Israel is rapidly becoming one of my favorite destinations. It is not that hard to do, because Israel is a land that anyone who grew up in Sunday School has heard all the stories of ancient Israel—it is a part of our DNA. The first time I traveled to Israel was almost a year ago as I write this blog. I was full of anticipation because I love to travel, especially some place new. When we landed in Tel Aviv I was filled with excitement, but I had no idea what a magical time awaited me. I found Israel to be inviting. It was everything I had imagined and more. Everyone I knew who had ever been to Israel had told me that it was like nothing you could imagine. I did not believe them, thinking they were just talking in hyperbole. Little did I know they were right.
There is history in every step you take. Our tour guide on the most recent trip to Israel summed it up well. “Every place you dig a shovel into the ground in Israel becomes an archeological dig.” While that is a slight exaggeration, it is only slightly exaggerated. Because of the Bible and other writings, the whole country is filled with history. It seems like the world has passed through Jerusalem. The Pharaohs, Alexander the Great, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, King David, King Solomon, Napoleon, the list goes on and on. The land of Israel has seen it all and traveling there helps every part of history come alive like you cannot imagine.
We are now preparing to lead tours to Israel several times a year. I think Israel should be on everybody’s must see list. What is it specifically I think you should see when you are there? The truth is there is so much to see in Israel for any student of history, biblical or secular, that one trip will not be enough. We are trying to pack our trips full of the most critical sights for Christians touring Israel for the first or second time.
A typical trip looks like this: We land in Tel Aviv and fight our way out of the airport. Immigration to and from Israel is tight because of their need to keep ahead of security issues. From the airport we head out to Jaffa. Jaffa is where Peter was staying when he was called to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea. This was the beginning of the outreach to non-Jewish people. A walk through the old town is just what you need after an international flight. The most important goal of the first day in any foreign city is to stay awake until around 9 or 10 P.M. This helps you not get caught in the sleep trap that comes from jet lag. There are also some great places to eat lunch in the old city. Relax, enjoy walking and looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. Afterwards we typically check into to the hotel, Ramada in Netanya, to rest and have dinner. Get ready because the serious touring starts tomorrow.
The next morning, we load the bus and head up the cost to Caesarea. This city by the sea was built as a gift to Caesar Augustus to make up for supporting the wrong horse in the battle for control in Rome, Italy. To me, this one of the highlights of the tour. I love walking through this ancient city that is so full of history. It is from this port that the Apostle Paul began his trip to Rome as a prisoner, the trip where Paul was ultimately martyred for his faith.
In Caesarea we will sit in the theater from ancient times on stone seats, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. We will walk through the ruins of Pontius Pilate’s summer palace and look out over his swimming pool sitting on the edge of the sea. Then we will stroll down the sands of the hippodrome where gladiator fights occurred, along with several massacres of Christians and Jews.
From Caesarea we head inland to Mt. Carmel where Elijah and Prophets of Baal had their confrontation. Imagine looking out over the area where Elijah called down fire from heaven and ultimately destroyed the Prophets of Baal.
From there we travel just down the road to Megiddo. Megiddo is one of those famous sights that you have probably never heard of. I know the first time I went I had no idea. Megiddo is a fortified city, one of four, built by Solomon. It also housed a palace of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This city has 25 layers of civilizations, one on top of the other, and walking among the excavations is simply amazing. From the top of Megiddo, you look out over the Valley of Armageddon from Revelation where the battle at the end of the age happens. What an amazing end to our first full day of touring in Israel!
This first day is exhausting, yet full of adventure and one of my favorite days of the tour. It is a good idea to do a little research before you come on the trip so that you already know some of the history of sights we are exploring. That way you can pick the areas you want to concentrate on as we are walking through sights.
We will finish today with dinner and overnight in Leonardo Club, Tiberias, our Galilean Hotel. Unpack your bags as we will be spending two nights in this hotel.
The next morning begins with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. These boats, which are designed after the boats of Jesus day, are a nice relaxing way to see the parts of this Sea that was a central part of Jesus ministry. After the boat ride we will take the motor coach over to Capernaum, the town of Jesus. Here Jesus lived and taught in the Synagogue. You can walk on the floor of the Synagogue that was built later, but stands on the foundation of the Synagogue Jesus actually taught in. You will also see the house Jesus lived in while he was in Capernaum, the home of Peter’s mother-in-law.
Capernaum sits on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, so take a few minutes to walk down to the Sea and look out over the region of Galilee. Next, we head to Tabga which is the traditional sight on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus fed the multitudes with the loaves and the fishes. It also believed to be the place where Jesus made His fourth appearance after the resurrection. This area is also the foot of the mountain where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, the Mt. of Beatitudes.
From there we go into Northern Israel to an area known as Banias. Also known as Caesarea-Philippi, this area is home to a spring that forms the head waters of the Jordan River. Hike through the National Park and enjoy the largest waterfall in Israel while we are in Banias.
