(Ref. Luke 16:19-31). The Jews who believed in the afterlife considered three terms to express the place of blessedness where the righteous would go: The Garden of Eden, the Throne of Glory, and the Bosom of Abraham. “Abraham’s bosom” was a well-known expression for the banquet of the righteous souls who were eligible to enter the Paradise. Abraham, the father of the faith, was believed to be hosting banquet for the righteous believers who reach to him. To be at the bosom of the host was the most privileged position as it was in the case of John who was reclining at Jesus’s side during the last supper (John 13:23). Lazarus reached Abraham’s bosom not because of his less fortune situation in the world, but that he kept up his faith in God during the test of poverty and sickness in his life with patience. His name “God is my helper” was expressive of his reliance on God like Job of the Old Testament.
The ancient belief was that all people who died before the coming of the Messiah would go to Hades that had two distinct compartments. The good people would go to the right side called “Abraham bosom” and others to the compartment of torment called netherworld. Those in Abraham’s bosom were waiting for the redemption to be accomplished by Jesus so that they could enter the lost paradise. After the burial of Jesus, “he also descended to the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:9) which was “Abraham’s bosom” to proclaim to them good news of his accomplishment on the evil and opening of the gates of heaven (1 Peter 3: 19). Jesus did not descend to the netherworld.
Abraham’s bosom was a place of comfort and joy; whereas netherworld was a place of torment for the sinners.
Bethlehem means “the house of bread” because it was a fertile land for agriculture and rearing animals. Jesus who said, “I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven” (John 6:51) was born in that house of bread that produced food for the Jews.
This temporary living of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem far south from Galilee and easily accessible to Egypt for escape was providential arrangement of God to protect the Holy Family from the snares of treacherous King of Jews, Herod the Great who wanted no other king to be born for Jews.
The Evangelist Matthew specifies the birthplace of Jesus as “Bethlehem, in Judea” to distinguish it from another Bethlehem near the Sea of Galilee that was part of the tribe of Zebulun (Josh 19:15). Bethlehem is six miles south of Jerusalem and its former name was Ephrath. Bethlehem means “the house of bread” because it was a fertile land for farming and animal rearing.
Some Old Testament events had happened in Bethlehem. Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel died on the road to Ephrath (Bethlehem) and he buried her near Ephrath where Jacob erected a pillar to mark her grave (Gen 35:19-20; 48:7). Ruth lived and married Boaz here (Ruth 1:22). Bethlehem was the home and city of David (1 Samuel 16:1; 17:12; 20:6). God had promised to David that the Messiah would come from his descendants (1 Chr 17:11-14). Prophet Micah had specified that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem (Mic 5:2).
The Evangelist Mathew specifies the birthplace of Jesus as “Bethlehem of Judea” to distinguish it from another Bethlehem near the Sea of Galilee that was part of the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). Bethlehem was six miles south of Jerusalem and was formerly known as Ephrath. Bethlehem means “the house of bread” because it was a fertile land for farming and rearing animals. Some Old Testament events had happened in Bethlehem. Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel died on the road to Ephrath (Bethlehem) and she was buried near Ephrath where Jacob erected a pillar to mark her grave (Genesis 35:19-20, 48:7). Ruth had lived and married Boaz here (Ruth 1:22). Bethlehem was the home and city of David (1Samuel 16:1, 17:12, 20:6). God had promised to David that the Messiah would come from his line (1 Chronicles 17: 11-14) and prophet Micah had specified that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
Bethlehem means “the house of bread” because it was a fertile area for agriculture and animal rearing. Jesus who said, “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51a), was born in that house of bread that produced food for the Jews.
Caesarea Philippi was an ancient town located at the foot of Mount Hermon (Deut. 3:8) on its southern slope, about 1150 feet above sea level and twenty five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It is the northmost border of Palestine at the border of present Lebanon and Syria and near the ancient city of Dan. A spring from a “bottomless pit” that is a main source of Jordan river flows from a cave of the mountain here. This cave was believed to be the entrance to Hades, the Greek underworld where god Pan lived. The area was fertile because of the spring water. The town was dedicated to god Pan in Greek mythology and was known as Paneas (Banias in Arabic). Pan looked like a man with goat’s legs, a tail, and sometimes horns. The ancient Canaanites built a sanctuary for Baal here. After the death of King Solomon, when Israel was divided, King Jeroboam I, the first king of the Northern Israel offered sacrifices to a golden calf in Dan that was only four miles west from Paneas and thus led the people into idolatry (1 Kings 12:26-29). The Greeks and Romans also built sanctuaries at the mysterious cave of Pan. King Herod the Great had built a magnificent white marble temple in front of the cave honoring Emperor Augustus in gratitude for giving him power over Paneas in 20 BC.
