The curtain is torn.
Today was a massive day on the trip. There are so many sights to see in Jerusalem and so much to learn. We were on foot most of the day and we were able to take in so much. In one day, we went to the Temple Mount, the Davidson Center, the Southern Steps, the Western Wall, the Rabbinic Tunnels, the Pool of Bethesda, St. Anne's Church, the city of David, Hezekiah's Tunnel, the Pool of Siloam, and we even did a 3-D virtual reality tour of the Second Temple. This blog would be 20 pages if I covered every aspect, so I will stick to some of the most impactful moments of the day.
We began the morning on the Temple Mount. This is the large flat area that was created on Mt. Moriah where the Temple sat during the time of Christ. It is important to understand a bit of the history on this. King Solomon constructed the first Temple around 950 BC, in the peak of the Kingdom of Israel. The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. When the Jewish people were able to return (from the Babylonian exile), the Temple was eventually rebuilt and then later massively renovated by Herod right before the time of Christ. Heord's descendants continued to do a lot of work on the whole area, but the Temple was then destroyed again by the Romans in 70 AD.
The Temple Mount is on Mt. Moriah, which is the mountain that Abraham went to in the famous story with he and Isaac. Islam also considers this spot holy, as they claim the story of Abraham actually had Ishmael (the other son of Abraham) in the story instead of Isaac. This disagreement of "who had the blessing from Abraham" is something that has spawned conflict for centuries. After Muhammad came to power and Islam began in the early 7th century AD, the Muslims eventually took control of the Temple Mount area and built the Dome of the Rock in 692 AD (see pictures below). The "rock" in Dome of the Rock is where Muhammad's "Night Journey" was supposed to begin according to Muslim practice. After Israel became a nation in 1948, Jordan maintained control of the Temple Mount area. After the war in 1967, the land that the Temple Mount sits on is now occupied by Israel, however, Israel handed back administration of the area to be under Jordan custodianship. Needless to say, had Israel done anything to harm the Dome of the Rock Mosque or the other mosque on the Mount, catastrophic war would have been inevitable. We were fortunate enough to get to be on the Temple Mount early in the morning. We were careful to make sure we didn't cause any concern with the authorities up there, as an example, we had to make sure that no man touched a women. So if you look at our pictures, you will notice we keep some space between us. The entire Temple Mount area was massive and beautiful.
The Western Wall refers to the remnants of the retaining wall (for the Temple Mount area) that was in place prior to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. The Western Wall is the closest place possible that the Jewish people can get to where the "Holy of Holies" would be in the Temple. This is why you see so many Jewish people praying near this wall. Given the Temple is gone, this is the best they have and they treat it with much reverence. People will leave prayers in the wall and every 7-10 days the paper is removed and buried. It isn't burned because so many of the prayers reference the name of God. We saw people reading from the Torah, people praying, and even people dancing.
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.
From the same general area, you can see where Jesus was crucified. So, the three Abrahamic religions all have significant claims to this one specific area. It is fascinating to see how everyone maintains this uneasy balance together. You have the Jewish people hoping that one day their Temple will be rebuilt, the Muslim people trying to stake claim to that land, and the Christian people trying to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone. Don't get us started on the Druze!
As we left the Temple Mount and Western Wall area, we got the chance to go into a Church that was constructed in the Crusades era in 1140 AD. This church was beautiful and the acoustics were out of this world. We stood as a group and sang together, listening to the best non-electrical sound system you can imagine. It was funny to see our Jewish tour guide asking us to sing "Amazing Grace" louder and watching his smile as he conducted for us. We then got to go to the Pool of Bethesda, which is where the great story takes place in John chapter 5 where Jesus heals the invalid. Laura Feix gave us a great lesson at this site. She pointed out that this man, who Jesus healed, had been like this for 38 years. This was nearing the average life expectancy for people at that time. All this man had done every day was sit by the pools and hope to be healed. Jesus does come and heals him and we then later encounter this man on the Temple Mount. It is great to see that as he is healed, his immediate reaction is to go and worship God.
This man had been trying to be saved his whole life and as soon as he was, he got up and went about God's business. As Laura said, "Once we are healed, we get up and go about God's business for the rest of our lives." We all need to be saved, nobody can do it on their own. We are just like this man, the question is whether or not we will follow his example as to who's business we should be about after we are saved.
We then went and sat together on the Southern Steps. These are the steps that would lead out of the Temple. We know Jesus was here, we read about it in Luke chapter 2 when he goes to Jerusalem with his family to celebrate Passover. The Jewish people would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the Temple, for the special festivals. Terry said something he hoped we would all remember:
"Just like the Jewish people would would pilgrim to this area, we will go down these Southern Steps and go home. My hope is we won't leave Jesus here."
