Today’s Word: ‘Caesar’ as in… NOT the son of God.
Because Julius Caesar was believed to have had divine origins, his son was called a ‘son of god’. This began with Caesar Augustus, and it went through numerous Caesars from there. The phrase ‘son of god’ was a political/religious term which meant that the son of god was a powerful ruler with divine origins who ruled with the power and favor of the gods.
It was a figure-of-speech for someone who had “something extra.”
So the Caesar who was perceived as a “son of god” was understood to be a savior, a “messiah.” There was even a phrase as part of the ancient Roman military propaganda that said: “Caesar was sent to earth to bring about a universal reign of peace (pax romana) and prosperity.”
So as the first century opened, the Roman government was extremely powerful and their occupation of the land was incredibly repressive, heavy handed, and brutal.
But it hadn’t always been like that. Before the occupation, the Jewish people had been free; they governed themselves, and they even had their own currency. One of their coins prominently featured a palm branch. The palm was sacred in Mesopotamian religions, and in ancient Egypt represented hope, new life, even immortality.
A palm branch was a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life. So laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a donkey was an act of defiance; it was a powerfully subversive and political statement.
The Jewish people wanted to be free and the man riding into town on a donkey was going to change things and restore what was lost. He would be the Savior, the Lord, the Redeemer. Jesus would be understood as the Messiah. Also – and I have to warn you – this may be, for some, somewhat indelicate: in the first century, having children wave palm branches would have been the equivalent of making a rude gesture in the general direction of the Roman Military Machine and Empire, only way more political.
A lot was happening on that first Palm Sunday!