It is the loveliest season in the Palestine year, when, the rain "over and gone;" the Mount of Olives is carpeted with green, and fresh foliage is clothing its varied groves. Multitudes, as we found in the preceding chapter, were congregated within Jerusalem and its suburbs, from every corner of the Hebrew territory, to keep the great national feast. Many of these, we further noted, attracted by the fame of the Prophet of Galilee, and more especially by His crowning miracle in the resurrection of Lazarus, poured in an enthusiastic stream to Bethany; some, after sunset, on the Jewish Sabbath--others early on the following morning.
Then, as now, two main roads conducted from the city to this sequestered mountain-hamlet. The one, the shorter of the two, leads straight up the hill, crossing the hollow between its two principal summits. This is the way which we have already found, in a former 'Memory of Olivet,' was selected by David in his flight; the one which, naturally, all foot-travelers would follow. The other, longer and more winding, but adapting itself to a similar depression on the southern slope of the Mount, was (and still is, in a more limited sense) the great public way, traversed by horsemen and caravans from Jericho and the Jordan. It continues a wild mountain track at this day. But though it must have been always steep, it has traces here and there, by the cuttings in the limestone rock, of a road formerly more befitting the great eastern approach (and the only truly grand and impressive approach) to "the city of the great King." The Evangelical narratives leave us little room to doubt, that it was along this magnificent highway the Redeemer was to make His public and triumphal entry.
The disciples have returned from their errand to the villager of Bethphage, to the spot where the procession had paused--the crowd increasing every moment by fresh additions from Jerusalem on the one side, and from Perea and Galilee on the other. The commingled streams have met, and loud "as the noise of many waters" the air is vocal with festive song. The central object of attraction and homage in this enthusiastic crowd, is a lowly Pilgrim of Galilee; undistinguished by any outward badge of dignity. The mighty Victor over Hades, who had encountered and vanquished Death on his pale horse, was outwardly, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, an uncrowned hero--no purple dress--no warrior's sword--no conquering chariot, as we then remarked, had He.
And, so far as He Himself was concerned, He sought none. Easily might He have converted that hour of popular acclamation into an hour of triumph--easily could He have worked on the passions of those thousands now around Him. "Master, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?" was the muffled thought of many an impatient heart--a spark was all that was needed to kindle the conflagration, and the appropriate moment might seem to have arrived. Not a few in that crowd, as they stood, at the outset of the march, on the ridge overlooking the scene of wild desolation stretching down to the Jordan valley, must have remembered the trumpet-tones of one, who, by the severe sanctity of his life, had won their deepest reverence. Had not the Baptist said of this very Prophet of Nazareth, "He must increase, but I must decrease"? Might not the hour now be come for the prophetic fulfillment of "the voice crying in the wilderness"?--might not the kingdom spoken of by the faithful Herald be indeed at hand? What a favoring juncture, at least, to strike the blow! By the concurrent voices of that vast concourse--on the breath of their hosannas--how easily might the acknowledged Messiah-King have marched directly to the Palace, wrested the Roman standards from the walls of Antonia, and ascending as the Shiloh the throne of his father David, have restored to the people their lost prerogatives as a nation! He was, however, no political aspirant--no ambitious adventurer. Had He willed it, they would, before this, have "taken Him by force to make Him a king." But He declines the offered crown--He will "save others"--not glorify or "save Himself."
It was needful, nevertheless, at this solemn crisis, for reasons to which we shall immediately advert, to enter the metropolis, accompanied with some unmistakable badges of royalty. Though oftener He had not where to lay His head--though in a few days, stripped of robe and mantle, He was to hang naked on the cross, it behooved Him now to make a public proclamation and manifesto of His theocratic rights. The homage therefore which would, in other circumstances and on other occasions, have, been rejected, is now accepted. Suddenly, and without premeditation, Olivet is converted into a highway for a conqueror's triumph. An ovation is improvised befitting the occasion, and the "children of Zion are joyful in their KING."
The procession moves on. The donkey's colt, on which He rode, was, in one sense, as we have seen, a symbol of His lowliness--meekness--humiliation--and yet, in another, it gave a traditional significance to the doings of the hour. For it was the animal that had been rode, on more than one occasion of historic interest, by kings and judges, lawgivers and prophets. In present circumstances, its employment was still further suggestive. The words of one of their old seers could scarcely fail to seize the popular mind, and stimulate the ardor of the moment--"Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—even on a donkey's colt." (Zech. 9:9.)
