Arrival in Jerusalem for Passover
March 33 AD


"Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people..." (John 22:1-2)

No Jewish feast was more important than Passover (Hebrew: Pesach or Pesah) and no feast could be more appropriate for the culmination of Jesus' life and ministry.

Passover commemorated the exodus of the people of ancient Israel from enslavement in Egypt. Together with Sukkot ("Tabernacles") and Shavuot ("Pentecost"), Passover was one of the three pilgrim festivals for which all Jews were required to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. Passover was the most important because it marked the birth of the Jewish nation. No longer were they slaves of Pharaoh, but free servants of God.

Passover took place on the 15th of Nisan, which falls between March 15-April 30. But a week before the feast pilgrims came to Jerusalem for the necessary rites of purification mandated by the Torah, the Jewish Scriptures. From all over the world Jews traveled overland in caravans or crossed the Mediterranean in ships to join with local Galilean pilgrims and curious Gentile tourists swelling the population of the Holy City three to four times its normal size. So many people crowded into the city that the Roman prefects, who governed Judea since the ouster of Herod Archelaus, marched their troops up from the port city of Caesarea to control the potentially contentious holiday crowds. Thus, the ruling prefect, Pontius Pilate, was also present, along with his wife, Procula.

According to John's Gospel the Jews arriving in Jerusalem in the days prior to Passover were looking for Jesus, wondering if he too would dare come to the city for the great Jewish feast in defiance of the arrest warrent issued against him several weeks earlier by the Temple officials.

All the speculation became mute when, in late March of 33 AD (by one reckoning), six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in the Jerusalem area. As on previous visits at festival times, he was welcomed into the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha in Bethany, a village just east of and on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives.

John further relates that crowds of Jews came out to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but Lazarus, whom the Galilean rabbi had raised from the dead some weeks earlier. Jesus knew, however, that most of the people still did not understand the true nature of his messiahship, and that there were many more who still do not believe in him at all. There was one person who seemed to understand Jesus' mission — a woman called Mary. At a dinner party in a private home Mary* (assumed to be Mary, Lazarus' sister) anointed Jesus with costly ointments — a touching prelude to the brutal events to follow over the coming week. A sour note was raised by one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, who complained:

"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (John 12:5-6)

*There are slightly different versions of the story in each of the four gospels. Matthew and Mark say "a woman" while Luke 7:37 calls her "a sinner."  In all three cases no name is given. John is the only Gospel that gives her name. (Compare Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8.) Furthermore, Matthew and Mark place the dinner party at the home of Simon the Leper, while John has it at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Simon may have been the husband of Mary or Martha, or he may have been their father.

In the footsteps of Jesus...

Setting the stage for the great drama to follow... Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

"Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel. There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem..." (Psalm 122:2-6)

This day begins at the overlook just west of the courtyard of the Seven Arches hotel, situated atop the southern end of the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives rises to a height of 2,700 feet above sea-level — some 200 feet above Jerusalem's Old City, spread over two hills to the west and separated from us by the Kidron Valley. The view from here of Jerusalem's Old City (below), can only be described as memorable and heart-pounding. In preparation for this first day in Jerusalem you poured over maps and studied its history from every library book you could scrounge up. But nothing can prepare you for the emotion of seeing the real thing. No one viewing Jerusalem for the first time — and that includes many of us — can fail to be impressed by the city's visual splendor. It is a vista like few others in the world. In the words of Lamentations 2:15, it is "the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth." I find myself repeating over and over, "I can't believe I'm here... I can't believe I'm here..." This view is a clichι, but it is spectacular one that should not be missed!

Behind us the sky begins to take on tones of pink and blue. The excitement of being here at long last made for a restless night and many of us escaped the confines of our rooms long before breakfast and rush out to the plaza west of the hotel entrance. Even the ever-present camel, ready to pose for stereotype tourist photos, has not arrived to take its usual place. With cameras in hand, we stand staring, lost in the moment and totally captivated. Time stands still. It's everything we expected and so much more.

Behind us the sun eases upward pushing the shadow of the Mount of Olives down into the Kidron Valley below, revealing a panorama of past and present. Despite centuries of destructions and reconstructions, the city seems frozen in time. From our vantage point it reads like a map of biblical history. The morning air is chilly. But our shivering is not from the cold, but from the thought that we are gazing into over 3,000 years of history. David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Jesus, Peter, James, John and countless others have stood here gazing at similar vistas. Our few minutes here seem infinitesimal by comparison.

