THERE seems to have been a general impression for some time beforehand that, in spite of all which had recently happened, Jesus would still be present at the Paschal Feast. The probability of this had incessantly been debated among the people, and the expected arrival of the Prophet of Galilee was looked forward to with intense curiosity and interest.
Consequently, when it became known early on Sunday morning that during the day He would certainly enter the Holy City, the excitement was very great. The news would be spread by some of the numerous Jews who had visited Bethany on the previous evening, after the sunset had closed the Sabbath, and thus enabled them to exceed the limits of the Sabbath day's journey. Thus it was that a very great multitude was prepared to receive and welcome the Deliverer who had raised the dead.
He started on foot. Three roads led from Bethany over the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. One of these passes between its northern and central summits; the other ascends the highest point of the mountain, and slopes down through the modern village of Et Tur; the third, which is, and always must have been, the main road, sweeps round the southern shoulder of the central mass, between it and the "Hill of Evil Counsel." The others are rather mountain paths than roads, and as Jesus was attended by so many disciples, it is clear that He took the third and easiest route.
Passing from under the palm-trees of Bethany, they approached the fig-gardens of Bethphage, the "House of Figs," a small suburb or hamlet of undiscovered site, which lay probably a little to the south of Bethany, and in sight of it. To this village, or some other hamlet which lay near it, Jesus dispatched two of His disciples. The minute description of the spot given by St. Mark makes us suppose that Peter was one of them, and if so he was probably accompanied by John. Jesus told him that when they got to the village they should find an ass tied, and a colt with her; these they were to loose and bring to Him, and if any objection arose on the part of the owner, it would at once be silenced by telling him that "the Lord had need of them." Everything happened as He had said. In the passage round the housei.e., tied up at the back of the housethey found the ass and the foal, which was adapted for its sacred purpose because it had never yet been used. The owners, on hearing their object, at once permitted them to take the animals, and they led them to Jesus, putting their garments over them to do Him regal honour. Then they lifted Him upon the colt, and the triumphal procession set forth. It was no seditious movement to stir up political enthusiasm, no "insulting vanity" to commemorate ambitious triumph. Nay, it was a mere outburst of provincial joy, the simple exultation of poor Galilæans and despised disciples. He rides, not upon a war-horse, but on an animal which was the symbol of peace. The haughty Gentiles, had they witnessed the humble procession, would have utterly derided it, as indeed they did deride the record of it; but the Apostles recalled in after days that it fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is meek, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." Yes, it was a procession of very lowly pomp, and yet beside it how do the grandest triumphs of aggressive war and unjust conquest sink into utter insignificance and disgrace!
Jesus mounted the unused foal, while probably some of His disciples led it by the bridle. And no sooner had He started than the multitude spread out their upper garments to tapestry His path, and kept tearing or cutting down the boughs of olive, and fig, and walnut, to scatter them before Him. Then, in a burst of enthusiasm, the disciples broke into the shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" and the multitude caught up the joyous strain, and told each other how He had raised Lazarus from the dead.
