Why palm branches? Why do the people wave palm branches in church?
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 symbolize 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.”
Triumphal Entry and the Palm Branches
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!”
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.
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).”