“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:1–2)
Jerusalem has been the Jewish People’s holiest city ever since King David established Jerusalem as the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel in about 1000 BC.
A famous quote by Teddy Kollek, an Israeli politician who served as the mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993, encapsulates its importance:
“No other city has played such a dominant role in the history, culture, religion and consciousness of a people as has Jerusalem in the life of Jewry and Judaism.
“Throughout centuries of exile, Jerusalem remained alive in the hearts of Jews everywhere as the focal point of Jewish history, the symbol of ancient glory, spiritual fulfillment and modern renewal.
“This heart and soul of the Jewish people engenders the thought that if you want one simple word to symbolize all of Jewish history, that word would be ‘Jerusalem.’” (Teddy Kollek, Washington Institute For Near East Policy)
Although the historical, national and legal connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem goes back about 3,000 years, Christians also feel a special connection to Jerusalem.
After all, as Randal Price states, “Jerusalem is at the heart of messianic prophecy and redemptive history.”
Furthermore, many of the places where Yeshua (Jesus) ministered were in Jerusalem — East Jerusalem to be specific. (West Jerusalem is only about a hundred years old.)
This is where Yeshua died and rose again.
Also, the Book of Acts records that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) came upon Yeshua’s followers during a meeting at Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/Pentecost) in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. (Isaiah 44:3)
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 2:28)
As God affirmed the Messianic Believers in Yeshua with the falling of the Ruach HaKodesh. The Jewish people who were gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot saw these spirit-filled believers speaking about Yeshua and praising God in a great variety of foreign languages and wondered what had happened to them.
About 3,000 came to faith as a result.
Indeed, the falling of the Ruach empowered those first Believers on that glorious day in Jerusalem to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The Upper Room
Tradition highlights several places that could be the “Upper Room,” the site where the Ruach HaKodesh fell on those who were gathered there.
One of those places is the Cenacle, also called the Upper Room, which is on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Not only is it associated with the coming of the Ruach, but it has been listed as the place where Yeshua shared with His talmidim (disciples) the “Last Supper”—the Passover Seder (ceremonial dinner) in which Yeshua took the matzah, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
The present “Last Supper” room was built in the 12th century, but serves as a symbol of what took place perhaps below or near the site.
In the 1950s, archaeologist Jacob Pinkerfield discovered that the Upper Room was constructed atop a Roman-period synagogue.
A section of plaster that he found there has the inscription “Oh Yeshua that I may live.” The synagogue is now believed to have been attended by first-century Believers.
The site of the Cenacle is only one possible location of the Upper Room.
The Church of St. Mark, which is located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, is also thought to be the site of the Upper Room where Yeshua celebrated the Passover.
The Syriac Orthodox believe that this church is situated on the site of the house of Mark’s mother, Mary of Jerusalem — a belief supported by a 6th-century inscription discovered there in 1940.
Mary’s house was perhaps the very first Messianic congregation.
Since the first Believers gathered there, in Acts 12:12–17 we read that Peter went to Mary’s house when an angel miraculously released him from prison. When he arrived, a prayer meeting was in progress.
He went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ (Acts 12:12–14)
Where in Jerusalem Did the Ruach Fall?
While the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) does specify that Yeshua and his talmidim kept the Passover in the Upper Room, it does not state that this is where the Ruach came upon the disciples.
In the Book of Mark chapter 14, we read that Yeshua prompted His disciples to enter the city and meet a man toting water in order to find the room:
“Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’” (Mark 14:13–15)
The first chapter of Acts seems to indicate that Yeshua’s followers continued to meet there after the resurrection of Yeshua:
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying…. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:12–14)
On the day that the Ruach HaKodesh fell, however, it was Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), which is also called the Pentecost, among other names. The Bible states that this is one of three holidays called Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrimages) in which the Jewish People were to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. (Exodus 23:14–17)
Yeshua’s followers very likely would have been together on the Temple Mount when the Spirit of God descended, which is probably why the event attracted so much attention.
The Garden of Gethsemane
“When He had finished praying, Yeshua left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it.” (John 18:1)
At the foot of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, an ancient olive grove where a few trees are over 1,000 years old.
A central site for Christian pilgrims, the Garden of Gethsemane marks the place believed to be where Yeshua prayed in agony the night of his arrest.
“Then Yeshua went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” (Matthew 26:36)
Next to the Garden of Gethsemane is the Church of All Nations, also called the Basilica of the Agony, which is a 20th century structure that was built by architect Antonio Barluzzi.
It rests on the foundations of a 4th-century basilica that was destroyed by an earthquake and a 12th-century Crusader chapel that was abandoned in 1345.
The church enshrines a section of bedrock that was identified by the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333 as the place where Judas Iscariot betrayed Yeshua. (MFA)
“He approached Yeshua to kiss Him, but Yeshua asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (Luke 22:47–48)
Yeshua Weeps Over Jerusalem
“As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it.” (Luke 19:41)
Also on the Mount of Olives, on the upper western slope of the mount facing Jerusalem, is the Franciscan chapel called Dominus Flevit (Latin for the Lord wept) that was built in the 20th Century. Excavations of this site reveal the presence of a 5th century monastery and chapel.
Medieval pilgrims identified this site as the place where Yeshua wept over Jerusalem.
Yeshua was utterly grieved as He prophesied its destruction:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:42–44)
Antonio Barluzzi fashioned this church in a tear-drop design to emphasize Yeshua’s grief.
The Centrality of Jerusalem
The tradition of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to visit various shrines that commemorated events in the life of Yeshua (Jesus) and His disciples predates the actual building of churches.
