Israel: You’ll Never Be the Same Again
By Rick Knoth
Juxtaposed between Africa and Asia stands the most fascinating and significant area of the world, wherein were played out the most transcendent events in human history. This narrow strip of land, known as Israel, has retained its prominence throughout the millennia and is, to this day, profoundly venerated for its typography and antiquities. It is a place long shrouded in mystery, intrigue, and drama. Its stories of human triumph and tragedy have graced the record of biblical history for thousands of years and provided inspiration and healing for the human soul.
The unfolding drama of Israel’s truculent history continues to this day, bringing with it increased international and media attention. This land that provides authenticity to Jesus’ life and ministry remains enmeshed in religious and political turmoil and is a nation yet to find its true identity. At its very core, Israel is the most religious nation in the world, being home to the world’s three major religious groups: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Because of its religious moorings, Israel remains a popular tourist spot. Believers in Christ will find no greater place than Israel where their faith intersects more closely and meaningfully with the record of Scripture. Visitors, whose faith is grounded in the Lands of the Bible, are making spiritual pilgrimages to Israel in record number.
According to the nation’s Central Bureau of Statistics, over 3 million tourists visited Israel in 2010, setting a new all-time high for incoming tourism. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism’s slogan, “You’ll Never Be the Same Again,” is more than a saying; it is a reality for millions of believers whose lives have been transformed by the land that gives both discourse to the Bible and authenticity to their Christian faith.
I have been an Assemblies of God minister for over 25 years and have traveled to a number of different countries, either for pleasure or ministry. Unfortunately, a trip to the Lands of the Bible was never in reach — that is until recently. In May of 2010, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism invited a small group of evangelical journalists to enjoy a 7-day whirlwind excursion of the Holy Land. That trip, filled with sights and sounds, cities and hamlets, temples and palaces, and where the past merges with the present connected me with the roots of my faith in a way that was truly life changing. Although the trip is now history, the experience it etched on my heart and mind will last forever. Truly, once you have been to Israel you will never be the same.
Having provided you this prologue, I invite you to journey with me in your imagination as I share a few highlights of my trip. For some, this journey will be a common experience for you have had a soul-moving experience in the Lands of the Bible. For those who have not, I trust this abbreviated journey provides the inspiration and motivation that will make a trip to the Holy Land, the most amazing strip of land on the earth, a priority for your life and ministry.
Day 1, Arrival
On arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport, just outside of Tel Aviv, a representative of the Ministry of Tourism and our tour guide, Amir Orly, meets us. With the van loaded, we drive up the Mediterranean Coast to the Roman port city Caesarea where we check-in at the Dan Hotel. Dinner is at the Helene Fish restaurant on the port of Caesarea, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Day 2, Mediterranean Coast and Lower Galilee
Our journey begins with a visit to the Caesarea National Park, the great Roman port city and former Roman capital. Caesarea is one of the largest archeological digs in Israel. Here the ruins of the Roman theater, hippodrome, bathhouse, and great aqueduct built by King Herod are carefully preserved. Biblically, Caesarea is where Peter baptized the Roman centurion, Cornelius. Cornelius became the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10). It is also the site of the apostle Paul’s trial before Festus (Acts 25).
From Caesarea, our journey moves us north to Tel Megiddo, an ancient fortified city built by King Solomon and situated at the crossroads of the Jezreel Valley — site of the Battle of Armageddon. The excavations of this giant fortress reveal the ruins of 26 ancient civilizations superimposed one upon another. A short distance from Megiddo is Mount Carmel where Elijah battled the prophets of Baal.
Crossing the beautiful, fertile Jezreel Valley we arrive in Nazareth, the largest Arab town in Israel, and boyhood home of Jesus. Visitors to Nazareth typically visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, which commemorates the announcement of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of the birth of Jesus, and the Synagogue Church, where Jesus preached from the Book of Isaiah.
From Nazareth, we travel east toward Tiberias where off in the distance one sees Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration. Tiberias is a nearly 2,000-year old historical resort town on the Sea of Galilee built by Herod Antipas to honor Tiberius Caesar. Set in beautiful and extensive gardens with glorious views of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights is the Scots Hotel St. Andrew, our resting place for the next two evenings. The evening concludes with dinner at the Decks barbeque gourmet restaurant on the Sea of Galilee.
Day 3, Around the Sea of Galilee
From Tiberias we progress north along the northwestern edge of Lake Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) to visit a number of important Christian holy sites, towns, and villages. A substantial part of Jesus’ Galilee ministry took place on the Sea of Galilee and surrounding countryside. Here He walked on water, calmed the storm, and taught from Peter’s boat. Capernaum, where Peter lived, became Jesus’ base of operation and from where He preached in the synagogue and performed many miracles. Among the many ruins in Capernaum is Israel’s best-preserved 4th-century synagogue, built on the remains of the “synagogue of Jesus.”
Near Capernaum, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee in a replica wooden sailing vessel from the time of Jesus provides beautiful, picturesque views of Capernaum and the entire northern Galilee countryside.
To the north of Capernaum and near Korazim is the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount. The flora-filled gardens on the Mount of Beatitudes provide a striking backdrop to some of the best views of the Sea of Galilee and surrounding area. To commemorate Jesus’ sermon, the black-domed Church of the Beatitudes provides visitors a sacred place for prayer and solitude.
A short distance from the Mount of Beatitudes and to the south is Tabgha, the site of the traditional location of the miracle of the loaves and fish and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance. The Churches of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish and St. Peter’s Primacy are important sites commemorating these events. Following our visit to Tabgha, we enjoy a traditional St. Peter’s fish lunch at a nearby restaurant on the Sea of Galilee.
