Bethany of Judea, a wild mountain hamlet welcomed Him into their midst. This quiet wretched little town was a sanctuary to the sick and outcast, which explains why Jesus would have spent so much time there. He came for the wretched, the poor in spirit, those who needed Him, and He found them. Bethany was no place for the rich – only the afflicted could be found here!
Also known as ‘house of misery’; Bethany was located about two miles from Jerusalem on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet). This small town was host to the Light of the World and when Jesus entered it and its neighbouring hamlets all that He is came with Him. Peace, joy, healing, hope – as sin in any form could not remain in His presence. The people of Bethany witnessed some of the greatest miracles performed by Jesus. Simon the Leper was healed, Lazarus was raised from the dead, all the sick brought to Him were healed once He touched them or commanded it to be so. Bethany and the regions surrounding the Mount of Olives was home to Jesus as He travelled daily into the cities preaching and teaching.
The Lord refused to work miracles in Judea as they were always trying to stone Him. He was rejected in Jerusalem and Nazareth. When He cured the demon possessed men in Gergesenes the people came out and asked Him to leave their region, which He did. So there weren’t many places that openly welcomed Jesus and His disciples.
In Bethany however, they welcomed Him into their lives, and He dined with them and lodged there regularly. Jesus travelled extensively and these homes were not large enough to accommodate Him and His disciples, so they would often sleep outside on the ground, in a garden with rocks for pillows. Now, Jesus was an early riser and started the day by taking Himself off to a quiet place to pray. He rarely ate breakfast before setting out on His daily travels, nor did He prepare lunch; but walked miles into the cities; Jerusalem, Galilee, the Jordan River valley, Ephraim and many more, to teach. He taught in the temples and synagogues, on the Mount of Olives, in the rural and wilderness regions. He would sometimes pick a few figs on the way into the city where He taught for hours, answering all the the questions thrown at Him, including the deceitful ones from the Scribes and Pharisees; in the hope of entrapping Him in His responses.
We do not always appreciate the extensive travel that Jesus did on a daily basis. It is easy to acknowledge that Jesus travelled to cities such as Galilee, Jerusalem and Nazareth, preached in Jericho and surrounding regions; from Bethany into Jerusalem and back, without fully comprehending the distances between some of these cities:
- Bethany to Jerusalem – 2 miles
- Jerusalem to Galilee – 78 miles – (126km). If Jesus walked approximately 15-20 miles per day, it would have taken Him 4-5 days to do this journey depending on the route He took and the stops He made on the way.
- Jerusalem to Nazareth – 90 miles (144km)
- Bethany to Jericho – 5.9 miles
- Mount of Olives to Jericho – 13.9 miles
- Mount of Olives to Judea – 20 miles depending on the route
Jesus’ journey was as much physical as it was spiritual. He walked many thousands of miles throughout His ministry. Now, given that Christ’s public ministry was so brief and lasted for just three and a half years; He covered a lot of ground. He could not preach or teach the Gospel without this daily travel to reach the people. Technology, transport and communication infrastructures were not as advanced as they are today. The journeys were across rough treacherous terrains – land and seas; taking days or weeks to move from one region to another, and Jesus would preach and teach on the way to and from the various destinations.
In preaching, Jesus proclaimed the good news and, in His teachings, He explained it. Christ’s work was never done. In the week before Jesus’ crucifixion, after finishing His teachings in Jerusalem, He would return to Bethany in the evenings, to the home of Simon the Leper, to eat and rest. This was also the home where His friends Lazarus – whom He raised from the dead, Mary and Martha – Lazarus’ sisters lived; so Simon was their father. Jesus did not dine in the palaces of kings and did not seek favour with men of power.
Bethany held great spiritual significance in Jesus’ ministry. It was in Bethany that the plot against Jesus took a sinister turn. After He rose Lazarus from the dead and news reached the Pharisees, they decided that the people were beginning to believe in Jesus and this would jeopardise their status with the Romans: “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation,” [John 11:48]. So after calling a council meeting, they decided that Jesus had to die. “Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death,” [John 11:53]. Jesus as ever, was aware of this and no longer walked openly among the Jews. He left the region for a short time and travelled into the wilderness regions to Ephraim.
But six days before the Passover – Jesus’ crucifixion, He came once more to Bethany to eat and drink with his friends, and it was on this occasion that Mary – Lazarus’ sister anointed Jesus with the precious spikenard oil from her alabaster box. It was from Bethany that Jesus began His triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before His crucifixion. But beyond Bethany there were other regions that held great significance for the Lord which He also frequented throughout His ministry.
Mount of Olives
Also known as Mount Olivet, this mountain has a rich Jewish history dating back thousands of years. It faces Jerusalem running along the east side of the city and separated by the Brook Kidron. It was a place Jesus frequented often and more so in the days leading up to His crucifixion. Some hugely significant things happened on the Mount of Olives. The mount stands approximately 2,700 feet high overlooking Jerusalem and the temple. It is made up of many ridges and extensions which made it a strategic location for many different groups of people including the Romans.
During the reign of King David, some thousand years before Jesus, the mountain would have been heavily covered with olive groves and woods. David and over six hundred of his servants and family, Ittai and all his men and family including the young ones, and all the Levites escaped from Jerusalem, crossed over the Brook Kidron to the Mount of Olives to hide. It was a sanctuary for King David when he ran for his life from his son Absalom who took control of the city of Jerusalem, intent on replacing his father as King. David wept as He ascended the mountain with his head wrapped and feet bare. And when he reached the top, he worshipped God.
Jesus retreated often to this holy mountain, by Himself or with His disciples. He prayed, taught, and revealed the future of the world and the signs of the times to His disciples on the Mount of Olives. With Bethany on its’ eastern slope and Gethsemane at the western foot of the mountain, it is yet to play a significant role in Christ’s return!
Garden of Gethsemane
After Jesus had eaten His final Passover meal and instituted the Lord’s Supper, He and His Disciples left the upper room in the city and walked out to the Mount of Olives, to a place called Gethsemane. The garden of Gethsemane, meaning olive press, is located on the Mount of Olives where Jesus frequented, and may have slept there on occasions. He prayed there and had private time away from the multitudes who followed Him relentlessly. It was now night and having crossed the Brook Kidron they entered the garden of Gethsemane on the other side. But this occasion was different to any other. He was about to go through much pain and suffering for the world. The fact that Jesus spends His last free moments here is not by chance, for there is great spiritual significance in his Garden. For it was in a garden [Eden] that innocence was lost through disobedience, and it was in this garden that innocence was born again through obedience.
Bethany, the poor wretched town situated in the spiritually significant region of the Mount of Olives, near the garden of Gethsemane, provided a safe haven for Jesus away from the city and those who plotted to kill Him. The peoples’ love was unconditional and they were rewarded with the greatest of honours. Not only did Jesus perform some of His greatest miracles in Bethany, spent quality time with people He called friends, but chose this humble little town as the place of His ascension, to be with His Father.
“And He [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven,” [Luke 24:50-51].
Today Bethany is known as Al-Ayzariyyah meaning (place) of Lazarus, situated in the West Bank.
Jesus was blessed with a significantly shorter day than most of us, yet He fulfilled His destiny. It’s not how much time you have; it’s what you do with it that matters.