A fickle crowd?

It seems funny to bring up Palm Sunday just a few days before Christmas. But a student in one of my classes recently asked a great question about the crowd on Palm Sunday versus Good Friday:

“I read a blog post by Kevin DeYoung that argued that it was two different groups of people. The ones shouting “Hosanna” were Galilean pilgrims and the ones shouting “Crucify Him” were the Jerusalem crowd. What are your thoughts on this?”

Here was my reply:

You’ve raised a really interesting question about the crowd in Jerusalem during the Passion Week. David Hazard vividly captures the traditional view:

In all probability, the same people who shouted “Crucify Him!” were still hoarse from shouting, “Hosanna!” (“Seeing More of God,” Discipleship Journal, Jan-Feb 1995, p. )

But many scholars, as Kevin DeYoung pointed out, dispute this fact. Thus R. T. France writes,

The location is still outside Jerusalem (v. 1), and Jesus will not in fact enter the city until v. 11. The traditional description of this scene as the ‘Triumphal Entry’ is therefore inaccurate: it describes Jesus’ approach to the city, not his entry. The shouting crowd are therefore the pilgrim group to whom we have already been introduced, and Mark puts their identity beyond doubt by using the phrase οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες (v. 9). This is not yet, then, the Jerusalem crowd, but the pilgrims, probably mostly like Jesus Galileans, who are accompanying him and his disciples to the city for the festival. (See on 15:40–41 for some comments on the composition of this crowd.) They are already predisposed, after the event at Jericho, to favour Jesus and to echo Bartimaeus’ evaluation of him as υἱὸς Δαυίδ. Those who react with enthusiasm to the arrival of the Galilean Messiah are thus Jesus’ Galilean supporters rather than the potentially more sceptical Jerusalem crowd whom he has not yet encountered. Matthew adds a note to make this contrast explicit in 21:10–11, but even in Mark the point is clear. There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favourite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him’. (New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark, p. 430)

Yet others remain convinced. William Hendriksen says,

Unbiased reading of the Triumphal Entry accounts (Matt. 21:8–11; Mark 11:7–10; Luke 19:36–38; and John 12:9–18) does not leave one with the impression that all these Sunday enthusiasts were Galilean pilgrims. See, for example, John 12:17. Though we must make allowance for the figure of speech called hyperbole, we will probably have to agree with the conclusion of the Pharisees, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (John 12:19). Similarly, it would be difficult to defend the proposition that on the following Friday none but Pilate’s subjects were screaming “Crucify him.” Admittedly many of them may well have been exactly that. But to exclude from Calvary a goodly number of people who, in order to participate in the feast, had come from elsewhere, including Galilee, would amount to doing injustice to the probabilities. As well as there were Galilean women in that crowd (Mark 15:40, 41) there must have been Galilean men also. With respect to variety of visitors, Passover probably resembled Pentecost. See Acts 2:5–11. Eagerness to see what was going on at Calvary must have been widespread. Curiosity does not recognize ethnic boundaries. And as concerns the attitude of the people, including the Jerusalemites, toward Jesus during the days intervening between the Triumphal Entry and Good Friday, “the huge crowd [regardless of where they came from] enjoyed listening to him” (Mark 12:37). It would seem therefore that the only logical conclusion is that on the part of many a change of attitude had actually taken place.

How must we account for this? The fickleness or instability of the human heart and mind apart from regenerating grace enters into the answer. Other factors deserving consideration are:

  • The pressure exerted upon the crowd by the chief priests. We are distinctly told, “But the chief priests stirred up the mob to get him [Pilate] to release to them Barabbas instead (of Jesus).” Read Mark 15:11; cf. Matt. 27:20. It was hard to resist such pressure. See John 9:22; 12:42; cf. 20:19.
  • The fact that in the end Jesus did not prove to be the kind of Messiah the people desired and were expecting.
  • Sinful ignorance of Scripture. With increasing clarity the Old Testament draws the picture of the coming Redeemer: Gen. 3:15; II Sam. 7:12, 13; Ps. 72; 118:22, 23; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 11:1–10; 35:5, 6; 42:1–4; 53; 60:1–3; Jer. 23:6; 31:31–34; Mic. 4:1–5; 5:2; 7:18–20; Hag. 2:1–9; Zech. 3:8; 6:9–13; 9:9, 10; 13:1; Mal. 3:1–4, to mention only a few of the many messianic prophecies. These predictions associate with Messiah: peace, pardon, healing, righteousness, vicarious suffering, spiritual cleansing.

The lesson is obvious: Do not neglect the prayerful study of the Scriptures! And do not neglect to take the Bible’s precious truths to heart! (New Testament Commentary: Mark, p. 638)

In all likelihood, there was some overlap between the two groups. The Triumphal Entry probably did include some Judeans coming out to greet and praise Jesus. (After all, Jesus’ local teaching, healing, and raising of Lazarus had not been done in a corner.) And the Crucifixion probably did include some Galileeans who had been influenced and corrupted by the religious leaders. This would not be the first time that Galileeans turned their backs on the Lord. (Just recall the feeding of the 5,000, where scores chased after Jesus to make Him king but soon turned back and no longer walked with Him. Jn. 6:15, 24, 66).

What do you think? Whose viewpoint do you find more convincing? And does this have any significance in our understanding of the overall gospel narrative?


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