the order of creation—“the evening and morning were the first day.” So the day started at 6 o'clock in the evening, and the night of the 24 hour period came first. Then the day part of the 24 hour period came. It is still a 24 hour day, but it was evening and morning, instead of morning and evening like we would do it. So He would have had to be taken off the Cross about three o'clock, so that He could have been buried before the Sabbath began at six o'clock.

In order to do that, there would have had to be a number of things take place. First, there would have to be the removal of His body from the Cross; then the preparation of His body for burial, which included the individual wrapping of each finger and toe. It took many hours to prepare a body for burial. Then came the burial itself, including sealing the tomb with a large stone. So, really there was not enough time to do all of those things in the standard chronology that we have.

Another complication, and much more important—so much so that those other objections hardly matter—is the fact that Jesus said on a number of occasions that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. In fact, He said that this was the only sign that He was going to give to His skeptics. He said, “Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days; so shall the Son of Man be.”

If the traditional schedule is correct, then Jesus would have only been in the tomb one day, or at the most two, and really only parts of three days. The standard answer to this problem is that, according to Jewish law, any part of a day counted as a whole day. So if He were in the grave any part of three days, that would be the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Suggested Chronology of Jesus' Last Week

If we take Jesus' statements as literally about the Resurrection as we do about the other things that He said, then this view, as traditional as it is and as long as it has been held by as many Christians as it has been held, it really doesn't hold. We have to look at something else. Let us look at a suggested chronology. It is not original with me. In fact, it has been suggested by Dr. Harold Honner, who is a distinguished professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has written a very detailed series of articles in a biblical journal. It has been very carefully footnoted academically, etc., and he suggests this chronology which seems to be much more in keeping with the Scripture.

The key word is the Sabbath . In chapter 19, when we read about the Crucifixion, we see that the next day after the Crucifixion was a high Sabbath, one of the feast days. They had to get Him off the Cross, because the next day was a Sabbath. Then in parenthesis it says: “It was a high Sabbath.”

The weekly Sabbath, the Saturday, was never referred to as a high Sabbath . It was always referred to only as the Sabbath . This high Sabbath must be a reference to the Passover day itself, the day of the celebration of the feast of Passover. Exodus, chapter 12, verse 18, states that the Passover was always to be observed on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it fell on. You see, it rolls through the month just like our holidays do, being tied to a specific date rather than a specific day of the week. So, it was possible on these feast days, technically speaking, to have two Sabbaths, one on Saturday and the other on whatever day the Feast of Passover fell. The other feasts were that way, too. Since John tells us that it was a high Sabbath, and we know that this was all taking place at the time of the Feast of the Passover, this would mean that Jesus would have been crucified on the thirteenth day of the month Nisan and would have been buried before the beginning of the high Sabbath which was on the fourteenth at six o'clock in the evening.

John, chapter 20, verse 1, says that the women discovered His body gone from the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week, and the first day of the week, of course, was Sunday. They observed the Sabbath on the last day of the week, and the first day of the week was Sunday. Therefore, He could have arisen any time after six o'clock on Saturday. That is when Sunday actually began. If so, He would have spent three full days and three full nights in the tomb. Counting backward from Sunday, the crucifixion would have taken place on a Wednesday, and the triumphal entry would have taken place on the Friday before that. So if this chronology is correct, we really should be celebrating Palm Friday and Good Wednesday instead of Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

I know that I have gone through that hurriedly but if you think it through carefully, I think that you will see that it really fits the facts of the Scripture better than the standard chronology, which I say, has been handed down to us by the Catholic church and carried on by the Protestants. Martin Luther accomplished a great many things, but he didn't live long enough to think through everything that the Catholic church was doing. So a great many things that we do in the Protestant church are carry-overs from the Catholic church, which doesn't automatically make them wrong; but it also doesn't automatically make them right, so we need to think carefully about what the Scripture says. If something that the church has always done doesn't line up with the Scripture, then we have every right to look at it more carefully. Holy week, as we have come to call it and celebrate it, is not really in line with Jesus' own statements about His time in the tomb, and with John's statements about the high Sabbath being the next day. That is the placement of the entry.

