Palm Sunday 2023
Why did Jesus enter through the Eastern Gate on his way into Jerusalem? A seemingly insignificant question shows us so much about who Christ is and What He's Done. Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes us through the book of Ezekiel and unpacks Jesus' triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.
Because God is absolutely sovereign, there is a point and purpose behind everything He promotes or permits. For instance, Moses’s mother placed him in a basket in the Nile River in hopes of saving his life as Pharoah sought to kill male Israelite babies so they didn’t grow up to challenge Egyptian rule (Ex. 1:16). Who just happened to spot the water-proofed basket floating quietly along the river’s edge near some tall, green reeds? The daughter of mighty Pharoah. She took the baby boy as her own and gave him a Hebrew name, Moses. What did it mean? It denotes “to be drawn out of the water,” and, indeed, he was by God’s sovereign hand.
We all know how this “chance discovery” turned out. That baby boy, according to Josephus, rose to the rank of General in the Egyptian army, and he went on to deliver Israel from brutal slavery by the ominous power of the living God. It is true in a cosmos controlled by God, nothing just happens. He always has intricate plans and purposes of accomplishing greater and loftier goals.
Consider this side of God’s character as you think about Palm Sunday. Do you think Jesus arbitrarily entered Jerusalem for His Triumphal Entry through the Eastern Gate? Granted, no gospel text actually says He accessed the city through this gate; however, based on the fact He traveled down to the wall of city from the Mount of Olives (Matt. 21:1-3; Mark 11:1), which was located due east of the Temple Mount across the small Kidron Valley, means the Eastern Gate was the best option for access. The fact Jesus eventually interacted with the joyous, excited people and healed the blind and lame in the Temple precints at the end of His humble entrance also verifies He came through the Eastern Gate, for this gate provided access to the Temple mount (Matt.21:11-15).
So why did Jesus enter through this gate, not the Lion’s Gate on the eastern wall just north of the Temple? The answers we discover in various Old Testament texts help us pinpoint the Lord’s carefully orchestrated redemptive and messianic mission. To appreciate these answers, let’s pose again the seemingly innocuous but highly significant interpretive question before us:
Why Did Jesus Ride The Colt Through The Eastern Gate Of The Temple? (Select Biblical Texts)
Several Old Testament texts give us three distinct answers.
Divine Glory Departed Became Divine Glory Imparted (Ezek. 9-11)
For hundreds of years, the Lord used numerous courageous prophets to call His chosen people to repent. From what we learn from prophets like Ezekiel, they verbally and violently rejected divine prophetic words, God’s laws, morality, common decency, and logic. From Ezekiel chapters 8 through 11, God cataloged the sins which eventually caused the nation to be destroyed by the Babylonian army in their last of three military incursions in 586 B.C.
Chapter eight gives us a sad divine commentary of the spiritual condition which led to Israel’s divinely appointed fall. We will read the text and make some cursory observations:
3 And He stretched out the form of a hand and caught me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the appearance which I saw in the plain. 5 Then He said to me, "Son of man, raise your eyes, now, toward the north." So I raised my eyes toward the north, and behold, to the north of the altar gate was this idol of jealousy at the entrance. 6 And He said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, that I should be far from My sanctuary? But yet you will see still greater abominations" (Ezek. 8).
At the holy temple, God first permitted Ezekiel to see “the idol of jealousy” at the Temple’s entrance (of all places). What was this? King Manasseh erected the idol of Asherah, the sex/fertility goddess in his day, but Josiah eventually destroyed it (2 Kings 21:3, 7; 23:6). It is quite possible that someone placed another Asherah idol in this location. You know a nation is approaching the judgment of a holy God when it forces sexual perversion in the face of God and treats it as a point of worship above all else. No wonder God was provoked! But there was more.
The leaders of the country threw the first two commandments out the proverbial window and chose to worship the creation and not the Creator (Ex. 20:1-4):
7 Then He brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. 8 And He said to me, "Son of man, now dig through the wall." So I dug through the wall, and behold, an entrance. 9 And He told me, "Go in and see the wicked abominations they are committing here." 10 So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. 11 And standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, each man with his censer in his hand, and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising. 12 Then He said to me, "Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the dark, each man in the room of his carved images? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land'" (Ezek. 8).
