Is this the actual site of Pentecost? In 2015, I visited Jerusalem as part of a pastor’s tour with GTI Tours. One of the many stops we made was at the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount. Of all of the possible locations, the Southern Steps seems to fit the description of where Saint Peter and the Apostles preached their famous sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost marked the beginning of the New Covenant and the establishment of the Christian Church–50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. The place is a natural outdoor auditorium and at the foot of the steps in an area not shown in the footage, were a number of mikvot (small pools for Jewish purification) where the baptisms of the new converts could have taken place.
Was the Southern Steps area the birthplace of the Church? No one knows for sure, but in my opinion it fits all the requirements. What a thrill to stand on the very spot where the Gospel was first preached under the New Covenant!
Watch this 49 second video footage from the Southern Steps!
How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz? Here are the answers.
The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.
Bible People and Storyline
The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.
After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.
In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.
The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.
The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.
Never be discouraged. A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!
This 15-point basic Bible quiz is designed to measure your basic knowledge of the overall storyline of the Bible . Fill in the blanks to see you much you know!
The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) ______ Testament and the (2) _____ Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) ________________ tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) __________. They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) _______________.
After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6)__________, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) _____________. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) __________. Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) ______________.
The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of (10) __________. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) ____________. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) _________________. One of these leaders named (13) ____________ was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) __________. The book of (15) ________________ closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.
How did you do? You can find the answers in the key to this Level 1 Quiz posted as a separate blog. A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!
A female perspective on the Resurrection of Jesus is desperately needed in our divided times. Though male myself, I have tried to see the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of the women who went to his tomb as recorded in Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-12. The following is my attempt to tell their story in a single narrative.
The Women’s Story
It was an early Sunday morning twenty centuries ago. Actually, we would probably describe it as night because the darkness had not yet been mixed with the faintest light of dawn. A small group of women–three or four–were on their way to do something that would break their hearts. They were going to finish preparing the body of their dear friend and honored teacher for his final burial. Over the past days, these women had experienced an emotional ups and downs. Just seven days earlier they had been convinced that their teacher, leader, friend was finally going to be acknowledged as the Messiah that their people had been expecting for centuries.
The Previous Week
Such excitement; such hope! Only a few days ago their expectations were all coming true. Now it had ended so suddenly, so tragically. The previous Sunday–just seven days ago–Jesus of Nazareth had arrived in Jerusalem to the acclaim of the cheering multitudes. He had entered the holy temple and called out the corruption of its leaders. The packed and eager crowds hung on his words. Though Jesus’ enemies had tried to discredit him, they were unable to counter his answers, and went away, publicly embarrassed. It had looked like the Messiah and his Kingdom had actually arrived at last.
Then on Thursday, Jesus and his closest followers sat down to the annual Passover meal–the traditional celebration of their people’s deliverance from slavery long ago. During that extended meal he taught them as usual about God’s coming Kingdom. But this time the teaching was more personal. Jesus addressed them as friends. It was hard to believe, but he had seemed to be saying that the covenant between God and Israel had been fulfilled, and that a new covenant was being established based on himself. There was talk of blood sealing this new covenant–but then he had always spoken in symbols and metaphors.
Later that night, though, the metaphor turned into reality. Jesus was arrested by his enemies. The next day, Friday, he was tried before the high Jewish council and, later, by the Roman governor. To the disbelief of his followers, he was quickly and unfairly condemned and executed after public humiliation and torture. Within forty-eight hours the women had gone from excitement and expectation to numbed grief and devastation.
The Lord is Dead
All day Saturday they were haunted by the memory of taking his shattered body off that cross. Along with two kind men–Joseph and Nicodemus–the only two members of the high council who sympathized with Jesus, they carried his body to a nearby tomb that Joseph donated in this hour of need. Together, they had done what they could to prepare Jesus’ body in the short time before the Sabbath came at sundown. The Romans sealed the tomb with a heavy stone and posted a guard.
Now the Sabbath was over and the little band of women were picking their way through dark lanes and streets of Jerusalem and then out of the city gate to the tomb where the final preparations would be made to lay their beloved master to his final rest.
