Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Welcomed — and Travestied

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to | Download

Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Welcomed — and Travestied

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Welcomed — and Travestied

Other Subjects in this Topic:


Christ Welcomed — and Travestied

And when He was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest.


ON THE first day of the Feast of the Passover, Jesus left the quiet of Bethany and, as we noticed, had His beast of burden brought to Him. Thereupon follows what under the circumstances is quite inevitable: the King’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He wears no crown on His head as He comes, is unarmed and lowly. As far as its officials are concerned, the city makes no effort to receive Him. The rulers of Jerusalem hold their breath as they watch what is going on with jealous eyes. But what of that? The King comes to His city.

We know the story well. A multitude of people, of disciples and curiosity seekers, suddenly swarm around the Christ. Some who have not previously enjoyed His lessons, who have not attended the school of the Master before, are eager now to join the others. Meanwhile Christ, who is almost hedged in by the throng, reaches the point where the road swings down to the valley of the Kidron, urges the colt in that direction, and moves toward the city. There the crowd swells to proportions beyond easy computation. No one can tell how it all began. But the fact is that Jesus is almost overwhelmed by the sweeping currents of enthusiastic thousands. As the royal cortege proceeds, it begins to take on a really festive character. The excited people begin to tear branches off the trees and to wave them in the air as a salute to the King. They throw their garments upon the road, just as the disciples had previously placed theirs upon the colt. Hence, in a few moments, by means of this eager improvisation of these tokens of honor, the whole road becomes a magnificent display of glory and great joy.

And there is much that is good in the ovation. Jesus acknowledges that Himself by the words: “If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” O yes, it is a beautiful thing to see that a long-suppressed admiration of the mighty deeds of the prophet of Nazareth finally found an outlet in the exuberant gladness of this multitude.

In spite of that, however, we may not forget that the Scriptures at this point, too, are describing the severest suffering the world has ever seen. We must learn to see that this festive demonstration not only is in keeping with the tenor of the passion story but also makes a unique and additional contribution to the suffering of Christ.

A careful study of the event soon reveals that there are several elements of suffering, humiliation, and grief in what is commonly called the “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem.

In the first place, it must have grieved Jesus to see how fast and loose this people is playing with Israel’s prophets. It uses them, yes. It even employs their texts and psalms in the doxology it is raising in Jesus’ honor. But the people are willing to accept prophecy only in so far as it seems to be compatible with their own notions. The same prophecy they inject into their paean of praise today is forgotten the moment they discover that it is inconsonant with the best thoughts and with the prevailing theological opinions of the leaders of the day.

How often in the preceding chapters we have been compelled to notice that the prophecy of the Old Testament was fulfilled without the slightest awareness of it on the part of the people. We saw Caiaphas, saw Mary as she anointed the feet of Jesus, watched the chief priests as they paid Judas their traitor’s fee, and in each instance we made the disappointing discovery that Israel was not living by prophecy. In fact, they could literally fulfill what the prophets had said — think of the thirty pieces, for example — without recalling the letter, to say nothing of the spirit, of what was written.

But if it suits them, the people can remember prophecy. They remember now, for instance, the words which Zechariah spoke about the kingdom of the future, the Messianic kingdom. They have his description on the tip of the tongue and are enthusiastic about it. Here is Jesus, lowly and defenseless, riding into Jerusalem upon the back of a colt. When they see that, the seething multitude immediately recalls the picture in Zechariah 9. Their intuitive apprehension of the sound and sense of prophecy issues in a spontaneous paean of praise: “Hosanna: Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

It is a great grief to our highest Prophet to notice that the multitude takes from the Scriptures what pleases it and ignores the rest. Such distortion is unwarranted, for the canvas of the Scriptures is woven of one piece and is seamless. Those who divide the Word into parts do precisely what the soldiers did with the garment of Jesus. That garment, too, was costly, all-of-a-piece, and seamless. But they tore it up and raffled the several parts. Depend upon it that as often as someone dismembers the Scriptures, Jesus’ perfect soul suffers. It is the same as tearing Him apart. A rent in the body of the Bible, which is God’s Word made Scripture, is equivalent to a dismemberment of Christ’s body, which is the Word of God made flesh.

