Israel, Day Four: Bethlehem and Jerusalem
Entering Modern-Day Bethlehem
Because of the complexity of today’s Middle East, the town Jesus was born in no longer is found in Israel; it is in the Palestinian Authority.
Trekking into Bethlehem meant passing through sophisticated, heavily-armed border security. How ironic that the birthplace of the Prince of Peace is shrouded in barbed wire and machine guns.
Inside the walls of Bethlehem, the huge security walls are covered in wall art and graffiti.
The plight of the Palestinians is wrapped in religion, culture, and politics.
Very quickly we could see that the economy inside is near-collapse.
The Palestinian soldiers were happy to wave our tour bus through when they realized we were Americans (our Hebrew guide, however, was forbidden to enter Bethlehem).
Church of the Nativity
After a long walk, we finally arrived in Manger Square.
A large Catholic Church was built over the site of Jesus’ birth, one of the holiest sites in Christianity.
This church boasts the world’s longest-running worship service; it’s been perpetually worshiping Christ in one long service for about 1,500 years! Day and night, monks and holy men tend to their altars and worship.
To enter the Church of the Nativity, you literally must stoop low. This architecture is purposeful — all who enter the site of Christ’s birth should do so with great humility and reverence.
Walking inside the Church of the Nativity is like stepping back in time: darkness is everywhere, the scent of incense punches through the air, and every step takes you across ancient mosaic flooring and solid gold paintings from across the centuries.
Three Wise Men
Over the centuries, the Middle East has been conquered by Muslim invaders, Crusading knights, and various other sects and groups.
This site was nearly destroyed by Muslims wanting to eradicate Christianity centuries ago. Legend has it that before torching this church, the invaders came across this giant fresco. Although you can barely make out the painting today, it depicts the three wise from the East who came to worship the Christ child.
The Muslim invaders apparently came across this very fresco, saw the Oriental holy men depicted, and thus decided to spare destroying the site of Christ’s birth.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem during the reign of King Herod.
After Jesus’ birth a group of spiritual priests from the East came to Jerusalem and inquired of the people, “Where is the child who is born king of the Jewish people? We observed his star rising in the sky and we’ve come to bow before him in worship.”
( Matthew 2 )
The closer we got to the entrance of the Cave where Jesus was born, the more extravagant, the more fragile and the more ancient the works of art became.
Everything you see that looks gold IS really gold.
High above the descending marble stairway leading into the Cave hangs this solid gold portrait:
This is the Historical Spot where Jesus Entered Our World
This is Where Mary Gave Birth in the Cave
When the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the written law.
Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children.
( Galatians 4:4-5, TPT )
Inside Jesus’ Birthplace
The ceiling is low, the space is cramped, people are crammed everywhere as dimly lit Renaissance paintings peer at us from within the Cave’s blackened walls.
The Site of the Manger
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor, and there she gave birth to her firstborn son.
After wrapping the newborn baby in strips of cloth, they laid him in a feeding trough since there was no available space in any upper room in the village.
( Luke 2:6-7 )
Back above the Cave, we walked past worship services in progress and marveled at the ancient architecture.
In the distance, Shepherd’s Field
That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks.
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified!
But the angel reassured them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.
You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!”
Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing:
“Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven!
For there is peace and a good hope given to the sons of men.”
When the choir of angels disappeared back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go! Let’s hurry and find this Word that is born in Bethlehem and see for ourselves what the Lord has revealed to us.”
( Luke 2:8-15, TPT)
Onward to Jerusalem
And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years.
He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
( 1 Kings 2:11, ESV )
Tour of Jerusalem’s Old City
There are three mountains that are referenced throughout Scripture.
They are found here: Mount Zion, Mount of Olives, and Mount Moriah.
In Hebrew thought, three mountains = three letters in the Hebrew word for GOD.
Zion Gate protects the City. It was specifically designed for archers about 500 years ago by the Turks.
The Upper Room
“And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.”
( Jesus in Mark 14:15, ESV )
This is the place where Jesus and His disciples had their Last Supper.
Tradition says that the Upper Room was built above King David’s Tomb.
It originally had a rooftop (Jesus said, “Come, let us ARISE…”)
This is where the 11 disciples prayed for 40 days after Jesus ascended into Heaven.
Peter also preached on Pentecost from the roof.
Mount Moriah and the History of Jerusalem
According to Rabbinic tradition, the Mount (now covered by the golden Dome of the Rock by Muslims) is the site where God formed Adam from the dust of the earth.
Abram came to Mount Moriah 4,000 years ago in Genesis 22:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
The stone (housed to this day under the Dome of the Rock) Abram used for the ram sacrifice is remembered as the foundation of the Jewish nation.
Solomon built the first temple on Mount Moriah.
450 years later Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.
Alexander the Great took Jerusalem for 200 years, followed by the Roman Empire.
In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple, leaving only a remnant of the Western Wall (known today as the Wailing Wall, the holiest site in Judaism). Israel ceased to be a nation and would not rise again for nearly 1,900 years.
In 320 AD, Helena (mother of Emperor Constantinople) came from Rome and destroyed all the existing pagan Roman temples. Helena replaced them with churches.
In 800 AD, Muhammad was born.
50 years after Muhammad’s death, a Calyph had a dream of Muhammad on a flying horse sailing from Saudi Arabia to the sacred stone on Mount Moriah. This led to armies of Muslims invading and destroying all the Christian churches. Muslims erected the Dome of the Rock on Mount Moriah.
Years later the Crusaders came and destroyed all mosques and built churches.
A Muslim leader eventually arose - Salahadin - who defeated the Crusaders due to the heat. He destroyed all the churches and built mosques.
500 years ago the Turks came to reestablish churches.
And in 1948, Israel was reestablished as the Jewish homeland.