If Jaazaniah was the son of Shaphan who read God’s law, which had been forgotten, to King Josiah who brought revival to the nation through radical action against sin (2 Kings 22:8-11; Jer. 39:14), we readily see how quickly the nation went from embracing God to effacing God. It just took one godless generation to drive the nation into great, unthinkable wickedness. And to think the seventy elders, who were appointed in Moses’s time to guard and protect the people from idolatry (Ex. 24:9-10; Numb. 11:16), threw truth to the wind and willingly embraced lies as their goal in worship. Shocking.
In light of this, I must say we must stand for God’s truth, protecting, defending, and presenting it no matter the cost, for the cost of rejecting it is too great. This one wayward son led the leadership in turning away from the worship of the true God to the worship of any and all gods made by man’s hands. Tragic. But there was more evidence against the people.
Grown women, who should have known better, wept on the holy Temple mount for the Babylonian god, Tammuz. Tammuz was the fertility god of vegetation.
13 And He said to me, "Yet you will see still greater abominations which they are committing." 14 Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of the LORD's house which was toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. 15 And He said to me, "Do you see this, son of man? Yet you will see still greater abominations than these" (Ezek. 8).
After the drought period of the long, hot summer, Tammuz hopefully rose to life and glory as He caused crops to grow and flourish. Gone was the belief that God controlled the weather. In His place was the worship of another fertility god and all the sexual perversion which was attached to this new and progressive worship. No wonder God was provoked. Perversion always provokes Him. But there was more evidence against the people.
The priesthood, denoted by twenty-five men (the priesthood was composed of twenty-five courses with the high priest as the main spiritual leader), stood near the holy altar of the temple where only they could go and worshipped the sun god of the Persians, but not the Lord. Moses had warned them of this danger, of spiritual leaders abandoning truth, and now it had occurred, and the people's spiritual apostasy originated in the priesthood's spiritual apostasy (Deut. 4:19). Like priest, like people.
16 Then He brought me into the inner court of the LORD's house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun.
17 And He said to me, "Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to their nose (Ezek. 8).
With a completely compromised priesthood, the nation drifted farther and farther from God and eventually God became provoked beyond measure. He just couldn’t, and wouldn’t, tolerate their false teaching masquerading as true teaching anymore, and violent and sexually perverse ways became a stench to Him.
What did God do? He left the Temple and the nation. His sad, slow departure is detailed in Ezekiel chapter 10:
4 Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD (Ezek. 10).
The cherubim angels, who form the foundation for the throne of God (Ezekiel 1), lifted off as the rest of the chapter states and carried God out of the Temple. Which way did they head? East.
1 Moreover, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the LORD's house which faced eastward (Ezek. 11).
God catalogued more sins of Israel in verses two through thirteen in order to validate His unwanted, but necessary departure. In verses fourteen through twenty-one, God prophesied that one day He would once again be merciful to His people and save and restore them as never before. But until that time, His glory was departing in the year of 592 B.C. (Ezek. 8:1). And as He left He headed east toward the Mount of Olives:
22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. 23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood over the mountain which is east of the city. (Ezek. 11).
How sad it is to watch man’s sin force God to pull back and pull out so His judgment can fall on sinners who think they are living large.
From 592 B.C. until Monday, March 30, 33 A.D., or for 625 years, God’s glory left the Temple mount area where He came when Solomon built the glorious structure for divine worship of the living, true God. Jesus, who revealed His shekinah glory to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2), rode a humble colt led by her mother toward the Temple that joyous day in 33 A.D. He entered the Eastern Gate with veiled glory because this was the gate He had exited in full glory when divine judgment was about to be unleashed in 586 B.C. His veiled glory demonstrated He was now moving to defeat sin, so He could save sinners, and ultimately the nation, as He had promised Ezekiel. How great is God? In wrath, He always remembers mercy and grace. Also, He always remembers His word, even though hundreds of years pass by. And He was strategic in making sure that little colt and her mother guided Him to the proper gate to access the Temple, His Temple. Additionally, He knew His redemptive work that week would permit many sinners to become saints and go on to see His glory in the heavenly Temple for all eternity. Again, I ask, How great is God? He’s very great. Glory departed becomes glory imparted to each sinner who becomes a saint when they, by faith, embrace His gospel (Acts 4:10-12).
