Today was our final day is Israel and we spent it walking the places Jesus spent His last few days and hours before His crucifixion.
Just a heads up, none of the places we visited today are known 100% to be accurate. Some are generally believed to be accurate, some are believed by a small group of theologians and/or archeologists, some by the majority. All that to say, we visited the places our guide (through his research, experience, and discussions with professionals in the field) believe to be true.
We began our day with a hike up the Mount of Olives.
We walked up the road that is believed to be the same road Jesus road on a colt into the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21). On the way we passed the massive semetary that lies on the hill of the Mount of Olives.
Instead of flowers, the Jews place rocks on the tombs of loved ones to honor them and indicate they lived and righteous life
It’s reserved only for Jewish people and costs a lot of money to get a plot there. The reason Jews are so eager to be buried there is because The Mount of Olives is where it’s believed the Messiah will come.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south. – Zecharia 14:4
They want a front row seat to Messiah!
From there we hiked all the way up to the top and heard Rod teach about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
After that, we walked to the place where it’s believed Gethsemane was. First of all, we learned it’s not an actual “garden.” The reason John’s gospel (the only one to call it a “garden”) refers to it as one is a symbolic connection to the Garden of Eden and the way Jesus is about to complete the forgiveness of sin that began with Adam and Eve.
Gethsemane means “olive press” and was a place where olives were pressed for oil. So Jesus went to pray at an olive press. In fact, typically these were underground. So, there’s a beautiful church area in the place it’s believed Jesus went to pray after having Passover with His disciples.
One of the more potent things we learned as Rod taught us in the olive grove above where the press was (above picture), was about blood. Jesus was crucified during Passover, meaning the population of Jerusalem went from around 600k to between 2 and 3 million people. Also meaning that there would have been around 250,000 lambs sacrificed in the temple in a 24 hour period for all the people’s atonement. Of the many meanings this has, one of the practical ones is the sheer amount of blood that it would produce.
The priests would dispose of all this blood by pouring out in the temple courtyard where it would run down in the Kidron valley (which divides Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives) and drain all the way to Bethlehem (coincidence?), which is also where the passover lambs sold by the priests and Levites were raised and grazed (another coincidence?).
This means that when Jesus walked from just having had a Passover meal with His disciples to Gethsemane to pray, He would have had to walk through (or possibly over) a river of sacrificial blood from hundreds of unblemished lambs.
So Jesus prays (with anguish and horror, according to the words used in Scripture) in Gethsemane as He is about to walk to His death as the unblemished lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was a sobering image to process as we prayed and experienced communion in the place near where Jesus was that night.
Next we walked the streets of Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa (“The Way of the Cross”) through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, as it was the last day of Ramadan (for muslims) and also Shabbat (for Jews).
Our first stop was the courtyard in the Roman fort where it’s believed Jesus was scourged before carrying His cross through the city to where He was crucified.
The courtyard and scourging stone in the corner (where prisoners would have been tied to)
From there we visited the two spots that are most believed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. One is a garden area and the other is surrounded by the 2nd most famous church in the world (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
I’m not going to post any pictures here because neither site is guaranteed to be the official spot and it feels funny to post pictures of what could have been, especially since the two locations are so drastically different. Plus, as our group discussed, the whole experience was somewhat anticlimactic. While that sounds bad to say, the truth is that it was wonderful.
There’s nothing magical or mystical about our faith. We don’t worship an object or draw power from a place or thing. And while it’s so great to remember where Jesus died and was buried, the most important truth is that He’s not there any more! He is risen and alive and living in and around every single one of us!
That being said, here were a few details that were so interesting to learn about the crucifixion (wherever it was):
- Jesus (and the criminals next to Him) would have been crucified at eye level and at the base of Golgotha. We tend to picture it on top of a green, grassy hill. But for one, there’s no green, grassy hills in the middle east. And more importantly, the Romans used crucifixions like we use billboards. They were always done in the most public place as a sign to everyone of what happens if you mess with Rome. The Bible also says Jesus was spit on, which was common for passers by to do so. Also, they place a sign above the criminal that they’d want as many people as possible to read. Jesus’ death wasn’t on some far away hill, it was in plain sight of the 3 million people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover.
