Entering Jerusalem: context

Entry_Into_Jerusalem128 After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. 29 As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. 30 He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” 32 So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” 34 They answered, “The Master has need of it.” 35 So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. 36 As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; 37 and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. 38 They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” 

Jesus has been traveling toward Jerusalem since Luke 9:51 (the conclusion of the Lucan narrative of the Transfiguration). The final approach to the holy city is marked with a third passion prediction (18:31-34), two scenes in the nearby city of Jericho (18:35-43; 19:1-10) and the parable of the talents (19:11-27) – the latter of which highlights a kingly figure coming to claim what was rightfully his. With this preceding, Jesus makes his entrance procession into Jerusalem.

As Culpepper [366] notes, “Entrance processions were a familiar ceremony in the first century. Numerous kings and conquering generals had entered Jerusalem over the years. Although the welcoming ceremony of a conqueror and the celebration of the return of a victorious general can be distinguished from each other, they share similar features. Paul Brooks Duff has summarized the characteristic pattern of an entrance procession as follows:”

In such Greco-Roman entrance processions we have seen the following elements: (1) the conqueror/ruler is escorted into the city by the citizenry or the army of the conqueror. (2) The procession is accompanied by hymns and/or acclamations. (3) The Roman triumph has shown us that various elements in the procession … symbolically depict the authority of the ruler. (4) The entrance is followed by a ritual of appropriation, such as sacrifice, which takes place in the temple, whereby the ruler symbolically appropriates the city.

As examples of this pattern, scholars cite Josephus’s account of Alexander the Great’s entrance into Jerusalem and Plutarch’s description of Antony’s entry into Ephesus:

Then all the Jews together greeted Alexander with one voice and surrounded him … [then] he gave his hand to the high priest and, with the Jews running beside him, entered the city. Then he went up to the temple where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest

When Antony made his entrance into Ephesus, women arrayed like Baccanals, and men and boys like satyrs and Pans, led the way before him, and the city was full of ivy and thyrsus-wands and harps and pipes and flutes, the people hailing him as Dionysius Giver of Joy and Beneficent.

The entrance in to Jerusalem marks the end of the travel dialogue, marking a new section in Luke’s narrative, but it also marks a transition in themes that Luke emphasizes. Green [680-82] also offers keen insights

(1) Christology and Discipleship. Given the great concern of the travel narrative overall with the resocialization of Jesus’ followers within the new community gathered around Jesus, the lack of interest in discipleship here may be surprising. However, following Luke’s presentation of the disciples’ incapacity to comprehend God’s plan in 18:31–34, the disciples have receded more and more into the background. Indeed, at this juncture whatever had earlier distinguished the twelve from the others has been blurred. Luke’s reference to “two of the disciples” (v 29) leaves open the question whether these are from the twelve, and his depiction of “the whole multitude of the disciples” (v 37) is reminiscent of the mass of Jesus’ followers and hangers-on in 6:17–19. This gradual deemphasis on the disciples is matched in the narrative by a crescendoing preoccupation with christology. Begun already in 18:35–43 with the acclamation of Jesus as the “Son of David” and continuing with the parabolic material in 19:11–27 is Luke’s renewed interest in portraying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, a king. This itself recalls the birth narrative, where Jesus’ identity was first broached so definitely by God’s spokesperson, Gabriel (e.g., 1:32–35). And this emphasis moves even more into the limelight here, above all with the acclamation of Jesus as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (v 38).

(2) Division in Israel. Early on, Simeon had foretold that Jesus would be the cause of division within Israel (2:34–35), and Luke has narrated the realization of this prophecy in both the Galilean and journey sections of the Third Gospel. The strength of the presentation of this motif in this narrative section is unprecedented, however. Division comes to the fore, first, in the different responses elicited by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: Some praised God for all the powerful deeds they had seen while others insist that Jesus silence his followers (vv 37–40). Second, in his oracle concerning Jerusalem, Jesus observes that Jerusalem had failed to recognize both the things that make for peace and the time of divine visitation (vv 42, 44). Finally, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and the people divide in their respective responses to Jesus, with the leaders looking for a way to execute Jesus (vv 47–48). With this, the opposition against Jesus has reached rare heights (though cf. 6:11; 13:31). Even this has been foretold, and related to Jesus’ advent in Jerusalem (9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31–33).

(3) Salvation to All. Soteriology, so important throughout the travel narrative (and, indeed, the theme of Luke-Acts as a whole), is not altogether absent from this narrative section, even if it is less explicit than has been the norm. As will become clear, the entrance of the king into Jerusalem has soteriological implications as it raises interpretive questions about the nature of his dominion. Of interest, too, is Jesus’ oracle concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, a statement that portends not only the end of the city itself but perhaps more importantly the end of its socio-religious role as the dominant “cultural center” within the world of the narrative. “Culture centers” are active centers of social order that “… consist in the point or points in a society where its leading ideas come together with its leading institutions to create an arena in which the events that most vitally affect its members’ lives take place.” Within the Lukan narrative, the Jerusalem temple is seen to serve a world-ordering function, particularly as its architecture provides a series of segregating zones that extend out from the temple mount to determine social relations and the experience of fictive kinship between Jew and Samaritan, Jew and Gentile, male and female, and so on. If Jerusalem is utterly destroyed (with no stone left on another, v 44), then its socio-religious role is also decimated. If Jerusalem is no longer the center of the world, then the status distinctions it embodied and propagated are no longer definitive. In this light, the citation of Isa 56:7 in v 46, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” sans the Isaianic phrase “for all peoples,” is telling, for it runs counter to the eschatological vision of all peoples coming to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and paves the way for a mission that is centrifugal rather than centripetal (cf. Acts 1:8).


  • R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 366
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 680-82

Scripture Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/

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