As we often say, “Israel is the only place on earth where your Bible comes alive.” And while God is real and can make Himself known to anyone anywhere (as He is doing all the time), a visit to the Land of Israel does draw any person of faith closer to the Creator, while also placing the biblical accounts in their proper place geographically and culturally. In other words, no other place on earth can invite you to “walk where Yeshua (Jesus) walked,” and for that we are thankful.
Resting quietly right next to what is probably the most controversial piece of real estate on earth, the Southern Steps of Temple Mount are located at the southern edge of the Western Wall. This broad staircase was in daily use, 365 days a year, with great crowds swelling to hundreds of thousands of people during the three Pilgrim Feasts when all the male members of the nation of Israel were commanded to come up and worship God at the Temple.
Not only is this site an archeological treasure house, displaying and confirming biblical events and personalities connected to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, but we also know beyond any doubt that the Lord Himself ascended and descended these steps many times during His visits to the Temple complex. Then, as it is now, the atmosphere was charged with political tensions, spiritual conflicts, danger and confusion. What we are experiencing today in and around Jerusalem is not new, and only the divine perspective can sustain people of faith as the waves keep crashing upon our walls.
As an island of peace, focus and perfect poise, we read that “Each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple, and each evening He went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear Him at the Temple.” (Luke 21:37-38).
Called the “teaching steps” by some, these Southern Steps were used by rabbis and teachers from that period as a platform to spread their doctrines to the passing multitudes along this busy and crowded passageway. With over 50 ritual baths discovered in the vicinity so far, serving the multitudes before entering the Temple courts, this area was no doubt the busiest spot in all of Israel and the greatest platform to stage a public event as we see happening numerous times in the Gospels.
It is important to notice that these steps were (and still are) irregular and uneven. This unusual and intentional design required the pilgrims ascending them to pay careful attention to their steps. The reason was to encourage the worshipers to adopt a thoughtful and reflective mindset as they approach God, resisting the urge for social interaction while passing through the bustling crowds, the family reunions, the buying and the selling at the Temple Courts. Would that this would be the attitude and spirit of many of our communities today as we prepare to “Enter His Gates.”
It is also safe to assume that this was the very spot of the events described in Acts chapter two when the disciples, freshly anointed with the Holy Spirit and addressing the international pilgrims gathering in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost, spoke to them using their own native languages. According to the text, this miracle took place at 9:00 am during the morning prayers when great throngs of worshipers would attend the Temple service. No other place in Jerusalem was better suited to stage Peter’s first and powerful apostolic message, bringing 3,000 Jewish souls into instant conviction, faith, repentance and baptism.
The setting was perfect! Peter’s powerful words still rang in the Jerusalem morning air when thousands of Jewish worshipers “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call … Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” (Acts 2:38-43)
With dozens of ritual baths ready to serve these thousands of new disciples, obedience was instant! And they, themselves being pilgrims from all over the world, would now carry the good news of salvation in Messiah Yeshua to their homelands. A new beginning dawned on earth, and it all started in Jerusalem, and probably upon the Southern Steps.
Neil Armstrong was the very first man to walk on the moon. While visiting Israel he asked his guide, the renowned archaeologist Meir Ben Dov who excavated the Temple Mount, if there was a place where Jesus would have walked without a doubt 2,000 years ago. Ben Dov’s answer was, “the Southern Steps.” Visiting the Steps, Mr. Armstrong was quoted as saying that this was a more exciting moment for him than walking on the moon!
For a person of faith, the presence of the Lord surpasses all else. As the Apostle wrote, “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Messiah Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Messiah.” Phil. 3:8.
Let this be an example and an encouragement for us today. We, who live and serve God in Israel during these final chapters of history, are witnessing remarkable and dramatic world events concentrating on Jerusalem as biblical prophecy unfolds around us. And though tempted to fear and to be anxious in light of these tremendous birth pangs, the image of our Lord remains our focus. He still walks calmly across the Southern Steps, passing steadily through the bustling crowds tossed about by every wind of doctrine or alarming rumor, and He alone is our inspiration.
He is the Rock, our hiding place, and He will once again pour out His Spirit upon our nation according to His word.