I’ve been back home a few weeks now with lots of time to reflect on my trip to Israel. I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places around the world. Austria, Germany, Belize, the Bahamas – all amazing destinations. But there was something different about Israel.
Visiting the Holy Land wasn’t about checking off another country on my list. I went to see where my faith started.
If you want to see the scripture come to life, use the Bible as your tour guide. You can visit the sites where miracles took place, sit in the garden where Jesus and the disciples prayed before his crucifixion and get baptized in the same river as Jesus. There is no place in the world with this level of historic events so well documented.
Biblical Sites in Israel – a Mini Guide
I grew up in church, so I know a good bit about the Bible. But visiting the Holy Land with the Bible as a map is special. I know I’ll never read scripture the same way again having seen what I’ve seen.
The Sea of Galilee
“And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still’ and the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
Technically a lake, the Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, making it Israel’s largest and most important source of drinking water. In Jesus’ time, there would have been around 300 fishing boats on the sea working regularly. As calm as it looks here, the storms on the sea can cause waves more than 15 feet tall.
We took an evening boat tour with the Sea of Galilee Faith Boat. It was an incredible way to see Galilee, and was the site where Jesus walked on water.
Matthew 4: 13-14
“And leaving Nazareth, Jesus went and lived in Capernaum by the sea…”
Capharnaum is a fishing village near Galilee and the hometown of five disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, Matthew and John. Known as the headquarters of his earthly ministry, Jesus lived here for many years, teaching in the synagogue and performing some of his first miracles.
Mark 5: 21-43
“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
I’d heard this passage taught many times and it was just a story — until I stood on the road where it happened. You guys, I lost it. There are two events being told in this verse. The one that stands out to me is the woman who had been in pain for years. She had been suffering her whole life and when Jesus came by, she had so much faith that she was healed by just touching Jesus.
I stood on this road for a while thinking about that. If we lean into Jesus, He can heal us of anything.
Other Caphernaum references worth reading:
- Matthew 4: 12-22 | Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John
- Matthew 8: 5-13 | Jesus heals the centurion’s servant
- Mark 1: 21-34 | Jesus heals man with unclean spirit
- Mark 2: 1-12 | Men remove roof for Jesus to heal friend
- Mark 2: 13-17 | Jesus calls Matthew
- Luke 8: 40-56 | Jesus heals bleeding woman and Jairu’s daughter
“Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
Three years before this passage, Peter was fishing on this very lake when Jesus showed up and said, “Follow me.” Peter dropped everything, became a disciple and followed Jesus. A couple years later, knowing all he knew about Jesus, Peter denied even knowing him the night before the crucifixion. He felt so guilty about it that he went back to his old life as a fisherman. In John 21, Jesus finds Peter fishing on the same lake and again says, “Follow me.”
This. THIS. This is everything. My favorite Bible passage. It is so important because we see Jesus’ personality.
John Eldredge says it best in his book Beautiful Outlaw.
First off, Jesus has a personality. Right? We’ve made elevator music of Jesus Christ. We’ve made Him the most boring, bland, blah person; and He was the most revolutionary man.
The playfulness of Jesus [was surprising]. When you pause and you think, “OK, God created laughter, and He gave us the capacity for laughter.” But then you don’t really see that when you read the Gospels; Jesus seems like a very serious person. You know the phrase “Jesus laughed” isn’t ever used in the Gospels. So, most people walk away with the idea that Jesus is a pretty serious guy, pretty sour faced most of the time, pretty upset at what’s going on around Him.
Then, we take the playfulness of creation and you say, “Wait a second, God created laughter. Maybe Jesus is playful. Maybe we just haven’t found it in the Gospels.” And you read back through some of these stories such as the Emmaus Road or the miraculous catch of fish in John 21, and you go, “Oh, my goodness. Jesus is a very playful person with a great sense of humor.”
If you’ve read my past posts on my trip to Israel, you’ve seen the tattoo I got in Israel. This scripture is the meaning behind it. I see it and am reminded that I serve a playful, loving God who is on my team. A God who says, “Hey dudes, you’ve been out here all night and still no fish? Haha…watch this.”
And even when I mess up over and over and over, Jesus is there saying, “Follow me.”
Mount of Beatitudes
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them….”
Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes is where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, a powerful summary of fundamental teachings that were a 180 degree turn against the Jewish teachings of the day. It’s a long passage, but it’s where verses like “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” and “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” came from.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
This is the same spot where Jesus would have looked to the sky and pointed out the birds, reminding the gathered crowd that they are so much more important to God. How cool is that?!
The Gates of Hell/Caesarea Philippi
Matthew 16: 13-17
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’“
If you’ve ever gone to church, this is where the “Church” started. Caesarea Philippi is a gorgeous area that has a sweeping view of the upper Jordan River Valley and is the place where Jesus told the disciples the plan for what “Church” would be.
SO COOL, RIGHT?
As amazing as it is, it has a dark, unsettling history that you can feel in the air.
Y’all. This place was BAD. Like, as bad as it gets.
In first century, Caesarea Philippi was a place you would not want to go (hopefully). In the cave mouth was a large statue of Pan (a half-goat, half-human creature), known as the god of desolate places and also the god of fright. Worshippers of Pan would come together and partake in debauchery, including um, freaky stuff with goats, throwing children into the cave as sacrifices until the water turned red and a lot of other stuff I don’t want to talk about.
So really dark, evil stuff happened here. But remember, the Lord said, “…on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Of all the places Jesus could have taken the disciples to introduce the idea of the Church, he brought them to this place of horrors. Isn’t it amazing how Jesus can take imperfect, broken places (and people!) to further the kingdom?
