It was almost Pesach, the feast of the Passover, when Jesus came to Jerusalem (John 12.) Celebrating the Exodus from Egypt, this week-long festival always brought trouble to the Roman occupied capital. Fueled by the Jews’ age-old struggle for spiritual and political freedom, turmoil was the backdrop for the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Staying in Bethany, Jesus walked to Jerusalem everyday through Bethpage on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Approaching the village on Sunday, Jesus sent two disciples to obtain a donkey for Him to ride into the city. Thus Matthew 21:1-12 describes how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy, “Behold thy King comes unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass”.
The idea of riding an ass not only marked Jesus’ humility but also pointed to His kingly position. 1 Kings 1:33 and 38 tell that when King David was dying, he commanded his son Solomon to be brought on the king’s own mule to Gihon to be anointed.
When the multitudes called “Hosanna” and cut palm fronds, they too were enacting old Jewish customs. Derived from the Hebrew meaning please save, “Hosanna” is the cry of the Feast of the Tabernacles when people carry branches of palm, myrtle and willow. It recalls the 40 years after the Exodus, when the Children of Israel wandered in the desert before their triumphant entry into the Promised Land.
Not restricted to the festival, such processions also broke out spontaneously, and had already led to several bloody massacres. The Romans were worried about a repeat.
Since as early as the 12th century an annual Holy Week procession has started at Bethpage on the Mount of Olives. Today a Franciscan chapel established in 1883 on the slopes marks its starting place. It contains the Mounting Stone of Christ mentioned by the earliest pilgrims as being the stone Christ used when mounting the donkey.
The chapel also contains a cubical stone decorated with paintings dating from Crusader times. These show the raising of Lazarus from the dead, an ass and its foal, people carrying palms, a castle and a Latin inscription of the name Bethpage.
From here the annual Palm Sunday procession makes its way into the city through the Lions’ Gate – also called the Gate of St. Stephen.
*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. John 12:12-13
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of JesusShare this page with your friends
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