[Supplement to Gospel Doctrine New Testament lesson 20]

The day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is still remembered in our day by the Christian celebration of “Palm Sunday.” In Jerusalem, some Christian groups assemble atop the Mount of Olives and parade down the Kidron Valley and up to the Old City of Jerusalem, bearing palm branches.

The account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the last time is found in all four of the gospel narratives. [1] Ascending the mount of Olives from Bethany, he sent two disciples ahead to procure an ass on which he could ride into the Holy City. As he descended the mount, crowds formed and strewed his path with palm leaves and even cloth ing.

Crossing the Kidron, he ascended the temple mount, where he demonstrated displeasure at some of the commercial activities being conducted there and overturned the tables. Each evening, Jesus returned to Bethany. One day, as he sat to eat, a woman anointed him with oil. [2]

All of these actions are reflected in the Old Testament, and it is likely that all the ancient kings of Israel and Judah followed the same pattern upon ascending the throne. The one most familiar to Bible readers is probably Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

This passage is cited in two of the gospel accounts of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. [3]

“The King’s Mule”

In the account of Solomon’s ascension to the monarchy, we read that he rode on “the king’s mule” to the spring of Gihon, in the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the mount of Olives, where he was anointed by the high priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan. [4]

The earliest references to anointing the king of Israel are from the story of Samuel, who anointed both Saul and David (1 Samuel 15:1; 16:13). [5] From a later generation, we have the anointing of Jehu as king of the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 9:1-13).

The Lord had commanded Elijah to anoint Jehu, head of the Israelite army and to anoint Elisha to succeed himself as prophet (1 Kings 19:16-17). [6] It was Elisha who commissioned another of the prophets to anoint the new king (2 Kings 9:1-12). Learning of this, Jehu’s soldiers “hasted, and took every man his garment, and put it under him on the top of the stairs, and blew with trumpets, saying, Jehu is king” (2 Kings 9:13).

“Branches of Palm Trees”

When Jesus rode the ass to Jerusalem, those who accompanied him in procession spread their clothing before him, along with tree branches. [7] The apostle John specified that these were “branches of palm trees.” Today as anciently, on the feast of tabernacles, Israelites carry palm fronds while reciting the Hallel Psalms from the Bible. When they arrive at Psalm 118:25 (“Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord”), they shake the palm fronds. The Hebrew text rendered “save now” is “hosha-na,” from which we get “hosanna.”

As the multitude brought the Savior to Jerusalem, they chanted “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest,” <[8] which is drawn from Psalm 118:25-26. The title “son of David” denotes the legitimate king of Israel, and was applied to Jesus in a number of New Testament passages. [9]

John’s account of the triumphal entry reads, “Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13), while Luke’s version is similar: “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). Luke also informs us that the angel Gabriel, announcing to Mary the coming birth of Christ, said, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). [10]

“Son of David”

The first “son of David” was, of course, Solomon, David’s immediate successor. He it was who built the Jerusalem temple, which he himself dedicated (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 6). This took place during the feast of tabernacles, over which the Davidic kings presided and when the king would read Deuteronomy 17:14-20, known as the “paragraph of the king.” Significantly, the Hallel passage noted earlier mentions the “house of the Lord” in verse 26, immediately after the Hosanna shout.

The feast of tabernacles takes place in the fall, while Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the last time was at the time of Passover in the spring. The feast of tabernacles was also the time when kings were anointed. [11] It seems that those who accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem were acknowledging him as their king. Upon arriving in the city, Jesus removed the merchants from the temple, demonstrating that, as king of Israel and the heavenly high priest, he was responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the site. <[12]

That Jesus was, indeed, the king of Israel is suggested by his Davidic descent in the genealogies recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The wise men who came to Bethlehem acknowledged him as “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), as did his disciple Nathanael (John 1:49). On one occasion, a group of people wanted to “come and take him by force, to make him a king” (John 6:15).

King of the Jews?

When the chief priests brought Jesus to Pilate, they said nothing about the charge of blasphemy, of which they found him guilty. Instead, “they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it. [13]

Hearing this, Pilate’s soldiers “stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!” [14]

During the course of his investigation, Pilate occasionally referred to Jesus as “king of the Jews.” [15] The chief priests took advantage of this and shouted, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). Pilate sent him off to be crucified and, following the Roman practice of the time, had his “crime” posted above his head on the cross. The gospels disagree on the precise wording of the indictment, but all agree that it said that he was “King of the Jews.” [16]

According to John 19:21-22, “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.” Passers-by, reading the accusation, mocked the Savior, saying that if he were “the King of Israel,” he should have power to descend from the cross. [17]

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the highlight of his mortal ministry and will be surpassed only when he returns in glory to reign as king over all the earth, returning to the mount of Olives to reenact his ascension to the throne (Zechariah 14:4, 9, 16-17).




For additional material relating to this lesson, see:

For an introduction to the books of the New Testament and in-depth discussions of each verse in the New Testament, see Kevin L. Barney (ed.), John H. Jenkins, and John A. Tvedtnes, “Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints.” 


[1] Matthew 21:1-13; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-46; John 12:12-18.

[2] Matthew 26:6-7; Mark 14:3; Luke 7:37; John 11:1-2.

[3] Matthew 21:5; John 12:15.

[4] 1 Kings 1:5-46. Another of David’s sons, Adonijah, thinking that he should be king, went to the spring called En-Rogel, where he was anointed by another priest, Abiathar. Both springs are in the Kidron Valley, also known as the King’s Dale, which runs south alongside the eastern wall of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 18:18). It was identified by some as the place where Abraham met Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17). A prominent Israeli archaeologist, Benjamin Mazar, believed that there were rival traditions about the precise spot where this meeting took place, one at Gihon, the other at En-Rogel.

[5] In the Old Testament, the king is called mashiah (Messiah), “anointed one,” which is what the Greek xristos (Christ) means.

[6] Those who are worthy of exaltation in the celestial kingdom are anointed to become “kings and priests” unto God (D&C 76:56; Revelation 1:6; 5:10).

[7] Mark 11:7-8; Luke 19:35-36; John 12:12-13.

[8] Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10

[9] Matthew 1:1 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 22:42-45; Mark 10:47-48; 12:35-37; 13:35-37; Luke 18:38-39; 20:41-44; cf. John 7:42.

[10] One of the Dead Sea Scrolls uses similar verbiage in connection with the Messiah. See chapter 46 (“The Messiah, the Book of Mormon, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights From a Book of Mormon Scholar (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone, 1999, later reissued by Horizon).

[11] For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (eds.), By Study and Also by Faith, Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1990).

[12] The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have the cleansing of the temple taking place a week before Christ’s crucifixion, while John places it at the beginning of the Savior’s ministry (John 2:13-17). Some, following the concept of the inerrancy of the Bible, have supposed that there were two such cleansing, but it is more likely that John was mistaken. Had Jesus been so bold as to stir up trouble in the temple at the beginning of his ministry, he would surely have been arrested by the Levites who served as the temple guards. At the end of his mortal ministry, he had great support from the multitude who accompanied him to the temple and proclaimed him king.

[13] Luke 23:2-3; see also Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; John 18:33, 37.

[14] Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:18; John 19:2-3, 14-15.

[15] Mark 15:9, 12; John 18:39; 19:14-15.

[16] Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19.

[17] Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:32; Luke 23:37.

[18] Many scriptural passages suggest that, while Jesus’ first coming took place at Passover (at which time also he died and was resurrected), his second coming will be during the week-long feast of tabernacles.