All strove to respond to this call from a prophetic past. Some of the more devoted threw their garments as saddle-cloths on the back of the colt; others spread them, as a tribute of loyalty and homage, along the rough road; others, from the groves and gardens of palm which have since perished, cut down branches of these, along with other green boughs, similar to what we found, in a previous chapter, was the used at the Feast of Tabernacles. Along this leafy carpet, composed of these symbols of rejoicing, rides Zion's King--for once, at least, not "despised nor rejected." Shouts of victory and welcome wake every echo of the Mount, which is so soon, alas! to listen to other and sadder exclamations from the lips of that fickle populace, before the palm branches have yet withered which they had just strewn on His path.
No traveler who has visited the actual scene, can fail to be struck with the remarkable accordance of the locality and its outer framework, with the description in the Evangelical narratives. Shortly after leaving the town of Mary and Martha, a turn in the road would bring the procession to the Valley of Bethany--at present, as has been previously noted, a wild, picturesque, and (notwithstanding its proximity to the city) a sequestered ravine; to avoid the deep depression of which, the path turns abruptly now, as it must have done then, to the right, skirting the southern slope of Olivet. At this point, before descending to the sharp and steep angle, the crowd would suddenly catch the first glimpse of Jerusalem. It would, however, be but a glimpse, as Zion alone is here visible. The intervening flank of Olivet would screen the Temple, with all the northern portions of the city, from view, and reveal no more than "the citadel" and what was once the Palace of David. But that glimpse is suggestive.
"Zion!" "Zion's King!" "David's Son!" It is the "Daughter of Zion" (the city of David) that is first to "rejoice," and she therefore must intone the first strophe of the song. The very song, also, is selected from David's minstrelsy--"for," we read, (mark the allusions,) "when Jesus was come near even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice, and to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, Blessed be the kingdom of our father David," (Mark 11:10.) "Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord--peace in heaven, and glory in the highest--Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest." Nor was it merely as a Prophet--a worthy successor of the now martyred Baptist--that He is hailed with these loud acclaims. For it is deserving of note, that this was the scripture which every Jew had been taught specially to connect with the advent of Messiah. It was the verse--the note--dearest to them in the great Hallel sung at their Paschal feasts. It was the nation's prayer for its coming King!
Full, doubtless, many a bosom is, with high-wrought expectation. As the crowd swells and the fervor every moment increases, may not the sanguine hope to which we have alluded, grow in intensity also, that the hour of emancipation has come? May they not hear in these thunder-shouts the doom of the Roman? Already may they not see in imagination the hated eagles driven from their perch in the most Holy Place--the invader and his armies dispersed and broken--"the Lord" whom they had long "sought" and longed for, suddenly "coming to His Temple," as the avenger and emancipator of the nation, the avenger of her cruel wrongs? (Mal. 3:1.)
But let us follow still onward the jubilant multitude. Owing to the rapid descent in the road just referred to, the view of the city is, for the time, lost. The aspect would be limited by the Valley of Bethany on the one hand, and by the top of the mount, crowned by David's old altar, on the other--which possibly also may have lent its silent voice in intensifying the ascription of the hour. Many lips, in these moments of transient enthusiasm, may have caught up, in spirit at least, the song of a more faithful worshiper. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David," (Luke 1:68, 69.)
And now, we may imagine, they have begun the ascent of the opposite side of the valley. New palm branches are cut from the groves abounding in this most sheltered hollow on the Mount, and increasing shouts are ascending--hymns from David's Psalter, mingling with more recent angelic strains, (Luke 19:38.) The jealous Pharisees, the alone exceptions to the universal joy, ask of Christ to rebuke these mistaken acclamations. His reply is, that no voice dare be silenced; that the very stones of Olivet would resent the attempted suppression--"I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out!"
At last they have reached the height--the height which, at a future Paschal feast, was sprinkled with the tents of the Roman army. Even now, there is no such vision of any earthly city, if we may except perhaps the one famous view of Damascus from 'The Dome of Victory.' If so impressive to travelers at this day, when they can only look across to the widowed Queen as she sits in the ashes of her desolation, what must it have been in the day of her regal splendor, enthroned on her four hills, of Acra, Moriah, Bezetha, and Zion, "a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of her God"! (Isa. 62:3.)
Not now, as in the earlier part of the procession, (the fragmental glimpse of Zion and the city of David,) but the whole metropolis--fortresses, walls, Temple, towers--rose in transcendent and surpassing loveliness, set in the blue azure Heaven--so "near" in that clear atmosphere, that, to the unpracticed eye, the existence of the intervening Kedron gorge can scarce be credited. That "Mountain of holiness" seems, from this height, like its sterner elder sister, "a mount that might be touched"--who that has ever seen the spot, can fail, in a moment, to recognize it; and identify it with the words, "And when He was come near, He beheld the city."
