A commonplace in Christian circles understands the events surrounding the first Palm Sunday to be a clear demonstration of the “fickleness of crowds.” But there are good reasons for questioning this common assumption.
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 (John 12:12-13).
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified (Matt. 27:20-23).
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, in fulfillment of prophecy, a great multitude gathered around and received Him as their king, as one who was coming in the name of the Lord. There is nothing in the account to suggest that the acclaim and joy were not genuine.
And yet, a very short time later, a multitude before Pilate was persuaded by the chief priests and elders to clamor for the destruction of Jesus. There is nothing in this to suggest that the composition of the crowd was largely the same as before, or that the crucifixion of Jesus was the result of everybody suddenly changing their minds. Rather, the facts recorded for us appear to suggest that Jerusalem was divided over the identity of Christ, and that those who loved Him were (temporarily) out-maneuvered.
Jesus was arrested at night, and was examined by Annas in a secret proceeding at night, in full contradiction to Jewish law. By the time they showed up before Pilate, it was still early (John 18:28). From the time of the Lord’s arrest to the time when the first nails went in, about nine hours elapsed. The whole thing was an iniquitous rush job. For about half that time, while all this was going on, the godly from the Triumphal Entry, those yearning for the redemption of Israel, were sound asleep in their beds.
Fidelity and the Appearances
We have a marked tendency to go on the basis of appearances. Even Elijah once fell victim to this mistake. “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of
grace” (Rom. 11:2-5).
Momentum is truly a mysterious thing. Ability to speak and to be heard is also mysterious, and often has little to do with actual numbers. This means that it is often the case that things can look far worse than they actually are.
The Good Purposes of God
The crowds on Palm Sunday were not silent in their reception of Christ. They dutifully responded just as they ought to have done, and if they had not, the stones would have cried out. But their joy was short-lived and was replaced by black despair when Jesus was arrested, tried and executed. But their faithfulness was still a seed which bore fruit soon enough.
God gave to His faithful a moment of great glory when they received Christ in His triumphal entry. But this glory was still early, and not near glorious enough. It was premature by design, a proleptic glory. Hopes were raised high, just to be dashed to earth again. But this was a necessary part of God’s good purposes. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28).
The plan of God involved far more than a parade into Jerusalem, a parade to warm the heart. God’s purpose was the redemption of the cosmos, the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. This means that sometimes the ungodly appear to outnumber the godly because God wants to make it apparent that the power is His, and not ours. We serve a God who raises the dead.
Sins of Silence
At the same time, 6,999 faithful but silent ones can indicate a separate set of problems. It may not be utter and complete faithlessness—as it appeared to be to Elijah—but among the faithful we still might find a distinct range of problems. One of the most common is ungodly silence. As with all things, this sin can be used by the hand of God, but we are still responsible for it.
Remember the antithesis—there were two crowds in the Jerusalem of that day. Because of God’s purposes in the world, there are always two crowds—the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Where is your allegiance?
Remember your loyalties—the saints received Christ into Jerusalem loudly. Have you ever stood by silent when others were not being shy about their allegiances at all?
Remember God’s priorities—the general consensus was that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem and kick out the Romans. What He actually did was come to Jerusalem and kick out the moneychangers. Sometimes we are “silent” because we showed up at the wrong place.
Jesus set His face in order to go to Jerusalem. He did this because He set His mind on the joy that was set before Him. His entry into Jerusalem was an early step—and we have yet come close to completely the journey that He began. We are still in the shallows of that joy.