The Land of Israel—The Birthplace of Christianity
Many Christians have experienced the inspiring joy and stimulus to Christian faith engendered from touring the authentic Christian sites in the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, a few sites have claimed to be historic, but are not.
Our first stop is at Bethlehem where Mary gave birth to the Son of God. Where? In a luxurious inn befitting a king? No! "The Son of the Highest" was born in a stable inn, cradled in a manger, the eating trough of animals. Why so humble a birth? God wanted mankind to know that "the Son of the Highest" Jesus, mankind’s Savior, would be able to identify not only with the highly esteemed and wealthy of mankind, but also the poor, economically and ability wise. As Abraham Lincoln said, "God must have loved the common man because He made so many of them." Jesus’ humble birth identifies him with the common man.
Then there are the notable "fields of Bethlehem" where the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds tending their sheep with that astonishing message, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10, 11) Notice, Jesus was to be the Savior of not just a few, but of all. In harmony with this, the Apostle Paul spoke of Jesus as "a ransom for all" (1Timothy 2:6) and taught that Jesus "tasted death for every man." Hebrews 2:9
A "star" led the wise men to Bethlehem to honor the newborn "king of the Jews." But when will Jesus actually become the king of the Jews? The Jewish people rejected Jesus and still reject him.
But during Christ’s Second Advent, the Jewish people will yet look to God in the spirit of repentance. (Zechariah 12:10 JPS) Then Zechariah 13:1 observes that they will symbolically wash away their sins. Isaiah 66:20 states that the Gentiles throughout the earth will bring Jews to Jerusalem to God’s holy mountain, symbolic of His Kingdom, to share the blessings of Christ’s 1,000 year Kingdom on earth.
The angel’s message of "good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto ALL people" has been repeated down through the centuries. Unfortunately, to some the "ALL" has been reduced to many or a few. But, Praise the Lord! It will be a message that "all people" will hear in Christ’s 1,000 year Kingdom. How they receive these glad tidings and act upon them will affect their eternal destiny.
Isaiah 2:2-5 also assures us that then the Jewish People, "the house of Jacob," will "walk in the light [truth] of the LORD" with the Gentiles.
Of course, any Christian tour of Israel must include Jerusalem, which is brimming over with Christian sites. There is the Temple Mount, the foundation of the very Temple in which Jesus taught and chased out the "money changers."
We remember the "Pool of Bethesda" having five porches where a man was lying with an infirmity 38 years. Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk." What a miracle! "Immediately" the man took up his bed and walked! John 5:2-9
Then there was the "judgment hall," the scene of the traumatic trial before Pilate. We envision the taunting, the brutal scourging that tore flesh from our Savior’s back, the crown of thorns piercing his head as the priests and mob shouted, "Crucify him, crucify him!" We remember his long walk to Calvary, dragging the cross on his lacerated back amidst the taunts, jeers and spit of the hateful mob lining the road.
Then we stand beneath the cross at Calvary where Jesus suffered for six agonizing hours on the cross. Calvary is also called "the place of a skull" or "in the Hebrew, Golgotha." (John 19:17) You can actually see in the rock formation the face of a skull grooved into the side of Golgotha. It is absolutely uncanny, thereby challenging the erroneous claims of an old Greek Orthodox Church.
As the crowd gathered beneath, the priests forgot the dignity of their office and shouted taunts at Jesus on the cross. Then the soldiers and the crowd followed. The most revolting feature at the crucifixion was that the torture was deliberately prolonged while the victim retained consciousness and felt the bleeding wounds in their hands and feet, the uneasiness of the unnatural position, the oppression of overcharged veins, and above all, fever. The intolerable thirst was constantly increasing.
But we see the shadow of a deeper woe than smarting wounds and raging thirst in a wracking frame—a woe of slighted love, of a heart longing for fellowship, yet forsaken by closest friends. A heart overwhelmed by hatred from others, the woe of insult and wrong. A heart finally broken because his beloved Heavenly Father also turned His face from His only begotten son and forsook him.
By the depths of this bitter suffering, physical and mental, Jesus transformed the cross. Till he hanged upon it, the cross was a symbol of slavery and vulgar wickedness, but Jesus converted it into the symbol of heroism, self-sacrifice and salvation. It was only a framework of wood that was a shame to touch, but since then we glory in it.
Jesus died a seeming failure—a criminal. Actually, he died an eternal hero. His death provided the ransom price that we might live. Yes, "in the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time." A hymn based on Galatians 6:14.
The Garden Tomb
There is a site in Jerusalem called the Garden Tomb. Over the centuries it was covered by rubble, trash and dirt. In Jerusalem for a visit in 1883, General Charles Gordon spied a prominent rocky crag which looked to him like it could be the biblically mentioned site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Around the corner Gordon identified an ancient tomb and putting the two together he located the hill of crucifixion and the nearby burial place.