Touching and impressive procession! How different from the triumph of earthly conquerors! How different from those proud ovations up the steeps of the Roman capitol, or to the Temple of Victory on the Athenian Acropolis, when the wail of the captive and the bereaved, blended with the notes of Fame's bronze trumpets, and the wheels of the war-chariots were soiled with the blood and dust of battle! Every tongue here, has to tell only of mercy, compassion, and tenderest sympathy. The restored blind, with eyes unsealed, are there to lead the way. The restored dumb, with tongues unloosed, are there, to shout the cry of welcome. The restored cripple is there, to strip the palm-tree for his mute tribute of gratitude. The healed leper is there, to spread his now untainted garment on the road. The 'clothed' demoniac is there, to proclaim, "The Lord has done great things for me, whereof I am glad." The widow and the orphan are there to tell, "He has taken off our sackcloth, and girded us with gladness." The very children are there, with their little palm-branches, to take up the refrain, "Hosanna to the Son of David," (Matt. 21:15) Yes, the restored dead are there--their once silenced tongues now set in glad music to the glory of their great Restorer--"The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence--but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore," (Ps. 115:17, 18.)
Let us now proceed, in a few, sentences, to state the main object of this remarkable incident in the closing chapters of our Lord's earthly history, and, in its outer accompaniments, the most imposing and impressive of all the "Memories" of the Mount.
We must recur for a moment to the point on which we have already incidentally touched, that is, its PUBLICITY--and this too a purposed publicity. It was a thing of Christ's own deliberate choosing and arrangement. In this respect, we noted in the former chapter, how unlike all the other deeds of our Lord. It was prophesied regarding Him, "He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall he lift up his voice in the streets;" and all the previous incidents of His life serve only to illustrate and confirm this prophetical description. At other times, He seems to desire and to court, no, He enjoins, the utmost privacy. He goes forth all alone to the Temptation in the wilderness--no human eye witnesses that stupendous struggle. On another occasion, He charges "to tell no man."
He retires to the northern shore of Gennesaret, when the proposal, we have already referred to, is whispered, to make Him a King. He meets again and again His disciples alone. The glories of Tabor were witnessed by no multitude. The treading of the sea was at midnight, and when His apostles were by themselves. It was after He had "put all out of the house," and amid the hush of impressive silence, He raised the daughter of Jairus. The last rite of His dying love was instituted in the strict privacy of the "upper chamber." He meets the disciples at early morn by the shores of Tiberias!
Why, then, this startling exception? Why on the present occasion "cry and lift up His voice"? Why, for once, contradict His own assertion, "The kingdom of God comes not with observation"?
It does NOT seem enough to say, that this entrance into Jerusalem was intended, as we have just been regarding it, as a manifestation of His Kingly glory--a foreshadowing of the future, when He would be hailed as King of Zion and Prince of peace, (though this doubtless was one end contemplated.) Nor, as others have held, that it was specially designed to brace and nerve His disciples for the scenes of humiliation and suffering which were at hand. Had this been all, He might, in conformity with previous instances, have given them in private and separate from the world, some such equivalent regal manifestation. A little while before, He had been in the region of Caesarea-Philippi, where first He began to discourse of His death and passion. He might there, among the sublime solitudes of Hermon, have summoned legions of angels to do Him homage; and instead of sending to borrow, from a Judean villager, two lowly animals, every lordly tenant that roamed these northern forests, "from Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens and the mountains of the leopards," might have graced His triumph, and ten thousands of rivers of oil, as consecrated ointment, flowed at His feet. There, He might have appeared, as He did at a future time to John, with "His eyes as a flame of fire; His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters."
What then, we again ask, seems to have been the chief reason, on the present occasion, of this unprecedented publicity? We answer, It was in order to draw public attention to the great crowning act of His Incarnation--(and which in two days was to be consummated)--His death for the life of the world. It was of the greatest importance, that the eyes of the whole Jewish nation (the representative of the world's nations) should be directed towards a crucified Savior. While, as we have seen, in other incidents of His earthly existence, He courted retirement--it was necessary to surround His death with every possible notoriety. Hence Augustine truly says, in his comment on this episode in a life of unobtrusive humility and self-abnegation, "It is not so much the triumph of a king, as the procession of a victim to the sacrifice."