Philip, a son of Herod the Great, was the tetrarch from 4 B.C. until his death in A.D. 34. He rebuilt the town of Paneas as his capital city, naming it Caesarea in honor of the then Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. The name Caesarea Philippi (of Philip) was used to distinguish it from his father’s Caesarea at the seaport in Samaria called Caesarea Maritime on the coast of the Mediterranean in the Sharon plain.
Jesus purposefully chose this place of pagan worship to reveal his divinity to the disciples because Paneas was believed to be the entrance to Hades. At the Gates of Hades, Jesus proclaimed addressing Peter: “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). Thus Jesus expressed his sovereignty over the evil and the hell at the sinful town of pagan worship and at the popularly believed gate of the netherworld.
Capernaum is located at the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum had favorable factors like water for fishing, fertile land for agriculture, and a hub of international trade routes especially connecting Egypt and Damascus by the ancient highway “Via Maris”. The trade routes helped Jesus to spread his message and his fame to all the neighboring regions. Jesus could also travel easily from Capernaum to neighboring cities around the Sea of Galilee by walking on the seashore or traveling by boat.
Capernaum has another name, “The town of Jesus” because he did most of his ministry in that village. Though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, when he preached there, his own people rejected him and even attempted to throw him down from a hill (Lk 4:28-30). He escaped that assassination attempt and moved to Capernaum to make it his base for preaching and serving the disadvantaged. Jesus did most of his public ministry there. Out of his 12 apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew were from Capernaum. It had roads that led to faraway cities. So, it was a hub where Jesus could meet all kinds of people. Though a small village, Capernaum was part of Galilee where most Jews lived. Notwithstanding his intensive preaching and many miracles, that city lacked faith causing Jesus to deride it later (Mt 11:23).
The Sea of Galilee, as it has been traditionally known, is not a real sea but a lake. It is also known as “Sea of Kinneret” (Numb. 34:11, Deut. 3:17, Joshua 11:2), the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), “Lake of Tiberius” (John 6:1). This pear-shaped lake is only 13 miles long from north to south and eight miles at the widest part from east to west. The circumference of the lake is only 33 miles and its maximum depth is 141 feet. It is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The main source of water to the lake is from the Jordan River and supplemented by springs from the streams and wadis of the hills of Galilee. The water level and the size of the lake has gone down as centuries went by.
The name Galilee derived from the Hebrew word “galil” that means circle. The full name was the Galilee of the Gentiles. Galilee was, in fact circled by gentiles. Phoenicians on the west, Syrians on the north and east, and Samaritans on the south were their neighbors. Since Galilee was encircled by the gentiles, the Jews there were more open to new ideas compared to other parts of Palestine.
Violent storm is possible in the Sea of Galilee because of its low-lying position of 700 feet below sea level surrounded by hills. Though the lake is usually calm, sudden and violent storms develop when the ice-cold wind comes over the snow-covered eastern mountains and drops suddenly through funnel like narrow mountain valleys onto the warm air of the sea.
“Eternal fire” and “fiery Gehenna” are metaphorical presentation of eternal punishment for the sinners. Literal meaning of Gehenna is “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.” Though unknown today, Hinnom must be the name of someone lived in ancient Israel.
Gehenna is a deep and narrow valley at the south of Jerusalem that was famous for idolatrous worship of Molech where children were sacrificed (2 Chronicles 28:3). Pagan worship and child sacrifice were strictly forbidden for Jews though some of them, including King Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:1-3) sacrificed their children as burnt offering to the false god (Jeremiah 19:4). So, this valley was cursed. King Josiah later stopped the sacrifices here (2 Kings 23:10).
Later Gehenna became a place of waste disposal that were burnt including the dead bodies of animals and criminals. Because of the dumped refuse of the city, it was also a place of worms and maggots. Since the fire kept burning there all the time, this place became a symbol of everlasting destruction of sinners in the life after death.
After the celebration of Passover, Jesus went with the eleven apostles to the Mount of Olives to pray and gain spiritual strength before his passion. There was no garden in Jerusalem because of space limitation on the Temple mountain. Gardens owned by private persons were available on the Mount of Olives. The owner of the Garden of Gethsemane might have given permission for Jesus to use it for night prayers. When Jesus and companions reached the garden, Jesus took only Peter, James, and John closer to him where he prayed. These three were so dear to him that they were with him on special occasions like raising to life the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37) and the transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2). Even though Jesus requested them thrice, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38), they failed and fell asleep. The triple request was a sign of how fervent he needed their support at that time. So, in the great distress, Jesus was left alone.
