The road which leads from Bethphage and Bethany down toward Jerusalem is a narrow and exceedingly stony and dusty pathway. Normally it might be rather quiet and deserted, with only a few villagers trudging their lonely way to the city, but on this day it was crowded and noisy. The King was on His way to Jerusalem and multitudes thronged His path.
As they descended Olivet and came near to the place now known as Dominus Flevit, meaning “the Lord wept,” the multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God, quoting the words of Psalm 118:26. From this point on the Mount of Olives, the whole city comes into view. It is a golden panorama as the city shines in the sun. To the disciples it was a beautiful sight but for the Savior it would soon bring tears.
Zechariah’s prophecy was already being fulfilled: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: 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). Jesus Himself had so arranged it that His riding on an ass would be fulfilled at that time for it was after He had commissioned His disciples to go for the ass and its colt that it was written, “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass’” (Matt 21:4-5).
With the city now in view and within reach, many begin to chant the words already mentioned from Psalm 118:26. Soon, conscious of His rejection and His approaching death, Jesus Himself would sing these same words with His disciples in the Upper Room. They were the closing words of the great Hallelsung at the celebration of the Passover Feast and it is reasonable to believe that the Savior would indeed sing them on that last evening for it was when they had sung an hymn, or Psalm, that they went out into the Mount of Olives, to Gethsemane.
To the words “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord,” Luke adds, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” This is similar to, but slightly different from, what the angelic host sang in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” How right it was that glory to God should come first, then peace on earth, at the birth of the Savior. However, now it is “peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). As ever, fault-finding Pharisees were lurking, mingling in the crowds, listening and watching. And they did indeed find fault. To Him they said, “Teacher, rebuke Thy disciples.” Doubtless what angered them was the cry of the crowds, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matt 21:9). This was an acknowledgement that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of David. It was an acknowledgement too that He was able to save, for such is the meaning of Hosanna. And they also attributed blessing to Him, as coming in the name of the Lord, thus eulogizing the Man Whom the Pharisees despised.
What a brief but powerful rebuke Jesus administered to them. “He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). Again, as at other times, they were silenced, but by now the crowds had reached that place already mentioned, today familiar as Dominus Flevit.
Luke introduces the story with simple beauty, “And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it” (Luke 19:41).
The tears of Jesus are a touching study, and all His recorded tears were shed on the Mount of Olives. But what caused Him to weep here, when others were rejoicing and praising God? He tells us Himself. To the city He says, “If thou hadst known.” But they were blind to their awful future. In less than 40 years the Roman legions would encompass the city. They would be “kept in on every side,” besieged by the enemy. The city and the Temple would be mercilessly razed to the ground. Not one stone would be left upon another and the inhabitants would be crushed by the might of Rome. It was all because they did not recognize Him, their Messiah. For the years that He lived among them it was a time of visitation but they failed to appreciate Him; their wilful ignorance and unbelief would end in destruction.
How literally it was all fulfilled, as Josephus the historian describes so graphically. It is no wonder that Jesus wept. Such a beautiful sight they all saw as the golden city shone majestically across the Kidron. But He could see further than they and He wept over the doomed city.
The people of Bethphage would surely never forget the day when Jesus of Nazareth visited their village. They would reminisce and remember the multitudes that thronged their little road on that day. But would some live to see Calvary and watch the same Jesus hanging on a cross with His rightful title written above Him, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”?
From the Bethphage-Jerusalem road the Savior entered the city and demonstrated His authority (Luke 19:45-47).