Have you ever noticed, when reading your Bible, that people always went up to Jerusalem? Even if they were traveling south? This was confusing to me. I live in Florida, so pretty much anywhere I travel, is north. This weekend, I’m going up to Georgia with a friend. In May, my husband and I are traveling up to the mountains of North Carolina. I go up to Birmingham or Nashville to visit my children. You get the idea.
On our trip to Israel last December, I saw first-hand what going up to Jerusalem meant.
The Road To Jerusalem
We traveled to Jerusalem the same way Jesus traveled from the Sea of Galilee, except we were in large buses. We drove on a road that followed along the Jordan River. It is the same route ancient travelers from the north would have taken. Just beyond the town of Jericho, a road cuts to the west. The area looks barren, lots of rocks and dusty hills with a Bedouin camp here and there. Jericho is 847 feet below sea level and Jerusalem is a little over 2,500 feet above, so you can see why the Bible mentions going up to Jerusalem.
In Jesus’s day, the people would have walked or rode donkeys. They talked and shared stories. Our guide told us that travelers to Jerusalem for one of the feast days would have recited the Psalms of Ascent on this road. Many believe this is where Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan.
As we got closer to Jerusalem, we saw more buildings, more signs of civilization. We entered a short tunnel cutting through the mountain. When we exited the tunnel and rounded a curve, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the old city of Jerusalem. It was breathtaking.
Mount of Olives
When Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, he traveled from Bethpage, less than two miles south of the tunnel we drove through. He stood on top of the Mount of Olives and looked across the Kidron Valley toward Jerusalem. Of course, he would have been looking at the Temple and not the golden Dome of the Rock, the iconic image of Jerusalem.
We visited the Mount of Olives early in the morning of my birthday. It was beautiful looking out over the city. We sang songs as we walked down the road toward the Kidron Valley, as a remembrance of Palm Sunday. I imagined the excitement of the people crying out “Hosanna” and waving palm fronds as Jesus road on a donkey down the Mount of Olives and on to the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount was much different from what I expected. For one thing, it was huge. I didn’t realize how large, but it makes sense if thousands of Jews made pilgrimage to the temple for the various feast days. It was also hard to imagine what it must have looked like because the Dome of the Rock is such an imposing structure. I think I take things literally because I was expecting to see a giant rock.
Our guide took us to an area at the base of the massive wall of the Temple Mount. We gathered on some stone stairs which descended from now filled-in arches. The people would have walked down this wide stairway after leaving the temple. Rabbis would gather with groups of students to teach the law. Jesus most likely taught here too, although the steps are not ancient.
From this vantage point, you can look back toward the Mount of Olives. I found it interesting that much of it was covered with tombs, some of them ancient, like the tomb of Pharoah’s daughter. The Jewish people have buried their dead on the Mount of Olives for three centuries. Our guide explained that part of the reason for that is so they would be closest to where Messiah would enter Jerusalem on the Day of Resurrection.
I had another one of those “aha” moments as we looked at all of those tombs. It made something Jesus said make more sense. He was probably looking back towards the tombs when he pronounced one of his “woes” on the religious leaders of the day.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”. Matthew 23:27-28
Jesus didn’t mince words with the religious leaders of the day. His words cut deep. I don’t know about you, but this causes me to reflect on my own life. I don’t want to look good on the outside but be full of death, hypocrisy and wickedness on the inside. I don’t want to be religious yet a hypocrite.
I am so thankful for the lessons I learned from my trip to Israel. If you ever have the opportunity to go, I highly encourage it. It’s life changing! I know not everyone will be able to visit so I hope these photos I share will bring a bit of Israel to you.