Jesus was crucified on Golgotha which means “Place of Skull.” There are different interpretations to this place. (1) It was a rock with skull-shaped appearance. (2) There was heap of skulls from many people who were crucified there and were not buried. The Jews used to bury the dead bodies. But Romans let the dead body to be eaten by animals and birds. So, it was a place of bones and skulls.
(3) Traditional belief was that Adam’s skull was buried at Golgotha. According to Jewish tradition, Noah confided the skull of Adam to his son Shem who later did the same to Melchizedek. The skull was finally deposited at the mountain that came to be known as Golgotha because of the skull of Adam. Some early Christian writings also give similar accounts. That is why the skull of Adam is depicted at the foot of Christ’s cross to show that Adam’s sin was compensated by the blood that fell on the skull of Adam from the crucified body of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam that he would send a redeemer (Genesis 3:15).
(4) Some scholars associate Golgotha with Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah was the place that God showed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Solomon built the Temple at the same place (2 Chronicles 3:1) and came to be known as Temple Mount. Later Herod’s temple was built at the same location. Golgotha has the same height of the Temple Mount and both are facing each other at distance of only 300 meters. Jesus was the Lamb that Abraham told his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8).
See ABRAHAM’S BOSOM / HADES / NETHERWORLD
Genesis 1:1 state: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth.” So, there are over one heaven. The Bible presents three heavens:
There are several references in the Bible on the opening of the heavens. Here are some of them.
In Old Testament:
1) The floodgates of the sky (heaven) were opened during the flood at the time of Noah (Genesis 7:11).
2) Prophet Ezekiel, while he was by the river Chebar among the exiles, saw the heavens opened (Ezekiel 1:1).
In the New Testament:
1) The first mention of the heavens opened was when Jesus was baptized (Mathew 3:1; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21).
2) St. Stephen, while he was on trial by the Sanhedrin, saw the heaven opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56).
3) St. Peter saw the sky opened, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground (Acts 10:11).
4) John the Evangelist saw the heaven opened while he was in the Island of Patmos based on which he wrote the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:1; 19:11).
Mark presents the heaven’s opening at the baptism of Jesus as an extraordinary event. The Greek word used for torn open is “schizo.” The English word “scissors” has derived from this word. This image is vivid, like what happened at the death of Jesus on the cross, “And immediately the curtain which enclosed the Temple sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38). The other occasions when God opened the heavens were for the destruction of sinners. After Noah built the ark, “the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen 7:11) to destroy the sinners with a deluge while saving Noah and his family. “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from heaven,” (Gen 19:24) to destroy the sinners while saving the life of Lot. However, when John baptized Jesus, the heavens were torn open to reveal the Most Holy Trinity.
According to the Apostles’ Creed, we profess, “He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.” Did Jesus really go to hell before his resurrection? According to Ephesians 4:9-10, Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth.” The resurrection of Jesus presupposes that he stayed in the realm of the dead prior to his rising from the dead. In 1Peter 3:18-20 we read, “He was put to death in the body, but made alive in the spirit, in which He also went and preached to the spirits in prison.” Jesus descended among the dead who were waiting to enter heaven and proclaimed the Good News that he has going to open the gates of heaven. He did not go to the hell of the damned for their liberation but to “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:19-31) as in the story of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. So “hell” in the Apostles Creed is the Hades where the deceased are deprived of the vision of God and awaiting the victory of the Redeemer. Thus, “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” (1Peter 4:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment.” (484). “He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.” (637).
In the funeral chapel of the Church of Chora in Istbabul, Turkey, there is a famous icon called, “The Harrowing of Hell.” It is the depiction of Christ’s descent into hell. In this icon, Jesus is standing over the broken gates of hell, fallen in cross shape over the pit of darkness. Tis chained and falling into the pit of darkness. Jesus in his glorious dress is lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves by the wrists because they cannot rise themselves. It shows Jesus as a conqueror and rescuer of humanity represented by the first parents. In that icon, we see kings, prophets and the righteous of Israel, including David, Solomon, Moses, Daniel, Zechariah and John the Baptist standing beside Jesus.
Jericho was famous in the history of Israel because the Israelites captured Canaan by first conquering the city of Jericho under the leadership of Joshua and with the miraculous intervention of God (Joshua chapter 6). Jericho was known as the “City of Palms” and later as the “City of Perfumes.”
The Jews from Galilee while going to Jerusalem, avoided straight journey through Samaria because of their enmity with Samaritans. So, they used to travel east crossing River Jordan and heading south. Again, they used to cross back the River Jordan and passed through the city of Jordan to go west 18 miles to reach Jerusalem.
