The week we now call Holy Week or Passion Week, started with Palm Sunday. Why was this week so important that three of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) devote a full third of their contents to reporting this week, and The Fourth Gospel (John) dedicates its entire last half?
Jerusalem, which had a normal population of about 50,000 at the time, had at least tripled in size because of the influx of pilgrims celebrating the Jewish holiday Passover. Early Sunday morning Jesus made his dramatic public entry into the city. This was the end of any privacy and safety his ministry had afforded and marked the beginning of what would be an inevitable collision course with the religious and political authorities: Jewish and Roman.
The procession started at the Mount of Olives, across the land bridge of the Kidron Valley, and through the eastern gate into the city. There is some debate among scholars as to which of the two current gates on the eastern wall of the city Jesus would have entered.
The Sheep Gate on the northeast corner of the Old City, which I’ve walked through myself, is a natural choice from the land bridge, and a common gate that Jesus used to enter the city. It was so named as lambs destined for Temple sacrifice entered here. They did not leave alive. For centuries, during Easter Week, Christian pilgrims begin their procession inside this gate. The route is called the Via Dolorosa, “the way of pain” and marks the stations of the cross.
Others contend that the Golden Gate on the center-eastern part of the city is the one, though it’s currently sealed up and has been for five centuries since the mid-16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Jewish tradition states that the Messiah will enter through that gate when he comes in the new age to rule.
Crowds began to gather to see the rabbi from Galilee. The procession began accompanied by shouting and singing from the throngs as they threw down their garments on the pathway to cushion his ride — an Oriental custom still observed on occasions — as well as palm fronds, the symbol of triumph. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold the arrival of the Messianic king in Jerusalem via the humble conveyance of a colt. Here the crowd hailed Jesus as “the son of David”, a loaded name used at a loaded time. The Bible had predicted that the Messiah would be the son of David. The priestly establishment was understandably disturbed, as the palm was the national emblem of an independent Palestine. These were Jewish flags. What if Jesus should claim to be the heir of King David?