Jesus therefore suffers acutely now. Remember that He comes to present the true exegesis of Zechariah 9. Even while He Himself is putting the candle in the candlestick, the nervously busy floodlights of the false interpreters of Scripture are concentrated upon Him. This distortion is an earmark of that basic sin which is leading Jerusalem to its grave. Israel wants to shed its light upon Him. But He must illuminate Israel. This He does as often as He opens the Scriptures and fulfills them. But whoever looks at the Christ in his own light withdraws himself from the influence proceeding from Jesus through the Word. He excludes himself from that influence, though he shout hosanna a thousand times. To see Christ in our own light is to sin terribly, for it is to deny Him the right to minister His threefold office to us.

Moreover, this misconstruing of the inner essence of Jesus’ activity soon reveals itself in its true colors. Luke, by his usual, sensitively discriminating phrasing, tells us significantly that the people “began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works that they had seen” Their admiration, you see, is based on the miracles. Moreover, they stop at the visible things. That is Luke’s double emphasis: Jesus’ mighty deeds appeal to the Jews; and, they accept these not for their real meaning, but at their face value.

Now no one can deny, of course, that Christ demonstrated great power, unusual might, in His deeds. But that power is not basic and it is not primary. And, as for the second emphasis, although it is true that the dynamic element, the active energy, in Christ’s miracles, becomes visible, subject to sense experience, still those visible expressions are not the all-important thing. It is true that the “mighty deeds” which He did, in other words, that the miracles which He performed, were signs by which the Word of God confirmed itself, and events by which prophecy was fulfilled. But such confirmation and fulfillment imply that the miracle is not an end in itself in Christ’s work. Christ never rests in any single demonstration of power. A miracle is always a moment in a process by which the kingdom of heaven does “come”, of course, but in order to come farther and to penetrate deeper. Every sign is prophetical. Every miracle eschatological. By a miracle Jesus never expects to attain some special result completely contained in the act itself. His miracles are media of revelation, pointing from the visible sign to the living Word. And, even to the extent that His wonders were conveyers of grace, aqueducts through which the waters of salvation flowed, even to that extent, they were designed to lead the thoughts of the people from the visible symbol to the unseen meaning, from the primitive sign to the vision of faith, which is the evidence of things not seen and which therefore can discern God without a miracle.

Whoever regards Jesus’ miracles as ends in themselves does them an injustice. Whoever dissociates the symbol from the Word, whoever glories in the wonder without relating its external form to its internal meaning — he is looking at matters from the point of view of the apocryphal letters. For in these too a sentimental imagination becomes the prey of appearances and tries to authenticate Jesus by human argumentation. But such is not the canonical viewpoint. According to it the miracle is subordinate to the Word; the visible sign of grace is in the service of the invisible influence expressed in it. The canon presents the miracle as a unique and passing moment,[1] as an exceptional instance, which we want to pass by and beyond, simply because it comes at the beginning and not at the end of the way of grace. There is a sense in which a miracle is like Sodom. It is attractive, entrancing almost, but alas for him who looks back at it. The symbol of the miracle beckons us to look ahead.

[1] As the Germans have it, the miracle is einmalig.

That is just what the multitude does not do. They look at Jesus’ mighty deeds; they are caught up by the miraculous element in His work; they stop at the wonder itself. And they do that in the presence of the Highest Prophet, who is the Canon, who is the first principle for all Scriptural exegesis. In His presence they repudiate the Spirit of the canonical Gospels by an apocryphal misapperception. This is but one manifestation of the perpetual conflict between the canonical and the apocryphal descriptions of Jesus’ life.

In addition, Christ also suffers on this “festival” because the misguided people over-emphasize the element of “might” in Jesus’ work at the expense of the fundamental element in it: namely, the restoration of justice. Christ comes to do mighty deeds, yes; but He comes primarily to restore justice. The redemption He wants to achieve is juridical first of all; just because it is basically that, it is also dynamic. By His perfect sacrifice and by His completely satisfying the law He wants to lay a foundation of righteousness under the living temple of grace, which is the church. After that, and only after it, the living waters of salvation will flow from beneath the temple-gate out into the world. Then the active energy of the Spirit will proceed dynamically to all forms of spiritual and material life; by it souls will be sanctified, the world be renewed, the earth be born again and actually wedded with heaven.

But the Jews are so steeped in their Messiah-expectation that they misread their own Scriptures. They are looking for a Messiah who does miracles, and have long ago closed their ears to a Messianic sermon which preaches redemption from sin and the restoration of God’s justice.

This misapperception of Jesus’ significance is strikingly illustrated in the doxology which the people sing. That paradoxical hymn simultaneously praises and blasphemes Jesus. It praises Jesus, but it curses Christ. It exalts the might of Jesus; but it is conspicuously silent on what deserves the loftiest praise: the rights of God. We should no longer be surprised to hear the multitude shout hosanna one day, and a week later to hear them cry: Crucify Him! “Crucify Him” in spite of “Hosanna”? No, no. So far from being in contrast with that earlier declaration, the “Crucify Him” is the logical result of that “Hosanna”, and occurs because, not in spite of, it.

That is the logic of sin. That simply is the dialectic of the flesh. Such is reason, cut loose from the Logos of John.

Such logic is, of course, quite incompatible with Jesus’ own explanation of His function and purpose. You remember that He once sent out the seventy disciples to work in separate groups among the people. When these returned, and He had listened to their glowing reports, He made this significant statement: “In this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather, rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

By that statement Christ impressed upon the minds of His disciples the very same distinction which the Jews might well remember today. For those disciples were quite elated about their ability to perform miracles; they could do so much, almost everything, in fact; could perform wonders, show signs, and even cast out devils. The kingdom of heaven, they felt, had passed through them dynamically. But Jesus pointed out what was the really remarkable thing, pointed out what was worth being exuberant about. The praiseworthy thing, He said in effect, is not your works of might, but God’s work of grace. Not what you can do, but what you may do is remarkable. Your dynamic power is owing to the favor of God; His grace, juridically considered, gave you the right to perform miracles, gave you that privilege by elective favor. To be satisfied with doing mighty deeds is to be satisfied with a miraculous faith. The man who desires and lives the true saving faith refers his own dynamic energy to the wonder-working power of Christ and to His fulfilling the requirements of justice; and that, in turn, he refers to the sovereign good pleasure of God who wrote his name in heaven before anything in him had begun to live.

In that way Jesus, the Logos, at the beginning of His official career, defined the theological first principle of faith. Now He is almost at the close of that career. Meanwhile the number of the disciples has grown apace. Look at the countless numbers. But the quality of this multitude is not equal to its quantity; its faith does not keep pace with its fervor; its spirituality falls short of its enthusiasm. For the multitude speaks only of Jesus’ might and of its own, and not at all of His and its own privilege. The dynamic, not the juridical, appeals to it. While Jesus is performing miracles, raising Lazarus, distributing food to the thousands, suppressing demons, this people honors Him. But a few days later, when He will bring the perfect sacrifice of fulfillment, will supply what God’s justice demands, it will be ashamed of its meek and lowly king. And that is the best, although it is the most horrible, proof of the fact that its hosanna comes from admiration of the miraculous and not from a saving faith.

Essentially, therefore, the cynical chief priests and this elated crowd, exuberantly swinging the palm branches in the air, are allies. Both do injustice to the essence of Christ’s official calling. Superficially there seems to be a considerable difference between them: the chief priests, nonchalantly counting the traitor’s fee into Judas’ hand, on the one side, and this honest, ardent, spontaneous crowd, in their ecstacy casting their finest garments into the road, on the other side. Quite a difference, superficially considered, yes. But essentially they agree. The shape and features of the sin of each group are not the same. But sin is sin, and unbelief is always unbelief.

Consider again that doxology which the people sing. Hear its chorus: Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest! It reminds us at once of the song the angels sang at the birth of Christ. How strikingly similar!

But there is one small difference — no, it is a prodigiously large one. The angels sang of heaven; but they also sang of the earth. And these celebrating myriads make mention of heaven only. The great need of the earth does not enter their minds. Note the angels’ chorus once more:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

There is no mistake about that. The angels who constantly live in heaven think of the earth at Christ’s appearing. Earth’s crying need is peace. But the earth will never receive that peace, unless heaven condescends to send the great gift down from above. Such was the import of the angels’ song.

