This morning, I saw a question on the Holy Rev. Dr. Marty Duren’s Facebook asking:
Is there biblical evidence that those who cried ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday were the ones who days later cried ‘crucify Him’?
Most in the discussion answered the question in the negative. They seemed to think that the group that praised Jesus at the Triumphal Entry was pretty much a different bunch than the ones who later that week screamed for Jesus’ blood. One commenter referenced an article on Challies.com (by guest blogger John Ensor) called “The Crowd Was Not Fickle.” He argues that “the crowd” in Matthew 27:20 was not the general populace of Jerusalem who celebrated Jesus, but the “the crowd of fellow elders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees that the narrative indicates had been gathering and assembling and moving about all night.” He makes a good argument in his article.
But I still don’t agree with his conclusions.
This is not a fundamental issue, by any stretch, but I think that the Matthew story is about how the crowds turned on Jesus.
It starts with the Triumphal Entry in Matthew 21:1-10, in which a large crowd follows Jesus as he treks from Jericho to Bethphage and then rides the donkey into Jerusalem. The crowd grows and Jerusalem is abuzz with anticipation as Jesus enters the city. They shout to him from Psalm 118:25-26, a passage with clear messianic implications. They hail him as Messiah.
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Matthew 21:9 (from Psalm 118:25-26)
The key to Jesus’ actions that day is not the cry of the crowds by the message of Zechariah which Matthew quotes.
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” Matthew 21:5 (citing Zechariah 9:9
Behold, your king is coming! Jesus was entering Jerusalem and asserting his authority over Jerusalem. He was the rightful king. It was no ancient version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or some kind of publicity stunt. It was the king asserting his authority over his kingdom. The events of chapters 21-23 buttress this. Matthew 21 records the Triumphal Entry, and then immediately follows with the story of Jesus entering the temple and cleansing it.
Mt 21:12-13 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
This was no twinge of temper. No, Jesus was asserting that this was the House of God, his own house if you will, and things that went on in that place would be done to please God and God alone. He was asserting his right to govern temple life.
Then, leaving Jerusalem, he saw a fig tree and cursed it.
Mt 21:19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
The fig tree represented Israel and was barren. The king was not happy with the fruit his kingdom was producing.
Then, over the next couple of chapters, he engages in a series of verbal battles with the religious leaders. The king demanded that his people listen to him, not even to their own teachers.
Mt 23:2-3 The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
But the end of Matthew 23 demonstrates that this is a single story, not a collection of stories. It started with the crowds saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” But now, Jesus claims that Jerusalem has rejected him.
Mt 23:37-39 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
Do the words look familiar? Jerusalem will be desolate until they mean what they said at the Triumphal Entry.
What is happening here? According to Ensor, there is a split between the view of the crowds that loved Jesus and the view of the religious leaders who rejected him. His point is not altogether unreasonable, and both of us are drawing conjectures and reading between the lines of a narrative. But I think something else has happened.
There was a crowd of loyal followers who remained loyal to Jesus – those who accompanied him from Jericho and others. But there was an explosion of public sentiment alive with expectation that Jesus was the messiah for whom they had longed for centuries. Excitement bubbled over. But, like the disciples, who constantly thought Jesus’ kingdom was going to be political (fighting over who would sit at his right hand and at his left when he chased the Romans and set himself up as the Davidic King), the people of Jerusalem were expecting a bloody uprising. As they saw that Jesus was not the warrior king they had expected, enthusiasm waned. The religious leaders, whom Ensor believes comprised the crowd, were spreading lies about Jesus and slowly, public opinion turned. Many false messiahs had come and gone, leaving devastation in their wake.
By Matthew 27:20, public opinion in Jerusalem had turned on Jesus. He was no longer the promised one, but another charlatan come to deceive. He was not who they thought he would be. So, when offered Barabbas or Jesus, they chose Barabbas and called for Jesus’ blood.
I am not saying that all of the exact same people were shouting “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify” a few days later. But the point is the switch in public opinion. At the Triumphal Entry, Jerusalem rejoiced. But then Jesus failed their expectations. He had come to defeat sin and death, not Rome. His kingdom was in hearts, not on a throne (at least not yet). They began to reject Jesus as the campaign of lies by the religious leaders had its effect. Finally, by the time Jesus stood before Pilate, there had been a dramatic shift in public opinion.
I am not convinced by the idea that the crowds were completely separate. There were probably some who loved Jesus and stayed faithful and others who hated him from the start. But the way the story is told in Matthew leads me to the conclusion that “the crowds” who joined in the praise one day, also joined in the call for crucifixion a few days later, and even jeered him as he died.
Isn’t that kind of the way mobs act?
NOTE: This is a minor issue. I’m not going to fight with anyone about it. But that’s how I see it.