Jesus had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem along with its Temple because of their denial of him as the Messiah. The destruction of the Temple and death of many Jews happened in 70 A.D., 40 years after the prediction of Jesus. Besides this political destruction, those who do not follow Jesus would also face spiritual damnation in the future.
Revolution was evolving among the Jews against Roman rule. There were groups like Zealots that organized such revolts. It happened in 70 A.D. when the Roman army under the leadership of Titus attacked Jerusalem as a reaction to the revolts against Rome. According to the historian Josephus 1.1 million people were killed and 97,000 were taken as slaves to Rome. Many fled to areas around Mediterranean Sea. It was believed as wrath of God against Jews and Titus was only an instrument for the punishment.
The prophecy of the destruction of the unrepentant happened within 40 years. The Christians who believed in Jesus were saved from the attack of Romans. They fled from Jerusalem either because of persecution from Jews or because they believed in the words of Jesus about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and had fled when they saw the sign of Roman attack. “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews.” (Acts 11:19). According to the early Christian historians Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Christians in Jerusalem escaped to Pella, a Decapolis city prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Jerusalem is on a high mountain region approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in that place. Regardless of where one was traveling from, that person would be going up to reach Jerusalem. The climbing was especially felt when one was walking on the street that lead to Jerusalem. So, Jesus was climbing up to Jerusalem.
“Going up to Jerusalem” has also a spiritual meaning because it was the site of the temple of God, “the Mountain of the Lord’s House.” According to the prophesies, Jerusalem was the peak of the world from where the Lord’s instruction would come to all nations. “In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it.” (Isaiah 2:2). “Many nations shall come, and say, ‘Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, that we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:2).
The River Jordan is one of the world’s most sacred rivers because of its Biblical background. This river originates from the slopes of Mount Hermon, feeds Lake Hula (now extinct), the Sea of Galilee, and ends in the Dead Sea. Its length is 230 kilometres or 143 miles. When Abraham and Lot separated, Lot selected the valley of Jordan because it was fertile (Gen 13:10). The sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were here. The Lord later destroyed those sinful cities (Gen 19:1-29).
The significance for John to select Jordan for repentance was also because it was the entry point for the Israelites into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua after the 40 years of wanderings in the desert (Josh 3:14-17). It was a miraculous crossing with the Ark of the Covenant under the guidance and protection of God. Prophet Elisha told Naaman the Syrian to wash seven times in the Jordan for his healing (2 Kgs 5:10). John and the disciples of Jesus used the river for baptism, including Jesus’ baptism by John. Thus, River Jordan became a holy place for spiritual healing and life renewal.
This river is considered as one of the world’s most sacred rivers because of its biblical background and its usage for baptism by John the Baptist and Jesus. This river originates from the slopes of Mount Hermon, feeds Lake Hula that is drained now and Sea of Galilee, and ends up in the Dead Sea. Its length is 230 kilometers or 143 miles. During the separation of Abraham and Lot, Lot selected the valley of Jordan because it was fertile (Genesis 13:10). The sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were here, and the Lord later destroyed those sinful cities (Genesis 19:1-29).
The Israelites had crossed River Jordan when they had entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Every entry through water was a washing up of the old sinful life and entering a spiritual renewal. Flood during the time of Noah and crossing the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses were the previous experiences of the people giving up the old and taking up a renewed life.
The significance for John to select Jordan for repentance was also because it was the port of entry for the Israelites into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua after the 40 years of wandering in the desert because of their sins (Joshua 3:14-17). It was a miraculous crossing with the Ark of the Covenant under the guidance and protection of God. Prophet Elisha told Naaman the Syrian to wash seven times in the Jordan for his healing (2 Kings 5:10). Thus, River Jordan became a place for spiritual healing and renewal of life.
The manger was a feeding holder for animals. That was the only available place to hold the Baby Jesus with straw forming a warm bed. The ox and ass facing the manger could warm the baby in the winter. Fathers of the church refer this to Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knows its master and the ass its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (http://www.usccb.org/bible/isaiah/1-29001003-b). Most of the Israelites could not understand the Messiah born in a cattle-shed and resting in a manger.
Because of Mary’s advanced pregnancy, Joseph and Mary traveled slow. So, they could not reach on time to get accommodation in an inn. The inn during that time was a primitive shelter with accommodation for animals. According to Biblical scholars, Bethlehem being a small city would have only one inn.
The Mount of Olives is a hill east of Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:4 mentions it as the place where the Lord would appear to rescue Jerusalem from the enemy nations. Jesus used to go here for prayer. Jesus was arrested on this Mount of Olives because Judas knew that Judas that Jesus would come here for prayer. So, he led the Jewish leaders and soldiers there to arrest Jesus because Judas knew Jesus’ place of night prayer when he was in Jerusalem.
