In my previous post, I shared pictures and stories of our first three days in Israel, with visits to Tel Aviv, Joppa, Caesarea, Megiddo/ Armageddon, Mt. Carmel, Tiberias, the Mt of Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. As you can tell, we packed a lot into each day!
After staying in Tel Aviv for two nights and Tiberias (on the Sea of Galilee) for two nights, we headed for Jerusalem, where we would spend our remaining time. Even though Jerusalem is several miles south of Tiberias, our Israeli guide Ari told us we were traveling “up” to Jerusalem. He informed us that no matter what location you are starting from, when your destination is Jerusalem you are always to say you’re ascending. That made me think of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). “Jerusalem… That is where the tribes go up — the tribes of the Lord — to praise the name of the Lord…” (Ps. 122:3-4)
Before heading to Jerusalem we stopped at Mt. Arbel. After a short hike to the top, we were blessed by an incredible view. From the top of the mountain one can see the surrounding countryside, as well as the Sea of Galilee. Though Mt. Arbel is not mentioned in Scripture, it’s very likely Jesus would have spent time here. In fact, this is where I could envision him retreating to when he needed time away from the crowds — time alone with his Father.
After Mt. Arbel, we stopped at the Harod Spring. This spring bubbles up from what’s called the Gideon Cave. This was the site where Gideon’s soldiers were selected for war. We read in Judges 7 that the army of Israel was to fight the Midianites, but God told Gideon he had too many soldiers — 32,000. God wanted there to be no doubt that victory would come from Him, and not from their own strength, so Gideon was instructed to drastically reduce the number of soldiers. First he was told to dismiss the men who were afraid, and 10,000 remained. God determined that was still too many, so He told Gideon to bring the soldiers to this stream. He then gave Gideon an unusual order…
Next, we stopped at Beth Shan (later known as Scythopolis). In the days of Joshua, Beth Shan was one of the pagan cities the Israelites did not capture and this stronghold remained in Canaanite hands. Many years later, this was where the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons (I Sam. 31). In Jesus’ time, Beth Shan, then known as Scythopolis, was one of the chief cities of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities). In later centuries, Scythopolis became a major Roman city and extensive ruins have been uncovered by archaeologists. Places in Scripture where Beth Shan is mentioned: Joshua 17; Judges 1; I Sam. 31; 2 Sam. 21; I Kings 4; I Chron. 7.
After we left Beth Shan, we began our ascent to Jerusalem. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures from the bus of things we don’t typically see back home!
Later that day we entered Jerusalem, the City of Peace. As we went through the check point and ascended into the city, our bus suddenly filled with the music of “The Holy City” (Jerusalem, Jerusalem lift up your gates and sing). What a touching and powerful entry into this beautiful city!
Early the following day, we began our exploration of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a unique and strategic city — a city God has identified as His own. “In Jerusalem I will put my Name” (2 Kings 21:4). I found it fascinating that three of the world’s major religions consider Jerusalem their Holy City. Jerusalem is, indeed, not only the spiritual center of Israel, but it is the spiritual center of the whole world. Why is this city so important to people of so many various religions?
- Judaism: Jerusalem, and more specifically, what is known as the Temple Mount, is the place where the two Jewish temples were located. The first one, Solomon’s temple, was built around 960 BC and later destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, when they captured Jerusalem, destroyed it and carried the Jewish people into exile. The second temple was built on the same site around 515 BC, after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile. Herod the Great later expanded Jerusalem’s second temple into a massive, ornate structure. This was the temple that was present in Jesus’ day and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. We’re told in Mark 13 that Jesus foretold the destruction of this temple. “As they were leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, ‘Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls!’ Jesus replied, ‘Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!'” (Mark 13:1-2).
- Islam: Muslims, adherents of the Islam religion, revere Jerusalem as a holy city because of its association with its leader, Muhammad. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was taken from this site on a nighttime, spiritual journey through all the heavens until he was joined with the Divine Presence. It was while he was in this exalted state, that he was given revelations from the supreme god, Allah. These revelations became the basis of all Islamic beliefs. The Islamic Dome of the Rock was built on this revered site in 691 AD.
- Christianity: Christians consider Jerusalem holy because of its association with Jesus Christ, the Messiah. “Jesus proved his God-given authority by making his triumphal entry into the very heart of Jerusalem and cleansing the temple, the center of Jewish worship and tradition. Here, just outside the city several days later, He was crucified and resurrected. Not far from Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus also ascended to heaven.” (Quote taken from The Holy Land, by George W. Knight, p 90.) (Note: Most of the information included above came from the book, The Holy Land, by George W. Knight, pp 89-91.)
- Actually, though, we need to go back further … all the way back to Abraham, with whom all of these religions have spiritual ties. The Temple Mount is located on the same mountain as Mount Moriah, where God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It was on this very mountain that God confirmed His love and His covenant to Abraham. Mount Moriah was also significant in the life of King David, King Solomon, and so many others throughout history … and today it stands as the Temple Mount.
The Mount of Olives plays a very significant role in Scripture, especially as it relates to Jesus the Messiah. On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as King, approaching from the Mount of Olives. It was also to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his disciples went after sharing their final Passover supper together (Matt. 26:30; Mk 14:26; Lk 22:39). Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12); and it is to the Mount of Olives where Jesus will return! “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west…” (Zech. 14:4)
In my final blog, I’ll share with you pictures and stories from our final two days in Israel. We spent a day in the Judean desert, exploring Masada, En Gedi and the Dead Sea. Our final day was again spent in Jerusalem, where we went to the City of David and walked through ancient, underground tunnels; to the Pool of Siloam; the Upper Room; the Garden Tomb; the Western Wall (previously known as the Wailing Wall); and the Shrine of the Book, a museum which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Thanks for reading!