Arrival. Shock. Confusion. Are we at the wrong place? No, this is surely the right place. How could we forget this scene of crucifixion so etched in our memories barely thirty-six hours ago? But something is dreadfully wrong. The tomb is standing open. That big, heavy stone door is laying way over there. How? There is a man sitting on it. Who is he? He is terrifying, powerful. Light seems to be radiating from him.
What is he saying? “Jesus isn’t here. He is alive from the dead.” What does that mean? We must look inside the tomb. Another man in shining clothes. An angel? ” Where is out master?” “See for yourselves,” he says: “He is not here.” We look at the niche where we placed his body, now just the empty shroud lays there.
Outside now. Bewildered. Where has he gone? “You there, sir. Are you the groundskeeper? What has happened to the body of our teacher? Where are the soldiers? Please help us!”
“Mary!” That familiar voice. Recognition! Tears. Fear. Joy. Alternate laughing and weeping. Questions. He is saying, “Don’t detain me. Don’t hold me–not yet. Run and tell my disciples that I am alive and I will meet them soon.” ” No, Lord. We don’t want to leave you. Don’t send us away. Alright. Yes Lord, we will go tell the others.”
The First Eyewitnesses
Stumbling, hurrying, running into the waking city as the light grows stronger. Pounding on the door of the safe house where the men are staying. We tell the story with words tumbling out of our mouths. Interrupting, talking one on top of another. Those infuriating blank looks from Peter and the others. More urgent attempts to make them understand. Questions. Disbelief. Off they go to see for themselves–just like men!
But oh the joy, the relief. Our hope is renewed. Morning has come. We sit down to an improvised breakfast. More talk. Is this a dream? More tears. Irrepressible joy. Nothing will ever be the same!
What are the benefits of Christianity? The days when most people saw the Christian Church as a necessary part of Western Culture are long gone. Studies of how North Americans and Europeans make choices in the early twenty-first century show that when making important decisions, most people think in terms of personal fulfillment and well being, rather than of Christian values.
This is a significant shift away from the thinking of much of the twentieth century, when Christian values were the template for decision-making. Christian believers may bemoan this trend but, like it or not, it would appear that this way of thinking will be around for the foreseeable future. So maybe Christianity should be evaluated from a new, more pragmatic perspective. What, then, are the benefits of Christianity in society? Let me suggest a few of the positive outcomes of Christianity in society.
The presence of churches that teach biblical family values results in more couples staying together. I am not just talking about husbands and wives who agree to remain married under difficult circumstances, but also about couples who discover a deeper and more lasting love for one another because of their relationship to God. Many Christians can attest that a commitment to one’s spouse, a willingness to work though issues, and a dependence upon God for wisdom and strength has saved marriages that otherwise would have ended in divorce court.
Better family life
Along with husbands and wives staying together, there tend to be fewer problems raising children when families are involved in church. “Parents– don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), is a valuable principle at a time when families are breaking down in record numbers. Churches that teach the Bible by precept and example tend to have a higher percentage of intact and reasonably healthy families.
People are moving so fast in our century that it is difficult to form deep, long-term friendships. Again, churches that teach the Bible’s perspective on relationships tend to produce people who know how to befriend others and work through issues. Churches also provide venues for meeting people who desire lasting friendships. In many Christian circles, it is a rather routine thing to meet people who have remained friends over many years and weathered some pretty difficult circumstances together.
One of the best kept secrets is the fact that churches regularly provide free counseling, not only to their members, but often to virtually anyone who desires it. Many churches have pastors or staff members who are trained and gifted in the art of listening to people, helping them understand the dynamics behind their situation and offering practical, biblical advice toward a solution. Obviously the more people who receive this care, the healthier a community becomes. This is especially refreshing in a time when people are sometimes seen as figures on a spreadsheet, rather than as persons who are valuable in themselves.
While it is not the only voice in society encouraging people to become more than they are, the Christian Church performs this role as well. Not only does it encourage people to dream large dreams and achieve great things, but it also builds character in ways that few others are: correction. Where can you go in twenty-first century Western Culture to have someone tell you the honest truth about yourself? I know that this sort of thing seems out of fashion these days. I also know that constructive criticism can be abused. But when a person is involved in things that are self-destructive and harmful to others, isn’t it a good thing that there are venues where people can be lovingly confronted and helped to find a new path in life?