Defining the bounds of the Old City are its massive walls — surprisingly young — dating back only to the 16th century AD, having been built during the rule of the Ottoman sultan Sulieman the Magnificent. But, his builders utilized stones from earlier times, including many from the time of Jesus. In these old walls are stones varying in shades of yellowish-gray to pink-gold to russet-gold. The older stones seem yellower than most. In these early morning hours they glow like slabs of gold. The wall of Jesus' day went farther south, and measured some 3 1/2 miles in circumference. Today's wall is some 2 1/2 miles, and every visitor should set aside at least a half day to take the self-guided "Ramparts Walk" atop the walls.

In Jesus' time, where the Dome of the Rock is today, was the gleaming Temple, the most hallowed place in the Jewish world. It was God's earthly dwelling place, the focus of the most solemn rites and celebrations. Outshining all other buildings in its magnificence, it stood high above the city at the center of a gigantic stone platform, measuring roughly 1000 by 1500 feet, girded by a massive retaining wall of huge fitted stones, each 13 or so feet thick. One stone, in the master course of the western retaining wall, measures an incredible 41 feet long, by 11.5 feet high by an estimated 14 feet wide, and weighs an amazing 570 tons! How on earth did Herod's builders ever move it into place. Even now, with modern equipment, it is impossible.

(Above left) Temple mount at the time of Jesus; (Above right) the Temple complex dominated the ancient city.

The facade of the central sanctuary, 150 feet high and 150 feet wide, faced east and consisted entirely of white marble. Its decorations were of pure gold. To quote the words of Josephus, it sparkled "like a snow-capped mountain." It was approached through a series of outer courts, each progressively more exclusive. The outermost was the Court of Gentiles, a huge rectangular area of about 35 acres. It was enclosed on the east, north and west by stately colonnades, with 60-foot high columns, and on the south by a three-story-high basilica called the Royal Porch. Worshipers entered the Court of Gentiles through any one of nine gates which stood at intervals around the Temple enclose. As its name suggests, it was open to Gentiles as well as Jews, and typically it was crowded with Jewish pilgrims from all over Palestine and the Roman Empire, and scribes and rabbis discussing point of Mosaic law and others simply passing the time of day.

At the center of the Court of Gentiles stood a second enclosed compound — called the Court of Women — restricted only to Jewish men and women, and entered by three large gates. At the western side of this court a flight of 15 curved stairs lead up to the Nicanor Gate, beyond which lay the Court of Israel, a long, narrow area where Jewish men assembled for Temple services. No women were allowed here. After this section came the Court of Priests, accessible only to the priests and Levites who served in the Temple. Within this court was the great horned altar for sacrifices, with a long ramp leading to the top.

Standing at the back of the Court of Priests and dominating the entire complex was the sanctuary itself. It was built of perfectly tooled and fitted white marble stones and soured to a height of around 165 feet. Golden spikes rose from the roof to discourage nesting birds.

Along the northern side of the Temple Mount stood the massive Antonia Fortress, which was connected to the Court of Gentiles by a stairway and underground passageway. The 600 Roman soldiers stationed there were always on alert for disturbances in the Temple compound. Here, in one of its four high towers, was kept the precious ceremonial robes of the high priest. They were released only on important religious feast days. By limiting the use of the robes, which symbolized the high priest's authority, the Romans sought to limit the power of his office. Nevertheless, in Jesus' day he remained the most powerful figure in the Jewish nation, for he presided over the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish administrative and judicial body.

To the south of the Temple Mount, where the City of David stood in Old Testament times, was the Lower City, home to most of the city's working people. Narrow, unpaved streets meandered among the one- and two-story limestone houses and sloped downward into the Tyropoeon Valley, which ran north-south through the center of the city. Then, the Valley, as it was simply called, was far deeper, but the debris from centuries of destructions and rebuilding has made it almost indistinguishable.

Rising upward to the west of the Lower City was the Upper City, where the marble villas and palaces of the wealthy stood out prominently. In this part of Jerusalem the streets were laid out in an orderly grid, patterned after stately Greek and Roman cities. Here were the homes of the rich and powerful Jewish families and high-ranking Roman officials. The magnificent palace of the deceased king, Herod the Great — used as a temporary residence by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate during his visits — stood in the westernmost part of the city. Nearby were the spacious residences of the former high priest, Annas, and his son-in-law and current office holder, Joseph Caiaphas. Even now they were plotting to seize Jesus and have him exocuted.

Jesus' Life Home n Join the procession on Palm Sunday