The Glorious Messianic King Would Come To His Temple From The East (Ezek. 43:1-12; Zech. 14:1-9)
From Ezekiel 40:1 through chapter 42, the God of grace gave Ezekiel the precise architectural dimensions of the temple the Messiah will rule and reign from in the millennium (Rev. 20:1-6). Prophetically speaking, this temple is still future, and far surpasses the one built by Zerubabbel after Israel’s return from captivity in 539 B.C. (he constructed it from 520 to 515 B.C. according to Ezra 5-6). Herod’s temple didn’t even come close to the magnificence and splendor of this temple either. We await its construction when we, the Church, return with Jesus at the close of the seven-year tribulation.
But for our purposes on this Palm Sunday, let us pay attention to how Christ’s ride into Jerusalem that day coincides with the words of the prophets:
1 Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the east; 2 and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. . . 4 And the glory of the LORD came into the house by the way of the gate facing toward the east.
Remember, just as the Lord’s glory left the temple mount through the vicinity of the eastern gate and headed east toward the Mount of Olives, here the Lord is returning after a time of cosmic and worldwide judgment of sin and sinners to erect His new temple. Note, He comes from the east, which is probably the Mount of Olives. From this new temple location, the Messiah will rule and reign over His Davidic empire (Psalm 2) and the saved peoples of the nations will travel here to learn at His feet (Isa. 2).
5 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house. 6 Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me.7 And He said to me, "Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die,8 by setting their threshold by My threshold, and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. 9 "Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever. 10 "As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan (Ezek. 43).
The prophet was clear: the Lord would one day come from the east to build a temple in Israel to end all temples, and from this location, He would rule and reign over the earth and create a kingdom of peace, justice, and truth (Isa. 9:6-7).
The time denoted here has never occurred because Israel still has not turned to the Messiah. But the day will come when they will enjoy a new relationship with Him, despite thousands of years of disobedience. And whereas the Lord had departed the old temple complex because of their collective historical sin, in this new spectacular temple, the Lord promises to never leave. He won’t need to because the people will choose to live holy lives as never before. Will you be there?
When exactly does the Lord come from the east? Here is what the prophet Zechariah prophesied eighty-one years after this facet of Ezekiel’s prophecy (the temple vision came to Ezekiel in 561 B.C., according to chapter 40:1, while Zechariah chapters 9 through 14 were given around 480 B.C.).
3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. 4And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south (Zech. 14).
At the end of the seven-year tribulation, the Lord Jesus will appear mounted on a mighty war horse (Rev. 19). The angelic armies and saints will accompany Him as He returns from the east to destroy all the godless forces arrayed against His chosen people, Israel.
The Lord doesn’t touch the earth until He arrives at the Mount of Olives. This was the location of His departure from the temple in 592 B.C., and it was the location of His glorious ascension (Acts 1:9ff). And now, as the angels told the disciples, He returns to this eastern location to head toward the Eastern Gate where judgment was typically rendered (Matt. 25).
At this time, the Lord, the Messiah Jesus, will be the worldwide Davidic king:
9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.
Again, I ask you, will you be there?
Massive earthquakes will change the topography and elevation of the temple mount so He can build the temple spoken of by Ezekiel.
10 All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin's Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king's wine presses. 11 And people will live in it, and there will be no more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security (Zech. 14).
Peace will finally be realized and come from the Lord who returned from the east as prophesied.
What is interesting concerns the Israelite feast the people in the kingdom will observe. Of the seven noted in the Torah, the Feast of Tabernacles will be instituted:
16 Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths (Zech. 14).
During this final of seven Israelite religious feasts, the Jews built small huts from wood and palm leaves and lived in them for seven days (Lev. 23:22-36). Why did God have them do this? He wanted them to remember how He cared for them as they took their arduous journey to the land of promise. This feast will be observed in the kingdom age so we will remember God’s care for us as we headed to the ultimate land of promise.
Now you see why the Jews in Christ’s day laid palm branches down in front of Him. Think of all they knew:
- The Messiah would return from the east. Check.
- The Messiah would ride on a colt (Zech. 9:9). Check.
- The Messiah would save His people. Check.
- The Messiah would build a new, glorious temple. Check.