- Because crucifixions were so common (sometimes hundreds a day), the size of wood was always changing, depending on what was available. So it’s very possible Jesus was crucified on a capital T cross, a lower case t cross, or just on an actual tree.
- The place where Jesus was buried would only have been a few hundred yards from where He was crucified. Because of the need for them to hurry up the burial process (since He died at 3pm and they needed to finish all their work by sundown for the Sabbath (Shabbat), they wouldn’t have been able to travel very far.
- The entrance to the tomb would have only had about a 2′ by 2′ opening.
And probably a lot more details I can’t remember because MY BRAIN IS FULL!
It’s been an incredible couple weeks and I’m exhausted yet full in every sense of the word.
One final thing I wanted to include was maybe my favorite moment of the trip so far. One of our stops during the day was at Saint Anne’s Church, which is where Mary (the mother of Jesus) was born. There’s an incredibly beautiful church there, where we got to stand and sing worship. The acoustics in the building were beautifully haunting. I’ll end this post by showing you a short clip of our group praising God together (listen for how beautiful the echoes of our voices are):
This is my last post from Israel but I plan to post a final one once I’m home, have hugged and kissed my family (for a long time), and let some of what I’ve learned here sink in.
Thanks so much for reading and I’d love to tell you more (because there was so much more) in person!
Today was a day book-ended by very intense experiences.
We started out by walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Hezekiah (which means “God is my Strength”) build a tunnel underneath the old city of Jerusalem to divert water from the natural spring there (hence why it’s such a desirable place for a city) in order to keep Jerusalem and all the Jews living in it alive during the conquering’s of Assyria.
While the king of Assyria bragged in great detail about all the other kings and cities he conquered (and there were many), the only thing he could say about Hezekiah was that he “kept him like a bird in a cage.” The reason Jerusalem avoided destruction was because of the tunnel Hezekiah built.
The tunnel he built was nothing short of unbelievable. We hiked down under the modern city of Jerusalem and eventually entered a tiny entrance, about the size of a car door, with cold water up to our ankles flowing past.
The rest of the tunnel, which took a solid 20 minutes of brisk walking to get through, was a claustrophobic’s nightmare. We’re under hundreds of feet of rock (so it’s pitch black…save for our flashlights) and the tunnel size averages about the size of a small house doorway, getting narrower and shorter frequently, so there were times when I had to walk with my knees bent until it opened up again. At one point, the water was almost up to my waste and there are times when it would have been up to my chin.
Needless to say, those afraid of tight spaces were very, very challenged with their biggest fear and through prayer (at one point Rod having us yell Psalm 23 loudly and hearing the powerful thump of our echo through the caves), encouragement, and me rapping from the Space Jam soundtrack for some comedic distraction, we all made it through.
At the end of the tunnel is the Pool of Siloam where Jesus sent the blind man from the Temple Courtyard to go receive healing (John 9); a long descending journey for anyone, let alone someone who is blind.
Next we got to walk through the Israel Museum where, among other things, we got to walk through the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (there were no pictures allowed). Having already been to Quamran (where the scrolls were discovered), it was a wonderful experience to see the actual scrolls themselves in person. They were truly an amazing discovery that advanced the proof of the Bible from 1000 AD to 200 BC and solidified the roots of the Christian faith in truth to God’s chosen people and the Law.
The monument outside the Israel Museum, which is very specifically designed with “living water”, white stone, and in a similar shape to the jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls
After that we took the bus to Bethlehem for some shopping! I can’t get in too much detail about the borderlines and politics (mostly because it’s very confusing and I’m not that smart) but Bethlehem is located in modern day Palestine, which is literally right next to and within the Israel near Jerusalem. Bethlehem used to be home to about 80% Christian Arabs and 20% Muslim Arabs but now those percentages have switched and life is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians in that region.