Bethphage was believed to be on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem and located near Bethany. The exact location is unknown now. Bethphage means “the house of figs” because fig was cultivated there. Similarly, Bethany means “the house of dates,” and Gethsemane stands for “the oil-press.” All these are located on the Mount of Olives where olive trees were plenty.
Besides going to the Temple of Jerusalem and local synagogues, Jesus used to go to mountains for prayer. In the Bible, mountain was considered as holy place where God and men could meet. It was believed that God was on high in heaven and men can go up to the mountain tops to interact with God as Moses did on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-34:30). Though Jesus preached in the synagogues, houses, lake shores, and from water on boats, he also preached on mountains like the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1). Some prominent mountains where great events happened in the Bible are:
(1) Mount Ararat where the ark of Noah landed after the deluge (Genesis 8:4) and where God made covenant with Noah.
(2) Mount Moriah (Gerizim) where God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22:2).
(3) Mount Sinai where Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments.
(4) Mount Nebo (Pisgah) where Moses saw the promised land (Deut. 34:1-4).
(5) Mount Carmel where Prophet Elijah proved God as genuine against Baal by calling down fire from heaven to ignite fire on water-soaked sacrifice (1Kings 18).
(6) Mount Zion (Jerusalem) where Solomon built the Temple.
(7) Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
(8) Mount Tabor (Hermon) where Jesus was transfigured. Moses and Elijah also appeared there with him and the voice of God was heard.
(9) Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed before his arrest. He ascended into heaven also from this mountain.
(10) Golgotha (Calvary) was skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. He was buried near here and he rose from the same place.
See ZEBULUN AND NAPHTALI
During the ministry of Jesus, Nazareth was a small, hilly, and fertile village 12 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Though Hellenistic (Greek) culture was widespread in Galilee, this village remained conservative, keeping all Jewish beliefs and traditions. People spoke Aramaic language that was the modern version of Hebrew. Aramaic borrowed many words and phrases from Babylonian and other languages. This happened because of the Jewish exile in Babylon for seven decades. Jesus also spoke Aramaic.
Jesus from Nazareth was considered as a fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah in 11:1. “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Nazareth was such a small and insignificant village that when Philip introduced Jesus of Nazareth to Nathaniel, he asked: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents for around 27 years. The divine choice of Nazareth for Jesus’ ‘hidden years’ was another sign of his humility because that village had no stature, and it had no reference in the Old Testament or the Rabbinic literature. That was why Nathaniel asked Philip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). The only good that came out of Nazareth was the popularity of Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth or the Nazarene. The inscription Pilate posted on Jesus’ cross was: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”
Nazareth was famous only as the hometown of Jesus. It was originally a small village consisting of around 150 to 400 people when Jesus lived there. People knew each other and many were related to one another as a big family. Jesus used to go to the synagogue in Nazareth and it was here that his own people had rejected him. According to John 1:46, Nathaniel asked Philip the famous question: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” However, Isaiah had prophesied about 700 years before Christ that “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The root word of Nazareth is in Hebrew “netzer” meaning branch. Matthew connects this prophecy to the return of Joseph and family to Nazareth from Egypt. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean.’” (Matthew 2:23).
It is believed that after the Babylonian exile one clan from the line of David had returned around 100 BC from Babylon and established a village in Nazareth. The Davidic clan chose to live in this place instead of Bethlehem or Jerusalem because of their fear of Herod the Great who was afraid of a king who might arise from that clan against him who was a non-Jew. Thus, Joseph and Mary, who belonged to the clan of David was originally from Bethlehem. Joseph moved to Nazareth for job because he was a construction worker. Mary’s father Joachim was from Nazareth in Galilee and her mother Anne was from Bethlehem. So, Mary was also born and brought up in Nazareth.
Nazareth was a favorable place to live for Joseph, who was an artisan. Sepphoris, where Herod Antipas reconstructed the old city as his provincial capital, was only few miles away from Nazareth. Sepphoris was originally a city of his father Herod the Great that Romans destroyed after his death. Because of demand for artisans for reconstruction of that luxurious Greek-style city, Joseph and Jesus could find work there.
Nazareth was a village in Galilee where people typically knew one another. Joseph, from Bethlehem, moved to Nazareth for economic prospects. He was a carpenter and there was no scope in Bethlehem. Mary’s father Joachim was from Nazareth, and her mother Anne was from Bethlehem.
