We are informed by St. John that our Lord arrived at Bethany six days, or rather on the sixth day, before the Passover. It is always to be remembered that the Jews counted the commencement of their days at sunset, as do at present all the Oriental nations; so that with them night precedes day, and does not follow it, as with us. Now, the Passover was on Friday night—that is, on the night preceding the day on which our Lord was crucified, and following the day of Thursday—or more briefly, on what would have been, by our reckoning, Thursday night. Counting back from this to the sixth antecedent day, we come to Saturday, on which day, therefore, it was that our Lord reached Bethany. Every day that follows teems with circumstances of deep interest, which must now engage our attention.
It seems that our Lord came from Jericho, or from some intermediate place, only with his own party—the pilgrims having preceded Him on the journey, and gone forward to Jerusalem. Jesus probably arrived at Bethany towards evening and concluded to remain there with His friend Lazarus over night, and to proceed to Jerusalem in the morning.
There was a great excitement concerning Jesus at Jerusalem. The still recent miracle of the raising of Lazarus, was the standing topic of conversation in the city, as the strangers coming in were anxious to know all that they could concerning it, while the Jerusalemites were naturally anxious to tell these anxious listeners all that they knew or thought of the transaction. We may be very sure that any one who had been actually present on that occasion, found himself a great man in these days. The sensation excited by this miracle among the strangers was very great, and even the Jerusalemites felt their own interest in it revive under this external influence. It was also known that the Sanhedrin had determined upon our Lord’s destruction; and so far from making any secret of this, they had given public notice that any one who knew where He was to be found, should give information, in order that He might be apprehended. Thus, while the enthusiasm in his favor was in its most excited state, the machinations against Him attained the most determinate vigor, and both friends and enemies felt that the crisis of his career was come. It was only left for Him to reign or to perish. The pilgrims from the way of Jericho brought the first tidings of his approach; and soon it was known throughout the city that He had arrived at Bethany. It was to be expected that he would come over to Jerusalem on the morrow; but without waiting for this, there was an instant rush of people to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but to behold Lazarus—the living evidence of His power —a power not hitherto witnessed on earth; and, certainly, to behold, a man who had been four days in the grave—four days dead—was no ordinary sight, and well worth going two miles to see. In fact, the impression made by this miracle—resting, as it did, on the most unquestionable evidence, was so strong, and led so many to feel that He who had wrought this great work could be no other than the Messiah, that the Sanhedrin was led to seek the destruction of Lazarus also, as one whose mere existence was a standing testimony in favor of Jesus, and was felt to be such by the numerous persons who resorted to Bethany. What was eventually done in regard to Lazarus we know not. Probably, it was not considered worth while to molest him after their main design had been accomplished. But, from this point, it is well to bear in mind that the ruling authorities at Jerusalem have fully determined upon our Lord’s doom, and stand watching for a favorable opportunity of carrying their purpose into execution.
It may be asked, why they did not send over to Bethany and apprehend Him. The answer is, that they dared not. That place was by this time thronged with people highly excited in his favor, and prepared to hail with acclamations any claims He might advance; and in the city itself the general feeling ran high in his favor. It was, therefore, impossible openly to seize his person by any force they could command, or without the danger of raising a popular commotion, which, from dread of the Romans, they were most anxious to avoid.
The next morning (Sunday) Jesus left Bethany, accompanied by a host of people, whose disposition to regard Him as proceeding to take possession of David’s throne was unmistakably displayed. Of this enthusiasm in his favor, though He knew it to be transient, Jesus purposed to avail himself, in order to manifest in the most open manner his claim to be the King, anointed from on high, to whom the prophets had borne witness, and to announce, in the most effectual way, that the kingdom of God had indeed come. He had, it is true, advanced this claim often, so that the sincere and the discerning could not fail to understand Him; yet not always so plainly as that unwilling ears should be compelled to understand that this claim was made, whether they admitted it or not. The time for this was now come; the end was at hand; and it behoved him not to quit the world, leaving to any, then or after, the excuse that He had not declared himself plainly. That Jesus was not, as some allege, driven to this by the urgent enthusiasm of the people, but that He willingly entered into it, is shown by the more than passive part He took in the proceedings, by his vindication of the act to the murmuring Pharisees, and by the consideration, that if such had been his wish, He could easily have withdrawn himself from the multitude, as he had on former occasions done, and have privately entered the city. Drawing nearer to Jerusalem, Jesus mounted the unbroken colt of an ass, not only that He might be better seen, but in conformity with the prophecy of Zechariah—“Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold thy King cometh sitting on an ass’s colt. We have more than once mentioned that no idea of degradation or humiliation is attached in the East, to riding upon an ass. It is a beast, the ideas connected with which are those of peace, and contrasted with the prancing horses of war. It, therefore, is much preferred by men of peaceful pursuits and sacred functions; and our Lord’s adoption of it for his triumphal entry, significantly hinted to the people the real nature of his kingdom. Animals not previously used for labor, were accounted specially pure and fit for sacred services. Hence only oxen unused to the yoke were offered on the altar. This serves to explain why a beast was on this occasion chosen “whereon yet never man sat.” The ass was borrowed for the occasion by the disciples, by their Lord’s direction, at a village near the road, being willingly lent by the owner, when he knew for whose use it was intended; and some of the disciples having thrown their outer garments over its back, Jesus mounted thereon, and was escorted onward with royal honors, and with shouts due to kings, towards the city.