Matthew 3: 13 – 17
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
The tradition of baptism – full immersion, not sprinkling – was born in this spot at this moment, and was adopted by Christians as a symbolic way to profess allegiance to Christ.
Folks from all around the world come to Israel to get dunked and profess their faith publicly. My brother and I have already been baptized, but how do you not get baptized in the same place as Jesus!? SO COOL.
Other verses worth reading:
- 2 Kings 2: 1-18 | Elijah is taken to heaven
- Joshua 3-4 | Israelites cross the Jordan
1 Samuel 24: 1-22
“After Saul returned from fighting the Philistines, he was told that David had gone into the wilderness of En-Gedi…”
Thousands of years before Christ was born, David was hiding from Saul in the caves in En-Gedi. Long story short, King Saul wanted to kill David because God had anointed him as the rightful king. David fled to the caves, right here!
Talk about an epic game of hide-and-seek. Today, it is one of Israel’s premier hiking spots. I’d much rather hike than hide, you know what I mean? There are all kinds of tours you can take, check those out here.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers…”
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? This is where it happened!
Known as the “way of blood,” the Jericho road is 18 miles of extremely dangerous terrain. Robbers would hide along the road and wait for travelers to pass by so they could steal from them and kill them. Not a place you would want to be back in the day.
Today, it is beautiful, with miles of mountainous terrain. Just make sure you wear sneakers. When the Bible says, “…and they went up to Jerusalem,” this is the road people would have taken. And it really did mean UP to Jerusalem. It’s a climb!
Enjoy this video of my brother and I throwing rocks off the mountain.
Joshua 6: 2
“But the Lord said to Joshua, ‘I have given you Jericho, its king and all its strong warriors.'”
I am sorry. The only photos of Jericho I took were on this camel because YASS I RODE A CAMEL.
Jericho is considered to be one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities. It has references dating all the way back to Genesis, 5,000 years before Abraham. It is also the lowest city on the planet, more than 800 feet below sea level.
If you remember from Sunday school, this is where the walls came tumbling down at the sound of trumpets. When Jericho was excavated, it showed that the walls were not only extremely tall, but the inner walls of the city were 12 feet thick and the outer walls were 6 feet.
And you can ride a camel for only $5!
Other verses worth reading:
- Luke 19: 1-10 | Jesus and Zacchaeus
- Mark 10: 46-52 | Jesus heals the blind Bartimaeus
“When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices…”
The Temple Mount is where the Jewish nation gathered every year to celebrate festivals like Passover. Today, the Temple Mount is dominated by the Muslim monument – the Golden Dome of the Rock – built over the sacred rock Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son on. It is also possibly the location of the Ark of the Covenant.
The Wailing Wall, or the Western Wall, is part of the remaining structure of the Temple Mount from the time of the sacred temple. It’s known as the most sacred site for observers of the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself — and since the Jewish people aren’t allowed to access the Temple Mount, it serves as the main meeting point and spiritual center for the Jewish people.
Prayers tucked into the wall
Today, the wall marks the boundary between Jews and Muslims throughout the Middle East. Men & women are also divided at the Western Wall. Men and married women are expected to cover their heads upon approaching the wall, and to dress conservatively.
Remember to dress modestly when visiting the Temple Mount. If you don’t, you will not be allowed in. Some of the girls in our group were given long skirts to wear OVER their jeans. Do not mess around here!
Other verses worth reading:
- Genesis 22: 1-18 | Abraham binds Isaac
- 2 Chronicles 6: 1-11 | Solomon builds the Temple
- Ezra 6:3, 14-15 | Rebuilding of the Temple
- Luke 2: 21-52 | Baby Jesus at the Temple
The Garden Tomb
“Now in the place where he was crucifies there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.”
The garden tomb is located right outside the walls of Jerusalem near the city gate. And only a few hundred feet away is the site where public execution was held and where Jesus was most likely crucified.
Spoiler: he wasn’t there! I looked!
Joppa & Caesarea
Act 10: 24
“Peter arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends…”
Jappa literally means “beautiful” – a perfect description of this town! The city of Caesarea was once home to Pontius Pilate, Philip the evangelist and Cornelius. This picturesque town sits on the Mediterranean Sea and is considered a suburb of Tel Aviv with restaurants, festivals and shopping.
This is where Paul was imprisoned for 2 years and where King Herod had his palace. They now have delicious pasta.
Other verses worth reading:
- Acts 9: 36 – 43 | Peter restores Dorcas to life in Jappa
- Jonah 1 | Jonah flees God’s presence in Jappa
- Acts 23 – 26 | Paul imprisoned in Caesarea
The Valley of Megiddo
Revelation 16: 16-17
“And they assembled the kings in the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came from the throne in the temple, saying, “It is done!”
Megiddo (or Armageddon) sits 200 feet above its surroundings and has the remains of at least 25 cities built one on top of the other. The hill top was a Canaanite city, an Egyptian fortress, a Chariot City and a Assyrian and Persian city. Megiddo was once ruled by King Solomon in the 10th century BC. This place has seen more battles than any other location in the world. And it is supposed to see (at least) one final battle.
Megiddo is discussed in the book if Revelation as the world’s final war location. Literally. The end of the world. RIGHT HERE.
Other verses worth reading:
- 1 Kings 4: 12
- 2 Kings 9: 27
- 2 Kings 23: 29-30
I really hope this guide not only serves as a travel resource, but helps you understand a little more about the Bible. This trip really has changed the way I read it, and I hope you are able to make your way to the Holy Land, too. There are lots of ways to explore the biblical sites in Israel. I went with my church, Angie traveled on her own, and you can also take tours. (Viator offers a few great options if you want to check them out!)
Where we stayed:
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