The Arrival of the King: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009
Today is Palm Sunday, 2009 Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord). On this day, 1975 years ago, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords entered the holy city, Jerusalem, publicly proclaiming himself for the first and only time of his earthly ministry to be the promised deliverer, or Messiah. We call this day Palm Sunday, because the people who jubilantly welcomed Jesus into the city that day cut down palm branches and strewed them over the road before the donkey’s colt upon which he rode. This was the fulfillment of a series of prophecies, some of which we shall touch upon today, but our focus will be on one extraordinary prophecy that is found in the book of Daniel.
Those of us who spent some time in the liturgical church
know well the pattern of the church year, and we have a sense of the
momentousness of this occasion.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent is intended to prepare
the human heart for the great drama ahead.
The point of Lent is to take the focus off ourselves and our day-to-day
concerns, and to remember in detail what is called “the passion of our Lord
Jesus Christ.” Why? Because it reminds us of our fallen-state,
and the fearful price that had to be paid to redeem us from a life of futility
and an eternity of condemnation and separation from God. Palm Sunday is the early
We will discuss the specifics of Daniel’s prophecy and see whether or not and to what degree it reached fulfillment in reality. We are going to discuss and contrast the fickleness of man, which was on vivid display both then and now, with the faithfulness of God. Finally, we will see that the amazing fulfillment of this prophecy is not just an interesting historical fact, but that it serves as an admonition and warning to us for the future.
In the process of researching for this message I came across
a number of really good sources, but if you’re really interested in pursuing
this line of study further, I highly recommend that you visit
endtimepilgrim.org. The author of the
site is a man named Gavin Finley, an Australian doctor living in the
The first “modern” guy who understood all this stuff was an amazing
fellow named Sir Robert Anderson, who published the book, “The Coming Prince”
in 1894 in
Today’s message will be brief, so please bear with me these next few minutes as we explore the wonder that is Palm Sunday.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Daniel, chapter 9. Although the main focus of the passage for the message today is the last few verses, I want to read the entire chapter, because it helps us clearly establish the context.
1In the first year of Darius the son of
Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the
Chaldeans-- 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel,
observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of
the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of
Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3So I gave my attention to
the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth
and ashes. 4I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and
said, "Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and
lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5we
have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning
aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6"Moreover,
we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to
our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. 7"Righteousness
belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day--to the men of
Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and
those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them,
because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8"Open
shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because
we have sinned against You. 9"To the Lord our God belong
compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10nor
have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He
set before us through His servants the prophets. 11"Indeed
Daniel had rendered many years of faithful service to the Babylonian kings, without once ever compromising his faith or his witness. Such was the power of Daniel’s witness that Nebuchadnezzer, certainly one of the most vain, cruel, and merciless men ever to rule over a kingdom, ended up making one of the most amazing confessions of faith ever made. See Daniel chapter four for the full account. So extraordinary was Daniel and his reputation, that when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, instead of being executed and replaced, as would have been the custom of that time, Daniel was retained as a senior advisor to the new king.
Notice here that Daniel, after studying God’s word, is led to humble himself and seek God’s face in a way that can only be described as exhausting. As Daniel himself was a righteous man, he could rightly have prayed “they” when confessing the sins of his countrymen, but instead he chooses to say “we.” He includes himself when confessing the many sins of his nation and acknowledges the grace of the Lord. He says, “for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion.” After Daniel was extremely weary from his earnest seeking of God’s face, the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives him an incredible message, because he is highly esteemed. This is one of the greatest compliments ever paid to a man by God. Then Daniel is instructed to “give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision.”
Now there is an awful lot to this prophecy, and I will not go into depth but in a very small part. Let’s look again at verse 25: “25"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” So here is a very specific prediction that says, in effect, that once event A occurs, there will be a fixed time B until an event C occurs. So we need to look and understand what A, B, and C are, and determine if C really happens at the time implied by A and B.
