A thought on Palm Sunday and eschatology
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem takes place over ten chapters (9:51—19:44), climaxing in the story in which Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (19:28–40) — a deliberate messianic action designed to make associations with Zechariah 9:9.
What struck me this year is that Luke seems to envisage this action as a prophetic foretaste of a final, eschatological triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
This struck me as I was reading Luke 13:35. Jesus, whilst on his final journey towards Jerusalem, says, “Behold, your house [i.e., the temple] is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Now it seems clear to me that Jesus is not speaking about his near-future entry into Jerusalem here. This seems apparent for two reasons:
First, in Luke’s Gospel it is not Jerusalem that welcomes Jesus with the words of the pilgrim psalm (Ps 118:26), it is Jesus’ disciples clearly presented as a subset of the crowd (19:36–40). But in chapter 13 Jesus is speaking of the welcome that Jerusalem and the Jewish people in general would give him (note who the “you” is in 13:35).
Second, there seems to be no point for Jesus to say, “Jerusalem will not see me . . . until . . . [drum roll] . . . I arrive there in a few days time.” Such a point would be utterly banal and contribute nothing to his words in chapter 13.
The point in Luke 13:35 seems to be that Jerusalem’s fate is now sealed — its temple is forsaken — and it will not see Jesus again (after his death, or possibly his ascension) until the eschatological time that God has appointed to “restore everything” (Acts 3:17–21, a text which has an end-time restoration of Israel in mind), including the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6–8).
So Jesus is not speaking of his forthcoming arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey. And yet . . . attentive readers, when they get to Luke 19:36–40, will not fail to make the connection between the two texts. Here, Jesus enters Jerusalem as Jerusalem’s messianic redeemer and, amongst the crowds, his disciples welcome him, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (a messianic modification of Ps 118:26).
It seems to me that the welcome of the disciples here is being presented as, for want of a better phrase, a prophetic foretaste of the welcome that, one day (at some point after the now-inevitable coming destruction Jesus speaks of so often in Luke), all Jerusalem would welcome its Messiah.
This puts the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (though Luke has no palms) in a new light. This is the first entry and, ironically, even though Jerusalem rejects him — failing to recognize “the things that make for peace” and “the time of [its] visitation” (Luke 19:41–44) — its very rejection of its Messiah, in the providence of God, become the very means by which it will be redeemed. The post-“crucifixion” “resurrection” of Jerusalem is writ small and guaranteed by the risen body of its Messiah. The risen Jesus embodies the future of Jerusalem and the Jewish people.