When people get tired of the rampant materialism and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, many crave something more substantial. Christianity promises that if anyone desires to find God, God is willing to be found. In fact, the truth is even better than that. God has made himself very accessible by becoming one of us, living as we live and doing what was necessary for us to have full and abundant relationship with him. Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ as the Son of God made human.
I am aware that some people reject this basic Christian belief. Other religions teach that people must attain some ultimate spiritual goal through hidden knowledge, austere self-denial, or the offering of something precious to win God’s favor. The core Christian message is so simple and so accessible that some people object that it is too good to be true. A person may be welcomed into relationship with God simply by putting their trust in Jesus. Trusting in Jesus means believing that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God; accepting his self-sacrifice in payment for your wrongdoing; and embracing his offer to join with you in making you new from the inside out.
The irony is that faith in Jesus actually brings the personal fulfillment that has eluded many people all their lives. Far from being a narrow or exclusionary faith, Christianity is incredible inclusive. Faith in Jesus is something a small child can do. It is something a mentally disabled person can exercise. The basic message of Christianity is truly trans-cultural, finding those in every ethnicity who resonate with its good news. It embraces both men and women. It reaches every strata of society. The good news of Christianity changes lives when nothing else can.
All this and more come with an active Christian presence in society. Those who are concerned with the welfare of their communities would do well to make certain that churches are free to do what they do so well: benefit communities and positively change lives, one by one.
It is on Saturday of Passion Week that fear really took hold. Jesus’ followers– scattered the day before– have gone into hiding. They were terrified of betrayal by their neighbors or other who might recognize their connection with Jesus. That Saturday of Passion Week, every footstep in the street, every knock at the house next door, every raised voice, caused the terror to rise to the surface again. The extreme disillusionment and sorrow of Friday is taking its toll on Saturday. Life is not simply flat and gloomy: now it is horrifying.
Had God abandoned them? Were they heretics as their enemies claimed? Was Jesus a liar or a misguided fool? In their minds, the fishing, or the collecting of taxes, the farming and small businesses of their former lives now appeared to be a respectable alternative to all the talk about the coming Kingdom of God. What about the miracles, the crowds and the new hope inspired by Jesus’ teaching over the past several years? These now appeared foolish and even dangerous. So the followers of Jesus quietly made their plans to slip back north up to Galilee and just disappear. Fear had caused a sudden abandonment of everything these men and women had so optimistically believed as recently as one week before.
Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) this kind of fear. That deep kind of fear is dark and overpowering. It makes us desperate and irrational. It can cause us to be suspicious of those around us. We feel like cornered animals with no way of escape. So we crouch, ready to fight and flee, abandoning all we once held dear. Threatened layoffs at work, accusations by associates, a medical diagnosis or some huge disillusionment can have this effect on us. Are you in the grip of fear? Are you considering throwing away some of your dearest commitments? Do you feel abandoned by God? Hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!
It is Friday of Passion Week. Jesus had been awake for more than twenty-four hours. At this point in what we now call Passion Week, Jesus had endured the difficult interrogation by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious council) all alone. Both during and afterward, Jesus was beaten and humiliated. His friend Peter had managed to enter the courtyard of the High Priest where Jesus was being held, but when Peter was asked if he was one of Jesus’ followers, he strongly denied it in Jesus’ very presence.
Then Jesus was shuffled off to Pilate, who quickly passed him off to Herod Antipas. Herod humiliated Jesus and then returned him to Pilate for final judgment. We should remember that Pilate was in a difficult spot. As Roman governor felt blackmailed by the Sanhedrin into sentencing Jesus to death. Seeing no way out of the predicament, Pilate made it clear Jesus had violated no Roman law. Even so, after a whipping that left little skin on Jesus’ back and resulting in a catastrophic loss of blood, the Romans forced Jesus to carry a heavy wooden beam through the streets. Before he reached the place of execution, Jesus stumbled and fell. A bystander named Simon was then forced to carry the cross on the final leg of the journey.
