Note: In January 2011 my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This post is part of a series of blogs I have written to convey what I learned while on this life changing trip. You can read about the entire trip in the devotional book Touching the Footprints of Jesus.
This final event of Christ’s first sojourn on earth is referred to as the Ascension of Christ. It is an important but often overlooked event in the Gospel narratives. While visiting Israel, my wife and I went to the Mount of Olives to see where this event took place. Like so many biblical sites in the Holy Land, there are two different places where tradition says the ascension happened. One is a small cave at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. In the early days of Christianity, this is where most Christians thought the ascension took place. The other location, which became the preferred location as the Christian church developed and is the more popular site for modern Christian pilgrims to visit, is a small church near the top of the Mount of Olives. Called the Church of the Ascension, the tiny church can only hold a handful of people at a time and has no altar or stained glass windows and unlike most sites in the Holy Land is quite plain in its appearance. What it does have is a rock in the floor of the church that has the imprint of a foot in it. Tradition says that this is Jesus’ footprint and the last place Jesus touched on earth as He began His ascent into heaven. In a somewhat ironic twist of history, the church is also used as a mosque since the site is also revered by Muslims. There are few places in the Holy Land where Christians and Muslims both gather to worship, but this is one of them.
Though both theologians and historians debate which of the two spots was actually where Jesus was standing when He ascended into heaven, the rock in the floor of the Church of the Ascension has been recognized as the “official” place of ascension since 384 A.D. It may well be the actual spot. But as I knelt beside that spot and touched the footprint in the rock I could not help but think that the more important issue was not the LAST place Jesus touched before He ascended into heaven, but the NEXT place Jesus will touch on the earth.
The Bible says that the next time Jesus comes, a trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise and those who remain will be caught up with Him in the air. I am guessing we will not be arguing about which rock Jesus last touched when He comes again!
As one stands on the Mount of Olives, the Old City of Jerusalem can be seen off in the distance. If one knows where to look, the Eastern Gate can be seen. There are numerous stories in the Bible of Jesus passing through this gate while he was in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 44:1-3 teaches that the Messiah will one day enter Jerusalem through the Eastern gate. The Eastern Gate was sealed up in 1517 by the Muslim ruler Suleiman. He wanted to keep the Messiah from entering Jerusalem through the gate in fulfillment of the Ezekiel prophecy. When Jesus comes again, there is no stone wall that will hold Him back! He will enter through the Eastern Gate and fulfill the age old prophecy. It will be a glorious day for those who love Him. Come, Lord Jesus!