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Bethphage

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Places of Interest

Bethphage

 

Location

1. Bethphage is about 1 mile (2 km.) from the modern village of al-Azariya.

 

2. It's located on the southern part of the Mount of Olives between Bethany and Jerusalem.

3. Eusebius (Jewish Historian from around 300 AD) located it on the Mount of Olives.

 

4. It was likely on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

 

5. It was within the limit of a Sabbath-day's journey from Jerusalem, (2,000 cubits, 900 yards or meters).

Historical Background

1. Bethphage means "House of Unripe Figs." This is fitting as it was in this area that Jesus caused a fig tree with no fruit to wither (Matt. 21:18-22).

2. Today, a Franciscan Church marks the spot where it's believed the disciples of Jesus got the donkey upon which Jesus would use for riding into Jerusalem in what is known as the "Triumphal Entry," which took place on the Sunday before His crucifixion (Palm Sunday). 

3. The modern church, built in 1883, rests on the foundations of a 12th-century Crusader Chapel located in the ancient village of Bethphage.

 

4. It was built beside the steep road that descends from the Mount of Olives eastwards towards the village of el-Azariyeh (ancient Bethany).

5. The Crusader-era Chapel was built on the foundations of a 4th-century Byzantine shrine commemorating the meeting between Lazarus' sister Martha and Jesus.

 

6. In 1867, during the construction of a Franciscan monastery on the grounds, a cube-shaped stone covered in plaster was discovered. This stone, now called the Stele of Bethphage, was an integral part of the 12th-century Crusader Chapel and now lies near the northern wall of the church.

 

7. The Crusaders decorated the stone and inscribed it in Latin, as well as described biblical events that occurred in the areas of Jerusalem and Bethphage. 

8. In 1950, the decorations on the stone were restored, and five years later, in 1955, frescos were drawn on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary. Today, as in the 12th century, pilgrims hold a Palm Sunday procession that begins at the Bethphage Church.

 

9. Inside the Franciscan Church of Bethphage

  • Above the altar in the church is a mural of Jesus riding the donkey and being glorified by the crowd who accompanied Him.

  • On display in the church, protected by a wrought iron grille, is a large square rock that the Crusaders regarded as the rock upon which Jesus used to mount the donkey.

  • On the sides of the rock are medieval paintings, restored in 1950. These depict the disciples getting the donkey, people holding palm branches,  the resurrection of Lazarus at nearby Bethany, and the inscription “Bethphage.”

  • Foundations from the Crusader Chapel can easily be seen near the floor of the apse. 

  • Behind the altar is a fresco depicting Jesus riding a donkey to the Temple, accompanied by his disciples. 

  • The church ceiling features drawings of flowers and leaves. The wall frescos, colored in shades of brown, portray people from the New Testament era preparing for the procession. 

  • On one wall, a group of rabbis holds a scroll that contains the second part of the verse from (John 12:19). 

  • The words written in Latin around the windows are those that the people used to say about Jesus during the procession into the city. 

  • The main focus of the church is the Stele of Bethphage, which is set apart by wrought iron railings. 

  • There is a mirror behind the stone so that visitors can easily see the drawings on all four sides. The drawings depict the meeting between Jesus and Martha; two disciples bringing Jesus an ass and a colt, Lazarus rising from the dead, and on the side facing the altar, a drawing of a crowd of people holding palms.

 

10. Just up the hill is a Greek Orthodox church whose courtyard offers a view and a place for reflection.

 

Places of Interest

1. Bethany
2. Mount of Olives
3. Triumphal Entry Path
4. Dominus Flevit Church (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem)
5. Jerusalem
6. Garden of Gethsemane
7. Temple Mount
8. Kidron Valley

 

Bethphege in the Bible

Bethphage is mentioned in the New Testament as the place in ancient Israel where Jesus sent his disciples to find a colt upon which he would ride into Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels mention it as being close to Bethany, where he stayed immediately before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

1. Jesus sends two of His disciples to get an untamed donkey.

Matthew 21:1-3: Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

2. This donkey had a colt, upon which no one had ever ridden.

Mark 11:1-2: Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it.

 

This was a miracle because untamed donkeys will buck, run, and do whatever they can to dismount their rider.

 

3. Jesus riding a donkey fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (Is. 62:11; Zch. 9:9).

Matthew 21:4-5: This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

4. Triumphal Entry

Matthew 21:6-11: The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

5. During the Triumphal Entry, Jesus pauses and weeps over Jerusalem. The Church of Dominus Flevit marks this spot today.

Luke 19:41: And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

6. Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Matthew 21:12-13: And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

7. The people marvel at Christ's miracles and teachings.

Matthew 21:14-16: And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies  you have prepared praise’?”

8. Jesus curses a fig tree and teaches about prayer.
Matthew 21:18-22: In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

 

Faith Lesson 

 

1.  Jesus embedded in the lives of His disciples that He was God. Do we believe in the deity of Christ and that He was God in the flesh?

 

2. Throughout Jesus's life, we see He constantly fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies, which proves that He was divine and authentic. Do we believe Jesus was divine and who He claimed to be?

 

3. Jesus taught a powerful lesson about faith and prayer. Do we pray and believe God can help us?
 

 

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Bethlehem: Shepherds' Field

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