The story of the “triumphal entry” or Palm Sunday that we focus on this year is the witness from Matthew. As I have said before, each Gospel gives us a very different perspective.
For Matthew, the entry into Jerusalem was a whirlwind experience. Much like a tornado that blows into town without much warning, Jesus enters Jerusalem catching many of the residents off guard. The fact that people were caught off-guard is both strange and revelatory since Christ would have been well known by this time. So the fact that there were those who did not know Christ points to something more in this stories meaning.
In the case of the triumphal entry, we know that this something is both connected to the temple, and the way people view and relate to Christ. As I read this story, I would argue that it is an apocalyptic witness, saying far more about the second coming of Christ then anything else.
We know this because of what happens when you take the story within the context of the whole book, especially taking into account the second half of the story that the lectionary often leaves off. We remember that Matthew is most likely written post the destruction of the Temple and many people believe that the rapture will be coming soon. So preparation and purity are very important. So within this apocalyptic view, we see that God’s judgment against the people and ultimate destruction of the temple is due to the unfaithfulness of his people.
Think about the text, while the account says that many joined in the celebration, most after the crowds passed were left asking what actually just happened. Had they known Christ, or even understood the prophecy, this would not have been a question! Nevertheless, mere mention gives insight into how this whirlwind tour ends and why it ends with one of the few expressions of anger Jesus shows in the entire bible, that is, the turning of the tables in the temple. Ultimately, the judgment of the temple was a direct result of the unfaithfulness and wrong priorities of the people.
The wrong-headed priorities, that allow individuals to justify selfishness instead of faithfulness, will result in not only a destruction of the temple but a harsh judgment from Christ. For Matthew, the fact that the people did not listen to Christ and did not “know” him, was a sign that that they were unfaithful. Thus, in the end the question that we learn is how we will welcome Christ and not just celebrating because the crowd did, but knowing Christ when He comes.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen