Dear Pastors (and other friends), could this be the year that we don’t repeat an ugly error?
The crowds that shouted “Crucify” at Jesus’ trial were not the same ones that cheered with shouts of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday. This story has resulted in egregious antisemitism over the centuries, but it can be corrected simply by a closer reading of the Gospels.
Robbed of Joy
As a kid growing up in the Lutheran church, I looked forward to the one day I could be free of Lutheran stuffiness and wave a palm branch above my head like a Spirit-filled Pentecostal. I still recall my crushing disappointment that Sunday when I arrived too late to join the children’s procession, so that I had to sit with the boring adults.
I had another unhappy Palm Sunday when I was graduate school, because in the 1980’s many Lutheran churches changed their liturgy to make Palm Sunday into Passion Sunday. Immediately after “All Glory Laud and Honor,”* we’d page our Bibles forward to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. The rest of the service was somber and solemn as we were transported straight into the darkest hours of Christ’s Passion. Once again I was robbed of joy.
It sounds like the reason for the change was to make sure lazy church goers didn’t miss hearing about the suffering of Christ before Easter. Attendance had waned at Holy Week services so these texts were moved to the Sunday before it.
The result of changing Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday was to accentuate the utter fickleness of the crowds, contrasting Jesus’ victorious entry with his shocking betrayal and arrest. No wonder why this sermon is still so common today.
Let’s Read the Gospels a Little Closer
In Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, I wrote about an insight I had one year that shed light on the issue of fickleness. I had celebrated Maundy Thursday at my church with a simple Passover re-enactment meal, and then almost fell asleep during the mournful, dark Tenebrae service afterward. This led to several realizations:
“Suddenly, I understood why the disciples found it so hard to stay awake. They had an even better excuse than I had. Traditional Passover celebrations involved a huge meal plus four cups of wine, and they started at sunset and didn’t end until around midnight. What’s more, they took place after several days of exhausting travel and preparation. Certainly everybody in Jerusalem would have wanted to crawl straight into bed after their late-night feast. Aware of this perennial problem, the rabbis ruled that a person who dozed lightly could remain a part of the dinner, but anyone who fell sound asleep could not.
“Our amateurish attempt at reliving the Last Supper has led to other insights on the final hours of Jesus’ life. I realized, for instance, why the leaders plotted to arrest Jesus after the Passover meal. A man so wildly popular couldn’t have been arrested in broad daylight. To avoid an uprising, the priests had to proceed in secret. So they let Judas lead them to Jesus while he was outside the city. Passover evening was the perfect choice because every Jewish family would be celebrating the feast that started at sundown.
Jesus’ arrest and trial proceeded swiftly, occurring during the wee hours, when most of his supporters were in bed. Peter’s denials happened as the rooster crowed, around four or five in the morning. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ final sentence was handed down at sunrise (Mark 15:1).
One has to ask, what group of people were around at the crack of dawn on a major Jewish holiday to shout ‘Crucify him’? Mostly corrupt priests and Roman soldiers who wanted to kill Jesus.
But there’s more. Jesus was being led out to be crucified at nine in the morning—the time of the first temple service of the day! The authorities knew they had to finish their secret trial before the crowds reentered the city to come to worship. And indeed, as Jesus was carrying his cross out of town, his supporters reappear, weeping out loud as they see him being led to his death (Luke 23:27). His followers had just learned of the events that had transpired the night before.
“Prior to our Passover Seder, I had always thought the crowds unimaginably fickle, cheering Jesus one day and then shouting for his head the next. But Jesus’ supporters never changed their minds. How could they have when they were not even present at his arrest or trial? The entire plot unfolded after the Passover festivities, while most people were sound asleep.”
Many have read this chapter before and I’ve posted about it too, often enough that I think it’s old news. Then I bump into yet another sermon that is blissfully unaware. This year I’m giving you all a link to download the chapter that I wrote about it, so that you can share with people who should know. (The pdf also includes a Seder liturgy if you’d like try celebrating Passover.)
From the chapter “A Passover Discovery” from Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2018), p 108-119. Sitting is available for
$19.99 $12.99 in the ORJ bookstore if you’d like to share the book for a Holy Week gift.
[Image: “The Arrest of Christ” by Hieronymus Bosch, 1530-1550. Note the exaggerated “Jewish” features of the crowd’s faces (but not of Christ).]
*All Glory Laud and Honor has been sung on Palm Sunday since the fifth century AD! Last year I sung it in Uganda when I was visiting there on Palm Sunday. If you want to know more about why I went, see this blog.
Very insightful, Lois, that the crowds yelling “Save us!” on Sunday were not the ones yelling “Crucify him” on Friday. Thank you for sharing this with all to read and download.
In turn, may we go out and tell the story of God’s deep love for the world through Jesus death and resurrection.
Thank you for your diligent study and work to tell God’s story. Amen!
What a timely article this morning, when most of us will talk about Palm Sunday!
Thank you for this beautiful reminder to be joyful today and everyday.
Donavon Plank says
Thank you so much for sharing this. I read it several years ago in Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus but some lines of thought have been drawn so deeply it’s hard to forget them. This is one of those. I am so grateful for insights I have gained because of your labor of love. Thank you, Lois from the bottom (& top 😉 of my heart.
David Hereford says
Lois Father has stirred and tended many a heart to labor in His kingdom to teach His disciples to live as His faithful followers. Since 2012 as He brought me to know Him so many have taken me aside to teach me His Word with the correct background. I deeply appreciate your continuing work here for us.
Thank you my Sister in Messiah,
I have this book and I love it. Thank you so much for sharing this reminder email. I was unable to download the link- it said server not found.
Lois Tverberg says
I fixed it! Try again.
This really changes the way I think about the crowds AND the corrupt priests. My heart breaks for Jesus’ followers and the helpless fear and grief they must’ve felt that morning. And somehow the priests’ actions feel more insidious for having occurred secretly and rushed in the dead of night. I’ll definitely be reading this chapter again and pondering it this week!
The link to download the article does not work.
Lois Tverberg says
Fixed! Sorry about that. Try again.
Ginny Mayo says
I’m 87 years old and I never knew that. I will always been taught it was the same people who cheered him one
Sunday and yelled for his crucifixion next. Lois is a church, so stupid? What else have we been taught? That really is an error? I have two of your books and are going back to read them again thank you God bless.
Lois Tverberg says
You’re right that we’ve been taught some things wrong. In most churches the reason is for lack of information, which is just ignorance. The right reaction to error is to humbly share new information and let your pastor know.
It is true that there is a mixed reaction to Jesus’ triumphal entry. Some people sincerely love his teaching, some people think he wants to overthrow the government, some are outraged that he would challenge authority and claim to be King. He really is throwing down the gauntlet here. He knows that this will cost him his life.
I wrote a set of posts called “New Light on Jesus’ Last Week” about the issues at hand.
Woah! Talk about eye-opening and changing my own personal beliefs about that day, and under 15 minutes! Lois, it’s remarkable. Thank you.
Lois Tverberg says
Lois & David says
Dear Lois, I found your site a year or so ago and was intrigued.
I am a Scandinavian Lutheran gal from Duluth, Minnesota now living in East Texas worshiping with a mix of Pentecostals & Baptists. 🌿🌴🌿
I have two of your books, love the Jewish culture & traditions that you share in your writings.
The Holy Spirit has led my husband & me to amazing Messianic & Scripture scholars in our retirement years. It has given us such a rich, colorful & visual understanding of so many things that were unclear from our own Bible reading & studies.
It has been a delight to see Jesus from the eyes of His Jewish heritage.
Our pastor touched on the “fickle crowd false history” just this morning. We had a true palm waving celebration of The Savior entering Jerusalem!!
So, Thank you for adding to our understanding. We will never go to Israel but we feel like we have been there because of insights & wisdom shared by y’all.
God Bless you,
Lois & David Bloxom
That is wonderful!
Clif Payne says
Thank you Lois for posting this. So few read the text closely enough to realize that they are 2 different crowds.
Jeanie Rowell says
Thank you, Lois!
Always love seeing your name in my inbox! I know it holds some new insights and that is exciting. So very grateful to you for your sharing with all of us what the Lord teaches you!
I kind of winced when our sermon today included this Same crowd comment.
Doug Ward says
In 2013 we heard a Palm Sunday sermon from a pretty well-known guy (William Lane Craig) that included the “fickle crowd” trope. I did NOT include that part in my summary of his message, the rest of which was quite good. (:
Stephen Fratello says
I don’t understand why historical facts create antisemitism. Many people wanted Jesus dead. Many people yelled, “Crucify him!!” Yes, some of them were Jews. SOME. Not all. So to say Jews killed Jesus is inaccurate because many people killed Jesus. That said, nobody should ever hate someone because of their religion. Antisemitism is wrong no matter what. We don’t have to rewrite history in order to drive that point home.
Robert Hughes says
Just wondered about Matt 27:20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. Luke 24:10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Alos, Luke 15:12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. It seems that Jews were present in the crowd. It is shame though, as previous comments state, that antisemitism comes from a misunderstanding or ignorance of truth. However, I feel it is more of a spiritual thing/battle, not flesh and blood etc.
Love your writings and educations…thank you!
Do you have, or could you recommend, a video-based Bible Study that includes pictures from key locations in Israel? The theme would be the same as your books, that help us understand the culture and customs that deepen our relationship with Rabbi Jesus.
Lois Tverberg says
Oh Peggy, there is an easy answer to your question. Go watch the Faith Lesson videos by Ray Vander Laan – see ThatTheWorldMayKnow.com. All of his lessons are video-based Bible studies set in biblical places. Ray is one of my favorite teachers and a passionate, gifted communicator.