So what is the event described as “A?”
The exact words of the prophecy are important, because different people
have identified A as three distinct events.
A is “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild
Notice that Cyrus’ decree is to build a temple for the LORD
Another candidate for the A event is the letter issued by Artexerxes to Ezra found in chapter 7 of the book of Ezra:
11 This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes
had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning
the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel: 12 [a] Artaxerxes, king of kings,
To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:
13 Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including
priests and Levites, who wish to go to
Notice that as magnamimous and joyful a decree as this was,
like the earlier decree it was focused totally on the Temple of the Lord, and
not on the city of Jerusalem itself.
This was clearly NOT a decree to “to restore and rebuild
What a great thing that we just spent such a great time studying the book of Nehemiah, for it is in that book that we find the event that Daniel is speaking of. Turn with me please to Nehemiah chapter 2.
1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of
King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to
the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king
asked me, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can
be nothing but sadness of heart." I
was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, "May the king
live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers
are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?"
4 The king said to me, "What is it you want?"
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5
and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has
found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in
Unlike the other decrees, this one clearly and specifically calls for the rebuilding of the city walls and gates. Because of the specific nature of the time specified by Nehemiah, we know that this event takes place in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which has been well established by secular historians as between the years of 465 BC to 425 BC. Thus, the event occurred in the year 445 BC. Now we know it was in the Hebrew calendar month Nisan, which begins at the first new moon after the vernal equinox. By standard astronomical calculations, we know that the the month of Nisan on that year falls on our current calendar date of March 14. So although we don’t know exactly what day A occurred, it was probably within a few days of March 14, 445 B.C.
Now we must turn our attention to B. Exactly what time period is B talking about? Daniel 9: 25"So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.” So there is a period of 69 weeks from the decree to the appearance of Messiah. In Biblical parlance, a week is a group of seven periods of time. Typically, a week refers to either seven days or seven years. In prophecy, weeks are almost always years, and I’m not going to spend any time justifying this, just take it by faith: Daniel is talking about periods of seven years. So if you take 69 weeks of years, you get 483 years.
Now the next issue is, what is meant by a year? Is it a solar year, i.e., 365.249 days, is it a year on the Hebrew calendar, which is usually 12 lunar months with a 13th month thrown in every few years in order to synch up with the solar year, or is it the so-called prophetic year, which consists of 360 days? If we tie together Daniel’s prophecy about the second half of the Great Tribulation found in Daniel chapter 12 to the same time period spoken of in Revelation chapter 11, we find that Daniel’s 3 and a half years (time, times, and half a time) corresponds to John’s 42 months or 1, 260 days. This equates to a month being 30 days and a year being 360 days. This confirms that the years of which Daniel speaks are 483 years of 360 days each, or 173,880 days.
So if we start from A and advance a time B, what do we
get? If A is March 14, 445 B.C. (plus perhaps
a few days) and B is 173,880 days, we get April 7, 32 A.D. (plus perhaps a few
days). Now, let’s see, did anything
historically significant happen on or about that date? If we use the times set in the gospels tied
to the historical rulers of those days, along with the knowledge of the
standard astronomical calculations and the regulations for determining the
Passover, we discover that Jesus’ triumphal entry into
Now, just as further confirmation of all this, and to disabuse you of the notion that this was all invented by a crazy English cop a little over a century ago, consider the following. In addition to being a man of outstanding character, humility, and wisdom, Daniel was an expert in all of the knowledge of the Chaldeans, which meant that he was thoroughly familiar with all that was known about astronomy at the time, as well as what we would characterize today as astrology. Now people might snigger at the thought, but Daniel was convinced that God could use signs in the heavens to make known his plans to the people of the earth.
