Blog #332: Two Kingdoms, Two Kings – The Meaning of Palm Sunday

John Cline

Writer Gary Alan Taylor wrote an online article entitled, “Palm Sunday: Two Kings and Two Kingdoms”. Here is the article: Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethpage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” and when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

Historians tell us two parades took place that particular spring day in Jerusalem. Two “kings” entered the city representing two very different kingdoms: The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Jesus isn’t entering the Holy City as a pilgrim, but as a prophet challenging the unholy union between the religious authorities and State power. He arrives on the scene from the east just as Pilate and his cadre of Roman soldiers enter the city from the west. The two processions couldn’t be more starkly contrasting. Jesus, a peasant from Galilee, rides a lowly donkey and is greeted by the people as a prophet, liberator, a political revolutionary. He is unarmed, but entirely dangerous. Pilate on the other hand, representing the imperial power of the Roman Empire, bursts into Jerusalem in high military fashion, with a column of cavalry, marching soldiers, and a cache of weapons reminding everyone who was really in charge. Historian John Dominic Crossan writes, “Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. Reminding everyone Caesar was not just the emperor of Rome, but the Son of God.”

Two kings. Two kingdoms. Two radically different visions for the world.

Pilate’s vision was a world dominated by power, violence, subjugation, and domination. Jesus offered a vision of human flourishing centered on service, humility, peace, and reciprocity. Theologian Ched Meyers writes, “Jesus was staging a kind of counter-demonstration. While Pilate rode into the city on a military stallion, Jesus entered on a borrowed donkey, symbolized sovereignty—but also Zechariah’s promise that Yahweh would one day banish the war horse forever!” Matthew even eludes to Zechariah, foreshadowing the kind of King and kind of world this nonviolent revolutionary would usher in:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to Seanad from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9,10)

The clash between these two kingdoms has only just begun. The remainder of Holy Week pits the Kingdom of God against the kingdoms of this world, ultimately culminating in Jesus’ death at the hands of the religious leaders and the Roman Empire. Still to this day, the kingdoms of this world trust the power of the sword while the Kingdom of God rests in the power of the cross. Will we choose to continue living according to the dominating ways of this world or will we risk joining Jesus in the liberating work of justice, peace-making, and political enfranchisement?

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