Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is one of just a few events recorded by all four gospel writers. John’s somewhat abbreviated account leaves out a few details, focusing primarily on the crowds who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover. Such participation was expected especially of Jewish men. It is estimated that Jerusalem had a population of about 50,000. During Passover the number of people in the city grew to as many as 120,000 with some estimates reaching to 250,000. The city could not contain such numbers, so many of the people would camp on the surrounding hillside.
What is important to keep in mind is that this was a time of heightened stress for the religious leadership of Jerusalem who knew that such large numbers gathered to celebrate a moment of great national pride could easily turn into an insurrection. This had happened before, most notably under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus less than 200 years prior. On this, the third Passover during Jesus’ ministry, large crowds, having seen with their own eyes or been told about his raising of Lazarus, gathered together to accompany him as he entered the city. At some point shouts of “Hosanna!” – which means “save us now” – began to ring out. Palm branches, which were a sign of Jewish nationalism, were waved with great enthusiasm before the man they hoped would restore their national pride. Jesus, borne along on a donkey, entered the city in fulfillment of Messianic prophecy (Zechariah 9).
However, what the crowds expected and what the religious authorities feared – a national leader come to lead an armed revolt against Rome – was not the sort of king that Jesus came to be. He entered the city as a king to be sure. But he came not as an earthly strongman but as the humble son of David, the king who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. He would lead a one-man insurrection against sin and death conquering both by the shedding of his own blood. And today men and women in vast numbers throughout the world have “gone after him,” as the King of their salvation.