When standing on the Mount of Olives, the sweeping panorama of Jerusalem is breathtaking. The multi-towered landscape is a splendid drama written in stone, one that has received rave reviews from countless pilgrims to the Holy Land.
Seen from atop the mount are landmarks such as the ancient ruins of the City of David, the gilded cupola on the Dome of the Rock, and the Kidron Valley, where tombstones dot the hillside beneath the crenellated walls of the ancient city. These massive stone walls, with their battlements intact, have proudly surveyed the sieges of invading armies. The parapets of these walls once sheltered archers; today, soldiers patrol them with automatic rifles.
The Olivet view entices pilgrims to descend into Jerusalem, a city of stones, and to visit the Old City with its Jewish Quarter. As the traveler wanders through the tangled labyrinth of narrow alleyways, one can almost touch the stone walls on either side. There are stone arches above and paving stones beneath. From the ancient ruins to the medieval ramparts, these streets and walls that have baked in the warmth of a million sunrises each have a story to tell.
Those most beloved by the people of Israel are the stones that rise to form the Western Wall, the holiest Shrine of the Jewish faith. The 50-foot-high wall is all that remains of the Temple Mount as it existed in the first century. The stones stacked one upon another to build this wall are so massive that it’s hard to imagine how they were chiseled out and transported up the hills of Jerusalem.
To grasp the perspective, it is helpful to look backward across the centuries and then to follow the course of events that has led to today’s impasse in the City of David. Consider the view from the Temple when the stones were newly hewn and the city of Jerusalem shone like alabaster in the morning sun. Herod the Great began rebuilding Solomon’s Temple before the birth of Christ; the project occupied the rest of his administration. While the 15-story-high Temple was constructed during Herod’s reign, the outer courts and walls were not fully completed until 64 A.D., after his death. And they would not stand for long.
One day, after Jesus had been teaching in the Temple precincts, he called his disciples’ attention to the buildings: “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
The words of Jesus were precisely fulfilled in 70 AD when Roman armies swept through Jerusalem and reduced Herod’s magnificent Temple to a pile of blackened rubble. The stones of the Temple are buried in antiquity, somewhere deep beneath the Old City. The only remnant that remains today is the Kotel—the “Western Wall” that was not part of the Temple itself but rather a retaining wall built to expand the hillside so the great Temple Herod envisioned could be built.
The remaining stones of the Western Wall have become a symbol of the enduring hope of the Jewish people. Even non-religious Jews venerate the Wall as a national monument. The plaza in front of the Western Wall can accommodate 100,000 congregants. It is the gathering place of the people of Israel, the scene of both joyous celebration and solemn memorial. For a city that has been completely destroyed twice, occupied by enemies 23 times, surrounded 52 times, and liberated 44 times, the Wall remains a testimony of God’s all-encompassing providence.