Nazareth in Hebrew means branch. Jesus from Nazareth was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1. “From the stump of Jesse a shoot will come forth; from his roots, a branch will grow and bear fruit.” Nazareth was such an insignificant village that when Philip introduced Jesus “from Nazareth” to Nathaniel, he asked: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46).
See ABRAHAM’S BOSOM / HADES / NETHERWORLD
(Ref. Luke 12:59) “I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” This parable is a biblical proof for the existence of purgatory. In the parable, the accused person is not in prison for lifelong but until he paid the last penny, the least valuable coin. Most humans are gray, and not black or white in their spiritual status. Though sins are forgiven or absolved through sacraments, especially sacrament of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, the stains of sins are to be cleansed and compensations are to be made.
Bible presents Jesus as one sitting at the right hand of the Father (Psalm 110:1,5, Matthew 26:64, Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, and Acts 2:33, 7:55). The biblical meaning of right hand is power, authority, or honor. “Sitting at the right hand” shows the high position Jesus has in heaven. The one who sits at the right hand of the supreme head is the second in command like a prime minister, or queen. When Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, he was exalted above all others in heaven. “Sitting” refers to the completion of the mission of Jesus and it also is another symbol of authority. Jesus oversees everything and it is only through him we reach the Father. Thus, the Messianic Kingdom, as envisioned by Daniel was inaugurated by the ascension of Jesus to heaven. “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.” (Daniel 7:14).
The ancient patriarchs usually blessed their children and grandchildren with their right hand. For example, while blessing the two sons of Joseph, Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim as the favored one (Genesis 48:13-14). The bride of the king stands at the right side of the king (Psalm 45:9). Since most people use right hand and because it is considered stronger than the left, the right hand stands for strength. The second in rank of the king would be seated at his right-hand side. When Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, came to the court of Solomon, he bowed before her, and then ordered to bring a second throne for her and placed at the right side of his throne to show her authority and honor in his kingdom (1 Kings 2:19). St. Stephen before his martyrdom was privileged to have a vision of heaven. He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55). This standing is interpreted as Jesus stood up to encourage and welcome Stephen to heaven. St. Paul wrote to Philippians: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9-11). There is no mention in the Bible as anyone sitting at the left side of God though there is a Jewish belief that Abraham sits at the left side of Yahweh.
As Christians, our goal is to reach at the right-hand side of Jesus. According to Mathew 25:31-46, there will be a separation of the faithful at the final judgement. Our position at right or left side of Jesus will be determined by how we practice our faith. The reward is for those who are eligible to be at the right side of Jesus, the supreme judge.
The temple of Jerusalem had different sections. The most sacred place was the Holy of Holies, a dark place where only the high priest entered once a year on the feast day of Atonement with a lamp to incense. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the first temple built by King Solomon. However, Prophet Jeremiah had removed it before the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians (2 Maccabees 2:4-8). The Ark was never restored for the second temple built by Ezra or the third temple reconstructed by King Herod the Great.
At the entrance of the Holy of Holies within the Holy Place was the golden altar of incense where incense was burnt every day before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. Only priests were allowed in the Holy Place where there were also menorah lamps and the table of showbread on which there were 12 pieces of bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The priests used to replace the bread with fresh ones on every sabbath. Ordinary people would pray outside the entrance of the Holy Place waiting for the priest to come and bless them. They could not see what was happening inside the Holy Place of the temple because of the veil that was separating them from the Holy Place.
The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was an unusual physical protest of Jesus against the Jewish authorities for defiling the Temple. This is a reminder of the Maccabean Revolt from 167 to 160 BC led by the Maccabees against the misuse of the temple by Seleucid rulers and the corrupt Jewish priests under the Hellenistic influence. After victory over the Seleucid rulers and Hellenized Jews by rebellion and guerrilla wars against worship of Greek gods, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Temple and reestablished the traditional Jewish worship.
Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also a revolt against the Jewish religious leaders who desecrated the premises of the Holy Temple for allowing trade at the Court of the Gentiles and financially exploiting the pilgrims. Like the priests during the Maccabean revolt were corrupt by bribery given to Seleucid rulers for their position, the clergy during Jesus’ public ministry were corrupt and unjust by bribery given to the Roman authorities. They also received bribery for the unjust merchants in the Temple.
What made Jesus furious was (1) the shift of merchandise from the Mount of Olives to the place of prayer for gentiles, making it a noisy and congested place. (2) Exploitation of merchants with the cooperation of the high priests who were charging high margin for the exchange of money. (3) Merchants exploiting pilgrims by charging high price for sacrificial animals and birds. (4) Priests unreasonably rejecting animals brought by pilgrims from outside for sacrifice while inspection of any defects of sacrificial animals was done to favor the animal salespersons in the temple. So, the true spirit of prayer and selfless service was lacking that made Jesus furious and act as a rebellious leader.