At the place the Romans called Calvary (Skull Hill), Jesus was nailed to the crossbeam and the crossbeam was attached to post to which Jesus’ feet were spiked. There Jesus hung from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. At noon a darkness came over the sky as Jesus increasingly lost strength. With a final cry of agony, he gave up his spirit, causing the veil in the Temple to split from top to bottom.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two members of the Sanhedrin who refused to condemn Jesus, asked for and received permission from Pilate to remove Jesus’ body for burial. Joseph kindly offered his own unused family tomb for the purpose. The burial party was under the pressure of time due to the commandment not to work on the Sabbath, which would begin at sundown–only a few hours away. Because of this pressure the burial preparations were only partially completed. One last caress by Mary, his mother and a mental note of the preparations still to be made, and they sealed the tomb.
But isn’t Jesus the miracle worker? Isn’t he the Messiah, the Son of God? How could God let him be treated like this? Is God just a myth, or is he like the disciples who abandoned Jesus in his hour of need? Maybe the skeptics are right when they sneer that nice guys always finish last. Maybe the cynics are proven correct that evil ultimately crushes good and might trumps right. The followers of Jesus were in deep shock. For them, the crucifixion was more than a major disappointment: it was the crushing of all hopes and dreams. They were facing the real possibility that life ultimately favors whoever has the power to force their will on others. These are hardly the thoughts that faithful Jews should have had on the sabbath following Passover.
Have you ever felt abandoned and punished unjustly? Have you wondered why evil sometimes seems to triumph? Why is it that selfish and self-righteous people appear to prevail? Those are truly desolate and terrifying thoughts, and many people have them. Jesus’ friends and followers certainly felt that way at the foot of the cross and at the sealing of Jesus’ tomb. But hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!
Think back to the busiest week of your life. Maybe there were many places to go or you had to fulfill a crushing list of responsibilities. Perhaps you hosted a constant stream of visitors, or received phone calls from people wanting favors small and large. At the end of the week you were physically and mentally exhausted. This is what that final week was like for Jesus. We now refer to that week in Jesus’ life as Passion Week.
Jesus began Passion Week by riding into Jerusalem to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowds who hailed him as their Messiah-King. From Sunday onward, Jesus had taught in the Temple every day. He had tried to listen to the requests and meet the needs of dozens, maybe hundreds of people. Passion Week saw Jesus awash in a sea of humanity. Now it is Thursday—the day of Passover: time to spend time with family and friends; time to focus on Israel’s great story of deliverance from slavery and their becoming a covenant nation.
But even on this day of celebration and reflection, Jesus must teach his followers some final lessons. So taking a towel, he washed their feet as a metaphor of servant-leadership. He spoke at great length in the upper room where he and his followers were meeting, reminding them of how much they are loved by the Father, and how inseparable they are from himself. He told them that they would soon be empowered by God’s Spirit living inside them and commanded them to cling desperately to each other. On the night of Passover, Jesus broke the unleavened bread and poured the cups of wine, filling these elements with special meaning his followers would not grasp until many weeks into the future.
Then came the desperate, desolate hours of prayer in Gethsemane. In that grove of olive trees, Jesus sweat blood and cried out in agony at what he knew awaited him the next day. His suffering was enhanced by his followers’ drowsy lack of concern, and by the ultimate betrayal of a close friend. At his arrest, the very disciples who seemed so confident and fearless only hours ago promptly scattered, leaving Jesus utterly alone.
Jesus will face trial before a hostile council on this last Thursday of his earthly life. Humanly speaking, everything seemed to have gone wrong. There is no hope. Without the rest of the story, Thursday night seems to be all gloom and sorrow, much like some days we have experienced ourselves in a more limited way. But hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!
The subject of Jesus’ resurrection is a perennial feature on talk shows, articles in popular magazines, blogs and newspaper columns. These venues often cite experts who claim that the historical evidence refutes Jesus’ resurrection took place. Using various arguments, they claim that Jesus of Nazareth remained dead after the crucifixion and that what is left of his body still lies in an obscure tomb somewhere in Jerusalem.
While some may dismiss this assertion as merely one point of view, the discussion highlights issues of enormous weight. After all, if Jesus really rose from the dead, then Jesus is more than a moral teacher and the core message of the Christian faith should be taken seriously. On the other hand, if these scholars are correct in claiming that Jesus never rose from the dead, then the central teachings of Christianity are just wishful thinking. So the resurrection of Jesus is the key to whether the hopes of millions of Christian believers are real or imagined.
Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Religions. Other religions can survive the deaths of their founders. Buddhism admits that the Buddha is dead without being threatened because its teachings are built around the man’s ideas, not the man himself. Muslims are not disturbed that Muhammad died in 632 AD because it is the legacy of the prophet that is important, not the man. But when it comes to Christianity, everything stands or falls upon Jesus’ resurrection. His physical resurrection from the dead has always been the prime argument of the claim that he is the Son of God. So, here are some lines of evidence that the early Christians presented to prove their announcement of Jesus’ resurrection:
The Evidence. First is the evidence of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb. According to the gospel accounts, a group of Jesus women followers hastily prepared his body for burial on the Friday afternoon of his death. Then early on Sunday morning they went to the tomb to finish the burial preparations. As they made their way to the tomb, they seemed to have no notion that the body of their beloved teacher would be missing. Upon arrival they found the massive stone that had sealed the tomb cast aside from the entrance. The guard placed there under Roman orders was in shock and the tomb itself was empty. The women were understandably bewildered by what they encountered and could only conclude that perhaps someone had removed Jesus’ body without telling them. The women then reported that they were visited by angels who told them Jesus was alive. On their way to do so, some of the women actually saw and touched the risen Jesus.
Secondly, the evidence of the twelve disciples confirms the report of the women. They did not have a clue about Jesus’ resurrection either. So when the women relayed the news, the disciples dismissed it as female hysteria. Nevertheless, Peter and John decided to check out the situation and ran the short distance at the tomb in order to investigate. Like the women, they saw the stone removed, the Roman guard dispersed, and the tomb empty. The account has Peter actually going inside and finding the linen strips of cloth, which the body had been wrapped in, still in place and glued with the spices—but empty of the body. This still did not convince these men that Jesus was alive. It was not until later that Jesus appeared to them personally and urged them to touch him.
Thirdly, the soldiers who were charged with guarding the tomb against the possibility that Jesus’ followers might fake a resurrection by stealing the body were in shock. They knew that abandoning their mission would result in execution. Even so, they left the tomb unguarded after less than 36 hours and reported to the Jewish Council that the tomb was open and empty. According to the gospel accounts, these men were bribed by the Sanhedrin to spread the story that the disciples had indeed stolen the body.
Though this version of the story is popular among critics of Christianity, the story falls apart under examination. It boggles the mind that the disciples, who were clearly terrified for their own lives, could overcome a guard of experienced soldiers, enter a sealed tomb, remove the body, and make sure to carefully re-wrap the burial cloths. The disciples then supposedly concealed the body elsewhere without anyone noticing. All this so that they could fake a resurrection that they that would ultimately die for! Yet it seems that the story that Jesus’ body was stolen was the best explanation that could be invented by critics on the spur of the moment.
Consider this as well: the early church preached Jesus’ resurrection in the weeks and years following these events in the very place where they occurred. There were many people still alive who testified to having actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. The empty tomb was a matter of public knowledge. It could be verified by anyone who wished to do so. If the body had been removed and hidden, surely someone would have observed it. The soldiers or other eyewitnesses could have tipped off the authorities to the hiding place and the body could have been produced as evidence. But no body was ever found, which is hard to imagine given the very public and sensational nature of these events. Unless of course —the resurrection really happened. Tens of thousands living around Jerusalem in the years following these events rendered their verdict by believing in Jesus and paying the high price of that belief.
Finally, for those who still have doubts, consider the evidence of history. What is the explanation for the millions of people whose lives have been changed by the power of a risen Christ? Wishful thinking? Pure indoctrination? How about the willing martyrdom of the very men and women who supposedly faked a resurrection they knew never happened, or the almost inconceivable survival and spread of the early church under extreme persecution?
The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is extremely compelling. In view of such strong evidence, the sarcasm and ridicule of skeptics today is a small price for embracing the truth. Michael Bogart