St. Stephen’s Gate

May 12, 2017

St. Stephen’s Gate, also known as the “Lion’s Gate,” is one of seven open Gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls. This gate is located on the Eastern Wall. It is  It is called “St. Stephen’s Gate” because of the tradition that Stephen, the first martyr of the church (Acts 6-7), was stoned to death at this location just outside the city walls.

St. Stephen’s Gate, located on Jerusalem’s Eastern Wall. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In Acts 7, Luke records Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin (the ruling council overseen by the High Priest), as well as the response:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, . . . you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:51-60).

Murphy-O’Connor notes, “The current Hebrew name, ‘Lions’ Gate’, is due to a mistake. The pairs of animals are in fact panthers, the heraldic emblem of the Mamluk sultan Baybars (1260–77), which Suliman’s architects set on either side of the gate to celebrate the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517” (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford Archaeological Guides, p.21).

I previously posted on this gate here.

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What Time Is It?

May 4, 2017

Today we were able to visit Ein Yael, Philip’s Spring, located on the ancient Jerusalem-Gaza route. A number of interesting artifacts were on the site, including this sundial.

Sundial at Ein Yael. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This helps illustrate an event in the life of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of Judah’s best kings. He faithfully led the nation in very difficult times. Then he became sick and was near death. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with the message, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isaiah 38:1). Hezekiah fervently prayed to the Lord, his prayer was heard, and the Lord promised to add 15 years to his life. As a sign to confirm this promise, God said, “Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward” (Isa. 38:7,8, NKJV).

Some translations render the Hebrew term maalah as “stairway” (see NAS, CSB). The NET Bible notes, “These steps probably functioned as a type of sundial.”

Whether the term means “steps” or “sundial,” certainly what is under consideration is a means of telling time by the moving shadow cast by the sun. The miraculous sign was that the shadow would return, it would go backward by 10 “steps” or “degrees.”

Whether what is intended in Isaiah 38 is this type of sundial, or another system (steps, stairway) is meant, the principle is the same. God miraculously returned the shadow to confirm to Hezekiah that He would extend his life as He had promised.

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Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

May 3, 2017

Today we had opportunity to visit the temple mount in Jerusalem. This is a wide-angle shot I made this morning:

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The very recognizable Dome of the Rock at center approximates the site of Solomon’s temple, as well as the 2nd temple, built after the return from Babylonian Captivity and vastly renovated by Herod the Great.

This area is known as Mt. Moriah. This was the location where Abraham took Isaac in obedience to God’s command to offer him as a sacrifice, though He stopped Abraham prior to the actual event (Gen. 22:1-13). Years later, when Solomon built the temple, the Bible says, “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah . . .” (2 Chron. 3:1, ESV).

The temple mount consists of about 36 acres. When the New Testament speaks of Jesus teaching in the temple, or of the early church meeting in the temple, those texts are not referring to the naos (holy place/most holy place) into which only the priests/Levites could enter; the most holy place only the high priest could enter, and that only once per year on the Day of Atonement. Rather, reference is made to the hieron, the greater temple area, consisting of its many courts and colonnades, etc.

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Wailing Wall at Jerusalem at Night

February 10, 2017

Jerusalem is defined by three valleys: the Kidron, Tyropean and Hinnom. In the photo below we are standing in the Tyropean Valley. Jews come here to mourn the destruction of the temple, among other reasons. This wall was not part of the temple itself, but was the retaining wall for the temple and the structures on the temple mount. Some of the courses of larger stones starting from bottom are Herodian, and weigh several tons each.

In Jerusalem, "Wailing Wall" at night. This was part of the retaining wall that supported the temple complex. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In Jerusalem, “Wailing Wall” at night. This was part of the retaining wall that supported the temple complex. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I’ve visited this very special location on numerous occasions, but this past November I had the occasion to take some night-time photos.

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Crossing the Kidron

February 6, 2017

John 14-16 records Jesus’ Final Discourse with the disciples prior to the events of Gethsemane. At John 14:31 we read, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” The discourse continues and then John 17 records Jesus’ high-priestly prayer. Then John 18:1 states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”

In his classic A Harmony of the Gospels, A.T. Robertson notes on John 14:31, “Apparently they leave the Upper Room” and entitles the section continuing in John 15 and 16, “The Discourse on the Way to Gethsemane,” with the subtitle, “Possibly on the Street.”

Kidron Valley. Jerusalem/temple mount on left and in distance. Jesus crossed the Kidron going from Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Kidron Valley. Jerusalem/temple mount on left and in distance. Jesus crossed the Kidron going from Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It is possible that Jesus and His disciples rose up immediately at John 14:31, and that the continued discourse and prayer of chapters 15-17 occurred en route from the Upper Room on the way to Gethsemane. Others suggest that the short time required for Jesus’ teaching of chapters 15-16 and the prayer of chapter 17 can better fit within that Upper Room setting. That would not be unlike our saying, I [we] need to be going now, and yet a few more minutes of conversation take place before the actual departure.