The Temple of Jerusalem consisted of four courts: The Court of the Priests, the Court of Israel, the Court of the Women, and the Court of the Gentiles. The outer court of the gentiles was the only space in the Temple where gentiles could enter and pray. They were forbidden to go in any of the inner courts and anyone violating it was put to death (Acts 21:27-32). All kinds of business and exploitation related to temple worship and offerings were taking place in the Court of Gentiles. So, that place of worship was made unfit for the intended purpose. Formerly the money exchange and sales of animals for sacrifice were taking place on the Mount of Olives. Later the merchants bribed the temple authorities and shifted their business to the Court of Gentiles making it unholy, noisy, and unjust.
The business at the Court of Gentiles was not for selling and buying of general merchandise but a necessary service for the pilgrims coming for the feast of Passover from different countries of the world. They usually offer five kinds of sacrifices: The burnt offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. Various offerings are described in Leviticus chapters 1 to 7. The pilgrims who were coming from faraway places found it convenient to buy sacrificial animals or doves somewhere near the temple area. They were buying animals and birds for sacrifice and exchanging foreign currency to the acceptable temple money. Bible scholars believe that such business started in the temple area after the return of Jews from Babylonian captivity. By that time, Israelites were dispersed and began to come to the Temple from foreign countries. So, availability of sacrificial items near the temple was a blessing for the pilgrims, provided it was done justly and without disturbance to the temple worship.
Adult pilgrims were supposed to offer half shekel for the service of the temple. “Everyone who is enrolled, of twenty years or more, must give the contribution to the LORD. The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the ransom for their lives.” (Exodus 30:14-15). Coins with images were not allowed for offering in the Temple. Pilgrims were coming from different countries with Syrian, Egyptian, or Greek coins. Such coins were stamped with the symbols or images of pagan monarchs. So, they were not acceptable into the Temple treasury. The pilgrims had to exchange them for acceptable coins. Though it was supposed to be a service, great exploitation of the pilgrims was taking place by charging an enormous amount as exchange fee. Jesus could not tolerate that exploitation.
The Temple of Jerusalem had different sections. The most sacred place was the Holy of Holies, a dark place where only the High Priest entered once a year on the feast day of Atonement with a lamp to incense. This was the Ark of the Covenant’s location in the first Temple that King Solomon had built. The adjacent section was the Holy Place where the priests did the daily incensing before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. The golden altar of incense was here. Only priests had access to the Holy Place, where there were also the menorah and the table of showbread. It was here that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah.
The Jews and even the disciples could not grasp what Jesus meant when he said on the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple in three days. Jews were taking in a physical sense on the Temple reconstructed by King Herod the Great. The first Temple that King Solomon built in 950 BC (1 Kings 6:1) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon in 586 BC (2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36). After the Babylonian exile, the second Temple was built and dedicated in 515 BC (Ezra 6:15-18). Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah built this Temple with decree received from the then Persian King Darius. It was also known as Zerubbabel’s Temple or the Second Temple.
The older Jews who could recollect the First Temple were disappointed when the Second Temple was dedicated. The new one was 90 feet less, with fewer resources, and was less majestic compared to Solomon’s Temple. The most precious and holy items like the Ark of the Covenant and God’s glorious presence or Shekinah were missing.
King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple enlarging it and making it magnificent like that of Solomon’s Temple. The construction of Temple started before the incarnation of Jesus in 19 BC and continued even after his resurrection until AD 63 without interruption to the sacrifices. Though the main portion of the Temple was completed before the death of King Herod the Great in 4 BC, the construction of the Temple continued. According to Jewish historian Josephus, 10,000 skilled laborers were at work. Since laity were not allowed to enter the holy places, 1,000 Levites, who were specially trained as builders and masons, were involved in the work. Wealthy Jews in diaspora contributed costly offering to beautify the Temple.
Though major portion of the Temple was completed when Jesus told the Jews on destroying and reconstructing the Temple in three days, the construction was still going on. The phrase Jesus used for “raise up” could mean either reconstructing a building or raising from the dead.
Sea of Tiberias is another name of the Sea of Galilee. John used both names in his gospel (6:1). Though it is traditionally known as sea, it is in fact a freshwater lake. The other names of this lake are Lake of Gennesaret and Lake Kinneret. This lake is around 13 miles (21 kilometers) north-south, 8.1 miles (13 km.) wide, 33 miles (53 kilometers) circumference, and 141 feet (43 meters) deep. It is mainly fed by the Jordan River from the north and by underground springs. The Jordan river continues from the south of the lake to Dead Sea. This lake is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea which is a saltwater lake.