A side trip to the Yigal Alon Museum at Ginosar offers visitors a close-up view of the remains of a first-century wooden fishing boat dating to the time of Jesus. This boat was unearthed from the Galilee mud during the drought of 1986.
Following dinner at Pagoda, a Chinese restaurant at the Lido Galilee Compound, we retire for the evening at the Scots Hotel St. Andrew, Tiberias.
Day 4, Kursi, Yardenit baptismal site, Jordan Valley, and Dead Sea Region
Circumventing the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee with views of the Golan Heights our tour arrives at Kursi National Park, located east of the Sea of Galilee, 7 kilometers north of Ein Gev. Based on Christian tradition, Kursi is the site of the Miracle of the Swine mentioned in Luke 8:26–39, described as “the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee” (verse 26).
From Kursi, our journey continues to the southern most end of the Sea of Galilee to a popular baptismal site for Christian pilgrims — Kibbutz Kinneret (Yardenit). Here I’m privileged to baptize four members of the group and am baptized by one of them in return — a moment we will long remember.
We continue south through the Jordan River Valley to the Dead Sea region. Via cable car we ascend Masada to see the excavations of Herod’s magnificent mountaintop fortress and site of the last Jewish stand against the Romans in 73 A.D., leading to the mass suicide of its 960 defenders. From here the views of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert region are amazing.
From Masada we journey north a short distance and make a refreshing stop at the Ein Gedi Beach Spa on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. The healing properties of the natural thermo-mineral springs and black mud offer a unique and soothing experience for the bon vivants and health conscious. Following an invigorating swim in the Sea and dip in the mineral springs we head toward Jerusalem, the most sacred site of all.
Passing by Qumran toward Jericho, we turn west and drive the final 14-mile ascent to Jerusalem. At the top of Mount Scopus, with tear-stained eyes, I gain my first panoramic view of the Holy City — the city of the great King.
After checking in at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem and following a short rest, we enjoy dinner at the Minaret, a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Days 5 and 6, Jerusalem (Old City) and the City of David
The journey today begins with a drive to the Mount of Olives, separated from Jerusalem by the deep, narrow Kidron Valley. The Mount of Olives is perhaps the most mentioned and religious mountain in the Bible due to its prominence in Jesus’ ministry and the site of end-time biblical prophecy (Zechariah 14:4). Some of the most spectacular views of the Old City are accessible from the western slope of the Mount of Olives, including hallowed views of the ancient Jewish cemetery where the remains of Abshalom and Zechariah are entombed.
On the upper western slope of the Mount Olives and within range of the natural eye stand three significant churches: the Church of the Ascension (the place where Jesus ascended into heaven), the Church of the Pater Noster (the traditional site where Jesus taught His disciples the Lords Prayer), and the Dominus Flevit Church (Dominus Flevit, which means “the cry of the Lord,” commemorates the place where Jesus mourned as He approached Jerusalem, Luke 19:41).
On the lower slope of the Mount of Olives is the secluded Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus agonized in prayer before His betrayal by Judas. We spent a meaningful time in the Garden for personal reflection and quiet meditation.
On the southwestern edge of the Old City is Mt. Zion. Our trip there includes visits to: Saint Peter in Gallicantu Church (site of the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas where Jesus was brought to trial and where Peter denied Him); the Coenaculum (traditional site of the Upper Room and Last Supper); and King David’s Tomb.
The tour continues as we visit or view several of the historical and religious sites in both the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David. The Old City includes stops at the pool of Bethesda where Jesus performed a healing miracle, a walk along the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnel excavations, and the Temple Mount.
For many Christian pilgrims, the most meaningful thing they will do while in the Old City is to walk the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus took between His condemnation by Pilate and His crucifixion and burial, and visit the 14 Stations of the Cross. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest of Christian sites, stands on the spot that includes Golgotha, or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified; the Stone of Unction (a polished red stone where the body of Jesus was anointed and prepared for burial); and the tomb (sepulchre) where He was buried. No visit to the Old City is complete without stopping at these important Christian sites.
The tour concludes with a visit to the City of David (ancient Jerusalem), which includes a walk through the conduit though which Hezekiah channeled water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. The City of David is located outside the walls of today’s Old City, south of the Temple Mount.
A drive along the Haas Promenade gives us a final panoramic view of Jerusalem.
The evening concludes with dinner at the Eucalyptus, an Israel-style restaurant, where we hear about the biblical recipes of chef Moshe Basson.
Day 7, Modern Jerusalem and the Garden Tomb
The final day of our journey includes stops at Yad Vashem, the National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book (exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls), the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament building), and the Garden Tomb (the place believed by some Protestant groups to be the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea and possible site of the resurrection of Jesus). The Garden Tomb provides us with a quiet place for worship, reflection, and Holy Communion.
Paul Manor, director of North American operations for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, hosts a farewell dinner at the Hazer restaurant before our departure for Ben Gurion International Airport.
What Are You Waiting For?
The urge to visit the Holy Land is almost a universal yearning. The long cherished desire of mine to visit the Lands of the Bible is no longer a dream. The memory of that trip is as vivid today as the day I stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv. I long to visit the Lands of the Bible again and again. My wish, too, is for my sons and wife to have the same opportunity.
As well, if you have never been to Israel, my hope is that your dream will become a reality sooner than later. The Center for Holy Land Studies can help make your trip to Israel a reality. Truly, once you have been to Israel you will never be the same.