The center of the world
As the final days of Jesus’ life were spent in Jerusalem so too are the final days of our trip. Much anticipation has swelled over the past week as we’ve inched ever closer to our last destination. After arriving last night, we were prepared and eager for what today had in store.
The first and major stop of the day was the Temple Mount – a site riddled with conflict, steeped in history, and filled with majesty. One of the most significant religious sites in the world, it is venerated by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. For us, however, it’s importance lies in what Jesus did there and in the role it played for the early Church.
Prayer notes in hand, we approached the Wailing Wall with heads covered, and men and women separated. We each prayed in silence and stuck our prayer notes into the cracks of the 62-foot-high wall. As it is a sign of disrespect to turn your back to the wall, each of us walked out backwards.
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.
Following the time of prayer, we were led by our tour guide, Ronan, into the tunnels below the Western Wall, where we learned about the history of the Temple Mount – from Solomon’s original temple to Herod’s reconstruction to Roman destruction to the Muslim Dome of the Rock that stands today.
The tunnels opened out into the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City and we were amazed by the picturesque shops, restaurants, and bustle that surrounded us. The alleys were lined with hookah stores, Turkish rugs and coffee, hanging lanterns, and falafel stands. However, it was on these very streets that two thousand years ago, Jesus carried the cross in the hours leading up to his crucifixion.
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.
Next, we visited the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, where Jesus would have entered the city and preached and where Peter spoke to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost and baptized three thousand in the nearby mikveh, or ritual baths.
Before lunch, we journeyed through Hezekiah’s tunnel, which proved a trip highlight for many. Here, Troy and Marshall continued on a teaching from earlier in the week at the site of Lachish. A testament to the power of prayer and good engineering, King Hezekiah, by God’s grace, was able to prevent the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem by blocking their water source and diverting it, using the very tunnels we walked through. At one point, the group split as some braved the more challenging section of the tunnel that had knee-high water.
A 1750-foot (530m) tunnel carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other, Hezekiah’s Tunnel together with the 6th c. tunnel of Euphalios in Greece are considered the greatest works of water engineering technology in the pre-Classical period. Had it followed a straight line, the length would have been 1070 ft (335m) or 40% shorter.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and our final location of the day, left hearts heavy. It is difficult to put to words the power of this exhibit. Footage of survivor interviews played on a constant stream as we wondered the halls of the museum, soaking up everything we could in the few hours we had to spend.
Heading into tomorrow, our last day in the Holy Land, the group needs prayer for health, energy, and final hours filled with learning and spiritual growth.