Jerusalem 2,000 years ago was a nexus for several theological, political and social treads coming together.
The first thread was Jesus, the Son of God who had come to perform a sacrifice, which would make all of mankind righteous before God. What makes this important is the act of being righteous. God cannot be next to sin, and until mankind had their sin removed they could not be in God’s presence or have that very important personal relationship with God.
What else but the sacrifice of a God (in the being of Jesus) could be strong enough to remove the sins of all mankind, past, resent and future. That sacrifice took place in Jerusalem at the end of Holy Week.
The next thread was the reform of the church. For the last 1000 years since the reign of King David, the church had been drifting into and out of God’s favor. The Babylonia Exile in the 6th Century BCE had done much to make the people reevaluate their relationship with God. It was in Babylon that they actually began to bring some of their theology into written form, which is where much of the Old Testament turned into written books.
Since the return to Jerusalem by King Cyrus with their written books, the church had become very dogmatic. Following the religious rules had become more important than the belief, love and joy of God. This was one of the things Jesus came to change and he was meeting resistance from the Jewish hierarchy.
Finally there was insurrection in the air. Israel was an occupied country. Israel was a trading crossroads where trade routes from Europe passed into Africa and routes from Asia passed into Europe. There was a lot of wealth at stake. As a result of these trade routes Israel was under constant occupation from the time when Assyria became a regional power in about the 8th Century BCE until the time of Jesus and beyond. In Jesus’ time Israel had been occupied by the Romans for nearly 150 years.
The Romans were a lenient conqueror. Pay your taxes work hard and don’t cause trouble. Rule yourselves and worship your own gods. As long as the status quo was observed everybody was happy and the ruling powers stayed in power. This meant the Jewish hierarchy was safe as long as nothing happened to upset the balance.
In Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem there was an atmosphere of change and it worried the ruling Jews. Here was an itinerant preacher from the hinterlands (Galilee) surrounded by the people he had been laboring among for three years. Everyone who could went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It not just Jesus and the disciples traveling to Jerusalem from Galilee, it was a crowd of Galileans. The Galileans celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a king. The crowd and clamorer was a demonstration that the people were ready for a change and they saw Jesus as their king of choice.
The Jewish leaders could see the emotions of the crowd and they were worried about attracting Rome’s attention. As a result of being unable to control their people these Jewish leaders felt they were in danger of being replaced.
And so we have the setting for Jesus entering into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover. This is the first event in Holy Week. A week which ends not with God’s sacrifice for his people, but salvation and eternal life for all believers.
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