Standing on History: Israel 2018
Today we toured the old city of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem of today is a modern, sprawling city with high rises and traffic and all the things you associate with an international destination, but nestled in the midst of it is an ancient, walled community measuring no more than 1.5 square miles. This is the area, more or less, to which the Bible refers when it speaks of Jerusalem. I use the phrase “more or less” because over the thousands of years of history that have transpired here, the old city has been conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt more times than I can count. The exact layout of the city now is not what it was then. However, the history of the place comes alive at every step. Some of the structures in the old city as it stands today date back 1000 years or more, but even the “newer” structures are built on top of the ruins and foundations of structures that date back even further.
Take the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for example. It was first built around 330 AD to mark the spot believed by early Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and resurrection. It was later destroyed or at least severely damaged when various Muslim groups conquered the city, but then was rebuilt during the era of the crusades. The church today is different from the structure first erected almost 1700 years ago, and yet there are parts and pieces of the original church visible within the church as it stands today.
This is the pattern that exist through Jerusalem, which makes it impossible to say with absolute precision that a certain even definitely happened in this or that exact spot. Take the Upper Room as another example. We know that the room which today is marked as the traditional location of the Last Supper was first erected during the Byzantine era, several hundred years after the time of Christ. Clearly, this is not the same space where Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover. However, it is entirely possible that this room is built on top of, or at least very near, the actual location of the Last Supper. It is safe to say that we are in the neighborhood.
The one place of historical certainty is the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall. This is the only remaining edifice of the Temple Mount as it existed in Jesus’ day. It is to this very place that Jesus’ parents brought Him when He was 12. It was also to this very place that Jesus came when He entered the city on what we today call Palm Sunday. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD in response to a Jewish uprising. Today, that Western Wall is all that remains. People gather at the Wall every day to pray. For Orthodox Jews, that wall stands as a reminder that they are still awaiting their Messiah to come. For as Christians, that wall stands as a reminder that God no longer dwells in a building made with hands. He dwells in the hearts of every believer. We are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
This photo is of our group assembled on some steps just outside the entrance to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Though you cannot tell from this picture, we are seated just outside the room that holds the traditional location of the crucifixion.