Such was Daniel’s reputation among the Chaldeans, that more than five centuries after his death, the Chaldeans were looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy. Backtracking from Daniel’s end event, they reasoned that Messiah the prince would have to be born and grow up before he could appear to fulfill the prophecy. So at the appropriate time, they began to scan the heavens for a confirming sign, and when they saw it, they sent emissaries to bring gifts to the infant who would eventually fulfill the prophecy! See
Matthew 2: 1After
Jesus was born in
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to
Let’s read what happened on April 9, 32 A.D. Please turn with me to Luke chapter 19:
28After Jesus had said this, he went on
ahead, going up to
38"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"[b]
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" 40"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." 41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
So why didn’t the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accept him as the King? There are a few possible explanations:
Alternative one seems highly unlikely to me. If the Chaldeans knew it, why wouldn’t the
foremost biblical scholars of that day?
I also think that, as much maligned as the religious leaders of that day
are in our minds, I do not think that they would be capable of the level of
treachery involved in alternative number 3.
I could be wrong, but personally I give them that much credit. That leaves alternative 2, which means they
were interpreting the prophecy only in a figurative sense. Now pay attention, because we often do the
same with end time prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled. As an illustration of this, look again at
Matthew 2. The religious leaders
correctly answered that Messiah was to be born in
SO WHY DIDN’T THEY GO THERE?!?!?!?
Because they thought they were tricking the Magi! These guys were wise enough to know that the
Now comes the really hard question. Why did the adoring crowd that laid down their garments in front of the hoofs of a donkey in reverence to Jesus call for his execution only four days later? There could be many reasons, including the fact that they were totally manipulated by the religious leaders, but I think the primary cause is something else. They were expecting Jesus to overthrow the Romans and ascend to the throne as a conquering political Messiah. When it was clear that was not His agenda, they turned viciously against Him. Probably the final straw was when He said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
Contrasted with the fickleness of man, we see a picture of a God who is so faithful that he predicts the future with perfect accuracy over 600 years before the event. Paul sent a little poem to Timothy that’s worth remembering:
“For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him,
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him,
If we deny Him, He also will deny us,
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
Besides being a fascinating and faith-bolstering study in exact fulfillment of prophecy, what can we learn from this story that will be relevant to our lives today? There are several things that we observed in passing that lead to relevant applications.
First, notice that God gives insight to those who are devoted to him. Remember how Gabriel came to Daniel when he was in his state of extreme weariness? Why was Daniel weary? He was weary from seeking God’s face. How often do we seek God’s face with an urgency that drives us to extreme weariness?
Secondly, even though it was plain from scripture that Messiah was coming, those who should have been the most prepared for that coming were taken by such surprise that they presumed it could not have been true. To their own undoing, they failed to acknowledge the coming of the King, and ultimately met their doom forty years later, because they trusted in the traditions of men over the word of God. You may recall from last November that even after they crucified the Lord, he gave them forty years of extraordinary signs pointing to their coming disaster if they failed to repent.
Thirdly, even those who joyously welcomed the King on Palm Sunday turned against him by Thursday of the same week. Four days after proclaiming Him as Messiah, they demanded his crucifixion. Why? Because he did not fulfill their expectations. Some Christians have an idea of what events will occur leading up to the return of our King that are formed primarily based on best selling works of fiction rather than on the word of God. Will they abandon their faith in the time of trial because things don’t play out in the way they expect them to? We need to be serious students of God’s word in all things relating to his return. Jesus warned us that a great deception is coming at the end that will deceive, if possible, even the elect. If he thought it important enough to warn us, we ought to take heed.
As we go forth this week, let’s be thankful that the King came to earth nearly two thousand years ago and showed himself to be the King on that fateful Sunday.
Let’s devote ourselves to seeking his face as Daniel did.
Let’s become students of God’s word relating to his future coming, so that even though we can’t know the exact day or hour, we’re not surprised by the events that occur, as we face trouble with courage and faith.
Finally, let’s rid ourselves of all of our man-made expectations of Jesus’ return to the earth, and make a decision here and now that we will depend only on God’s word to prepare us for that momentous event.