What does hosanna mean?
Hosanna. Hebrew expression meaning “Save us, we beseech thee,” taken from Psalm 118:25. The crowd welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with the cry of “Hosanna” (Mt 21:9; Mk 11:9, 10; Jn 12:13).
Psalm 118 is a declaration of confidence in the Lord’s salvation, made in a time of need. The psalm as a whole was part of a longer hymn (the Hallel) which was sung on great occasions. Verse 25 in particular was used in the Jewish feast of tabernacles. At the point in the worship when this verse was read, the people would wave branches of myrtle, willow, and palm. Branches may have been waved at other times also as a general expression of jubilation. This happens in 2 Maccabees 10:6, 7, at a ceremony for the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled. But because the people who welcomed Jesus not only waved branches but also sang “Hosanna,” and “blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord” (Ps 118:26) it appears they had the feast of tabernacles in mind.
This means the crowd was greeting Jesus as Messiah. Already before Jesus’ time the phrase “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” was taken to refer to the Messiah. And it is possible that the word “Hosanna” by itself had messianic significance. Other expressions in the report of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem support this. In Matthew 21:9 Jesus is called the “Son of David”; in Mark 11:9 there is reference to “the coming kingdom of our father David”; in John 12:13, Jesus is called “the King of Israel.” All of these have messianic overtones.
We need not suppose that in shouting “Hosanna” the people had a political deliverance in mind. They probably did not know in what way Jesus would be a deliverer. The most one can say is they believed Jesus was One sent by God for their salvation. Had there not been something in their response to him which Jesus could recognize as proper worship, he would hardly have accepted their praise. It would only appear later, in his cross and resurrection, what his messiahship really meant.
J. Gordon McConville, “Hosanna,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1000.