When the procession appeared upon the brow of the Mount, another great band went forth from the city to meet the others. There was a moment’s parley; and when the men from Bethany assured the new-comers that all which had been reported concerning the raising of Lazarus was true, they not only joined the shout and the triumph, but while some hurried to strew the young branches gathered from the adjoining trees along the path, others flung their robes before his feet. These are old, and, in the East, still subsisting modes of rendering homage to kings and conquerors.
Descending the Mount of Olives, the disciples, who deemed that the long-desired hour had at length come, “began to rejoice, and praise God for all the mighty works that they had seen;” and then proceeded, joined by the multitude, to raise the cries, taken from the Psalms, which were regarded by all the Jews as appropriate to the Messiah, and proper to hail his appearance—
Blessed is the king of Israel,
That cometh in the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the kingdom of our father David,
That cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!”
It is likely that the swelling sound of this mighty cry, the deep significance of which was well known to all who heard it, reached even the Sanhedrin in the temple, and struck them with fear. Some of the Pharisees had mingled with the crowd, and they could not contain themselves when they heard this, but, fearless of the danger of exasperating the people, they called upon Jesus to repress the unseemly demonstrations of his followers. He answered that the event was of such deep importance, as might well raise even the dullest minds to celebrate it. The expression of gladness was proper, and ought not to be restrained. This was conveyed in the phrase, doubtless proverbial—“I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the very stones would immediately cry out.” Then the living stream poured on, and the shouts became louder and more joyous, the nearer the city was reached.
Yet there was a pause—a solemn pause, upon the declivity of the hill, as He looked upon the city which he now visited for the last time; and in a few sentences of strong emotion, evinced even by tears, He expressed his grief for the ruinous overthrow which awaited it, and which even He could not avert, seeing that his voice had been disregarded in the streets.
The procession then moved on, and entered the gates of Jerusalem. The city, crowded at this time with strangers in addition to the inhabitants, was stirred by this triumphing clamor, and men asked one another, Who is this? and when they heard “It is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth,” no further explanation was needed. The crowd passed on to the temple. Here its shouts were for awhile hushed. Here, doubtless, Jesus would by some magnificent, perhaps terrible demonstration of his power, convince even the gainsayers, who could not then but join the excited people, in hailing Him as King. This probably was the general expectation—even that of the disciples. At least, He would make some strong oration, claiming all his rights, and proceeding at once to act upon them, able as He doubtless was by his deeds to vindicate all his claims, and to confound all his adversaries. But nothing of this ensued. What He did was to heal the blind and lame, who, as soon as they heard of his arrival, hastened to present themselves before Him in the temple. Jesus had, however, accustomed the people to regard such acts as ordinary matters, and public expectation was not satisfied. But the young people present, less hardened and more susceptible, were abundantly satisfied; and their fresh young hearts being suitably impressed by those manifestations of pity for calamity, and power to relieve it, they took up the dropped cry with their thin voices, and the temple cloisters echoed with “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Several members of the Sanhedrin were present; and although they dared not as yet take any open measures for stemming the torrent of popular enthusiasm, which had set in so strongly in favor of Jesus, their hearts were filled with fear, rage, and envy, and they would not let pass any opportunity of caviling at his proceedings, or of turning the direction of the stream. “Hearest Thou what these say?” He answered, as was usual with Him, by a quotation from Scripture, to which there could be no reply: “Yea; have ye never read, out of the months of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” They were offended that even children should take up this cry; but the answer showed that even children might lift up their young voices to praise God.
The enthusiasm which had been this day manifested, was somewhat checked by the absence of the expected results. If Jesus had taken it at the tide, it might have led to signal results; but He had other aims, and suffered the opportunity to pass. This was a great disappointment, not only to the crowd, but to the disciples. But, still, what had not been done today, might be done tomorrow; and thus every day gave birth to new expectations, which were not destined to be realized.
Jesus returned in the evening to Bethany, and spent the night there.