Our first day in Jerusalem, and what a busy day! We woke up early and a bus took us to the top of the Mount of Olives. From the top of the Mount, you can see most of the Old City, including the Temple Mount. The area used to be covered in olive trees, but is now used as a cemetery. Our guide, Neftali, told us that David, Absalom, and some of the prophets are buried at the bottom of the hill. Our journey took us down the hill, where were stopped at a church named after the place where Jesus wept over the city (Dominus Flevit). The church here is in the shape of a traditional Jewish tear jar.
A little further down the hill was the Garden of Gethsemane. Within the gates are olive trees that are between 2,000-2,500 years old. First, I was blown away by the fact that a tree can live that long! Second, these trees would have been little saplings when Jesus was in the garden. That’s just crazy! Also within the gates of the Garden is the Church of All Nations. The church was built so that when Jesus returns, believers from every nation will have a place to worship. I’m not sure we will really need a church at that point, but the sentiment behind it is great! It is a beautiful church, too, with tile mosaics inside and out.
At the bottom of the hill, which is the Kidron Vally, we could get a better look at the Eastern Gate, also known as the Gate Beautiful. This gate used to lead directly onto the Temple Mount. It has been sealed by the Muslims, because of the prophecy that when the Messiah returns, he will enter the city through that Gate. But I don’t think a little thing like a blocked gate can stop Jesus.
We boarded the bus and took a short drive to Caiaphus’ House. This is where Jesus was imprisoned before his trial. Caiaphus was the chief priest at the time which also made him the local judge. Under his house was built caves/cells used to hold prisoners until sentencing. The only way in and out of these cells was to be lowered or raised through an small opening at the top of the cell. It was essentially a deep, dark pit.
Another short bus ride and we visited the traditional site of David’s Tomb. And right next door is the traditional site of the Upper Room. The exact location of this room is unknown, but they do know it happened in this neighborhood, so a church was built to preserve the area.
Lunch was in the middle of the Old City – which we entered through the Zion Gate – not far from the Temple Mount. And right in that courtyard I found a store that was named “Nicole”! I never imagined finding my name anywhere in Israel. It was a jewelry shop, and the lady inside was very nice… but it was a bit out of my price-range. Oh well, I at least got the picture under the sign!
After lunch we walked to the Western (Wailing) Wall. We were allowed to walk up to the wall, but they have designated areas for men and women. Many people write out prayers on paper, fold it, and place them in cracks in the wall. So as we were walking up to the wall, I wrote as fast as I could, because I wanted to leave a prayer in the wall. After spending some time praying at the wall, feeling the cool stones under my fingers that have been there for over 2,000 years, we heard something going on over on the men’s side. We climbed up on some chairs to see over the partition wall, and witnessed a bar mitzvah! A young boy was having his coming-of-age ceremony, and reading from a large Torah!
Once everyone was done praying at the Western Wall, we headed underground to walk through the Rabbinical Tunnel. This tunnel follows along the part of the Western Wall that is currently underground. One of the stones we saw was 45×15 feet long. Just a little way through the tunnel and under some Plexiglas in the floor were stones from the Holy of Holies. They have remained unmoved and untouched since the fall of the Temple in 70AD.
Our next stop was at the pools of Bethesda. This is where the sheep were washed before they were taken to the Temple. The Church of Saint Anne sits next to the pools and has amazing acoustics. One of our group members treated us to an a capella rendition of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”
We left the Old City through the Dung Gate and headed towards the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. We visited the southern steps of the Temple Mount, known as the Steps of Ascension. Herod the Great built these steps so that when the Jewish people made their three annual pilgrimages to the Temple, they would have a place to meet friends and family members who they no longer lived near.
We really packed a lot into one day! And I was overwhelmed a few times that day with knowing that I was in God’s City. A place where Jesus walked and taught and prayed. He prayed for the city on the very hillside where we walked. Jerusalem truly is a special place.
More to come on the rest of my stay in Jerusalem soon….