Although Gentile Believers in Yeshua erected church buildings in Jerusalem a couple of hundred years after many of the important events that they commemorate actually happened (such as the death and resurrection of Yeshua or the death of His mother, Miriam [Mary]), the early Jewish Believers actually worshiped in Jerusalem and many called it home (Acts 9:26–28).
“The Gentile Christians did not build any church buildings or institutions until the 4th century,” said Joseph Shulam, founder of the Jerusalem-based Netivyah (Way of the Lord) Bible Instruction Ministry. Shulam considers his ministry to be “a twenty-first century heir of this first century community.”
“While many of these buildings came after Constantine converted and made Christianity a political force in Rome, they do remind us that Jerusalem was the center of New Testament activity after Yeshua’s resurrection,” stated Ron Cantor, director of Messiah’s Mandate International.
The importance of Jerusalem is clearly reflected in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).
Acts 20–21 shows Paul of Tarsus making his way toward Jerusalem after leaving Ephesus. On his way there, while staying in Caesarea (in Northern Israel) for a number of days, Paul was met by a prophet who told him he would be bound in Jerusalem and handed over to the Gentiles.
“The first congregation was in Jerusalem; it was to Jerusalem that Paul sought eagerly to return, even though he knew it may well cost him his life,” Cantor said.
“When he arrived, he was greeted by Jacob (James) and the other leaders of the Jerusalem congregation, and they told him of the tens of thousands of Jewish believers in Yeshua.”
“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.” (Acts 21:20)
The Roman program of building churches in Jerusalem began when Emperor Constantine assigned his mother, Helen, to discover where the holy sites in Israel were located.
According to the Roman historian Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 260–340), she built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem over the cave marking the birthplace of Yeshua.
She also built the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, on a traditional location of Golgotha where Yeshua was executed.
The current structure is also thought by some to preserve what remains of Yeshua’s tomb, which prior to Constantine had been buried by the Roman emperor Hadrian, who erected a pagan temple there after the Bar Kokhba Revolt against Roman domination of Israel (AD 132–136).
In that revolt, the Jewish People followed the false messiah Simon bar Kokhba and recaptured approximately 50 strongholds in Judea and 985 undefended towns and villages, including our beloved Jerusalem.
The victory was short-lived, though, as the Roman army quickly recovered the spoils and expelled the Jewish People from Israel, even Jewish Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
Sadly, under Constantine, the division between Jews and Christians increased, with many considering the Jewish People to be the murderers of Yeshua, despite the fact that many thousands of Jews followed Yeshua and received Him as the Messiah.
Furthermore, Yeshua said He freely gave up His life.
“No one can take My life from Me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” (John 10:18)
Nevertheless, by the 4th century, the dates and customs of the first Jewish Believers were being slowly replaced by European-Gentile dates and customs.
During the time of Constantine, for example, the actual Hebrew calendar date for Passover (Nisan 14) ceased to be the time that Yeshua’s death and resurrection were celebrated. Instead, Easter Sunday became the new official Roman-calendar holy day.
Protection by the State of Israel
Since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, Israel has protected the churches and sites venerated by Christians as holy wherever it has had jurisdiction to do so.
In 1948, however, Jordan took control of Judea, Samaria, and the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount. They imposed restrictions on Christians and expelled its Jewish residents.
After Israel rescued this part of its ancient capital from Jordanian occupation in 1967, it began reviving the impaired section of its reunified capital and adopted an official policy of religious tolerance and protection.
“The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of members of the various religions to the places sacred to them, or their feelings with regard to those places,” states a 1967 Israeli Knesset law.
This “Protection of Holy Places Law” imposed seven years of imprisonment for the desecration of a holy place. This sent a sure sign to all residents and neighbors that the ruin and isolation of eastern Jerusalem under the 19-year Jordanian occupation was considered a grave injustice.
Israel under Jewish rule has aimed to be hospitable to a wide spectrum of religious groups.
A couple exceptions might include limited Jewish access to the Temple Mount where the First and Second Temples once stood or gender inequality at religious sites like the Western Wall.
However, compared to those who face imprisonment and death for practicing non-Muslim faiths in the surrounding Middle East, Israel’s residents can be assured that their freedom to worship is protected.
Because of the protected freedom to worship and visit in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, the nation is a popular tourist destination that continues to draw Christian pilgrims from every denomination, even during turbulent times.
The most popular destination every year is usually the Western (Wailing) Wall, with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher coming in as a close runner-up.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, like many of the church buildings in Israel, highlights New Covenant events that may have taken place near the buildings.
Nevertheless, there remains a disconnect between the original Jewish events that happened in Jerusalem and the primarily European-Gentile representation of them at these sites.
For instance, while the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has received official holy site status since the time of Constantine, archaeological discoveries 120 years ago reveal another possible location for the execution and burial of Yeshua — the Garden Tomb.
Located just outside the Old City Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb receives 250,000 visitors a year to view what appears to be Golgotha (Place of the Skull) and to walk inside a large empty tomb hewn out of rock.
No church building has been placed there, but services are held in its garden area on some holy days.
Jerusalem will continue to be important, not because of its holy sites, necessarily, but because Jerusalem is in itself a holy site since the Lord has chosen to dwell there.
“For the LORD has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His dwelling, saying, This is My resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.” (Psalm 132:13–14)
Indeed, in fulfillment of God’s prophetic end-time plan, the world will see God’s glory in Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:18-20), and it will be called YHWH Shammah: The Lord Is There (Ezekiel 48:35).
“And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6–7)