Pilgrims traveled great distances to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a feast memorializing the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt.
Various tribes always camped at the same site around the ancient city. Those from the Galilee always camped on the southern end of the ridge known as the Mount of Olives. It affords a captivating view of Jerusalem on the ridge just beyond the Kedron Valley. The two ridges are separated by only a few hundred yards.
Nestled in the Kedron between the two is the Garden of Gethsemane.
On the back side of the Mount of Olives is Bethany, the home town of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. As on other occasions, Jesus spent the night before the celebration with these, His friends.
Jesus was provided a donkey and her colt for the trip into Jerusalem, which was only about three or four miles.
To get from Bethany to Jerusalem, the route crossed the southern end of the Mount of Olives where the Galileans were camped. Jesus spent most of His time in Galilee where He was well known. He was one of them.
The Galileans were rural, agrarian people. Many made a living fishing the Sea of Galilee. Though small, it is called a “sea” because in the ancient times there was no word for lake. As such, they highly resented the occupying Romans and desired to drive them from the land. They had little to lose in trying to rid the land of the Romans and violence would soon break out there with thousands being slaughtered.
In Jerusalem business was good. The Romans were good for the economy. Secular and religious leaders alike accommodated them. Residents didn’t want to do anything that might rile them and result in a loss of business.
As Jesus rode through the camp of the Galileans, they greeted Him with shouts of praise. Palm branches were waved as a symbol of praise and victory. It is unlikely many understood His purpose in life, but at this time thought He might help lead a rebellion.
Soon their shouts of Hallelujah were heard echoing across the Kedron by those in and more immediately around Jerusalem. Many came out to see what the unwanted disturbance was on the Mount of Olives.
Reaction in the city was mixed, with the majority not wanting any disturbance that might offend the Romans.
Within the span of a few hours, the scene would change in Jerusalem. Two distinct cries would be heard reverberating through the crowded streets.
This is where Western understanding misses a vital fact in the account. In modern America, it is often said the same crowd that shouted “Hallelujah” cried “Crucify Him.” Not so.
The Galileans wanted to challenge the Romans and the people of Jerusalem wanted to appease them.
The drama playing out had another story line. Its intended spiritual purpose was the benefit of both crowds. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world.
The account always affords an opportunity to ask in which crowd you might well be cast today. By your lifestyle, you are showing if you are among those who shout “Hallelujah” or “Crucify Him.”
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.