Because of this, there is a man named Johnny who runs a Christian souvenir shop and is looked at as the Patriarch of Christianity within Bethlehem. Our guide informed us of this and said he doesn’t usually like to do touristy things but wants to try and support this man, his family, and the other Christians he supports in an area that can be very difficult at times. There was no pressure to spend, but it was going towards a wonderful cause.
Not only that, there were some amazing things to buy! The main products in Bethlehem are hand carvings made from Olive Wood. Depending on how long it is aged and dried, it can become as strong as stone and there were some carvings in the store that had been aged up to 800 years!
After some fun shopping and lunch, we headed off for a hike in the mid-day heat at Herodium. That was an enormous palace Herod built (38 acres compared to Caesar’s 9 acre palace) that featured a man-made lake with shaded island and man-made mountain for a lookout/bath, and where Herod is now buried.
The man-made mountain Herod built for part of his palace and also where he’s currently buried
A look at where the land of milk (land of the shepherd/desert) and honey (land of the farmer – they would make honey out of dates) meet
We’ve done a lot of study of Herod over our trip in part because He’s a significant influence on the Biblical story and God uses His building of Rome to advance His Kingdom with the early church, but also to illustrate a point. Herod was a self-absorbed dictator but he was also a genius who built some of the most technology-advanced structures of ancient history that today’s archeologists are struggling to figure out the means behind. And yet…his kingdom lies in ruins. His cities are toppled and even though he wanted to be thought of and was worshipped as a God while he was alive, today he’s simply a name is our history books.
While the other King, the true King of The Jews, is worshipped by millions worldwide.
Herod’s message was: “Your life for me!”
Jesus’ message was: “My life for all of you!”
Jesus won. The King born in a dinky town in a cave, died a criminal’s death, is the true King of Kings (Revelation 19)
Next, we went to the Holocaust Museum.
There’s not much to write and we weren’t allowed to take pictures.
But it was a powerful experience. The atrocities of the Nazi’s during the Holocaust made me angry, convicted, and nearly brought to tears. And yet, it was a great experience to be a part of an establishment that was mostly about not letting anyone forget. Through reading the names, hearing the stories, and reading the history of what the Jewish people went though, our group honored the memory of God’s chosen people who were killed during this horrific time.
We ended our day with some wonderful food with some of our new friends at a restaurant in the old city of Jerusalem. Lamb, rice, veggies, and red wine. Just about a perfect meal in Jerusalem.
For our last day tomorrow, we get to walk (literally) through Jesus’ last week before dying for the sins of mankind. Can’t wait!
Last night was our first experience both at night and in Jerusalem.
We walked through the marketplace to the Western Wall. I knew very little about the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) but after spending a night learning all about it, I was blown away by how significant it is. I’m far from a history buff but this whole trip has sparked a major interest in it, at least the history of Israel, which (according to Romans 11:17) is all Christian’s history as well.
The Western Wall is the only remaining piece of the Jewish Temple. Originally it was the location of the Jewish Synagogue, until Solomon built the temple on the same spot (which was destroyed by Babylon), followed by Herod the Great (the same Herod who ruled when Jesus was born and tried to have Him killed), building a supersized temple on top of the original in the same spot. After this temple (called “The 2nd Temple”) was destroyed, muslims occupied the area until Israel became an official state in 1948. Then in 1967, the Jewish people made the area we see today, where Jews come from all over the world to see and pray at the Western Wall. The reason being, the Western Wall was a part of the foundation of the platform that the temple was actually built on, and is the only original structure still standing.
