Vocabulary —Palm branches —Why wave Palms?

Frequently Asked Question

Why palm branch­es? Why do the peo­ple wave palm branch­es in church?

A circular design with a black border around 3 palm leaves.

John delib­er­ate­ly explained that palm branch­es were used to greet the com­ing King. “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!”.” -John 12:10–15

Palm Branches in Ancient Times

The finest spec­i­mens of palms grew at Jeri­cho and Enge­di and along the banks of the Jor­dan.

In ancient times, palm branch­es sym­bol­ized good­ness, well-being, and vic­to­ry. They were often depict­ed on coins and impor­tant build­ings. King Solomon had palm branch­es carved into the walls and doors of the tem­ple:

On the walls all around the tem­ple, in both the inner and out­er rooms, he carved cheru­bim, palm trees and open flow­ers.” (1 Kings 6:29)

Psalm 92.12 says that “the right­eous shall flour­ish like the palm tree.”

At the end of the Bible, again peo­ple from every nation raised palm branch­es to hon­or Jesus:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great mul­ti­tude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, peo­ple and lan­guage, stand­ing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wear­ing white robes and were hold­ing palm branch­es in their hands.”
(Rev­e­la­tion 7:9)

Triumphal Entry and the Palm Branches

Silhouettes of people holding up palm branches and a man riding a donkey with the words "Hosanna in the highest!"Peo­ple spread cloaks and branch­es on the road before him. Then the dis­ci­ples began, joy­ful­ly, to praise God in loud voic­es for all the mir­a­cles they had seen” (Luke 19:37). The crowd began shout­ing, “Hosan­na,” a slo­gan of the ultra-nation­al­is­tic Zealots, which meant, “Please save us! Give us free­dom! We’re sick of these Romans!”

A man seated on a donkey with palm branches silhouetted around him and the words of Matthew 21:5 "Behold your King is coming to you."The peo­ple also waved palm branch­es, a sym­bol that had once been placed on Jew­ish coins when the Jew­ish nation was free. Thus the palm branch­es were not a sym­bol of peace and love, as Chris­tians usu­al­ly assume; they were a sym­bol of Jew­ish nation­al­ism, an expres­sion of the people’s desire for polit­i­cal free­dom.

Jesus as the Passover Lamb

Yet Jesus came to the peo­ple as the Lamb of God. Jesus, the sin­less Mes­si­ah who would die on humankind’s behalf, appeared on the very day that peo­ple chose their spot­less Passover lambs!

It’s almost as if God said to the world, “Here’s my Lamb. Will you choose him?” But instead of turn­ing to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the crowds mis­un­der­stood his procla­ma­tion that he was the Mes­si­ah. They want­ed him to be their polit­i­cal-mil­i­tary deliv­er­er.

Today

Three palm leaves spread out on a white background with the words "Palm Sunday"Not mere­ly a design scheme or a dec­o­ra­tive motif, the ever­green palms depict­ed the eter­nal pres­ence of God among the peo­ple.  … All God’s Chris­tians now hold palm branch­es in their hands! These palms depict the eter­nal life that is now ours through Him who died for us! Amen.

Origin in Jewish Festival of Sukkoth

The tra­di­tion of palm branch­es on Palm Sun­day actu­al­ly orig­i­nates with the Jew­ish fes­ti­val of Sukkoth, also called the Fes­ti­val of the Taber­na­cles or Booths, which was prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar hol­i­day among the Jews in the first cen­tu­ry. In the obser­vance of Sukkoth, wor­shipers pro­ceed­ed through Jerusalem and in the Tem­ple, wav­ing in their right hands some­thing called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branch­es made of wil­low, myr­tle and palm. As they waved these branch­es in that pro­ces­sion, the wor­ship­pers recit­ed words from Psalm 118, the psalm nor­mal­ly used at Sukkoth. Among these words were “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.” Save us in Hebrew is hosian­na or hosan­na. This is typ­i­cal­ly fol­lowed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Ps 118:25–6).”

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