“When he had said things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28).
It’s a small detail, a tiny word comprising just two letters in English: up. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He had just been in Jericho, a city near the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. The trek from there to Jerusalem would have seemed nearly vertical at times—a 3,370-foot rise in elevation over a distance of fourteen and a half miles—a hike not for the faint of heart.
As we enter the seventh week of our Lent study, it strikes me that our ascent from the depths of Judah’s exile in the book of Jeremiah to the heights of Holy Week in the Gospels is no less dramatic. It seems a drastic change for us in our reading, but for the people of Judah, the turning of the centuries had seemed to produce very little change. Sure, they were physically back in the promised land, no longer mourning on the banks of the Euphrates River. But they were not quite home yet. They were still ruled by a foreign power—first the Babylonians, then the Medes and the Persians, followed by the Greeks, and now the Romans. The exile that began in the book of Jeremiah had never really ended.
Jeremiah’s final scene has King Jehoiachin being released from prison in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:31), a glimmer of light at the close of a dark chapter in Judah’s history. A king in the line of David is still alive. There is still hope. God had promised that one of David’s descendants would sit on the throne, and that his kingdom would never end (2 Samuel 7:12–13). On Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, He fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy about the coming of the Messianic King who would sit on David’s throne (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus is that King. He is the Son of David the people had been waiting for, the fulfillment of God’s promises—and the one to finally end Israel and Judah’s long exile.
The people recognized what Jesus was doing, putting Zechariah’s words into action. And they played their own parts, singing in response, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38; Psalm 118:26). But Jesus hadn’t come to topple the Romans. He had come to do battle with the true oppressor of God’s people, and for all people, everywhere: the spiritual forces of darkness (Colossians 2:15; 1John 3:8). He wasn’t there to set up a political kingdom, though one day the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). He wasn’t there to judge Israel’s enemies, but to take upon Himself the judgment for sin the world deserves (Isaiah 53:5; 1Peter 2:24). He was there to usher in the new covenant Jeremiah spoke about, when God promised, “I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin” (Jeremiah 31:34).
The crowds were right to cheer the coming King, even if they didn’t quite understand His mission. They had no idea that His path would lead up another sharp hill, a hill called Golgotha. But for this moment, the misguided aspirations of the people intersected with God’s impossibly good plans so that Jesus received the praise due His name: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38).
Written by John Greco