John 12:12-16 — The Ancient Israelite Temple Drama, precursor to the Savior’s Triumphal Procession — LeGrand Baker

It is probable that the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem expressed a ethnic memory of the ancient Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. Those temple rites had not been practice by the Jews since before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple 600 years earlier, but the New Testament contains ample evidence that some of the rituals had not been forgotten.

12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.
14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written,
15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.
16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him (John 12:12-16).

Part 1 of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord uses the Psalms to make is a partial reconstruction of that ancient Feast of Tabernacles temple services, including the re-coronation of the king that was the conclusion of the temple rites. The king’s re-coronation was preceded by his triumphal entry into the city and then into the temple.

Before we discuss the Savor’s Triumphal Entry, it seems appropriate to review its ancient ceremonial precedent.

The New Year Festival began on the first day of the new year and continued for 22 days. The last eight of those 22 days was the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. The Jews lost their king (who was the main actor of the drama), their Temple, and the Melchizedek Priesthood when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and transported many of the Jews to Babylon as slaves. After 70 years some of the Jews were allowed to return and build a different temple, but they shifted their ceremonial focus from the Feast of Tabernacles to the Passover, and the temple rites were never performed again.

The ceremonies began on New Year’s day (Rosh ha-Shanah) with sacrifices, feasting, and jubilation. That was followed by eight days of solemn preparations for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The Day of Atonement was the only fast day required by the Law of Moses. It was celebrated on the tenth day of the first month of the year, and was a time for repentance and cleansing. The Lord had instructed Moses that on that day Aaron was to take two young male goats, and by lot select one to be sacrificed as a sin offering. The High Priest laid his hands on the other and transferred to it all of the sins of the people of Israel. Then the goat was driven away. Tradition holds that it was driven over a cliff to make sure it could not return.

The ceremonial cleansing of the nation was a necessary prerequisite to the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama that would follow. Now that the people had become clean, they could symbolically enter into God’s celestial temple to participate in the re-enactment of the premortal events portrayed during the first scenes of their temple drama.

After Yom Kippur, the eleventh through fourteenth days were used for preparing for the Feast of Tabernacles. During those four days, the people constructed “tabernacles” or booths—actually temporary huts—made of wood, with tree branches and leaves as a covering. The tabernacles were built near the city, and were the homes for individual families during the remaining eight days of the celebration. The Feast of Tabernacles and its temple drama began on the 15th day of the festival, and continued through the 22nd day, when the festival concluded.

At Jerusalem, large portions of the drama were probably staged outside, something like our modern-day pageants. Some parts of the performances took place within the city, and others outside of its walls. Some occurred in the Temple itself. All the nation participated in the drama, either on the stage, in the choirs, or as part of the audience. The subject of the play covered the full panoramic scope of cosmic history—from the Council in Heaven before the foundation of the world, through linear time, and concluding with Jehovah’s ultimate triumph over evil, and his reign on a glorified paradisiacal earth.

The drama was performed (except when apostate kings prevented it) each year during the approximately 400 years between Solomon’s reign and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the time of Zedekiah, which was also about the time Lehi left Jerusalem.

Following is a brief review of the pre-Exilic eight-day Feast of Tabernacles temple drama as it is reconstructed in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord (a PDF copy is in “published books” on this website).

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The drama is in three acts, premortal, mortal, and postmortal. Days 1, 2, and 3 were devoted to the beginning events of the ancient Israelite temple drama.

Act 1, The Council in Heaven in the ancient Israelite temple drama.

Covenants made at the Council
The creation
The Garden, the creation of man

Act 2, The Mortal World in the ancient Israelite temple drama.

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, events portrayed in the drama showed that the king (and symbolically all the men in the congregation) received all of ordinances of priesthood and kingship, including the king’s being anointed to become king. After those preparations, there was a ritual combat when the city is attacked by Israel’s enemies. Symbolically, Jerusalem and its Temple are destroyed; the king was killed and entered the world of the dead.

During days 4, 5, and 6, while the king remained among the dead, the drama focused on the life and Atonement of the Savior; then on his mission among the dead, and finally on his resurrection. Jehovah himself went into the Underworld to rescue the king from death and hell.

On the morning of day 7, Jehovah (represented by the Ark of the Covenant) and the rescued king, emerged from the Underworld. They are joined by all the people in a grand procession that was virtually a dance around the outer walls of the city. By their steps, they measured the city, recreating Jerusalem as sacred space. They stopped at a spring where the king (and symbolically, everyone present) is washed and made clean. The precession entered the city, the gates of the temple precinct and the doors of the Solomon’s Temple are opened. The king entered the Temple, where, in view of everyone outside, he was dressed in sacred robes, anointed, crowned, and given a new name. This coronation and the events that follow were the culminating events of the drama.

It was Jehovah and the king’s triumph and procession that the people of Jerusalem were remembering when they celebrated Jesus’s entering the city riding a white colt.

In the drama, after his coronation, the king entered the Holy of Holies through the Veil of Solomon’s Temple. Now, as an adopted son of God and legitimate heir to his kingdom, the king sat on the Temple throne and gave a lecture to the people. (There are no examples of that lecture in the Old Testament, but in the Book of Mormon there are probably three: Jacob’s temple sermon in 2 Nephi, King Benjamin’s sermon, and the Savior’s sermon at the temple.)

Act 3, The Day of the Great Feast in the ancient Israelite temple drama.

Day 8, the festival concluded with a day of sacrificing, feasting, rejoicing, and celebration, representing the fulfillment of Jehovah’s covenants and his millennial reign. This was a symbolic return to the Garden and to the presence of God, where one was again adorned in a garment of light. Now the man and his wife may eat freely of the fruit of the tree of life and drink the waters of live.

It was probably during this last day of celebration that they sang the 23rd Psalm, which is a microcosm of the entire ancient Israelite temple drama in three acts.

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The Twenty-third Psalm
Act 1, The Premortal World
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
For his name’s sake.

Act 2, The Mortal World
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

Act 3, The Eternal World
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever

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