Every year, this holiday sneaks up on me, in part because it’s not nailed to the calendar like so many other holidays.
There is a lot going on this week, Biblically speaking, and some interesting surprises hiding here, there, and yonder in the text.
Let’s start with Palm Sunday. (Stay with me here, this gets weird.)
Did you know that the date for Palm Sunday was predicted in Scripture? Seriously. Check out Daniel 9. Daniel had been reading in the book of Jeremiah and learned that the 70 weeks of the captivity were just about up. (Notice that when he’s reading the Scripture, he takes it very seriously. There’s no allegory here. Seventy doesn’t really mean, “Just a long period of time.” Daniel, the one beloved of God1, to whom God had revealed a lot and for whom God worked miracles, took the God’s Word very seriously.) He started praying so intensely that Gabriel dropped in for a visit and gave him what is known as the 70 Weeks Prophecy2.
To really follow this, you have to understand that in Daniel’s time, the word “week” was used somewhat like we use the word “dozen.” You can have a dozen eggs, a dozen elephants, a dozen bananas, whatever. People often spoke of weeks of days (our usual 7-day week), weeks of weeks (sets of 7 weeks), and weeks of years (sets of 7 years).
In this prophecy, there are 69 sets of 7 years3 followed by an interval4 and one more set of 7 years5. From the commandment to rebuild the city (Not the Temple, the city. Very important distinction. There were multiple commands to rebuild the Temple, but only one to rebuild the city.) to the appearance of the Messiah is 69 weeks of years. When you do all of the math, account for the 360-day year the Bible uses, deal with leap years, and all that other hubbub, you get Palm Sunday. No kidding6. I’m not brave enough to recreate all the calculations here, but I can point you to a source or few if you want to see it in more detail.
Remember that at least once the crowd tried to take Jesus and make him their king, but he slipped away7. On one particular day, he set it up. He sent his disciples into to town to borrow a donkey so he could ride over the top of the Mount of Olives8. Everyone started singing a tune9. It happened to be Psalm 118:26, plus or minus a few verses to either side depending on which Gospel you’re in. The Pharisees got a little upset, which is a clue to you from the Holy Spirit that there’s something going on there.
Why are they so miffed? Consider carefully Zechariah 9:9, where Zechariah prophesied how the Messiah would come to Jerusalem riding a donkey. So, if you combine the Messianic Psalm 118 with Jesus riding a donkey toward Jerusalem fulfilling Zechariah’s prediction, you can see why the Pharisees were about to lose it. The crowd was calling him the Messiah, and Jesus refused to tell the people to quit10.
As Jesus came over the top of the hill, he stopped and looked over Jerusalem and wept. Why? Check out Luke 19:41-44. He predicted the destruction of the city, which happened in AD 70 when the Roman general Titus laid siege and flattened the place. Jesus also declared blindness on Israel, which is why it’s tough to preach the Gospel to Jews. They just don’t see it. There are notable exceptions with the Messianic Jews, naturally, but by and large, Jewish folks have a really interesting set of interpretations for some of the Messianic scriptures in the Tanakh (the Old Testament, by our reckoning).
Why are they blind? Verse 44 has the answer. They didn’t know the time the Messiah was coming. He expected them to know the prophecy and anticipate his arrival. They didn’t because less than a week later, they demanded his crucifixion and declared that they had no king but Caesar11. Fortunately, they aren’t blinded forever. Paul tells us that the Jews will remain blind, in part, until the Fullness of the Gentiles comes in12. In other words, there is a number of members of the Church, then Poof! We’re outta here and the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy can start.
So don’t fall into the trap many churches get into of thinking that God is done with the Jews. For one thing, some of the covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant13, are one-way. God went the whole distance alone. The Jews couldn’t lose that one if they wanted to. Likewise, Gabriel’s promise to Mary that Jesus would reign as the heir of David hasn’t happened yet14. There was no David’s Throne in Jesus’ day. There was an Edomite (Herod) sitting on a Roman-appointed throne. Jesus presently sits on his Father’s throne, not his own. The Church hasn’t replaced Israel.
Ultimately, if all Scripture is there for our learning, what do we get from this? Jesus expected the Jews to understand prophecy and expect his arrival. There were all kinds of signs that the Messiah was about to appear, and on the exact day Gabriel predicted for Daniel, Jesus allowed himself to be presented as the king. Jesus is coming back again, and there are signs that we need to watch for, too.
We are currently in the Interval of Daniel’s 70 Weeks, and there’s no telling when it’ll end. It’s the one part of the prophecy that isn’t nailed down on the calendar. Jesus could come back in five minutes, a week from Tuesday, or several years from now, but if you watch current events and study eschatology, it’s obvious we’re getting on toward the tail end of the Interval now. Everything is set up to roll. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t let the time creep up on you as a thief15.
Stay tuned next week for the rest of Holy Week.
Major source that put many the pieces together for this:
Missler, Chuck. Verse by Verse Commentary on Daniel. Koinonia House.
1 Daniel 9:23
2 Daniel 9:24-27
3 Daniel 9:25
4 Daniel 9:26
5 Daniel 9:27
6 Missler, Chuck. Briefing Pack: Prophecy 101. Koinonia House.
7 John 6:15
8 Luke 19:30, Matthew 21:2, Mark 11:2
9 Luke 19:38, Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9
10 Luke 19:39-40
11John 19:12, 15
13 Genesis 15
14 Luke 1:32
15 Luke 12:36-40