Meanwhile Jesus has come from Christmas eve to the night of His passion. At this stage a crowd borrows some of the words of the angels. The multitude sings a song. The verve and enthusiasm they put into it they have gleaned from a source other than the temple. But its content, the dogmatic idea behind it, the theological principle underlying it — that they have learned from the Pharisees. True, they also speak of peace; besides, they echo the angels’ sentiment in rightly ascribing glory to God in the highest heavens. But the peace which they are thinking of is not the gift of God. Theirs is a pan-Jewish peace which comes to bless the earth by means of the Messianic kingdom, and which, they suppose, will thereafter ascend to heaven to bless God.

This emphasis, too, is just another effusion of the basic idea of the pharisaic theology in which these people had been schooled for years. That much the Pharisees had succeeded in teaching the masses. They had taught less of the truth that heaven ministers to the earth than of the dogma that the earth can and does enrich heaven. Hence the heaven-saluting doxology of the people is in keeping with the tenor of their theology, is an expression of their doctrine of salvation by good works and holy living. How repugnant that doctrine must be to heaven’s greatest theologian: Christ Jesus! “Hosanna, Peace in heaven!”—that, one day. “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”—that, not a week later. But this too easy and perfectly logical transition clashes with the announcement of the angels on Christmas eve arid also with the dogmatics of the Apostle Paul. Paul, himself delivered from the shackles of the Pharisees, also speaks of a Christ who renews all things, also the things in heaven, and bestows peace upon them. But Paul does not dare to think that thought, much less to say it, except as he sees the cross of Christ before it, as the legal prerequisite, as the source of the dynamic influence, as the fountain of the all-suffusing, heaven-permeating peace.[1]

[1] Col_1:20 : “For it pleased the Father (and was not, therefore, the result of human nobility) ... having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him (Christ) to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth (these, you see, are not excluded), or things in heaven.”

How it must grieve the Christ at this time to see the people repudiating the law of His approaching death, and ignoring, no, scorning, the fundamental principle of salvation which the Holy Spirit is at the point of teaching the first Christian church. That great principle is that we can take nothing from below into heaven, unless we first received it from the highest.

This distortion of the significance of the work of Jesus was the fault of the people themselves and not that of Christ. For He preached the truth simply. Even in this moment as He enters Jerusalem He is fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, prophecy is being fulfilled again. In Zechariah 9 it had been foretold that the King of the Messianic realm should come to His people. According to that account He would not come storming into the capital as the Oriental despots were accustomed to do, but would make His approach as a prince of love and good will. He would be lowly, the prophet had said; that is, He would not rise to eminence over the shoulders of His subordinates, but would condescend to them in the spirit of compassion. He would be lowly: would come not to be ministered unto, but to minister. He would be lowly: that is, He would not build His throne at the cost of the blood and taxes of the populace, but at the expense of His own blood, which He would pay to God as a toll for the sins of the people. Such would be the nature of His lowliness as Zechariah saw it in the King of the future.

And a second thing that the prophet had predicated concerning this King was that He would come unarmed, in a defenseless condition. He would not invade the country on a war-horse, forcibly subjugating all to His rule, as the heroes of battle do. Instead, He would come to the capital on a colt, on the foal of an ass, an animal used in agriculture and not in war. This King, then, would differ essentially from the secular tyrants according to His character and according to the means He would employ to maintain His kingdom. Je maintiendrai — that would be His motto too, but it would be written, not under a lion, or under an image of the cavalry, but it would be engraved under a picture of the foal of an ass.

That was Zechariah’s vision of Jesus’ coming into His kingdom. Jerusalem is witness now; let them answer: Does Jesus add to the picture or subtract from it?

He does not, of course. His advent to the capital is precisely as Zechariah had pictured it. He comes as a lowly man, one with the people. He is defenseless, so harmless, as a matter of fact, that Pilate feels no obligation to put a restriction upon Him. So Christ proves that Zechariah’s prophecy is completely fulfilled in Him.