The road slopes by a gradual ascent up the Mount of Olives, through green fields and under shady trees, till it suddenly sweeps round to the northward. It is at this angle of the road that Jerusalem, which hitherto has been hidden by the shoulder of the hill, bursts full upon the view. There, through the clear atmosphere, rising out of the deep umbrageous valleys which surrounded it, the city of ten thousand memories stood clear before Him, and the morning sunlight, as it blazed on the marble pinnacles and gilded roofs of the Temple buildings, was reflected in a very fiery splendour which forced the spectator to avert his glance. Such a glimpse of such a city is at all times affecting, and many a Jewish and Gentile traveller has reined his horse at this spot, and gazed upon the scene in emotion too deep for speech. But the Jerusalem of that day, with "its imperial mantle of proud towers," was regarded as one of the wonders of the world, and was a spectacle incomparably more magnificent than the decayed and crumbling city of to-day. And who can interpret, who can enter into the mighty rush of divine compassion which, at that spectacle, shook the Saviour's soul? As He gazed on that "mass of gold and snow," was there no pride, no exultation in the heart of its true King? Far from it! He had dropped silent tears at the grave of Lazarus; here He wept aloud. All the shame of His mockery, all the anguish of His torture, was powerless, five days afterwards, to extort from Him a single groan, or to wet His eyelids with one trickling tear; but here, all the pity that was within Him overmastered His human spirit, and He not only wept, but broke into a passion of lamentation, in which the choked voice seemed to struggle for its utterance. A strange Messianic triumph! a strange interruption of the festal cries! The Deliverer weeps over the city which it is now too late to save; the King prophesies the utter ruin of the nation which He came to rule! "If thou hadst known," He criedwhile the wondering multitudes looked on, and knew not what to think or say"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace!"and there sorrow interrupted the sentence, and, when He found voice to continue, He could only add, "but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." It was the last invitation from "the Glory of God on the Mount of Olives," before that Shechînah vanished from their eyes for ever.
Sternly, literally, terribly, within fifty years, was that prophecy fulfilled. Four years before the war began, while as yet the city was in the greatest peace and prosperity, a melancholy maniac traversed its streets with the repeated cry, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, and a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people;" nor could any scourgings or tortures wring from him any other words except "Woe! woe! to Jerusalem; woe to the city; woe to the people; woe to the holy house!" until seven years afterwards, during the siege, he was killed by a stone from a catapult. His voice was but the renewed echo of the voice of prophecy.
Titus had not originally wished to encompass the city, but he was forced, by the despair and obstinacy of the Jews, to surround it, first with a palisaded mound, and then, when this vallum and agger were destroyed, with a wall of masonry. He did not wish to sacrifice the Templenay, he made every possible effort to save itbut he was forced to leave it in ashes. He did not intend to be cruel to the inhabitants, but the deadly fanaticism of their opposition so extinguished all desire to spare them, that he undertook the task of well-nigh exterminating the raceof crucifying them by hundreds, of exposing them in the amphitheatre by thousands, of selling them into slavery by myriads. Josephus tells us that, even immediately after the siege of Titus, no one, in the desert waste around him, would have recognised the beauty of Judæa; and that if any Jew had come upon the city of a sudden, however well he had known it before, he would have asked "what place it was?" And he who, in modern Jerusalem, would look for relics of the ten-times-captured city of the days of Christ, must look for them twenty feet beneath the soil, and will scarcely find them. In one spot alone remain a few massive substructions, as though to show how vast is the ruin they represent; and here, on every Friday, assemble a few poverty-stricken Jews, to stand each in the shroud in which he will be buried, and wail over the shattered glories of their fallen and desecrated home.
There had been a pause in the procession while Jesus shed His bitter tears and uttered His prophetic lamentation. But now the people in the valley of Kedron, and about the walls of Jerusalem, and the pilgrims whose booths and tents stood so thickly on the green slopes below, had caught sight of the approaching company, and heard the echo of the glad shouts, and knew what the commotion meant. At that time the palms were numerous in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, though now but a few remain: and tearing down their green and graceful branches, the people streamed up the road to meet the approaching Prophet. And when the two streams of people metthose who had accompanied Him from Bethany, and those who had come to meet Him from Jerusalemthey left Him riding in the midst, and some preceding, some following Him, advanced, shouting "Hosannas" and waving branches, to the gate of Jerusalem.
Mingled among the crowd were some of the Pharisees, and the joy of the multitude was to them gall and wormwood. What meant these Messianic cries and kingly titles? Were they not dangerous and unseemly? Why did He allow them? "Master, rebuke Thy disciples." But He would not do so. "If these should hold their peace," He said, "the stones would immediately cry out." The words may have recalled to them the threats which occur, amid denunciations against covetousness and cruelty, and the utter destruction by which they should be avenged, in the prophet Habakkuk"For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." The Pharisees felt that they were powerless to stay the flood of enthusiasm.
