The simple people believed Him in every respect, and did not keep their faith quiet, but began to preach His divinity by deeds and words. After the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day, the Lord found an ass, and, when His disciples had made it ready, as the evangelist Matthew tells us (Mt. 21:1-11), He sat upon it and entered Jerusalem, as had been foretold in Zechariah’s prophecy:
Do not fear, O daughter of Zion: behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9; Mt. 21:5).
The prophet shows by these words that this king in the prophecy is the only true king of Zion. “Your king,” he says, “does not arouse fear in those who see him. Nor is he an oppressor or an evildoer accompanied by shield-bearers and spear men, trailing behind him a host of foot-soldiers and cavalry, passing his life in greed for gain, demanding taxes and tributes, and unpleasant and harmful labors and services. By contrast, His banner is humility, poverty and lowliness, and He enters mounted upon an ass, without any human pretensions at all. He is the only righteous King who righteously saves. He is meek, and meekness is His distinctive work.” The Lord said of Himself, Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:29).
So the King who had raised Lazarus from the dead entered Jerusalem sitting upon an ass. Everyone, children, men, old people, immediately spread their garments in the way. They took palm-branches, which are symbols of victory, and went to meet Him as the life-giver and victor over death. They fell at His feet and escorted Him in procession, singing together, not just outside but also inside the precincts of the Temple, Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest (Mt. 21:9). “Hosanna” is a song of praise directed to God, which means, “Save us.” The additional words “in the highest” show that He is not only praised on earth, nor only by men, but also by the heavenly angels on high.
The people not only sang His praises and called Him God, but they subsequently opposed the scribes and Pharisees’ evil purpose against God and their murderous allegations. For the latter were mad enough to say of Him, “This man is not of God, and since he doeth many miracles, if we let him thus alone and do not put him to death, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (compare Jn. 9:16 and 11:47-48). But what did the people say? Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh (Mk. 11:9-10). By saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” they showed that He was from God the Father and that He came in the name of the Father. As the Lord said of Himself, I came in the name of my Father (compare Jn. 5:43) and I proceeded forth and came from God (Jn. 8:42). On the other hand, by saying, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh,” they showed that this was the kingdom in which, according to prophecy, the Gentiles too, and indeed the Romans, were to believe. For this king was not just Israel’s hope, but also the expectation of the Gentiles, according to Jacob’s prophecy: Binding his foal unto the vine, where “foal” refers to the Jewish people who were subject to Him, and his ass’s colt unto the branch of the vine (Gen. 49:11). The branch of the vine is the Lord’s disciples, for the Lord said to them, I am the vine, ye are the branches (Jn. 15.5). By this branch, the Lord binds to Himself His “ass’s colt,” namely the New Israel of the Gentiles, who become sons of Abraham by grace. If, asked the people, this kingdom in which we have put our faith is the hope of the Gentiles too, why should we fear the Romans?
Those who were childlike in innocence but not in intelligence were inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer up to the Lord a faultlessly perfect hymn, and bore witness that, as God, He had brought Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. When the scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, “saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the Temple and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, they were sore displeased and said unto the Lord, Hearest thou what they say?” (Mt. 21:15-16). In fact, it would have been more appropriate for the Lord to put the same question to them, Can you not see, or hear or understand? To refute those who were complaining that He tolerated songs of praise that were fitting for God alone, He replied, Yes, I hear those who, invisibly enlightened by Myself, declare such things about me. But these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. Have you never read the prophecy that, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise’? (Ps. 8:2; Mt. 21:16). This was another amazing fact, that simple, uneducated children should speak perfectly of the divinity of God made man for our sake, and that their voices should take up the angelic hymn. At the Lord’s birth the angels sang, Glory to God in the highest (Lk. 21:4), and now at the time of His entry into Jerusalem the children offered up the same hymn, Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest (Mt. 21:29).
St Gregory Palamas