It would be the equivalent of archeologists finding a beam of the cross Jesus was killed on that they knew without a shadow of a doubt was authentic. Obviously there’s nothing magical about the wood, but we would absolutely want to go see and touch and be near it as much as possible. We would have an incredible reverence for it and if it was within walking distance from our home or on our way to work (which it is for many Jews here in Jerusalem), we wouldn’t hesitate to make it a regular destination to pray and praise God and get our hearts in a position of worship and gratitude.
Because of the significance of the wall, those of the Jewish and Christian faith flock from around the world to experience such a significant part of our faith history. It was amazing to look at it and think that it stood before and during Jesus time as the place all followers of Jehovah came to worship Him.
As I placed my hands on the wall and prayed, I really sensed God’s presence. Obviously there’s nothing magical about the wall, but I was standing in a place where (according to God’s Word) His presence lived, in the capital city of the land He chose and gave to His chosen people. It was a wonderful, powerful time of prayer that I’m so grateful to have experienced.
Not only that, but we got to take an underground tour along a much longer portion of the Western Wall. In the ancient world, when a city was destroyed, conquered, or burned down, the conquering nation would simply level the city and build on top of it. Kind of like the layers of a cake. So, as modern archeologists dig into this (called a “tel”) they’re able to travel back in time and determine historical events.
That being said, the original main street for Jerusalem is much lower than the modern one. So as we toured underground through tunnels built by muslims who occupied the area before Israel became a state, we got to experience so much history.
Part of the base of the Western Wall that’s now underground, featuring a 600 ton (yes that’s correct) stone place there by Herod as he built
One of the most significant places underground is a spot that is the closest possible place to the Holiest Place (Holy of Holies) in the 2nd Temple. It’s underground but around 300 feet from the place that only the high priest was allowed to go and where the curtain was torn the moment of Jesus’ death.
Speaking of which, the Western Wall is only a few football fields away from where Jesus died, which I’m sure we’ll experience in our last two days in Israel.
Overall, it was a powerful night and so rich in history and God’s past and current presence.
Today we go to Bethlehem! On to the next!
Today we left the northern area of Galilee and headed towards Jerusalem.
Our first stop was a powerful one: The Jordan River.
Rod (our teacher) stepping in to teach us and my pal Rachel photo bombing
Our group had a baptism experience in the same river where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Many from our group chose to get baptized, while the rest chose to experience Mikveh. Mikveh is an ancient act of regular, self baptism as a symbolic act of cleansing. There were Mikveh pools outside temples and synagogues that the Jewish people (including Jesus before He would enter a synagogue, not as an act of repentence but as an act of commitment) would wash their feet, hands, head, heart, and sometimes even their eyes or mouth before entering into a time of worshipping God. Some of the more pious Jews even did it multiple times a day, before meals or when they just felt lead to.
It was a powerful experience for me doing Mikveh. Baptism is obviously Biblical, powerful, and something Jesus commands. But Mikveh (at least for me) was a whole new experience. Instead of being baptized by someone else and feeling the power of the moment as a public act of faith, Mikveh was something much more personal between just me a God.
I stood in the mucky waters of the refreshing water of the Jordan and thanked Jesus for His grace and forgiveness. Then I took the cool water and washed myself as I confessed and symbolized a cleansing I know Jesus has already given to me.
Then we all linked arms and crossed the Jordan together, as that’s what God’s people did as they literally and symbolically moved from one life (chaos, sin, desert, wandering, etc.) into a new life (freedom, promised land, hope, salvation, etc.). Needless to say, the day got off to a powerful start.
From there we visited the ancient Roman town of Scythopolis. There were no Biblical accounts here, but it continued to give us a flavor of the Roman, Hellenistic world that was in stark contrast to that of the Jewish world. The Romans glorified perfection (body, work, etc.) and comfort over anything else. Sound like any country or churches you know..?
Panoramic view of the city center, houses were on the outskirts
The “wide road/gate” Jesus was referencing when talking about the need to take His, “narrow” road that leads to life (Matthew 7)
An ancient Roman bathroom. My friends Matt and Debbie considering trying it…
After lunch we headed for our last hike of the day, and it was a humdinger. Not only in difficulty but also in significance.
