Today is Palm Sunday, the traditional observance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Passion Week. The whole Bible—and all human history—pivots on the events of this one week that took place in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. But it’s not enough to be familiar with the events themselves. We have to know what these events mean.

For instance, Jesus commandeers a colt and rides it into the city. Why? It’s a demonstration that He is in complete control. At the simple mention of His name, the owners of the colt let it go. Whether this was prearranged or happened spontaneously, the point is the same: Jesus is in charge. Even the normal claims of private ownership of property must yield to the order of the King. In addition, Jesus deliberately fulfills an ancient prophecy by riding on a donkey’s colt (Zechariah 9:9). Both of these points show that Jesus isn’t merely asserting His claim to kingship; He’s showing that He IS the King. He claims a man’s donkey, which shows He has kingly authority; and He rides it into town, which shows He has kingly dignity. Kings ride; they don’t walk.

But this is where we begin to suspect that there’s more to this scene than meets the eye. For one thing, a king rides a stallion, not a donkey’s colt. It looks a little humble for a king—which, of course, is the point. This king is meek. Yes, He intends to conquer, but He’s going to do it by dying for His enemies rather than crushing them by force.

For another thing, the shouts of the crowd, though meaningful from an informed perspective, mean very little to most of them. They are simply following a long-standing tradition of greeting one another in the words of Psalm 118: “Save us, we pray, O LORD! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (vv25-26). As travelers approached Jerusalem for Passover, they would greet each other with the words of this psalm. It was a tradition they followed every year, sort of like the December greeting of “Merry Christmas” in our culture.

For most of these people, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem wasn’t very triumphal. The crowds hailed Him, but most of them didn’t understand at all who He was or why He’d come. The lesson for us is plain: it’s quite possible to be right in the thick of things on Passion Week yet fail entirely to get the point.