It was remarkable, (the coincidence could not be by Him undesigned,) that this jubilant day was the 10th of Nisan--a day pre-eminently sacred to the whole Jewish people, and specially to the congregated worshipers--as that upon which the Paschal Lamb was set apart. Jesus, the great Antitype, in presence of the assembled nation, and by a voluntary act, sets Himself apart, on this same day, for His own sacrifice. As a KING, claiming solitary spiritual sovereignty--He enters the Temple as His royal Palace. But He enters it, too--PRIEST and VICTIM combined--as the place of sacrifice; "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world"--"Christ our Passover sacrificed for us."
It would have been indeed sufficient, (so far as the virtue and efficaciousness of His atonement was concerned, as the surety-Savior,) had He died in solitude. There would have been even something perhaps grand and impressive, and also more in keeping with His antecedents, if, instead of the crude shouts of Calvary, and the ignominy of open crucifixion, He had closed His eyes in their death-sleep, like Moses, all alone, on the heights of another Pisgah--or, as with a still earlier type, been offered up, like Isaac, on the summit of some kindred lonely mount.
But it was needful for the Church, in all future ages, that His death be attested, without a shadow of doubt. And never could season be better selected, to attract universal attention, than when Jews and proselytes were assembled from all the neighboring countries in the Hebrew capital. This very mountain, which witnessed the procession, was itself studded over, in its green hollows, with the black and white tents of the assembled pilgrims, who, owing to the scanty room in the city, were driven to erect their temporary booths in the public Park. Doubtless, on that day, this Triumphal entrance formed the talk of Jerusalem. It would be the topic on every tongue; and, weeks after these startling events, when the Jews now assembled at the Paschal feast returned to their several distant homes, they would, more strikingly still, connect the two prophecies of Zechariah--"Behold your King comes;" and the "sword awaking" from its scabbard--the "wounds in the hands"--"wounded in the house of his friends," (Zech. 13:6-7.)
Behold, then, in the Triumphal entry, the public presentation of the priceless Sacrifice. It was, if we might be allowed the expression, the bleating of the true Paschal Lamb; as He was led to the slaughter. It was the sounding of silver trumpets summoning to the great festival--the Sabbath-bell of the world's long week of expectation, tolling on the heights of Olivet, to gather the multitudes around the Altar of offering. That bell rang the chimes of another Evangelical Prophet, "O Zion, that bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah--Behold your God!" (Isa. 40:9.)
Although, however, we have now indicated what formed the principal object of Messiah's public entrance, there was doubtless what was prophetic in it also. It was a foreshadowing of future glory--that Christ (soon to suffer) would one day come to reign; having His dominion, according to the words embraced in Zechariah's prediction, "from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth"--when the Alleluia of the children of Abraham would mingle with the Hosanna of the Gentile, "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord."
That day, at Jerusalem, was doubtless a joyful one to the disciples, when they saw their beloved Lord and Master so worthily honored. But if they had been able, in any measure, to understand the mysterious intimations which had recently fallen from His lips, there must have been also sadder thoughts intermingled with the glad acclaims. These shouts of triumph must have been marred with dark forebodings, which were only too truthfully realized! Not so, is it, regarding His second coming. No shadow of death darkens "that blessed hope"--no traitor will lurk in that triumphal path--no sorrow cloud that hour of joy.
Reader, are you ready to glorify Christ? Are you ready to strew the palm-branch on His path, and to greet Him with the Hosanna? Remember if you will not glorify Him, He will get others to do so. "If these hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." 'Attempt not,' He says still, as He said of old, 'to rob me of my Hosannas. The rocks around--dumb nature--would enter her protest--the stones would become vocal, and shout my praise.' I repeat, if we refuse to honor Christ, and to join the willing multitude who do Him homage, He will get others more loyal to take our place. His glory will not suffer--out of the mouth of babes and sucklings He will perfect praise--yes, from the mute creation, He will raise up a special seed--He will put a tongue and a song into the insensate stone.
"Tell the daughter of Zion," so ran the prophecy, "Behold, your King comes." This is a concluding but most solemn view of the Triumphal entrance. It was a last--a closing offer of the Redeemer to the "daughter of Zion." This slow procession wending across Olivet, was a final, long-rejected overture of kindness--one other opportunity to hear His voice and turn at His reproof.
Christ makes His entrance, Sabbath after Sabbath, to the courts of the earthly Zion, and in the case of some, as with Jerusalem of old, with the last message of His mercy--a closing appeal--a final remonstrance--a farewell knock at the door of the heart, before His offers of love pass forever away. Let us meet Him now--meet Him joyfully as Christ the Savior; that when the advent cry shall be heard--when the world shall be startled by the summons, "Behold, your King comes!" we may be able--each with the prepared palm-branch of victory, to line the royal path--and to say, "Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord."