The Messiah would be acclaimed
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118 was one of the Hallel Psalms (Psalms of Praise) recited at Passover time. All four Gospels record that as Jesus entered Jerusalem in the days leading up to Passover, crowds gathered, acclaiming Jesus as the one “who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26).
And so in Matthew 21:9, we read, “The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Hosanna means, “save us, please!”) Here the crowds add the messianic title “Son of David” to their citation of Psalm 118, showing that they understood these psalm verses as messianic.
The corresponding account in Mark 11:9-10 reads, “Those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” Here the crowds specifically express their hope for the imminent coming of the “kingdom of our father David,” another indication that they were viewing Jesus as the promised Messiah. The word “father” here means “protector” rather than “ancestor,” similar to the title “Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9 (see commentary on Isaiah 9:6-7). A king who would protect his people Israel from all enemies and all evil – this was a high expectation!
When we get to Luke 19:38, the crowd specifically calls Jesus a king, and a king who brings peace: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” As Mark 11 reminds us of the title “Everlasting Father” from Isaiah 9, the crowd’s welcome of Jesus reminds us of the title “Prince of Peace” (see commentary on Isaiah 9:6-7).
And finally, we come to John 12:13: “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” Here they acclaim Jesus not simply King, but specifically as King of Israel.
Each Gospel account supplements the others. In the week leading up to Passover, Jesus was acclaimed as Son of David, as the king-protector, as the king-peacemaker, and as King of Israel. John also specifically mentions palm branches, which “had been one of the nationalistic symbols of Judea since the days of the Maccabees, were consistently used to celebrate military victories and probably stirred some political messianic hopes among the people.”1 Given all this messianic acclamation, it is no wonder that Jesus’ presence stirred passions pro and con during this time!
There is more, though. In Luke 13:34-35, Jesus cries out in pain over the unbelief of Jerusalem, and by extension, the nation as a whole:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
It is not just the crowds who called Jesus the one who comes in the name of the Lord. When Jesus quoted Psalm 118, he was referring to himself, just as he spoke of other passages in the same psalm as applying to himself (see other Psalm 118 commentaries). Though many of the people not long afterwards did, in fact, acclaim him with this verse, as the other Gospel quotations show, the leadership of the day did not. And even many of those who did acclaim him were disappointed when rather than become a victorious king who would destroy Rome and bring in the hoped-for kingdom, he was crucified instead. Little did they know that the kingdom first came by humility, death, and resurrection, and only later in power and glory. Jesus indeed came in the name of the Lord, but his coming was not according to popular hopes.
Yet someday, according to his words in Luke 13, the nation – leaders and people alike – will acclaim him as the Messiah “who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then the hope of redemption that Passover looks forward to will finally come to pass in full!