From here we head to the Mt. Bental overview. This overview allows us to see into Syria and it brings home just how Israel is surrounded by enemies on her northern, eastern, and southern borders. It really helps you understand how fragile the peace of Israel is and the true value of her friendship with the United States. We will enjoy a beautiful sunset from this mountain which was formed by a volcano. After that we will travel back to our hotel for dinner and overnight.
The next morning finds us with the opportunity to baptized in the Jordan River. This experience is incredible when you think about being baptized in the same river Jesus was baptized in. Whether it is your first time to be baptized, or a symbolic baptism for the sake of recommitting your life to God, this is a great experience for everyone to do at least once.
From the Jordan River we head to Beit She’an. This national park includes an archeological dig of the city where King Saul and his sons were slain, thus making David the King of a divided Israel. It was under King David that the nation of Israel was united for the first time in its history.
From there we will drive through the Jordan River Valley, witnessing the fertile land that Israel is turning from desert into a land flowing with “milk and honey” to get to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Here in the deserts of Israel you will look at the caves in the sides of the mountain where the Scrolls were protected for nearly 2000 years. When you turn from the caves and look behind yourself you will see the Dead Sea—the lowest place on earth. We will spend the night at the Dead Sea in the David Resort and Spa.
The next morning we will conquer the mountain fortress of Masada. This fortress is sacred to the modern state of Israel as it is a place where the Jewish Rebellion against Rome was finally ended in 73 A.D. with a dramatic stand against the oppressors of Israel. While there we will hike down to the Northern Palace for a beautiful view over the desert back to the Dead Sea.
From Masada we will travel to David’s hide away of Ein Gedi. This is the oasis where David hid out when King Saul was seeking to kill him. Walk through the area to a waterfall and pool where you can refresh yourself under the waterfall and wade in the pool. From Ein Gedi we will make our way up to Jerusalem. This is what the Jews call “Aliyah” or heading up to Jerusalem. This drive is amazing, as it takes us through the Judean Desert and finally onto the Mount of Olives to the best overview of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be laid out before you almost close enough to reach out and touch.
The rest of the tour will be spent in Jerusalem where you will see the most amazing sights of the trip if you interested in truly following the steps of Jesus.
The first full day in Jerusalem starts at the Mount of Olives looking out over Jerusalem. From there we will wander through the Garden of Gethsemane touching the Olive trees that still grow there. Then we will follow the Palm Sunday Path into Jerusalem and tour the City of David where we will be able to see the walls of King David’s Palace and the outer walls of his city before we climb underground and walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This tunnel was built at the direction of King Hezekiah to prepare the city for a siege by bringing water underground into the pool of Siloam so that the city would have plenty of water to survive the siege of the Assyrians.
From Hezekiah’s Tunnel we will view the recently discovered edge of the Pool of Siloam and then head to the Southern Steps of Jerusalem where the ruins of the ancient city can still be seen from the time when General Titus destroyed the Temple of Solomon in 70 A. D.
From there we will walk through a security check point to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. This wall is the closest surviving wall to the Temple Mount and is one of the holiest places in the world to Christians and Jews alike. It is here that we will take time for everyone to pray and reflect.
From the Western Wall we will stroll through the Jewish Quarter of old Jerusalem, exit the city through the Zion Gate and visit the Upper Room, where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. Then we will enter the sight that serves as the Tomb of David, ending our day on Mount Zion. We will be staying the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, an incredible location overlooking the old city of Jerusalem.
The next morning we will began with a solemn visit to the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. This museum serves as a somber reminder of the cost the Jews have paid to have their homeland. It is an intense time and you should come prepared to have your worldview and your emotions challenged like never before.
Afterward we will enter Jerusalem through the Lion’s Gate into the Arab Quarter. This is perfectly safe as the Jews, Christians, and Arabs in Jerusalem all get along. Once in the city of Jerusalem we will visit St. Anne’s Church which is on the edge of the Pool of Bethesda. We will then travel underground to see Antonio’s Fortress. This is the area where Roman soldiers kept prisoners who were awaiting execution and it is highly likely that this is the place where Jesus began the way of the cross. We will follow Jesus’ steps to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is one of two traditional sights of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
This afternoon will be spent in the Israel Shuk shopping for species and virtually anything you might want. Get some sweets from a shop like the one pictured here—guaranteed to be some of the best deserts you have ever tasted.
Our final day in Israel will begin at the Israel Museum looking at actually pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is also a model of Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple that is great for understanding just how the city was laid out in ancient times. From there we will take a view of the Knesset or the Israeli Parliament.
Finally, we will end our tour of Israel at the Garden Tomb. This is the second sight that is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, buried, and ultimately resurrected. You can make your decision as to which sight you believe is the actual sight.
There we will share communion together. We will have a time to reflect on our faith as well as view Golgotha and the Garden Tomb.
We had such a great tour guide on our last trip that we have already reserved Matthew Finstein for our November 2019 tour.
From there we will head to the airport for the trip home.