Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus enters Jerusalem

The image is from the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.  Jesus, the Son of God, rides a colt, which is in keeping with the gospel of Luke account and is also a reflection of the Roman artisan's understanding.  A Roman sculptor might have depicted any of several Caesars this way, and Alexander the Great, and even Apollo.  But this sculptor, and the person who commissioned this who would have been either Junius Bassus himself or a member of his family, these people evidently knew Luke's account because that is Zacchaeus the tax collector climbing a tree, an event that happened as Jesus made His way into Jerusalem.  Luke's gospel was written to Romans and was likely the account that they knew, even after the Ecumenical Council known as the Nicene Council and the establishment of a canon.

Jesus's journey to Jerusalem actually takes up ten chapters of the Gospel of Luke, from 9:51 where it says that "Jesus set His face for Jerusalem", to 19:11 where it says that "Jesus neared Jerusalem where He would be offered up."  Those ten chapters tell us things that Jesus taught and events that took place on His way to Jerusalem.  Luke's account differs from the account in John's gospel in chapter 12, but not by much and not in essentials.  You could contextually explain the differences of the two accounts as the differences of how a Greek would describe the story to a Roman audience versus the way that a Jew would tell Jews living in Israel or in Turkey (or as it was known then, Asia).  Matthew's account is similar to John's (Matthew chapter 21), and Mark's account (chapter 11) is similar to those other two.  It is an event in all four gospels, of much the same account, differing in a few details, and in one case a word, "colt" versus "donkey".  Perhaps the two words were meant to describe the same thing.

Conquering kings often entered cities on donkeys or colts, it was a triumphal tradition dating at least six hundred years before Jesus entered Jerusalem.  He entered humbly riding on a donkey?  No.  Mary was humbly riding on a donkey before Jesus was born, instead of being carried in a wheeled cart, but Jesus entered Jerusalem with all the vestiges of a king entering a royal city, riding on a donkey or colt, things spread beneath his feet, lauded by the crowd on parade.

The essentials of the story are not details such as the animal and the palm leaves, the essentials are that Jesus entered Jerusalem in fulfillment of prophecy, He entered to people adoring Him and praising Him, He left the city being reviled and mocked, and He entered as a conqueror but not as a military hero -- He entered to conquer sin and death.  In Luke's account Jesus wept as He entered Jerusalem.

Luke states more directly a theme that all four gospels share, and that is that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem to die (Luke 9:51) and that He taught his followers along the way and continued to perform miracles, including raising the dead.  All four gospels have the journey to Jerusalem, the last days of Jesus before the last week, The Passion Week in Jerusalem.  In all accounts Jesus constantly explained His approaching death, much to the chagrin of disciples who were expecting a military Messiah.  They wanted the Koresh, He gave them the Lamb to be Slaughtered.

He entered in adoration.  As He said, if the people didn't praise Him the rocks would cry out.  When He exited He was reviled, beaten, made to carry a cross, crucified, and died on a hill outside the city as if He was a criminal.

The church is a church of prophecy.  Some prophecies have been fulfilled, some are yet to be fulfilled, such as The Resurrection of the Dead.  A great many pieces and repeated images in Early Christian, Medieval and Gothic art convey that constant theme, that the church is a church of prophecy.





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