With the arrival of the Passion Week comes the curious and often forgotten event of Palm Sunday. Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem on that day was a truly triumphal event—a day of fulfilled prophecy where the Messiah rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zech 9:9) and suddenly appears in the Temple (Mal 3:1). He affirms his Messiahship by performing a series of key miracles surgically selected, it seems, from among the OT prophecies so as to unequivocally prove his Messiahship (Luke 18:31-19:9). He accepts without hesitation the worshipful accolades of the people when they publicly herald, at great personal risk, Christ’s identity as the true King of Kings (Matt 21:9). He wrests by force portions of his Temple, long disabused by his enemies. Then for days he rightfully enjoys the consternation of those enemies who sought earnestly to kill him but “could not find any way to do it because all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19:48).
Despite these great triumphs, however, the day is filled with troubling caveats at every step along the way. While Christ rides into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 9:10-13 remain strikingly unfulfilled—there is no sudden removal of military oppression from Israel or establishment of peace. While Christ suddenly appears in his Temple in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, he also laments, with tears literally streaming down his cheeks, that Israel would not “recognize the time of their visitation,” and predicts terrible destruction for them (Luke 19:41-44). While a crowd ecstatically proclaims his kingship, Christ is busy relating a lengthy parable to correct the notion (still shared, incidentally, by many today) that “the kingdom of God was about to appear at once” (Luke 19:11), explaining that he would be going to a far country for an extended time before returning as king. While he reclaims part of his Temple, he also predicts that the Temple will be dismantled stone by stone (Luke 19:43). While he enjoys for a short time the rapt attention of the people, at the appointed time he withdraws from their attentions, and submits instead to a gory death at the hand of his own creatures.
Palm Sunday remains for us, then, a glimpse at what might already have been, what someday will be, but which is not yet.