Fieldnotes from the Bible Lands : No. 1

Bethany: House of Affliction

A small town a short distance from Jerusalem, Bethany is mentioned several times in the Gospels and was the hometown of Jesus’ friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

Today, the ancient village of Bethany has been swallowed up by the Arab town of al-Eizariya (Arabic for Lazarus) on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Amongst the crowded streets, you can visit a location marked as Lazarus’ tomb. There is good reason to believe the location is fairly accurate: archaeology has uncovered a large first-century Jewish cemetery there; the Arabic language has preserved the historical significance of the place; and early Christians chose that particular site for a church to highlight the momentous events which took place there.

There is something about the town itself that gives insight into our Saviour. Bethany can be translated as “House of Affliction or Misery.” With a leper colony located just outside the town during Jesus’ time, such misery would have been hard to avoid. So near an unclean population, Bethany would not have been considered a desirable destination. Yet Jesus seemed to frequently stay there while in Jerusalem.

As our Great High Priest, Jesus could have rightly claimed quarters alongside the priests on Temple grounds in Jerusalem. As Coming King, Herod’s palace was his due. Instead, Jesus chose to stay in Bethany, the House of Misery, rubbing shoulders with the afflicted (Mt 26:6). Then he went a step further and became afflicted himself, bearing our punishment. Praise the Lord for his sacrifice!

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted … he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:4, 12