The Lord’s Gate
Centuries ago, rulers would have grand processions through their homelands after a military conquest. The procession, what we might think of like a parade, was to show off the full glory of the ruler/military and their fighting forces from the highest to lowest ranks. Sometimes even captured slaves, as well as the deposed ruler (alive or dead), were paraded for all to see and over which to rejoice. If not for the fact of military purposes, sometimes processions were for the cause of religious purposes where an idol(s) or some relic(s) would likewise be paraded along with the priesthood. We still do this today at such times as the Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, and Christmas. Infamous parades have consisted of such as the end of World War II.
Psalm 118 is a hymn sung in procession as worshippers entered the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (cf. Ps. 118:19–20) and proceeded to the temple court around the altar (Ps. 118:27). Psalm 118 is one of several Hallel psalms that begins with Psalm 113. Hallel psalms were those of praise sung at specific feast days. The psalm I mention here was sung at the Feast of Tabernacles (m. Sukkah 4.5) and Passover (m. Pesach 5.7). During the former of the two mentioned feasts, the priests circled the altar invoking Yahweh’s salvation and prosperity to which the congregation would shake their palm leaves (m. Sukkah 3.9; 4.5; cf. Lev. 23:40)—something akin to our waving of the American flag at a Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day parade since the palm leaf signified triumph and peace.¹
Envision if you can, for a moment, such a procession. At least at the Feast of Tabernacles was an enthronement festival which began with the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem and continued with subsequent kings representing, in part, Yahweh as they entered the city and temple.² The enthronement ceremony was meant to demonstrate that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was not only king of Israel but also of the entire world. After Absalom’s revolt against his father, David entered the city in a manner that would set the precedent for recognizing the rightful kings of Jesse’s lineage. David’s son, Solomon was paraded in a way similar to David’s return after the revolt during which Solomon was hailed as the rightful king to the chagrin of Adonijah. Jesus would follow this same example in His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
The historicity of Psalm 118 is associated with David’s anointing at Bethlehem, according to the Targum. Building upon this belief was the Midrashic commentary that portrayed David as the chief cornerstone rejected by the builders. On Palm Sunday, however, Jesus is identified as such a one who shared in the identity of His forefather, King David and thus fulfilled the psalm. Now, though, Jesus is the fulfillment of David as the crowd ascribed to Him, “Son of David!” and recited portions of this psalm at His enthronement. In each of the four gospels, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Christ before His crucifixion follows the same path as the Feast of Tabernacles with Christ winding up in the Temple if only to cleanse it, but during the days leading up to Passover. Just as Tabernacles contained an enthronement ceremony, so Christ is enthroned and hailed as the triumphant king, Messiah, for Israel—something He had hitherto avoided until this point.³
Given that the temple served as a reminder of Eden, Jesus entering the gates of the city in triumph would eventually accomplish the possibility that we too can enter the city of God. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). We will one day make procession into the eternal city of God wherefrom we may eat from the tree of life in God’s paradise. Therefore, when we think of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, remember that it prefigures the entry we shall make into God’s eternal city by the atoning work of our Savior.
¹ Thijs Booij, “Psalm 118 and Form Criticism,” Biblica 96, no. 3 (2015): 351–74.
² See Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), 170; James A. Sanders, “A New Testament Hermeneutic Fabric: Psalm 118 in the Entrance Narrative,” in Early Jewish and Christian Exegesis: Studies in Memory of William Hugh Brownlee, ed. Craig A. Evans and William A. Stinespring (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987), 177–90.
³ Kenneth E. Guenter, “‘Blessed Is He Who Comes’: Psalm 118 and Jesus’s Triumphal Entry,” Bibliotheca Sacra 173, no. 692 (Oct—Dec 2016): 425–47.