With tourism to Israel at an all-time high, Christians from all around the world are visiting the Holy Land. It is common to see large groups from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and, of course, North America. A staff member at the Garden Tomb recently told me that the site had experienced unprecedented growth in visits since 2017, rising from approximately 250,000 to 450,000 annual visitors in 2019.
This is not surprising since Christians through the centuries have desired to visit the Holy Land and have testified to the great benefit of doing so. I have never met a Christian who regretted going to Israel. Most, in fact, are eager to return. While there are many good reasons to visit the land where Jesus walked, I will focus on four of my favorites.
1. To Expand Your Biblical Understanding
There are few things that will develop one’s understanding of the Bible more than traveling through the Holy Land and visiting the places where many of those narratives played out. Literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, around the Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Samaria, and Jerusalem is not only exhilarating, but very enlightening.
It is a great privilege to go to the Valley of Elah, climb the hill, and stand where Saul and the Israelites looked across to the opposite ridge holding the Philistine encampment. There is something special about gazing down on the brook where David picked up five smooth stones, and standing on the valley floor where he then took down the giant, Goliath. Following this physical experience with a time of personal reflection and prayer for God’s help in dealing with one’s own giants is a great way to end the visit to Elah.
After visiting Israel, you will never read the Bible the same way again.
When you hear someone say, after visiting Israel, he will never read his Bible the same again, it is absolutely the truth. Seeing the actual places, after hearing about them most of your life, brings the Bible alive in a very dynamic way.
2. To Experience the Presence of Christ
I am often asked, “Do you feel a certain mystical Presence or special feeling when you are in Israel?” I can honestly answer, “Yes.” At times that Presence has been powerful!
God and His people are not restricted to certain geographical places to sense God’s Presence. God is present everywhere, and His Presence can be felt wherever the heart turns to Him. Nevertheless, many God-hungry people do, in fact, feel a unique sense of the closeness of Christ while in the Holy Land. For example, while preaching on the top of Skull Hill in Jerusalem in 1892, the American Evangelist Dwight Moody began his sermon with these words: “I have preached for thirty years but have never felt the awe of God as I do at this moment.”
My wife and I have had several wonderful encounters with the Presence of Christ when we were in Israel for a month together in 2013: once in the Garden Tomb, and at several times and places in the mountains of Galilee. These were sacred moments we will always remember, but don’t talk much about to others.
3. To Strengthen Your Faith
While a trip to Israel is more than just an intellectual quest, discovering the huge amount of geographical and archeological evidence supporting the historicity of the Bible is amazing. The account of Scripture is so accurate when describing cities and towns, mountains, valleys, and bodies of water. Archeological artifacts like the “House of David” inscription and the Pontius Pilate stone testify to the accuracy of the biblical narrative. Findings like the Caiaphas Ossuary, the Assyrian Lachish reliefs, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel verify the biblical record as well.
When areas of the capital city of the northern Kingdom, Samaria (modern Sabastia), were unearthed, archeologists found numerous pieces of ivory at the location of Ahab’s palace. In I Kings 22:39, we read, “As for the other events of Ahab’s reign, including all he did, the palace he built and adorned with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?”(NIV) So the Bible records that ivory was used in the building of this palace, and of course it was found right there. To top it off, it was Phoenician ivory, apparently imported by the Phoenician princess, Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Today, pieces of this ivory are on display in the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, and the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem.
A trip to Israel reinforces one’s faith in the Bible.
A trip to Israel has the powerful effect of reinforcing one’s faith in the Bible. Many people who have toured with me return home possessing greater arguments against the doubts that have assailed their minds.
4. To Witness to Jews and Muslims
When Christians go to Israel, they have the opportunity to show the spirit of Christ in how they conduct themselves. Unfortunately, Americans have a “not-so-good” reputation as tourists, but this should never be the case with American Christians. When interacting with Jews and Muslims, both groups can have a sad understanding of how Christian nations have treated both groups historically, i.e. the Crusades and the Holocaust. While visiting Israel, Christians have a great opportunity to give a much different face to the term “Christian.”
Hotel staff members have repeatedly marveled at how kind, polite, and gracious the Christians in my group are. Both Muslims and Jews have asked me where I find these people. These people, they say, are not like the average Americans.
This is definitely the way things should be. If you’re on a trip to the Holy Land, be holy. One Muslim in Israel told me that this is the Holy Land, but not many people who are here are holy. So be very conscious that your behavior is being observed, and that your testimony can have a powerful effect on the citizens of Israel.
Even God Went to Israel
The desire to go to Israel is commendable. It is expensive, particularly because of hotels, food, and gasoline, but I have often seen God provide financially for people (especially pastors and students) when they lacked the resources and prayed for God to make a way.
I have heard individuals say they will visit a mission field instead of going to Israel, implying that such a trip is a waste of finances that could better be spent elsewhere. This reminds me of what Jesus said to Judas when he complained about the perfume that was used to anoint the body of Jesus. The perfume, he said, should be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus brushed this objection aside, affirming a both/and, not either/or position. Maybe a person doesn’t have to decide between a trip to Israel and the support of missions. Maybe there are other things you could eliminate from your budget — you could choose not to eat out this year, not take a vacation, not do various other things, and instead use those resources for missions and still take your trip to Israel.
No one should feel compelled to visit Israel, but neither should one feel he is doing something wrong if he does visit. Through the centuries, God’s people have had the desire to visit this land, and millions have done so with great benefit.
As I often say (tongue in cheek), “When God came to earth, even He went to Israel.”