The name Sea of Tiberias came from the name of the City of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. King Herod Antipas built it around 20 AD. He made it as his capital for Galilee and named in honor of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It was at the proximity of 17 natural mineral hot springs. Conservative Jews were reluctant to settle here because of the presence of a cemetery that would make them and priests ritually unclean. So, Antipas settled gentiles here. Later, many Jews also inhabited here. Because of the prestigious city of Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee was also known as the Sea of Tiberias. Only John used this name to make the gentiles better understand the location.
The “treasury” in the temple was trumpet-shaped brazen chests located in the court of the women for offerings. They were 13, each with an inscription on the purpose of the offering. Many people gathered there to deposit the offering. The menorahs were lighted there.
Tyre and Sidon are 20 miles apart and are now located in Lebanon, north of Galilee. The inhabitants of Sidon must be the descendants of Sidon who was the firstborn son of Canaan, the grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:15). Now the city is in Lebanon and known as Saida in Arabic meaning “fishing.” Sidon was the northern border of the ancient Canaanites (Genesis 10:19). Tyre is 20 miles south of Sidon and was built on a rock island at the east coast of the Mediterranean sea. The name Tyre came the Semitic word “sr” meaning rock.
Tyre and Sidon were the principal cities of Phoenicia that lay on the coast of Galilee. Though Joshua had allotted these cities also to the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:28-29) at the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites never conquered the people there (Judges 1:31-32). “So the Israelites settled among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage, and gave their own daughters to their sons in marriage, and served their gods.” (Judges 3:5-6).
Tyre had a great contribution in providing supplies and personnel for the construction of the palace of David in Jerusalem. “Hiram, king of Tyre, sent envoys to David along with cedar wood, and carpenters and masons, who built a house for David.” (2 Samuel 5:11). “The Sidonians and Tyrians brought great stores of cedar logs to David.” (1 Chronicles 22:4).
The Assyrians attacked the ten tribes of Israel around 740 BC and exiled them to different parts of their empire. The tribe of Asher was also among the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Jeremiah (27:3–11) and Ezekiel (26:7–14) had prophesied the surrender of Tyre and Sidon to Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years (585–572 BC).
After returning from Babylonian exile when the Jews started construction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (521-516 BC) under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they sought the help from Tyre and Sidon for construction materials for the Temple. “Then they hired stonecutters and carpenters, and sent food and drink and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians that they might ship cedar trees from the Lebanon to the port of Joppa, as Cyrus, king of Persia, had authorized.” (Ezra 3:7).
According to Isaiah 5:7a, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in.” So, God is the landowner and Israel is the vineyard. Like a good landowner, God provided everything needed for the protection and development of Israel. In Isaiah 5:1b-2 we read, “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” Jesus presented God like a human who took special care of his vineyard. Though God owned all humanity, his favorite land was his vineyard, Israel.
(Ref. Matthew 21:33) For the real vineyards, there were hedges made of stones to protect them from intrusions of wild animals and thieves. Hedge in the parable represents everything that God provided to separate Israelites from the rest of the nations. The Holy Land was geographically protected by natural defense like deserts, seas, rivers, and mountains. God also provided Israelites strict laws and made covenant with them to separate them from people who worshiped false gods.
(Ref. Matthew 21:33) Towers were built in the vineyards for observation and defense against the attacks of robbers. Jerusalem was built on a high place with God’s representatives watching over them to protect their covenant relationship with God.
(Ref. Matthew 21:33) Wine press was to squeeze the grapes for making wine. The wine press of Israel was the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and wine was the divine worship and charity that flowed from the temple and the worshippers.
On the map, Bethlehem and Jerusalem are below or south of Nazareth. The text could be “went down from Nazareth.” Bethlehem that is near Jerusalem is at a high altitude than Nazareth in Galilee. So, one who travels from the north to the south was climbing up.
Joshua had originally assigned Galilee to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali and Zebulun when the Israelites first inhabited the promised land. Zebulun was the tenth son of Jacob and his sixth son from Leah. Naphtali was one of the 12 sons of Jacob from Rachel’s servant Bilhah. These tribes failed in completely expelling the native Canaanites when they entered the land. So, they had gentile influence and attacks from neighboring gentiles. The Assyrians conquered the land and exiled many Israelites scattering them so that they would not unite for any revolt against the Assyrians. Many foreigners then settled in the land. Thus, Galilee became a mixed group of Israelites and the gentiles. Aristobulus conquered Galilee for the Jews in 104 BC and forcibly made the inhabitants Jews through circumcision.