- The Messiah would put down all of Israel’s enemies and give them eternal peace. Check.
The Davidic king was on the colt heading toward the Eastern Gate; hence, they (wrongly) thought must be the time for the wonder and glory of the kingdom age. No wonder they shouted the wording of Psalm 118, verse 26, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Their timing, however, was off, as was their understanding of God’s entire redemptive/kingdom plan. They wanted to bypass the Messiah fulfilling the Feast of Passover, and get right to the kingdom age. As Jesus rode to the Eastern Gate that day, He knew full well what would unfold that week. He knew He had three specific feasts He had to fulfill before He could get to feast of tabernacles observance in the kingdom.
- The Feast of Passover. He would become the Passover lamb for the sin of mankind (1 Cor. 5:7).
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:4-8). He would be the sinless one capable of bearing mankind’s sin (Heb. 4:15).
- The Feast of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:9-14). He would be the first of many to rise from the grave and live eternally (1 Cor. 15:23).
Yes, Ezekiel and Zechariah clearly taught that the Messiah would come from the east and save and restore Israel, while building a new temple. But before that could occur, the people needed to understand that the God-man on the colt that day had to go to the cross to deal with sin so repentant sinners could move from being contaminated by death to being inundated with real spiritual life. A sacrificial observance buried in the book of Numbers validates this premise.
Before The Messianic King Could Come From The East, He Had To Be The Sacrifice From The East (Num. 19:1-21).
In Numbers 19, we encounter the only blood sacrifice outside the Temple complex. It was the sacrifice of an unblemished, near-perfect red heifer (Num. 19:2). It was slain by the prominent priest (Num. 19:3) outside the camp and then burned. A unique solution was made from the ashes of the heifer to sprinkle on people who had become contaminated by touching a dead body:
9 'Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. 10 'And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them. 11 'The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. 12 'That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he shall be clean; . . . (Num. 19).
A hyssop plant sprinkled the particular sacrificial solution on a contaminated person (v. 17-18). This was the only way to move a person from being contaminated by death to being clean before God.
I’m sure you are wondering now: Why in the world are we talking about this particular obscure sacrifice? Because the Jews in Christ’s day sacrificed the red heifer east of the temple on the Mount of Olives. Further, they constructed a bridge from the Mount of Olives to the Eastern Gate over the Kidron Valley. The priests used this bridge to bring the special sacrificial solution to deal with death to the priests in the temple.
Doesn’t this make perfect sense as you look back 2,000 years later? Jesus rode that tiny, innocent colt from the Mount of Olives to the Temple because His death at the end of that week on Passover would cause Him to be the Passover lamb and the unique red heifer sacrifice as well. As the Passover lamb, He dealt with our sin problem by shedding His blood to cover and cleanse our sin. As the red heifer sacrifice, He defeated death so we can know life at the moment of faith ( John 3:15-16, 36; 4:1`4; 5:24, 38; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:50; 17:2, 3 ). This is, therefore, why the author of Hebrews makes this profound statement:
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9)
An airtight argument from the lesser to the great, or the argumentum a fortiori, can’t be missed. Since the blood of animals had momentary redemptive/atoning value for sinners, how much more the blood of Jesus? It cleanses a sinner from sin and death once and for all.
And to think that God brought His salvation from the east just like He said He would. The question now is, When will you bow before the Lord who fulfilled His redemptive plan to allow you to trade kingdoms? If He is not your Savior, then you are in the realm of death, but when He is your Savior, you are immediately and eternally placed in His kingdom of life. Real, eternal life.
 Tammuz. Chief Sumerian deity whose name derived from the Sumerian dumuzi. He is the god of fertility, of vegetation and agriculture, of death and resurrection, and the patron of shepherds. The son and consort of Ashtar (Inanna), Tammuz represented the annual vegetation cycle of death during the heat of summer and the rebirth of life with the coming of the fall and spring rains, as mythically recounted in the Akkadian poem, “Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld.” This rejuvenation of life and defeat of death was annually celebrated during the Babylonian New Year Festival. In the OT, the prophet Ezekiel sees in a vision women weeping for Tammuz at the north gate of the temple, descriptive of coming desecrations of the Lord’s house (8:14). Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Tammuz,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2035.