J.W. McGarvey observes, “Some think that Jesus then left the room, and that the next three chapters of John’s Gospel contain matters spoken on the way to Gethsemane. But it is likely that the words of these chapters were spoken in the upper room after they had risen from the table and prepared to depart, and that John 18:1 marks the leaving of the upper room as well as the crossing of the Kidron”(The Four-Fold Gospel.667).

Lenski goes into a bit more detail in his remarks:

Nevertheless … arise, let us be going hence” ends the Passover feast. No destination is indicated, yet the disciples know that Jesus intends to meet “the world’s ruler” and thus once more do the Father’s ἐντολή. The asyndeton ἐγείρεσθε ἄγωμεν is idiomatic, as is also the combination of the present imperative with the hortative present subjunctive. The action of arising from the couches on which the company had dined is merely preliminary to the action of leaving the place and going elsewhere. Those who regard “Arise,” etc., as a separate sentence incline to the opinion that Jesus left the upper room at this point, spoke the next three chapters somewhere on the way to the Kidron, crossed this at 18:1, and then went on to Gethsemane. When we note that the bidding to arise and to leave is only the conclusion of a longer sentence, that 15:1, etc., indicates no change of place, and that ἐξῆλθεν in 18:1 reads as though Jesus did not leave the upper room until that moment, we are led to conclude that after the company arose from their couches they lingered in the upper room until Jesus finished speaking the next three chapters. This delay consumed only a short time. We cannot think that the next three chapters were spoken while the company was in motion, and John nowhere indicates that they halted at some spot along the way (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel.1023–1024).

William Hendriksen notes:

Why not assign to these words their most natural meaning, and interpret them as actually amounting to a command that the disciples get up from their couches, coupled with an exhortation meaning, “And let us go away from here, that is, from this Upper Room; hence, from this house”? That still would not imply that the little company now immediately rushes out of the house! How often does it not happen even among us Westerners that between the exhortation, “Now let us be going,” and the actual departure there is a period of ten minutes? During that ten minutes a great deal can be said. Now, the following must be borne in mind:
a. In this very context Jesus clearly implies that there are still certain things which he wishes to say to the disciples (14:30).
b. Speaking calmly and deliberately, without any attempt to rush himself, Jesus may have uttered the contents of chapters 15, 16, and 17 within a period of ten minutes! When a company has been together for several hours, what is ten minutes? . . .

Accordingly, we shall proceed upon the assumption that the contents of chapters 14–17 comprise a unit, and that all of this was spoken that night in the Upper Room (Exposition of the Gospel According to John, Vol. 2.290–291).

In 2012 I posted an aerial photo of the Kidron here.


The Garden of Gethsemane

February 1, 2017

“When Jesus had spoken these words [Farewell Discourse/Prayer, John 14-18], He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples” (John 18:1, NASB). Matthew’s record states, “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.'”

Ancient olive trees on the Mt. of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane was in this area. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Ancient olive trees on the Mt. of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane was in this area. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The meaning of Gethsemane is “olive press,” and therefore not a “garden” in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather an olive grove that contained an olive press. Though we cannot know the exact spot where Jesus went for prayer that awful night before His crucifixion, it would be situated on the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem and across the Kidron Valley.

It would be here that Jesus went with His disciples (minus Judas; see John 13:30) to pray. “They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here until I have prayed.'” (Mark 14:32, NASB). We get somewhat of a glimpse of the horrible terror of that night as Luke writes, “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (22:44, NASB). He submitted willingly to the Father’s will, because there was no other way that God could be both Just and our Justifier (Romans 3:21-26).

So it was then at the site of Gethsemane that Jesus was betrayed by His disciple Judas, was arrested and from there led away to a series of trials before the Jews and the Romans, and then crucified. But then on the third day “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4, NASB). Hallelujah, What a Savior!

 


Palm Branches in Jerusalem

January 31, 2017

When Jesus began the Final Week of His ministry, He rode on a donkey (fulfilling Zechariah 9:9) from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. It was on a Sunday. The text reads, “Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road” (Matt. 21:8, NASB). John’s record tells us the large crowd “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13, NASB). While in Jerusalem in November (2016) I made this photograph.

Palm tree in Jerusalem. Photo©Leon Mauldin.

Palm tree in Jerusalem. Photo©Leon Mauldin.

This is why that Sunday prior to Jesus’ crucifixion is today commonly known as “Palm Sunday.”

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