There has been much said about the change in attitude of the crowds between the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and the moment the crowds yell out ‘crucify him.’
We are usually told how fickle people are. How quickly we shift allegiances.
Is this really what’s going on here or is it something else?
In this short post, I will not explore every nuance of the discussion but rather dig in on just a couple of factors that I hope will help us understand the circumstances better and think more deeply about our own allegiances.
One of the nice things about having 4 gospel accounts is that each brings its own nuances that help us understand more fully. I’d like to turn to 2 of the accounts of Jesus’ ‘Triumphal Entry’ that we often read on Palm Sunday.
The first verse gives us an idea who ‘the crowd’ is comprised of:
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:Luke 19:37
There are a few things to note here. The first is that the crowd was was not likely a crowd from Jerusalem. The ‘whole crowd’ is already there near the place when the road goes to the Mount of Olives. This crowd has come along with Jesus from outside Jerusalem.
We are further told by Luke the the crowd is comprised of disciples. This is clearly more than ‘the Twelve.’ Luke continually wants to remind us that Jesus had many disciples, including women.
Finally, we are told that the crowd has seen many miracles. Lots of people saw Jesus perform miracles along the way, including those who stayed with him and others who did not. At this point, particularly in Luke’s account, the people who had witnessed Jesus miracles were largely not those in Jerusalem.
To look at the flip side of the crowd question, let’s take a quick look at Matthew’s account.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”Matthew 21:10-11
Matthew tells us that on the whole people in Jerusalem didn’t know who Jesus was. The whole city asks, ‘who is this?’
The word that’s spreading is affirming yet incomplete: ‘the prophet.’
So, on the day of his trial, unless the crowd gathered was all the Palm Sunday crowd who lived outside the city, which is extremely unlikely, the crowd who said ‘crucify him’ was made up of a different group of people.
Not the same crowd.
Not a group of fickle followers.
But here’s the thing: Some of Jesus’ followers did leave. One of his closest friends, Peter, denied him. Many others scattered when he was arrested.
I suspect it had less to do with them being fickle and more to do with people having their well-intentioned allegiance in the wrong place.
Here’s the thing: Many people were more committed to their collective conception of what and who the Messiah would be than they were to the actual Messiah that Jesus was.
They longed for the conquering king who would expel the Romans and set up the literal rule of God.
When Jesus’ plan worked differently than theirs, those who loved and followed him were scared and many scattered.
Those who didn’t know him (the Jerusalem crowd) were persuaded to say ‘crucify him.’ His ‘crowd of disciples’ would not have done that. I believe that pretty strongly.
The crowd was much more easily persuaded to turn on Jesus because they had no particular allegiance to him.
Do we really think that Jesus’ disciples would choose Barabbas over him?
So, hopefully we have a better understanding of this aspect of the biblical story. Let’s also make an application point for us. Here’s a question:
Are we truly committed to Jesus or to our idea of who we think Jesus should be?
In first century Palestine, people had a pretty strong idea of who the Messiah should be.
When Jesus didn’t meet that expectation, many people left.
Today, and particularly in times of trial and trouble, we have the opportunity ask ourselves the question, will we trust and grow deeper in relationship with the real Jesus?
Or will our false expectations lead us to miss out on who he really is?