Word of the Week
March 20, 2021
Hosanna: The Word for Palm Sunday
And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”
Palm Sunday is almost here!
From Manhattan to Mozambique, Christians will commemorate the day when Jesus rode a young donkey through the eastern gate of Jerusalem to begin a week that would end with a cross and an empty tomb.
We call it the Triumphal Entry and it certainly seemed like the arrival of a victorious monarch. The streets of Jerusalem were packed with pilgrims arriving for the Passover feast. When Jesus came down the hillside from the Mount of Olives, the throngs exploded into a celebration, assuming that He had come to launch a freedom movement that would fulfill the ancient prophecies of an anointed Deliverer.
The details are familiar: people spreading garments to pave the pathway before Him, plucking palm branches to wave enthusiastically, and shouting, “Hosanna!”
Even as a young boy, I knew that “Hosanna” was a thing that people said on Palm Sunday. But what did it mean?
Let’s find out.
Even in the New Testament, you only hear “Hosanna” on this one occasion. It appears only in the accounts of Christ’s entry at the beginning of his Last Week (Matthew 21:9, 15; Mark 11:9-10; John 12:13). And even though it appears in the Greek New Testament, it is really a Hebrew word. The Gospel writers took what the people were saying and rendered it using the Greek alphabet.
The crowds were actually shouting phrases lifted from the book of Psalms. Psalm 118:24-26 reads:
This is the day which the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O Lord, do save, we beseech Thee;
O LORD, we beseech Thee, send prosperity!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD;
We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
You can see immediately that this is the source for “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” But it is harder to find “Hosanna” in our English translation.
The Hebrew behind the phrase “do save, we beseech Thee” sounds like this: hoh-shee-a-nah. In Greek letters, that would be “Hosanna.” It comes from the Hebrew word for “save, deliver” followed by a word that Hebrews often added to a prayer or request. That’s where the New American Standard Bible gets the idea of “we beseech Thee.” In modern English, we might just say “Please!”
Bottom line: “Hosanna” literally means “Please save! Deliver, we pray!”
In the context of Psalm 118, it was part of a description of the Messiah who would come to deliver God’s people and rule with righteousness. The people who lined the route realized that they were welcoming Jesus as a God-sent monarch. John 12:13 says that they called him “the king of Israel” and Mark 11:10 adds, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.”
It is possible that many who picked up the refrain of “Hosanna” were not consciously thinking of its roots in Psalm 118, simply using it as a way to express joyful praise. Similarly, people today might say “Hallelujah” without remembering that it is really a Hebrew word that means “Praise Yahweh!”
And it is certain that most of the people applauding the idea of Jesus as King failed to recognize that He was more than merely a revolutionary who planned to expel the Romans. By the end of the week, a mob was shouting “Crucify Him!”
Jesus had come to be the Savior promised in the Old Testament, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. One day He will return to rule the world. When you hear “Hosanna” on this Palm Sunday, you can join with full understanding in welcoming Jesus as the King who brings deliverance to all who put their trust in Him.
Take a few minutes to read the rest of Psalm 118. Notice how verse 19 describes someone going through the open gates of righteousness. Verses 22 and 23 mention “the stone which the builders rejected” by the rulers, which turned out to be “the chief cornerstone.” 1 Peter 2:4, 7 specifically connects this verse to Jesus.
In additionally, I love the promise of verse 6 which explains why we never need to be afraid:
The LORD is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Hebrews 13:6 applies this promise to believers today – a great encouragement!
Q: Does the Greek give us any clues about what the scene was really like as Jesus entered Jerusalem?
A: Yes, and it was rowdier than we realize. Matthew 21:10 says that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “all the city was stirred.” When I say “stirred,” I imagine stirring some creamer into my coffee. But the Greek word here is much more drastic! The Greek verb is seiō, which is the root of our English word seismic. Scientists talk about a “seismic event” – a technical term for an earthquake!
Seiō is used to describe the earthquake at Christ’s death when the veil of the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). God declares that He is going to shake the earth and the heavens in a cosmic cataclysm of judgment (Hebrews 12:26). When an angel appeared at the tomb, the guards shook violently with terror – just before they fainted (Matthew 28:4). And Revelation 6:13 describes stars falling from heaven like figs flung to the ground when a mighty wind strikes a fig tree.
In other words, Jesus hit Jerusalem with impact like an earthquake. I wonder where it fell on a spiritual Richter scale!
After Palm Sunday comes Good Friday, the death of Christ. Next week we will look at a Greek preposition that clarifies exactly what the Scriptures mean when they say that Christ died “for” us.
©Ezra Project 2021