While the bus took us the majority of the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, we did experience the intense walk from the ancient city of Jericho on the narrow, wilderness trail through the mountains. This was the same trail that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have taken up to 3 times a year to worship in Jerusalem.
It was also the area Jesus spent 40 days in while fasting in the wilderness. Contrary to what I thought (that Jesus spent these 40 days totally isolated amongst cactus and tumbleweeds), it’s highly likely Jesus interacted with people during this time. The “wilderness” to the Jewish people is where they lived. To us, that’s a place where we avoid, but they’re desert people. So Jesus, most likely, walked the path we walked to day, encountering numerous types of people during His fast and preparting while being tempted.
Not only that, but this was the same trail Jesus walked on His way to, what He knew would be, His death.
Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem… – Luke 9:51
It was humbling to step on the same path our Savior once walked on, as He willingly walked towards His death and the payment for our sins.
After our hike, we sang songs on the bus as we ascended to “The House” where God’s people have traveled for thousands of years to worship Him.
Jerusalem in Hebrew is pronounced ya-roo-sha-lime. The suffix of “ime” in Hebrew means that there’s two of something. So the Hebrew words for hands, eyes, ears, etc. all end in with an “ime” sound. Jerusalem is the only city that has this suffix (since all other cities are singular) because of the fact that there is a Jerusalem in Heaven and on Earth (Revelation 21).
Tomorrow we explore the city!
Our first look at Jerusalem!
Today was our final day in and around Galilee (specifically in the north-eastern part Israel around the Golan Heights) and each of our stops was a slice of life for Jesus’ ministry.
Here’s a rapid fire list of our day:
Overlooking the ruins of Gamla
This was a city filled with Zealots, the most radical group of Jews in the ancient world. On a scale of how a Jew felt about the Romans, the Zealots fell on the far side of the pendulum:
LOVES ROME HATES ROME
Herodians Sadducees Pharisees Zealots
The Zealots lived with Torah in one hand and a sword in the other. And many of them occupied Gamla. It was near this setting, to mainly this audience, that Jesus delivered His yoke, the longest portion of His recorded words, the most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). And different than what they believed and hoped Messiah would be (a King who would destroy Rome) Jesus said things like: “Love and pray for your enemy.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus was a revolutionary, but not like the Jewish people might have expected. His revolution was much better, much deeper, much more eternal.
Talk about preaching to the wrong audience! But Jesus’ message was about a different kind of Kingdom and He had the hutzpah to boldly declare it. It’s also believed that it was this kind of audience (or a majority of them) were who Jesus fed 5000 of (Luke 9).
Another thing to think about is that Jesus had a Zealot in his group of disciples (Simon/Peter)! The guy He would say His church would be built on! (Matthew 16:18) Nobody was outside of His Kingdom!
2). Dan. No we didn’t go visit a guy named Dan, but instead we went to the furthest northern part of Israel to where the tribe of Dan went to after ditching the land God gave them in Canaan. And after only a few minutes of being there, I could see why.
Especially coming from the desert, this area was absolutely gorgeous! Green, lush, and cool, with a gushing river (the start of the Jordan River) that came from the snow melt off of Mount Hermon (in fact, modern day Jews snow ski at the top of Mount Hermon in the winter!). It was called “Eden” and for good reason.
While the tribe of Dan might have liked their decision at first, the problem for them was that they were continually conquered by every single nation invading Israel. Because they were right on the northern border and possessed such a coveted land, they were always been killed and destroyed. Oops.
In the city where the Israelites settled, there was a temple that perfectly matched God’s description for His temple except for one small detail: a golden calf (about the side of a loaf of bread) sitting in The Most Holy Place. Ironically, the temple was for God’s people to come worship Yahweh, but through paying tribute to the golden calf as well (1 Kings 12).
