For Palm Sunday, I will draw some reflections from my Mark commentary coming out in Chinese next year. The story of Jesus moving towards Jerusalem comes to its climax. This portion is long and occupies close to half of Mark’s Gospel. The destination in Mark has always been Jerusalem. Even as early as Mk. 1.5, Jerusalem appears. Now Jesus came full circle. Mark was concerned to put Jesus within certain vicinity to show the extensive ministry of Jesus. Mark did so by including a place Jesus had never likely gone to, Bethphage, in Mk. 11.1. The narrative then was not merely about historical situation, but is about conflicting powers.
The symbolic significance of Jerusalem in this case stands out. Jerusalem was where Israel’s kings resided. Jesus entered it as the Lord. The first thing Jesus did was to ask for His two disciples to get a colt from a village in Mk. 11.2. If anyone was to ask, Jesus advised the disciples to say that “the lord” needed it. The word for “lord” actually means “master.”
What did Jesus claim? Most likely, He was not saying that He was just like any other master. Otherwise, no one would give him a colt. He must have had some reputation. Thus, when He used the word “master,” it had kingly connotation. Jesus’ audacity must have been outrageous because to say that He was the master or king offended not one but several fronts. First, He could offend Herod Antipas who was king at the time over the Jews. Second, He could offend Caesar directly because He lived in the Roman Empire. Third, He could offend the religious leaders because He certainly did not fit the image of the king. Yet, contrary to normal expectations, the people let the disciples have the colt when the disciples claimed that the master needed the colt in Mk. 11.6.
The entry into Jerusalem on Passover had political overtone. Jerusalem at this time was full of pilgrims. Passover was a national holiday for the Jews. It was through this festival that YHWH had established the nation of Israel. It would be best to reestablish independence from the Romans at this time. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would be just like any other peasant. However, He was no mere Galilean peasant. He was also no self-proclaimed leader only. He was much accepted by the people, creating even greater danger for the Romans who were probably on alert for any subversive activity.
We must examine why people would even accept Jesus as king to begin with. Besides general miracles, Jesus did things that the empire could not. Mark recorded two feedings: feeding of the five thousand and of the four thousand. These two events alone showed more than any other that Jesus deserved the kingly office. Jesus was doing something Herod, Caesar or any other religious leader could not. In some ways, He looked a bit like Moses in the wilderness feeding the motley crew of Israelites, only the religious leaders largely did not recognize the similarity.
The reaction of the crowd is overwhelming positive in Mk. 11.7-10. Popular preachers like to say that the same crowd wanted to crucify Jesus just shortly after. I’m unsure if this is a fair interpretation of Mark. The crowd of people in Mark is quite broad. The opinions were varied (Mk. 8.27-28). They had to be insane to believe Jesus to be the resurrected John the Baptist or Elijah one day and then wanted to kill Him the next. We can only gather that the opinions and agenda of the crowd varied. They only had probably one thing in common: they did not fully understand Jesus.
The reaction was overwhelming much like the way a king ought to be welcomed. They shouted Ps. 118.25-26. The Psalm is a long song talking about the trials and triumph of the Psalmist. It also confessed faith in the God of Israel. This happy Psalm was sung for many generations in Israel as a confession of faith. More significant is the quotation they cited because it was a prayer to Israel’s God. Whether the quote was part of a casual or intentional remarks, such shouts show that people recognized Jesus, rightly or wrongly, as God’s agent of change. In such recognition, they prayed to Israel’s God for a hope of a ruler like David.
The next part is quite interesting because Jesus actually entered Jerusalem and went to the temple in Mk. 11.11 but since the day was late, He decided to go to nearby Bethany. Mark wrote this in order to build up a climax. Jesus was up to something. Mark focused not only on the location but on the timing. The time was already late. Mark made that note in order to show that certain time was better than other times. Better for what? For the cross of course.
The traffic that led to Jerusalem would be one that triggered other events. As a good Jew, Jesus went to Jerusalem many times, much more than this one time. Thus this story is not about some one-time Jerusalem journey. Instead, this story speaks of the most unique journey to Jerusalem among many journeys of Jesus. This way of the Lord (i.e. Mk. 1.1-3) leads to Jerusalem. The way of the Lord leads to the cross!
 Chapman, “Locating,” 33.