Preparation for the Entry

Actually, what we are looking at here in chapter 12 is Jesus making His entry into Jerusalem on a Friday, rather than on Sunday, and dying on the Cross on Wednesday. What we really want to look at now is the preparation for the entry. Notice verse 12 and the first part of verse 13:

John 12

12On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
13Took 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.

Let me point out one thing before we talk about the entry itself. In verse 12, it says that a multitude had come to the feast. That word feast is a reference to the whole week. The Feast of Passover was a celebration; in fact, all of the feasts were celebrations that lasted a week, though the feast itself might be on a specific day of that week. So in a sense they had come to Jerusalem for the feast. That meant that they were there for that whole week of celebration, not just the Passover feast, and that the Passover feast had not yet taken place.

Another problem that people sometimes surfaces about this new chronology that I have shared with you is: “Didn't Jesus institute the Lord's Supper at the observance of the Passover?” The answer to that is that apparently that is true. He did celebrate the Passover feast with His disciples, but it was possible to celebrate the Passover independently of the actual Passover day; and it is significant that Jesus would have been crucified during that week and that He knew the chronology and that He would have celebrated that last observance with His disciples before the actual Passover day. Be that as it may, the crowd was there for the whole week, not just the feast.

Notice also that it says, in verse 13:

John 12

13Took 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 word Hosanna means something like “save us now,” or “save now.” It was used as a word like we might say “Amen,” or “Praise the Lord.” It was not usually interpreted literally. When someone tells us something and we say, “Praise the Lord,” we don't necessarily mean that we are going to stop and praise the Lord right then; it is just a general statement of thanks and praise to the Lord. When we say, “Amen,” that does not necessarily mean that the prayer is over. We use these terms in ways beyond their specific, literal meaning, so these people were shouting “Hosanna” in praise to God, but the literal meaning of the word Hosanna is “save now.”

Notice it says, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” That phrase, he that comes in the name of the Lord , is one of the terms that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe the Messiah. So what these people were saying was, “We believe You are the Messiah, and we call on You to save us now.” The bottom line is that whether they meant that exactly word-for-word, literally that is what they were saying. They were expressing their belief that this man Jesus was the Messiah. They were going against the grain of the official pronouncements of the Jewish leadership, but that is what they believed, and of course they were exactly right. They were crying out to each other and to Him in statements of total belief in Him.

If you are familiar with the other Gospels, you realize that John's account of the triumphal entry is a very brief account, so it helps us to look at some of the details of the other accounts. We won't go through them in detail, but I want to point out a few things that Matthew and Mark bring out that help us understand the overall picture.

A Note of Disappointment Enters In

Turn back to Matthew, chapter 21, and look at verses 10-11. In this chapter, Matthew brings out something that is an important contrast to this, and it gives a hint of other things that are about to happen. In verse 10, it says:

Matthew 21

10And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
11And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

The verses just before this have talked about what we have just read in John about the triumphal entry itself, but what Matthew is talking about is what was said when they got into the city after the triumphal entry itself was over. It says, “…all the city was moved…” The word moved there is a translation of the Greek word seio , which is the word from which we get our English word for seismograph, which is an instrument that measures the force of earthquakes. The Greek word and the English word help us to understand that the meaning of the Greek word is that the whole city was powerfully shaken—probably emotionally, not physically, necessarily; but it was a moving thing for people to see Jesus coming into Jerusalem and all of these people crying out, “Hosanna.” The reason I have turned to this passage is that at this point, a note of disappointment enters the story. It is a major lesson for us, and that is why I want to look at it.

Outside the city, they were spreading the palm branches for Him to ride over and crying out, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They were crying out to the Messiah to save them, but notice what they say when they go inside the city, with all the hostility of the people who were in Jerusalem, the Gentiles as well as the Jews. They say, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. He was Jesus, and He was from Nazareth, but the problem was what they could have said, but didn't, what they had been saying, but now didn't. Notice that there is not a word about His being the Messiah, about His miracles, or about His forgiveness of sins. There was no mention of His fulfillment of prophecy, nothing about His teaching, just that He was Jesus, a prophet from Nazareth.

I wonder how often you and I, under pressure from people around us, water down the truth about Him. Have you ever been there? I have. It is easy when someone might be hostile or when someone might look down on us or discount us in some way. It is easy to speak in very general terms about our faith and to say things that are perhaps technically correct, but that don't really communicate all that ought to be said and all that can be said about the Lord Jesus. I think as the last days continue and as evil men wax worse and worse, as the Scripture tells us they will, we need to ask God for the boldness to tell the truth about Jesus Christ and to speak not just the technical truth about Him, but to say whatever we have the opportunity to say. I believe that will take boldness from the Lord. But we can ask for that, and God has promised to give us that. Let's not make the mistake that they did as they faced the hostility once they got into Jerusalem, having given that clear testimony when it was easy to do it in the midst of a mob and in the midst of a lot of people believing the same thing, and then getting into a more hostile setting to just say what they most easily could say.

Prophecy In His Entry

Coming back to John's account, after the preparation for His entry, we see in verses 14-15 the prophecy in the entry:

John 12

14And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written,
15Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt.

Notice that phrase, as it is written . This is a reference to the fact that in finding that donkey and riding on it, Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. Of course, it is one of the many, many prophecies that Jesus fulfilled during His lifetime. In fact, we will see when we get over to chapter 19 that there are at least twenty prophecies that were fulfilled on the day of His crucifixion. Jesus constantly said things such as, “Search the Scriptures, for in them you say you have eternal life,” and “They are they which testify of Me.” The thing that sets Jesus apart from all the others is the constant fulfillment of prophecy in what He did and what He said and where He went and those kinds of things. Here even a minor matter like His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is a fulfillment of prophecy.

Again I want us to look at one of the other accounts that gives us more details than John's does. Turn to Mark, chapter 11. Mark gives details which emphasize the importance of this prophecy and some of the things that show us that it actually was God's hand. Notice Mark, chapter 11, verse 1:

Mark 11

1And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
2And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him.
3And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.
4And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.
5And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt?
6And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.
7And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him.

Preparation Necessary to Fulfill Prophecy

In looking at the instructions that Jesus gave the disciples, in verses 1-3, it is obvious that some preparations had already been made. The colt was going to be there; Jesus knew where it was going to be. This had all been done before Mark started his report, and from all that we know about God's operations in the earthly life of Christ, it is probable that the Holy Spirit communicated with the owner of this colt to have it tied outside at a certain place on a certain day. We don't know that. It is just the likely thing just as He spoke to Mary and to John the Baptist's parents. Probably that was the way, but in some way, this donkey had been prepared for Jesus.

The question may arise, “Why was all that preparation necessary in the first place?” It is because this was a fulfillment of prophecy. Why didn't Jesus just tell the disciples to go out and find a donkey somewhere? Because this was something that was done specifically in fulfillment of prophecy. In fact, lets go back to the Gospel of Matthew again. In chapter 21, we find the answer to all of this. He brings out that besides this physical preparation for the entrance into Jerusalem, there was this prophectic preparation. Look at chapter 21, beginning in verse 4. He says:

Matthew 21

4All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.

As you know, Matthew's major purpose was to show that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Matthew's focus was to Jewish people as an evangelistic tool to the Jews. The other writers had other people in mind as they wrote, although anybody could read any of the Gospels and see the truth, but the focus of each writer was a little different. Matthew's was the Jews, so he quotes from a lot of Old Testament Scripture. John, you see, doesn't go into any of this Scripture, but Matthew does, because he knew that the Jews would be interested in seeing Old Testament verification of Jesus. He was quoting here from Zechariah, chapter 9, where it said: “Your King will come to you lowly, sitting on the foal of a donkey.” Matthew quotes almost exactly word-for-word from Zechariah, chapter 9, verse 9.

In order to fulfill all prophecy, Jesus had to come into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey colt. It seems like a very minor matter. It seems like they could have just gone out and gotten a donkey or a horse or something for Him to ride on, but it had to be a certain kind. It had to be a donkey colt to fulfill the prophecy in its entirety.

At this point in the schedule, if Jesus had just told the disciples to go out and find a colt, it is possible that Judas would have betrayed Him at this time, and Jesus would have entered Jerusalem as a prisoner way ahead of schedule. As we know, from our previous studies, Satan was anxious to kill Jesus before He got to the Cross to keep Him from going to the Cross, because Satan understands the Gospel. Satan understands the plan of God. We talk about Satan rejoicing when Jesus died, but I don't think Satan rejoiced at all when Jesus died. I think Satan knew right then that he was defeated, and it was his earnest desire to keep Jesus from going to the Cross. He thought he had an ace up his sleeve with Judas in the work that he had done in Judas' heart, and so very possibly Judas would have interfered if the disciples had just been delegated to go find a donkey somewhere. God had to do it miraculously.

Isn't it interesting that even in the minor details of the provision of our salvation, God was actively at work, making sure that everything was done exactly right. That is how much God loves you and me. He superintended and protected His plan, even in minor details like this. Remember, too, that God plans and directs and works together the affairs of our lives because He loves us.

Coming back to John, chapter 12, in verses 16-19, we find the different perceptions about the entry. First, there was the reaction of Jesus' pupils, the disciples. His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

Reactions of the Disciples

It is interesting to notice how little the disciples understood, and you know, we preachers are pretty critical of the disciples at times. It makes good preaching to be critical of the disciples, but the more I get to know myself and the longer I go in the Christian life, the less I feel prone to criticize the disciples. Think about all the things they had been taking in. For three years it would have been like trying to get a drink out of a fire-hydrant to company around with Jesus Christ and to see all this miraculous stuff going on that God was doing. How would you be able to put it all together? Let's not be critical of the disciples. In fact, there is a lesson for us in this and that is that the Scripture exhorts us and the pastor exhorts us to spend time in the Word and to take in the Word of God in any opportunity and in any form that we have to take it in.

Many times we read the Scripture or we hear it taught, and some of it goes by us. If you have sincerely listened or sincerely read the Bible, you have or will have the experience when something happens of the Holy Spirit's bringing to your mind something that you read or something that you heard that didn't mean anything to you at the time that you read it or heard it; but now, in the light of the circumstances that you face, the Holy Spirit brings that thing into your mind. In those circumstances, you say, “Now, I see what that means.” That is what happened to the disciples. They couldn't possibly take it all in at the time they saw all of this happen, and John tells us they didn't understand these things. But later, when they had a need to be reassured of Who Jesus really was, they understood.

Don't you know that they had to have that kind of reassurance from time to time? It was easy to believe that Jesus was the Messiah when He was right there with them doing all these things; but later on, when people started getting killed for believing in Him and when people weren't just showing up in droves to see Him and hear Him, those disciples needed to be reassured. The Holy Spirit would bring back to their minds things that they knew for a certainty, but that didn't really register with them at the time or perhaps didn't mean very much to them at the time.

Let me exhort you again to be faithful in taking in the Word of God, and don't be discouraged. Many times I have thought and many times people have said to me, “I read the Bible, but I just don't get very much out of it.” Be faithful to read the Bible carefully, thoughtfully, and don't get discouraged if you don't get very much out of it this time through, because very likely God is giving you that opportunity to take in His Word because He knows that at some point in the future—maybe years from now—you are going to need what you are reading today. If you are willing to take it in sincerely, to spend the time that you have and to think about what you are reading even if you don't understand it or if it doesn't seem to make much sense, even if it doesn't grab you as you read it, you will be like the disciples; and when the Lord knows that it is time for you to need that, He will bring it to your attention. That is the work of the Holy Spirit—“To teach you all things that I have said unto you and to bring to your remembrance the things that I have said.” Of course, Jesus spoke to them audibly, but He speaks to us in His Word, so the principle still applies.

The Reaction of the People

That was the reaction of His pupils. It didn't really mean a whole lot to them at the time. They were impressed, I'm sure, but they didn't understand all of that. Then in verses 17-18, there is the reaction of the people. Notice verse 17:

John 12

17The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.
18For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.

This was the general population. They cried out that Jesus was the Messiah because they had seen His mighty works, and they believed—at least generally—that He was the Messiah because of what He had done. This doesn't say that all of these people were believers in terms of salvation, but at least, at this point, they recognized the power that He had, and that He was something special. Probably some of these same people who cried out, “Hosanna,” on that day, were among those who cried out, “Crucify Him,” just a few days later, because their interest was not really in Who He was, but in what He had done. We need to be very careful that our interest is always in Who Jesus Christ is and what He did on the Cross.

It is important to talk about the miracles. The miracles may help us in convincing someone that Jesus really was Who He claimed to be. I am not discounting the miracles, but let's make sure that our belief and our witnessing is not just centered on those spectacular things that Jesus did. Let's make sure that our belief and our witness is based on Who Jesus really was and what He provided for our eternal life. That is really the focus. We may have to have a lot of conversation to get down to communicating that point, but that is always the aim of any conversation of witness. We may have to have many conversations to get to the conversation where we can take that particular line of reasoning, but let's not be like the people who just believed that He was Messiah in a general sense because they had seen what He had done.

Reaction of the Pharisees

I believe that probably some of these people in verses 17-18 went on to full salvation faith in Jesus Christ, but at this point, it seems they were amazed at what He had done. They were ready to believe that He might be the Messiah. They were willing to say that in a crowd where it was safe to say it, but probably not in the sense of believing in Him as Savior.

Verse 19 brings out the reaction of the Pharisees:

John 12

19The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.

They didn't know how right they were in that statement. They really were talking just in terms of the immediate struggle with Jesus—the immediate struggle to keep their position of power. They weren't thinking on an eternal basis, but actually that is what they were dealing with. They didn't seem to understand that their battle was not just for that day and that era of history. Their battle was a battle of eternity, and ultimately, they lost that battle in the most serious way.

The application for us is to keep remembering that our battle is not just a battle for our nation, important as that is; our battle is certainly not to see who can bring the most souls to Christ. Our battle is an eternal battle. Our battle has eternal consequences. It is not just a matter of living the Christian life because that brings peace and joy and happiness, although it does; but it is a matter of recognizing that eternal life has already begun for us, and the decisions that we make today have a direct bearing on the degree to which we will understand and appreciate Heaven when we get there.

The actions we take today often have to do with whether someone else even understands the Gospel at some point and gets into Heaven. You see, we are not just dealing with what happens in our lifetime. We are not dealing with what happens in this era of history; we are dealing with eternal matters. The Pharisees really thought that they were just talking about what was going to happen in the next few weeks, what was going to happen in Jerusalem from the hands of the Roman Empire. What they didn't realize was that what they really were dealing with was what was going to happen in their own hearts at the hands of the eternal, all powerful God.

That is always the spectrum of anything that comes along. That is why Paul wrote that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Then in another place he wrote: “We look not at the things which are seen because the things which are seen are temporal, but we look at the things which are unseen; for the things which are unseen are eternal.”

God wants us to have that eternal perspective. Looking beyond just the incidents that happen today, looking at those problems, yes, and those circumstances, yes, but looking at them in the light of eternity.


In conclusion, this passage, as I have already pointed out, shows God's careful design of every detail of the crucifixion and the things leading up to it. We are going to see several other passages that demonstrate that same thing as we move toward the crucifixion of Christ, but let me ask you, “What have you done with Jesus, the Messiah?” Most of you have trusted Christ as your Savior, but in the chance there is someone who will read this lesson that has not, I need to ask that question: “Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you believed in Him as your provision for eternal life? He paid for your sins, which separate you from God, those sins for which you cannot pay. Do you believe that, or do you think of Him in the generic sense as the Messiah, as so many of those people who were praising His name believed?

If you have accepted Him as your Savior, how clearly have you told others about Him? Do you tell about Him in the general sense—“Well this is the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee,” or do you look for every opportunity to say, “Christ died for your sins?” That is Who Jesus Christ is. He offers you salvation. That ought to be the focal point of every conversation that we start. Maybe this conversation will only lead to another conversation; maybe this conversation will only set the stage for someone else to start another conversation; but the aim of every conversation with others should be, “Christ died for you. You can be a part of His eternal family because He has paid for your sins.”

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