An enormous flight of steps leads to the Southern Wall from the south. They were excavated after 1967 by archaeologist Benjamin Mazar and are the northernmost extension of the Jerusalem pilgrim road leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount via the Double Gate and the Triple Gate, collectively called the Huldah Gates. These are the steps that Jesus of Nazareth and other Jews of his era walked up to approach the Temple, especially on the great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.  The stairs that lead to the double gate are intact and "well-preserved." The steps that lead to the triple gate were mostly destroyed. / The risers are low, a mere 7 to 10 inches high, and each step is 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing the ascending pilgrims to walk with a stately, deliberate tread. The pilgrims entered the temple precincts through the double and triple gates still visible in the Southern Wall. Together, the double and triple gates are known as the Hulda Gates, after the prophetess Huldah.
This trip has really helped all of us understand the connectedness of the Bible so much more deeply and it has helped to distill a stronger faith in each of us. We all need to make sure that doesn't stay here in Israel, it must go home with us.
We also got to spend a lot of time underground today. One thing that we have all learned is how each civilization that inhabits an area builds on top of each other. As we go to these sites, especially those on mountain tops, you can dig down and find evidence of so many different time periods under your feet, at different levels. As you dig down in the heart of Jerusalem, you find wonders. We went through the Rabbinic Tunnels and got to see the incredible construction of the walls around the Temple Mount. We went down into the Hezekiah Tunnel and got to see how these incredible tunnels were dug to provide water and an outlet in case of Assyrian invasion. And in the excavation of the city of David, the city that is just south of the Temple Mount that was conquered by David. You see evidence of the seal (think of sealing a letter) of government officials who are specifically referenced as government officials at that time in the Bible. The archaeological excavations going on every day in Israel continue to prove the Biblical accounts from thousands of years ago. It is hopeful and fascinating.
The tour of the western wall tunnels is one of the most popular tourist sites in Jerusalem. These underground tunnels connect the western wall prayer area to the north-west side of the temple mount, passing along the side of the temple mount and under the present day houses in the Old City. Along its path are remains from the second temple period, as well as structures from later periods.
As we made our way south, we talked about some of the things they had found in houses excavated during that time. What was shocking, but not surprising based on the Bible stories, is that many homes in that area had evidence of idol worship. We read about this in the Bible, but these homes were only 900 feet from the Temple Mount. Many of these homes were from Canaanites who had assimilated into Judaism but seem to have never really given up the idol worship on top of their worship of God. As we commit our lives to Christ, we can only have one God. Our culture worshipping fame, power, money in the midst of the Holy Spirit is no better than these people worshipping idols in their homes in the shadow of the Temple.
Also in this area we saw the Pool of Siloam. You may recall the story (John chapter 9) where Jesus found the blind man outside of the Temple and put mud on his eyes and told him go down to the Pool of Siloam and wash his eyes. When the man did this, he could immediately see. This man had been born blind. The religious leaders of the day were angry that Jesus had done this on the Sabbath. Then they tried to discredit the miracle by saying this man hadn't actually been blind. Then they called on his parents who confirmed that he had been blind his whole life. Then they found the man who had been healed and tried to get him to give glory to God and to call Jesus a sinner.
Pool of Siloam
he Pool of Siloam (Hebrew: בריכת השילוח, Breikhat Hashiloah) is a rock-cut pool on the southern slope of the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem, located outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast. The pool was fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, carried there by two aqueducts.
We get this great recognizable verse from this story, where the man who has been healed speaks to the religious leaders about Jesus and says:
"Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."
This story became much more powerful when you could stand and see the Pool of Siloam. The pool is around 950 steps from the Temple Mount. These steps are all downhill and the steps aren't even. One step is short in length, then next is long, and so on. When Jesus put the mud on this man's eyes and told him to go to the pool and wash it off, it was no simple feat. This man had to navigate a long distance, with a steep hill, and difficult steps to get there. It would have taken the blind man a long time. We would have never really understood the act of faith it took for this man to get to the pool without being there today.
We finished the evening by heading back up to the Western Wall and taking a 3-D virtual reality tour of what the Temple would have looked like in AD70 prior to the destruction by the Romans. It was incredibly helpful to picture everything so clearly. What was most impactful for many of us was the sheer size and grandeur of it all. Especially the curtain that separated the main Temple area from the Holy of Holies. This curtain was massive and grand, something out of this world when you looked up at it. Replacing the incorrect image in my head with a more accurate representation really helped this verse come to life. This is when Jesus dies on the cross, we read in Matthew chapter 27:
"And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split."
In the Christian faith, we believe that faith in Christ is what reconciles us to God. When we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The curtain is split because in Christ, there is no separation between God and His children. The perfect lamb has been sacrificed, our debt paid, our sins atoned for.
The attachment of holiness that the Jewish and Muslim people place on the sites we saw was helpful to understand the strife in the world. Their reverence to their respective sites is admirable. But how thankful are we all, that as followers of Christ, God abides in us and us in Him. We are free to run to Him, to trust in Him. He is our holy site. The curtain is torn.