When I had my first opportunity to visit Israel many years ago, I was greatly enthused at the prospect of visiting the many historical sites of the Bible, and the places where Jesus lived and ministered. But among the many wonders to be explored, I was especially eager to see where many believe Jesus was crucified and buried, which was an awesome experience and the highlight of my trip.
The day we journeyed toward the location, I was somber and
thoughtful. In my mind, I recalled the visual images of Hollywood films I had seen which
depicted Christs death three crosses high atop a hill against the background
of angry clouds and thunder.
Deep in thought and meditating on the words of the old hymn,
The Old Rugged Cross, the tour bus arrived at the destination just north of
the Damascus Gate, outside the walled city of Jerusalem. Through the PA speaker, the tour
guide announced proudly, Here we are! To your right is the site where it is believed
that Jesus was crucified.
However, as I looked out the window, surely there had to be a mistake. I
could hardly believe it. It was a bus station with acres of paved asphalt! It seemed
impossible that the site of the most sacred event in history could be obscured and defiled
by such a thing.
Once I gained my composure, I looked beyond and saw the vague image
a skull, a natural formation in the nearby rocky cliffs. It was obvious, this indeed had
to be Golgotha the place of the skull.
Although the jagged skull in the rugged hillside should have been a
strong clue for researchers, the site only gained its credibility as the genuine, historic
Golgotha, a few decades ago. Before that, another site was considered the traditional
location, although it lacked many authenticating characteristics.
The site of Jesus tomb was well known to the post apostolic
church, and was described in writings as late as the fourth century. In 333, a pilgrim
from Bordeaux, France wrote, As you pass through the gate of Neapolis [the present
Damascus gate]... on your left is the hillock Golgotha where the Lord was crucified, and
about a stones throw from it to the vault where they laid his body and he rose again
on the third day.¹
The location of the skull hill corresponded precisely with the
description of the ancient writer. In addition, some years ago archeologists discovered
that the bus station at the foot of the hill was built on top of what had been an ancient
stone quarry. Diggings showed that this had probably been the Jews traditional place
of execution, which was carried out by stoning. The Romans crucified Jesus (a Roman method
of execution) at the place where Jews usually carried out their own method of capital
The great evidence that brought convincing authenticity to the
mentioned site was the discovery of the nearby garden tomb not more than 100 yards away,
excavated from a hillside in 1867.
The famous British General, Charles Gordon, was the first to suspect
the tomb as Christs, during his inspection of the site in 1882. Other researchers
and scholars later concurred with his speculations.²
The Gospel of John described that Jesus tomb was in a garden
near the crucifixion site (John 19:42) and belonged to a wealthy disciple, Joseph of
Arimathaea. He and Nicodemus took Jesus body, prepared and placed Him in the tomb.
According to scripture, the tomb of Jesus was the site of His
resurrection the greatest event in history and the single most important doctrine
of the Christian church. Upon it hinges the entirety of the claims that Jesus made,
including the eternal salvation of His followers (1 Cor. 15:13-14).
As I first approached the tomb, it first appeared only as a jagged
crevice in the side of a hill. But closer examination showed that it was a man-hewn cavern
a classic example of a first century tomb prepared for a prominent person. Before
entering inside, I noticed the obvious indentation of a rut hewn in the rock beneath the
opening. Archaeologists explain that this was a type of track used to guide
the huge, wheel-shaped stone that sealed the entrance.
Entering the tomb was an extraordinary experience. There inside the
dual chambers, which probably measured about 8' x 15', I viewed a stone-carved pedestal on
which a body would be laid. Then as I looked about the cavern in the dim light, I noticed
that in one upper corner there was a carved symbol it was the first letter of the
Greek alphabet, Alpha, and in the opposite corner was Omega, the last alphabetic letter.
The meaning could not be clearer. The Alpha and the Omega was a reference that
Jesus made to Himself (Rev. 22:13), and it was apparent that the tomb was marked in ancient times to show that it was where Jesus once laid.
For a considerable time I stood alone in the tomb, trembling and
praying. It was an awe inspiring experience. I became profoundly aware that I was standing
at the site of the greatest miracle ever known to mankind the intersection of
Gods love to the human race. This was where Jesus broken body laid and where
His resurrection life burst forth! I felt humbled and unworthy to stand on the same stone
floor where Jesus holy feet stood and walked.
Finally, it was time to go. But as I stepped to the opening to exit,
I paused and looked back momentarily, reflecting on the impact of this incredible
pilgrimage. I grinned and thought to myself, Nobody was home here!
Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius may be found in their tombs, but my Lords grave is still
empty. Jesus, our risen Savior, is alive and well!
(1) Egerias Travels