We returned to the Mount of Olives to discuss Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from the place where it began, then followed the route down the hill toward the city. We stopped at Dominus Flevit, the church at the traditional place where Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Luke 19:41). Then we made our way to Gethsemane, which was the location of an olive press on the Mount of Olives during Jesus’ time. And, of course, Gethsemane was where Jesus came to pray before He was arrested (Matthew 26:36-46). We took some time to listen, reflect, and pray in the garden ourselves. It was humbling to sit in the place where Jesus prayed as He prepared to go to His death for us—and find the words to pray ourselves.
Our trek down the Mount of Olives led us to just outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount. This area has been excavated and some ruins are visible, including a first century A.D. street by the southwest corner. The southern steps of the Temple Mount could have been where Christians received for the first time at Pentecost (Acts 2). This could have been where the church became the church. Near the steps we listened to teaching and had a powerful time of communal prayer for the city as the Call to Prayer blared from the Temple Mount in the background.
In the afternoon, we went to the traditional location where it is believed that Jesus and the disciples ate their final Passover meal together—the Upper Room. While the current structure on this site was built later than the first century, it was fun to go up on the roof of this location and study God’s Word together.
Our final site for the day was the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. This is almost certainly the location for what most of us know as Caiaphas’ house—but it was more likely the place where he worked during his time as High Priest. The architecture of this structure is unique. It has three levels, but the middle level is not connected—it contains what were likely holding cells for the criminals that Caiaphas would question. Because the High Priest would need to be ceremonially clean to perform his duties, it would make sense that he would not want to be in close contact with criminals who could have blood on their hands. Instead, a shaft goes down from the top level to a small room where Caiaphas could speak to criminals through this shaft without worrying about getting unclean.
This could explain why John 18 says that Jesus was speaking to the High Priest and then Annas sent him to Caiaphas the High Priest. Perhaps Caiaphas was speaking to Jesus through the shaft and then, when he knew Jesus didn’t have blood on his hands, he brought Him up to the top level to speak with Him in person.
This location could have also been where Peter and John were held when they were arrested in Acts 4.
We explored the chamber that could have housed the holding cells, as well as the room connected to the top level with the shaft—the room where Jesus was almost certainly held during some of the hours before His crucifixion. We stood in the small room together and read Psalm 88. These words very well could have been on Jesus’ mind as He sat in the dark and waited to be questioned. It was an incredibly powerful moment for many of us.
We spent our last morning in Israel at two different places that people believe could be where Jesus was crucified and buried—the Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional—and probably more likely—location of the cross and the tomb. The massive church complex is shared by many different Christian traditions. The buildings are beautifully and ornately built and decorated. Through a window, you can see the stone at the top of the hill called Calvary. Also visible are the ruins of the empty tomb that is believed to have belonged to Joseph of Arimathea—where Jesus was buried. People from many different Christian traditions come to pray at these places, and it was crowded with people of countless nationalities.
The Garden Tomb is another possible spot for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. A peaceful garden sits beside a cliff face that old photographs show used to look like a skull (Golgotha means “place of the skull”). Some believe that Jesus was crucified in front of this hill, right beside what used to be a highway in the first century (and is still a street today). An empty tomb was also found in this garden, and we were allowed to go inside and look around. A sign on the door reads, “He is not here, for He is risen.”
In the corner of the garden, near the empty tomb, we gathered for a time of worship, teaching, prayer, and communion. We set aside questions about which place might be the correct location of these history-altering events, and instead focused on what matters most: that Jesus Christ was God, He became a man, He lived and taught and healed and prayed and laughed and cried and slept and ate and breathed in the very places we’ve visited over the past week, He died on the cross for our sins, He rose to life three days later, and He is coming again. From that inspiration we sang praises to the One who made it all possible. We reflected on what we will take away from this trip back to our daily lives—and why.
None of us will read the Bible the same way again. None of us will think about Jesus the same way again. We are forever changed by what we have seen and learned and experienced here. The reality of our faith is no longer black and white. It has been colored in with the beautiful hues that God poured out across this promised land.
Pray with us that the richness of these colors will not fade with time, but that God will continue to teach, stretch, and grow us. Pray that we will seek Him always, that we will be His church every chance we get, and that servant leaders will rise up from among this group to be the next generation of disciple makers. Pray for safety as we travel home, for the courage to make the bold moves that God has inspired each of us to make moving forward, and for the perseverance to make the small moves that God will ask us to make as we seek to simply trust and obey Him every moment of every day.