The Sunday before easter is celebrated as Palm Sunday. It represents the day Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem riding a donkey. As the scripture records, garments, and palm branches were laid on his path as a way of celebrating the entrance of the king of kings into the city. This is what gave birth to the Palm Sunday tradition.
Palm branches can mean any number of things. For starters, they are a symbol of victory. This is based on the tradition of laying palm branches and garments down for a king. But palm branches can also symbolize perennial freshness and resilience.
Let us take a closer look at some of these symbolisms of palm branches and palm trees in the Bible.
Sign of victory
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13)
Palm branches and clothes were customarily used to celebrate a king’s entourage. We see an illustration of this in 2 Kings 9 when people spread their cloaks for King Jehu to ride on as a sign of submission. This is the same thing that happened to Jesus in Matthew 21:8-11 when they spread their clothes and branches. Apostle John clarifies that the branches used were palm branches and this makes sense traditionally, these branches symbolized royalty and victory. Here is a scripture that illustrates this better;
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb…These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9, 14).
In the above scripture, John sees the multitudes holding palm branches before the throne of God. He then concludes by saying the multitudes were those who emerged victorious from the tribulation. As such, we can infer that palm branches are a sign of victory. The saints had just conquered the wiles of the enemy and they had now entered God’s reward (heaven). Palm branches are therefore a symbol of the victory of the church over the forces of darkness. Paul describes this victory in Romans 8:37 by calling us “more than conquerors through Him (Christ) that loved us.” The implication is that Christians can face many fights but they will always emerge victorious.
Sign of Perennial Freshness
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; Psalms 92:2
The palm tree is evergreen even though it grows in the desert and sandy beaches. Some of the leaves will eventually wither and die with time but it will always have green leaves on the top. This evergreen nature of the palm tree is a symbol of freshness. The palm branches can therefore be used to denote freshness.
Scripture compares the blessing of God to freshness. For instance, in Psalm 1, the chapter describes a blessed man, and in verse 3, it says that the blessed man will be alike an evergreen tree in that whatever they do will prosper. The same imagery is used by the prophet Jeremiah in the following scripture;
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
But the freshness may also denote the refreshing experience that saints are meant to give to those around them. There are some believers who have a refreshing aura around them. This is because they demonstrate the genuine love of God. A good example is Philemon;
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Philemon 1:7
Philemon demonstrates the love of God and people are always refreshed with him. Every Christian should aspire to leave that effect on people.
Sign of Resilience
Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters. Exodus 15:27
The palm tree is the only tree that can flourish in the desert. It grows in the sand where other trees would not stand because it has deep tap roots that go deep into the soil. Even though they grow in dry ground, they reach down to the water bed that is often too deep for other plants to reach. That is how palm trees can remain green in environments where other trees and vegetation cannot thrive.
Palm trees also symbolize the presence of water in the wilderness. This is because they are often found in an oasis. A good example is given in Exodus 15:27 of an Oasis called Elim. Elim was located between the wilderness of sin and Marah and it is one of the places Israel sojourned while on their journey from Egypt towards the promised land.
The quality of palm trees growing in harsh conditions can be used as a symbol of resilience. Christians are expected to be hardy because the Christian walk is often riddled with lots of challenges. As the Psalmist records, the righteous will suffer many afflictions (Pslams 34:19). However, just like the palm tree, the righteous should not despair because victory is guaranteed.
In conclusion, the palm tree is one of the most commonly referenced trees in the Bible. As we have seen, the palm branches were traditionally used when hailing a victorious king. This means the palm branch symbolizes victory and royalty. However, the ability of the palm tree to grow in the wilderness is also a symbol of resilience.