And when they reached the walls the whole city was stirred with powerful excitement and alarm. "Who is this?" they asked, as they leaned out of the lattices and from the roofs, and stood aside in the bazaars and streets to let them pass; and the multitude answered, with something of pride in their great countrymanbut already, as it were, with a shadow of distrust falling over their high Messianic hopes, as they came in contact with the contempt and hostility of the capital"This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth."
The actual procession would not proceed farther than the foot of Mount Moriah (the Har ha-beit, Isa. ii. 2), beyond which they might not advance in travelling array, or with dusty feet. Before they had reached the Shushan gate of the Temple they dispersed, and Jesus entered. The Lord whom they sought had come suddenly to His Templeeven the messenger of the covenant; but they neither recognised Him, nor delighted in Him, though His first act was to purify and purge it, that they might offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. As He looked round on all things His heart was again moved within Him to strong indignation. Three years before, at His first Passover, He had cleansed the Temple; but, alas! in vain. Already greed had won the battle against reverence; already the tessellated floors and pillared colonnades of the Court of the Gentiles had been again usurped by droves of oxen and sheep, and dove-sellers, and usurers, and its whole precincts were dirty with driven cattle, and echoed to the hum of bargaining voices and the clink of gold. In that desecrated place He would not teach. Once more, in mingled sorrow and anger, He drove them forth, while none dared to resist His burning zeal; nor would He even suffer the peaceful enclosure to be disturbed by people passing to and fro with vessels, and so turning it into a thoroughfare. The dense crowd of Jewsnumbering, it is said, three millionswho crowded to the Holy City in the week of the feast, no doubt made the Court of the Gentiles a worse and busier scene on that day than at any other time, and the more so because on that day, according to the law, the Paschal lambwhich the visitors would be obliged to purchasewas chosen and set apart. But no considerations of their business and convenience could make it tolerable that they should turn His Father's house, which was a house of prayer for all nations, into a place most like one of those foul caves which He had seen so often in the Waddy Hammâm, where brigands wrangled over their ill-gotten spoils.
Not till He had reduced the Temple to decency and silence could He begin His customary ministrations. Doubtless the task was easier, because it had already been once performed. But when the miserable hubbub was over, then the Temple resumed what should have been its normal aspect. Sufferers came to Him, and He healed them. Listeners in hundreds thronged round him, were astonished at His doctrine, hung upon His lips. The very children of the Temple, in their innocent delight, continued the glad Hosannas which had welcomed him. The Chief Priests, and Scribes, and Pharisees, and leading people saw, and despised, and wondered, and perished. They could but gnash their teeth in their impotence, daring to do nothing, saying to each other that they could do nothing, for the whole world had gone after Him, yet hoping still that their hour would come, and the power of darkness. If they ventured to say one word to Him, they had to retire abashed and frustrated by His calm reply. They angrily called his attention to the cry of the boys in the Temple courts, and said, "Hearest thou what these say?" Perhaps they were boys employed in the musical services of the Temple, and if so the priestly party would be still more enraged. But Jesus calmly protected the children from their unconcealed hatred. "Yea," He answered, "have ye never read, Out of the months of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?"
So in high discourse, amid the vain attempts of His enemies to annoy and hinder Him, the hours of that memorable day passed by. And it was marked by one more deeply interesting incident. Struck by all they had seen and heard, some Greeksprobably Jewish proselytes attracted to Jerusalem by the feastcame to Philip, and asked him to procure for them a private interview with Jesus. Chaldæans from the East had sought His cradle; these Greeks from the West came to His cross. Who they were, and why they sought Him, we know not. An interesting tradition, but one on which unfortunately we can lay no stress, says that they were emissaries from Abgarus V., King of Edessa, who, having been made aware of the miracles of Jesus, and of the dangers to which He was now exposed, sent these emissaries to offer him an asylum in his dominions. The legend adds that, though Jesus declined the offer, He rewarded the faith of Abgarus by writing him a letter, and healing him of a sickness.
St. John mentions nothing of these circumstances; he does not even tell us why these Greeks came to Philip in particular. As Bethsaida was the native town of this Apostle, and as many Jews at this period had adopted Gentile appellations, especially those which were current in the family of Herod, we cannot attach much importance to the Greek form of his name. It is an interesting indication of the personal awe which the Apostles felt for their Master, that Philip did not at once venture to grant their request. He went and consulted his fellow-townsman Andrew, and the two Apostles then made known the wish of the Greeks to Jesus. Whether they actually introduced the inquirers into His presence we cannot tell, but at any rate He saw in the incident a fresh sign that the hour was come when His name should be glorified. His answer was to the effect that as a grain of wheat must die before it can bring forth fruit, so the road to His glory lay through humiliation, and they who would follow Him must be prepared at all times to follow Him even to death. As he contemplated that approaching death, the human horror of it struggled with the ardour of His obedience; and conscious that to face that dread hour was to conquer it, He cried, "Father, glorify Thy name!" Then for the third time in His life came a voice from heaven, which said, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." St. John frankly tells us that that Voice did not sound alike to all. The common multitude took it but for a passing peal of thunder; others said, "An angel spake to Him;" the Voice was articulate only to the few. But Jesus told them that the Voice was for their sakes, not for His; for the judgment of the world, its conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, was now at hand, and the Prince of this world should be cast out. He should be lifted up, like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, and when so exalted He should draw all men unto Him. The people were perplexed at these dark allusions. They asked Him what could be the meaning of His saying that "the Son of Man should be lifted up?" If it meant violently taken away by a death of shame, how could this be? Was not the Son of Man a title of the Messiah? and did not the prophet imply that the reign of Messiah would be eternal? The fine answer to their query could only be received by spiritual heartsthey were unprepared for it, and would only have been offended and shocked by it; therefore Jesus did not answer them. He only bade them walk in the light during the very little while that it should still remain with them, and so become the children of light. He was come as a light into the world, and the words which He spake should judge those who rejected Him; for those wordsevery brief answer, every long discoursewere from the Father; sunbeams from the Father of Lights; life-giving rays from the Life Eternal.
But all these glorious and healing truths were dull to blinded eyes, and dead to hardened hearts; and even the few of higher rank and wider culture who partially understood and partially believed them, yet dared not confess Him, because to confess Him was to incur the terrible cherem of the Sanhedrin; and this they would not faceloving the praise of men more than the praise of God.
Thus a certain sadness and sense of rejection fell even on the evening of the Day of Triumph. It was not safe for Jesus to stay in the city, nor was it in accordance with His wishes. He retired secretly from the Temple, hid Himself from His watchful enemies, and, protected as yet outside the city walls by the enthusiasm of His Galilæan followers, "went out unto Bethany with the Twelve." But it is very probable that while He bent His steps in the direction of Bethany, He did not actually enter the village; for, on this occasion, His object seems to have been concealment, which would hardly have been secured by returning to the well-known house where so many had seen Him at the banquet on the previous evening. It is more likely that He sought shelter with His disciples by the olive-sprinkled slope of the hill, not far from the spot where the roads meet which lead to the little village. He was not unaccustomed to nights in the open air, and He and the Apostles, wrapped in their outer garments, could sleep soundly and peacefully on the green grass under the sheltering trees. The shadow of the traitor fell on Him and on that little band. Did he too sleep as calmly as the rest? Perhaps: for, as Mr. Froude says, "remorse may disturb the slumbers of a man who is dabbling with his first experiences of wrong; and when the pleasure has been tasted and is gone, and nothing is left of the crime but the ruin which it has wrought, then too the Furies take their seats upon the midnight pillow. But the meridian of evil is, for the most part, left unvexed; and when a man has chosen his road, he is left alone to follow it to the end."