His Messianic consciousness knew at once that the features of Zechariah’s picture represented the God-appointed plan for His appearing in Jerusalem. Therefore His Messianic obedience is perfectly faithful to the features of that portrait. His pencil does not alter a single line in the sketch which God has drawn. He simply stands beside it and asks: Is it I?

But a conflict arises now between Jesus and His superficial admirers. It issues from the question as to how one must interpret the data of prophecy. For there is no doubt at all about Jesus’ resembling the picture Zechariah recorded. The identity is beyond dispute. The people have been saying so themselves for some time. But the question is how to interpret the features.

The crowd has one interpretation. Jesus’ lowliness, they feel, is but a temporary, a transitional phase. He will be poor with the poor today, but tomorrow, they hope, He will be rich. Surely, He will turn against Rome, will strip the gold from its splendid Capitol, and will use it for Israel’s glory and for His own. As they see it, that empty-handedness, that lowliness, is but one stage in a progress to wealth.

As for His unarmed condition — that can also be explained. Naturally He must come unarmed at first, for the people would object to a ruler who should use the point of the sword to get into power. The king, they are sure, is not the pride of Israel, but Israel is the glory of the king. Moreover, every true son of Abraham has the right to rule, because — well, he is the son of Abraham. Hence it is natural that He should come unarmed. Later, by means of a plebiscite, they will graciously endow Him with arms, and will name Him commander of the army of Israel. He will owe His position to the consent of the governed, not to His intrinsic authority. Later, when they have delegated that authority to Him, they will follow Him and give heaven a peace which they have achieved on earth.

But Christ’s exegesis of prophecy is at variance with this construction of the Jews. To this extent they are right: the lowliness they see today is but a transitional phase of a process. To that extent the masses are right. But they err in supposing that this meekness is a transition to secular glory. Jesus does not take the road upwards to Rome; instead He swings down to the gulf of eternal death. The lowliness Jesus manifests today must reach its culmination after a while in a profounder humiliation. Today He mingles with the least of those who keep the feast, but tomorrow He must disappear beneath the lowest; stripped and naked, He must die the death in the form of a servant.

His defenseless condition in its present form, identified as it is with His riding on a colt, is but a transition to a greater defenselessness. The colt, too, will be taken away from Him and be supplanted by bonds and shackles. So far from sitting and treading upon the garments of others, His own garment will be torn from His body and divided by lot. Even that is not all: besides disarming Him, the whole world will arm itself to the teeth against Him.

The lowliness and defenselessness of Christ are transitions, yes — but they lead to Golgotha.

Just for a moment, therefore, Zechariah serves as a meeting point for Jesus and the Jews. But again we must make the observation we have had to discover so often before: Jesus’ interpretation differs from that of the people.

The multitude wrote a commentary on the 9th chapter of Zechariah. It cannot be that they wrote it in the sand, for to this day the Jews read it, nod affirmatively, and say amen. And they seal their interpretation with the symbol of palm branches. Those palm branches are prototypes of the trophies which will hang in the temple after the Romans, and not the Jews, have renovated it.

Jesus wrote the other commentary. He wrote it with His own hand, dipping His pen in blood. He accepted the ovation, palm branches and all, for they had been spoken of in the roll of the book. Therefore He accepted them as indispensable signs of God’s presence in Him.

Is it strange, then, that Jesus who had heard the crowd sing Psalms 118 early in the week wanted to sing it better Himself at the end of the week? Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. But the very people who sent that chorus echoing through the heavens are the builders who refused the stone God had appointed to be the head of the corner. They bless the King by it, but their blessing is also a blasphemy to Him. For they distort the psalm. They shout Psa_118:26, the paean of praise, most exuberantly, but they omit the stanza concerning the foolish builders.

Jesus, comforted by their false song, atoned for the singing. He did so at the end of the week when He left the room of the Passover with Psalms 118 on His lips. He sang it incomparably better than they — then, when He sought out the valley of the Kidron and entered Gethsemane. That was the first real singing of the hymn of praise designed for the Passover. Christ is the only One—this study proves that again—who can read prophecy and interpret psalms right. He alone can do that, for He alone embodies and fulfills prophecy in flesh and blood, in soul and spirit, in time and eternity.