If you have been wondering where the last day of my trip to Israel has been, well, to tell the truth it’s been in my camera bag for the last 72 hours or so.

Let me explain.

The way the final day of touring Israel works for TLC Holyland Tours is different than a lot of tours in foreign lands. Dr. Crisp really wants the people on his tours to soak in as much of the Land of the Lord as possible, so on the final day, instead of heading straight to the airport, you tour for an entire day, eat a farewell dinner with your group, then catch the red-eye back to the United States. It’s difficult on the body, but well worth it.

So here’s how the final day went. After a leisurely morning of sleeping until 8 and a hearty Israeli breakfast, all our bags were packed on Ovad’s bus and we left our home-away-from-home at the Jerusalem Crowne Plaza and went straight to the Mount of Olives, the three-peak chain which surrounds the site of the Temple Mount and Old City of Jerusalem. Two of the peaks are Mt. Remembrance and Mt. Scopus, but we were more interested in the last peak of the three, the Mount of Olives. Yes, it’s the Mount of Olives of the Mount of Olives. Kind of like New York, New York.

Anyway, as you know, the Mount of Olives has special significance in the Bible. It’s where Jesus ascended back to heaven 40 days after the resurrection, and it’s also where he will return someday to rule over the Earth for 1,000 years. There is a public overlook at the Mount of Olives, and this is the view that we had looking into the Old City. You can see the Muslim’s golden Dome of the Rock on the right and the black dome of the El-Aksa mosque. Just below that are the southern steps, which Jesus would have used to enter into the Temple Mount area.

Dr. Crisp did some teaching from this area, and we took a brief pause to assemble the group together for a picture.

From there, we descended down a stone road, stopping first briefly at the Dominus Flevit, a church built on the spot which is thought to be where Jesus wept as he foresaw the doom of Jerusalem. We then continued down the hill to the Garden of Gathsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his trial and death. There are actually two gardens, split by the stone road. On the left is the public garden (shown below; more on it in a moment) and a private garden on the right. Dr. Crisp has a standing agreement that allows him to be able to take his groups into the private garden, so that is where the group assembled to recount Christ’s agony. We also took some personal time to thank God for what he did for us in the sacrifice of His Son and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Below is a shot of one of the olive trees of the private garden and it’s a perfect picture of God’s plan of salvation. See the large limb? If I were to show the whole thing you would see a limb that is connected to what looks like a dead stump. Those shoots coming out of it with the live leaves have been grafted into the limb and are bringing the stump back to life. This is exactly what God’s plan, which brought salvation to the gentiles, has done and is going to do to the children of Israel. Before Jesus, we as gentiles had no part of the promises of Abraham. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been grafted into God’s family (Romans 11) and share in the covenant God made with Abraham (Gen. 17:3-8).

After our time on the private side, we entered into the public garden, which is next to the Basilica of the Agony church. Most of the olive trees on both sides of the Garden are young, no more than a few decades, maybe a couple of hundred years old at the most. But there is one tree in the garden that has been conclusively determined to be from the time of Christ. Could this tree, as a young sapling, have been a silent witness to the suffering of the Lord?

After leaving the garden, we re-boarded the bus for our last stop of the morning, but before we did, I snapped this shot of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. Those twin arches are what remains of the Eastern Gate, which has been sealed both inside and outside by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Great in 1541. It is one of the few gates to the Old City that is not open. Also, just below the gate is a Muslim cemetery. If you are wondering about this, here is the scoop. In Zechariah 14:3-5, it says that the Messiah will come to Earth on the Mount of Olives, splitting it in two. In Ezekiel 44:1-3, the Bible says that the Messiah will enter into Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate. Now the Muslims read the Bible as well, and they know the prophecies. So in order to try to stop the Messiah’s return, they insist that the Eastern Gate remain sealed and keep the cemetery below the gate, thinking that no Jewish holy man would defile himself by walking over Muslim graves. I’ll let you reach your own conclusions as to whether such measures will be able to stop the Son of God.

The last stop before lunch was at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which is generally accepted to be the site of the House of Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest who presided over the show trial of Jesus. It’s here that Peter denied Christ and it’s also here, in a deep cistern which we were able to enter, that Jesus probably spent a good portion of His final night. This is a shot of a statue that stands outside the cistern and depicts Christ’s agony.

Lunch was at a kibbutz just outside of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian border and the Tomb of Rachel. From there, we came back to the Old City and entered through Lion’s Gate and the Muslim Quarter to get to the Church of St. Anne’s and the site of the Pools of Bethesda. The church is one of the most acoustically perfect buildings in the world, and we took a few minutes to worship there. The sound was angelic. But of more importance was the site istelf, for it was here, in John 5, that Jesus performed one of his controversial miracles by healing the lame man on the Sabbath.  Dr. Crisp taught the pastors on the trip that the significance of this miracle was in the way that it depicted Christ’s deity.

From there, we walked a few blocks up Lyons Gate St. to the Church of the Flagellation, which is built on the site which is believed to the Antonia Fortress. It was most likely here that Pilate would have been housed and Jesus would have appeared before him. Underneath the church is a large countyard, which would have been open in the time of Christ and where the Roman soldiers would have beaten and scourged him. The shot below is of the stone floor of the countyard.

Our final stop of the day was the highlight of the trip. After exiting the church, we walked the Via Delarossa, or the Way of the Cross, the traditional route that Jesus would have been led to his execution. We exited the Old City through Damascus Gate and then another two blocks to The Garden Tomb. Cared for by the Garden Tomb Association of England, the area is thought to be the most logical spot for the home of Joesph of Arimathea and the where Jesus was buried. It is in close proximity to Gordon’s Calvary, which is thought to be the spot for Golgotha and now stands sentinel over a bus station.

By the time we reached the Garden Tomb, it was getting dark. After a brief tour led by a Garden Tomb Tour Guide, we were allowed to enter the tomb and see for ourselves that Jesus was not there. We then had a short communion service near the tomb and prepared to leave. It was almost dark, but I grabbed the shot bel0w, which is one of my favorites from the trip, before we left.

All that was left was our group farewell dinner at the kibbutz between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the trip to the airport for the return flight. Honestly, I was as nervous about this as any part of the trip, only because Israeli security can be a hassle, especially with a group. Several members of the group were interviewed extensively by security officers, who asked questions like “Why did you not go to Bethlehem?”; “Did anyone give you a gift while you were here?”; and “What was the name of your bus driver?” I guess just making sure everyone’s story was straight. Also, when I went before, security made a big deal out of my camera equipment, making me remove everything from my bags and inspecting it. This time, thank the Lord, it passed right through the scanner and I didn’t even have to open it.

We departed Israel at about 11:45 Tel Aviv time and arrived in Newark at about 4 a.m. EST. That’s over 11 hours in the air (about four of which I slept), with still one more flight, a short two hour hop to Nashville, to go. Many thanks to Craig and Anne Ward for allowing me to ride back to East Tennessee with them and saving LaDonna a trip. We even stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way for a great American breakfast of bacon, eggs, biscuits and pancakes. I managed to stay awake until about 7 last night before crashing and sleeping until 6 this morning.

It was a fabulous trip and I was genuinely sad to see it end. I’ll probably post a couple of more things on it — I owe everyone a post on Israeli food, and I will probably have final thoughts on the trip as a whole as well.

As always, more to come.