Our group had a lot of discussion on our American, Western churches doing the same thing often times. Sometimes we put things like pastors or worship leaders or technology in the front and, while we’re definitely worshipping God, are also filtering that worship through a someone or something first, which isn’t true worship in the first place. It was a powerful moment of thought.
We are all pastors (1 Peter 2:9) and no matter whether we work at a church or a Target or United Airlines, we need to take our call very seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously. Our call: To bless others, so they can bless their neighbors, so they can bless the world with the Gospel message of Jesus.
***WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT BELOW…THAT POWERFULLY SPEAKS TO THE POWER OF GOD***
3). Caesarea Philippi. This was a Neo Coris city (a city known for the worship of a major god) that was built around worship to the god Pan. No not, Peter Pan, a god who was intensely perverse. The temple to Pan, the god of fertility, was built right by a cave where water flowed out (that was called “Hades”) and worship was done through sexually perverse acts including temple prostitution, outdoor orgies, and bestiality with goats (since Pan had the legs and features of a goat).
These acts of worship often got so out of control that it’s where we get words like “pandemic”, “panic”, and “pandemonium.”
A look at the outdoor shrine (on right), temple (center), and gate of Hades (left – cave where water came out)
In Matthew 16, we read about Jesus coming to this place. Leaving the triangle (see yesterday’s post) of a safe bubble and coming to a city steeped in paganism and sin. A city Jewish boys and girls were forbidden to come to (keep in mind all the disciples, except peter, are teenagers).
Jesus brings His disciples here to give them a taste of the world He is going to send them out into. A snapshot of the darkness and perversion that is out there, filled with people who were created in God’s image and so desperately need His love. He’s preparing them. He’s teaching them to walk like Him in places like this.
Much like we do every day. Just like Jesus, we disciple people so we can then apostle (“sent-out one”) them.
In Mark 8, Jesus (the text says “loudly”) declares to His followers and anyone else listening that He is true life!
4). Susita (Hippos). We finished our day in the ruins of an ancient Roman city, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
It was the place Jesus called “The Other Side” (Mark 5) both symbolically and literally being the opposite of the triangle they spent most of their time in. The disciples would again have been terrified to go there, especially since the first thing that happened when they got across was they were met by a naked, dirty, demon-possessed Roman man who screamed at Jesus. Actually, in reading the text, it becomes clear that the disciples were too afraid to get out of the boat and it was only Jesus was went ashore and encountered the man.
This was an environment saturated with things that were “unclean” to the Jewish people. Gentiles, Rome, tombs, the nudity of the man, and demons. And it was in the face of this that Jesus spoke to the demons (which were in the hundreds, based on their name: “legion”), telling them to get out. The Roman people came to see what had happened: Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. (vs. 15)
Rod pointed out an extremely interesting detail in this verse, which is that the man was dressed. Who dressed him? Well, from what we know, the only person who was with the man was Jesus. Meaning Jesus not only cast demons out of the man, but lovingly helped dress him as well.
But Jesus wasn’t done.
The account continues, saying the man begged to become a follower of Jesus. But He said no for a historic reason.
And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled. (vs. 18-20)
The reason this is historic is because this man went on to become a significant source for the message of Jesus in the early days of the church. Jesus took an “unclean” man and made him (a gentile) His first missionary, the first apostle. In fact, when walking out of Hippos, we saw a church from around 500 AD that was there because of his direct influence in the area to tell his story and spread the love of Jesus.
A small picture of the big picture that God has been doing since the beginning of time and that Jesus came to demonstrate and die for: Bringing Shalom to chaos; bringing hope to despair; bringing joy to fear; bringing light to darkness, bringing life to death, bringing peace to the world.
Oh and we also walked in a place where Abraham walked and added rocks to a pile of people we’re praying come to know Jesus.
Ancient (Bronze Age) gate that Abraham walked through
It was an amazing day and tomorrow we head to our final hotel for the trip as we get to explore in and around the city of Jerusalem for our final 3 days.