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.
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!