A triumphal arrival in Jerusalem


Yesterday was Palm Sunday, when Christians around the world will have reflected on the Sunday when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem at the start of the most dramatic week of his life.

What is often missed or overlooked is the likelihood that another significant person may have arrived in Jerusalem was arriving in Jerusalem for Passover around the same time.

Pilate, the Roman governor, would have lived in a palace, constructed by Herod in Caesarea, on the coast. But we know that he was present in Jerusalem during Passover: famously he presided over Jesus’ trial that week.

In addition to his presence in Jerusalem to hold court at that time, it is possible that he chose to be there, accompanied by extra soldiers, to keep a lid on any nationalistic over-exuberance among the large crowds that had gathered for the feast: Jerusalem’s population increased dramatically during Passover (it’s still a busy season in the city today).

On his arrival he may have been accompanied by up to 1000 soldiers, some on foot and some on horses: a display of Roman imperial power that would have left no one in any doubt who was in charge. Doubtless, whether the inhabitants of the city liked Pilate or not, it would have been expedient to ensure that he received an appropriate welcome!

Given that Caesarea was on the coast, Pilate would have approached from the west of the city.

Contrast that with the Palm Sunday arrival on the other side of the city. Jesus arrived from the Mount of Olives on the east. As with Pilate, there were crowds to welcome him, with excited acclamations of ‘Hosanna’ and reference to Psalm 118 (one of the psalms sung at Passover time).

Unlike Pilate, Jesus arrived without the trappings of power. More than once along the way he had taught his disciples that in his kingdom the greatest was the least and the first was the servant of all. Now he arrived – not with the trappings of military might, but riding on a donkey. A humble, gentle king arriving in peace, but to a city that would shortly violently reject him.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

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