Today was our first day out truly exploring the streets of Jerusalem. We visited the old Temple Mount and learned about the differences between what this sacred area is like today and what it has been like throughout history. We saw pieces from Herod’s temple and speculated about what the complex would have looked like before the temple was destroyed. The location of the Temple Mount is the spot for Mount Moriah, on which Abraham offered up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, but where God provided a sacrifice instead.
There are many complex political and religious issues around this location, but it is certainly an important place for people of the three major monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. And it was eyeopening to visit and see this massive landmark.
Just outside the old Temple Mount in Jesus’ time was the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a paralyzed man (recorded in John 5:1-18). Pieces of the pool structure, including the five covered colonnades mentioned in the passage, are visible today thanks to archaeological excavation. Here we spent some time talking through this passage and studying God’s word.
At the Pool of Bethesda is The Church of St. Anne. This Roman Catholic church, built some time in the 1130s, has beautiful architecture—especially on the interior. The acoustics of the church are excellent for singing a cappella. We walked in to another group singing “How Great Thou Art” and began to sing along with them. We continued to sing more praises to God, our voices mixing and echoing amazingly in the domes in the ceiling of the church.
We walked around the Temple Mount to gain an understanding of other key locations in relation to the Temple, and we stopped by the Western Wall. Jews come to pray at the section of the wall closest to where the Holy of Holies would have been, and many leave prayers written on paper tucked between the stones. While some of the wall has been restored, certain large stones in the wall are clearly from the time of Herod’s temple, and these sections are popular spots to pray.
In the afternoon, we visited the City of David. This is the section of Jerusalem that David originally captured from the Jebusites to establish a capital for the united kingdom of Israel. Over the centuries, the city has spread out farther and farther, but this is the oldest section of the city—as evidenced by the ruins still being excavated by archaeologists below the current neighborhood.
We continued even further underground to experience the tunnel systems that run beneath this ancient city. The tunnels were built to bring water up to the city from the spring during a siege situation. Hezekiah’s famous tunnel (2 Kings 20:20) is is still used to move water underground for agricultural purposes. Hezekiah also dried up the tunnel water system built by the Jebusites. It is possible that the latter tunnels were actually the tactic David and his men used to capture the city in the first place.
The highlight of the day for many of us was stepping back into history by walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel. Around 2,800 years old, the tunnel system is a marvel of engineering and a lot of fun to traverse in a group. With the only lights being the ones we brought, we stepped nervously but excitedly into the dark, ancient tunnel. We were walking in about two feet of water the entire time, with the water in some places coming up even to our thighs. The tunnel is just the right size for most people to walk through, but some areas are a little short or a little tight. The tunnel comes out near the ruins of the old Pool of Siloam, where Jesus performed another healing miracle. It was truly an awesome experience.
In the evening, we visited the Western Wall Tunnel, which exposes the entire length of the Western Wall—underground. A stone in the wall is recognized as one of the largest building blocks in the world, and one of the heaviest objects ever to be lifted by humans without powered machinery.
Pray for rest, safety, and health in the last few days of our trip. Pray for the conversations we have with one another and with those we meet—that we would speak peace, hope, light, and truth into their lives.
Stay tuned! Check back in the coming days for more updates from our trip.