Simon Brown discovered that ancient paintings drawn hundreds of years before the Garden Tomb had been discovered, showed the site of Gordon’s Garden Tomb to be in the exact place that the original skull hill and the Garden Tomb were located. Further confirmation is that the tomb of Jesus like Gordon’s Garden Tomb was cut out of natural rock. Matthew 27:57-60
Notice that the tomb Jesus was buried in was purchased by a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathaea, who had it hewn out of stone for himself and his wife—an elaborate tomb. Remember, the Apostle John could look in and see the main burial place. This was unusual for most tombs at that time. But, this is true of the Garden Tomb.
When "Jesus tasted death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9), he was laid in this Garden Tomb and rose on the third day. Yes, Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due times [Greek]" 1 Timothy 2:6. The due time for the "church of Christ" is in this life. For mankind in general it will be in the 1,000 year Kingdom of Christ.
Etched into the outside wall of the Garden Tomb was a simple picture of a fish, which was the second century symbol of Christianity before the cross. Etched in, evidently, by a devout second century Christian visiting the tomb of his beloved Master. Due to the erosion of the centuries it is nearly worn away.
Hallelujah! Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification.
Jesus lived in the city of Nazareth until the age of 30 at the beginning of his ministry. The city of Nazareth today occupies the same location. At the age of 30, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Down through the age, thousands of Christians have been baptized at this same site.
Then the spirit drove Jesus into the Wilderness of Judea for 40 days where he was tempted by Satan while he was taught by God concerning the details of his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-10) The Judean Wilderness, for the most part, remains the barren wasteland of Jesus’ experience.
Then Jesus returned to his hometown Nazareth and preached in the synagogue, but to no avail. Why? "A prophet hath no honor in his own country." John 4:44
Sea of Galilee
Jesus went further north to the Sea of Galilee. As you stand on the top of the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount and gaze down on the vigorous waves of the Sea of Galilee, what a spectacular view to behold! Here Jesus called most of his Apostles, and for the four of them he miraculously filled their nets with fish.
As you travel north along the Galilean shore you come to the city of Capernaum, where Jesus preached more than any other city, yet with less response. The very foundation of the synagogue where Jesus preached is still intact. Down the street are the ruins of the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, where Peter also lived.
After several trips of seeing the ruins of Peter’s home, it was disconcerting to see that Papacy had built a Catholic Church over Peter’s home. How unfortunate, the Roman Catholic Church distorted these ancient ruins in an attempt to confirm their teaching that Peter was the "rock" on which Jesus said he would build his church. What a travesty of Scripture!
Along the shore of Galilee are of the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, which were also centers of Jesus’ teaching.
Few places are darker at night than north of the Galilee. As you stand at the shore and look northward it is pitch black. But way off in the distance, as you look high up you see a bright light on a mountain. It is the city of Safed. This was the basis of Jesus’ lesson on how we should be witnessing to the Gospel, when he said we should be a light on a hill that cannot be hid. Matthew 5:14
At the end of your tour of Israel, return to Calvary and rejoice that Jesus not only died for our sins but "tasted death for every man." Then go inside the Garden Tomb and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the words of Jesus from John 5:28-29.
John 5:28-29 ASV.
"Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of crisis." ("crisis" is in the Greek)
Here Jesus divides all mankind into two classes. (1) "They that have done good" refers to the "Little Flock" who at Christ’s return will be raised to "be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6) (2) "They that have done evil" [all the remainder of men] will come forth to "the resurrection of crisis."
The Greek word "crisis" has been incorporated into many languages and has the thought of trial or crucial turning time. A doctor in diagnosing a patient might say, ‘Tomorrow will be the crisis.’ He means tomorrow the patient will take a turn for the better or worse. Look up 2 Peter 3:8-9. God is allowing 1,000 years to give everyone of the "evil" class of John 5:28-29 ample opportunity to "repent" so they will not "perish." Other scriptures indicate that the raising from the dead of all the "evil" class will be a gradual process.
Remember the Apostle Paul said, Israel was still beloved for their father’s sake. Romans 11:28.
And at the beginning of God’s Kingdom, Israel will repent for sharing in the death of Jesus and Jerusalem will become the earthly capital (Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 2:2,3) while Christ and his faithful followers will be "kings and priests." Revelation 20:6. Just as a priest in Israel blessed and taught the people, Christ and his church will bless mankind and gradually instruct and crystallize a righteous character in all the willing of mankind. Those that fail to fully submit will be cut off in "Second Death." Revelation 20:14, 15
In the 1,000 year probation time of learning, the non-elect of mankind raised from death will have ideal conditions for instruction. How? "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:9 "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord…." Jeremiah 31:34. Obviously, this has not happened nor is it now being fulfilled. What a wonderful time for salvation that will be!