Phoinix: The Palm in Palm Sunday

Word of the Week

March 23, 2024

Phoinix: The Palm in Palm Sunday


They took the branches of the palm tree and went out to meet Him, and began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He whom comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, the King of Israel!”

John 12:13 NASB


It’s Palm Sunday, the celebration of Christ’s Triumphal Entry.  That was the day He mounted a donkey and rode into Jerusalem to kick off the high-tension week that led up to His crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection.

It was the moment when the massive crowds gathered for Passover suddenly burst into a wild celebration as the wonder-working teacher from Galilee entered the city.  Throngs lined his pathway, shouting the words of Psalm 118 to welcome the promised King.  In their enthusiasm, many took off their outer cloaks and spread them on the roadway, “rolling out the red carpet” for the Messiah.  Others gathered branches from nearby trees and added them to the path.

John 12:13 says that the people used palm branches for this improvised carpet, and that’s why we call it Palm Sunday.

Let’s illuminate the scene by turning the spotlight on the Greek word for palms:  phoinix.  To be precise, it refers to the date palm (scientific name: Phoenix dactylifera).

The word was also used as the name of a mythical bird that was supposed to rise from its own ashes.  That was the origin of the name for the city of Phoenix, Arizona, which was built on the remains of ancient canals.  When I lived in used to live in Phoenix, I was more interested in the linguistic connection with date palms.  One of our friends had several trees in his back yard, and he would give us huge bunches of dates that we would hang up until they ripened.

Other American cities get their names from the many palm trees found there.  When my family drove from Phoenix to California, we would pause near Palm Springs to enjoy a date shake at Hadley’s Date Farm (still in business 60 years later!).

Just as we anticipated the sight of the date palms as we came out of the Mohave Desert, first-century Jewish travelers were grateful when they saw the tall palm trees that marked an oasis in the arid terrain.  The phoinix palms were so common that they gave the name Phoenicia to the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

Jericho, at the base of the mountains rising above the Jordan River, was known as the city of palms (Deuteronomy 34:3; Judges 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chronicles 28:15).

If you retrace the route of the triumphal entry today, coming down the slopes of the Mount of Olives and crossing the Kidron Valley to enter the eastern gate of Jerusalem, you can see some date palms.  It seems that they were more plentiful in the first century, because the onlookers could find enough palm fronds to pave a pathway for Jesus.  Date palms have long fronds, up to 10-15 feet, and they would make an ideal material for this purpose.

Palm branches played an important role in this first coming of the King, as he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!

Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

He is righteous and endowed with salvation,

Humble, and mounted on a donkey,

Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Phoinix appears only one other time in the New Testament, and it is significant that it too forms part of a scene of celebration.  The apostle John takes us to God’s throne room in heaven.  Observe his description of the scene:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands (Revelation 7:9).

Winners in the Olympic games were awarded with wreathes made of myrtle branches or palm fronds, and this scene in heaven may be a reminder that those who stand there have already won the victory.  Their battles are over, and they celebrate by praising the God who provided salvation.

When you see palm fronds decorating your church this Sunday, remember that they were used two thousand years ago to celebrate the coming of the King, and they will be used at the end of the story to celebrate the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.


Study Hint:

The Gospels use three different words for “branch” in their descriptions of the triumphal entry.

Mark 11:8 – Some people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread stibas, leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.  This word  describes the kind of branches that could be used to stuff a mattress or make a bed on the ground.

Matthew 21:8 – Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others were cutting branches klados, from the trees and spreading them on the road.  This word emphasizes the fact that these branches had to be cut from the trees.

Luke 19:36 – This account just says the people spread their cloaks on the road.  There is no mention of branches.

John 12:13 – the crowd heard that Jesus was coming, so they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him.  This is the only passage that specifies the kind of tree involved.  Perhaps other kinds of branches were also used.


Coming Up

Easter reminds us of the promise of the resurrection, and our study next week will help us comprehend what a total transformation we are going to experience one day.  Join us for a closer look.

©Ezra Project 2024



2 Responses

  1. I enjoy these word studies. I’m a first year Greek student. These word studies serve to enhance my personal desire to learn even more Biblical Greek. Thanks a million 📖🙌🏾

  2. Thank you again John. I appreciate these helpful observations and encouragement. God bless you and yours.

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