God has granted to the land of Jordan many special places. In the north of the country they boast of the homeland of the Prophet Elijah, and in the northern and central regions they take pride in the fact that Christ performed many miracles there and preached in their towns. The south is also very proud that John the Baptist was martyred in “Mekawer” Castle, which is south of Madaba. In the Jordan River John baptized Jesus and there he met five of his disciples, including Peter. From here he set out preaching about the Kingdom of God, beginning the public part of his life.
Upon Mount Nebo, God revealed Himself to Moses, as He had previously revealed Himself at Sinai, and Moses stood and looked over the Promised Land stretched out in front of him. He saw the Jordan River before him, descending from the heights of Mount Hermon into the depths of the Jordan valley.
After Moses passed away, Joshua, the son of Nun, crossed with the Israelites into the Promised Land.
Elijah and Elisha
Soon after their entrance into the Holy Land the people turned from the worship of God and took to worshipping strange gods. God sent to them many prophets to bring them back to true belief in His oneness and observance of His commandments. One of the most famous prophets was Elijah, who lived during the time of the rule of King Ahab in Israel. Ahab and his wife oppressed Elijah, and when Elijah grew old, God inspired him to leave and settle in what is today Jordan. So he left with his appointed successor, Elisha, who carried on his spirit and message. When they arrived at the River Jordan, Elijah struck it with his cloak and parted the waters of the river. He and Elisha crossed the dry land, and as they were speaking together upon the other side of the river, a fiery chariot came and carried Elijah into the heavens. (2nd Kings: 2)
John the Baptist
Again, hundreds of years passed and John the Baptist appeared at Bethany (Bayt ‘Anya) on the far side of the Jordan River (John 1:28 & John 10:40). He continued the path of faith and took the mesage from Moses – representative of the Holy Law – and from Elijah – representative of the prophets of the Old Testament (Luke 1:17). John was the last prophet in the manner of the Old Testament prophets and the first prophet of the New Testament. He called the people to repent in preparation for the arrival of Christ, the Redeemer, and began to baptize in the Jordan River and the surrounding springs. The baptism he administered was a symbol of repentance and belief in God. Fleeing the authorities because of his sermons, he made for Bethany beyond the Jordan. He would sleep and rest in a cave close to the springs of “Saphsaphas” (what is today known as the Valley of Kharrar). The Bible states that here people from Jerusalem, Judea and the surrounding regions of the Jordan flocked to John for baptism. Jesus visited John here.
Then the Jews in Jerusalem sent some of the Scribes and Pharisees to question John, and John said to them, “I am not the Messiah, I am only a voice crying out in the wilderness saying, ‘Follow the path of God and make firm His path.’” (John 1:24)
The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus left Nazareth, until he reached Bethany beyond Jordan and went to John for baptism. Jesus joined in the line of penitents asking for baptism, yet he was pure, free from all sin. He was the one who would say to the Jews, “Who among you can provide evidence that I have committed a sin.” John knew of Jesus from the revelation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 1:32). John, however, objected to baptizing Jesus saying, “I am the one that needs you to baptize me!” But upon Jesus’ continued insistence, John acquiesced and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Therefore, the water of the Jordan River became holy and all the waters that flow along the baptism site were purified, reviving the souls of people at every place and time.
As Jesus was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. He heard a voice from above say, “You are my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased.” Then the Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness where he remained for forty days, and where Satan tempted him. In the wilderness Jesus dwelt among the wild beasts, but the angels looked after him.
After Jesus came back from the wilderness to Bethany beyond Jordan, He found John sitting with two of his students. When John saw Jesus he said to his students, “This is the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Hearing this, the two students decided to follow Jesus and were in turn followed by three others, among them Peter.
Jesus carried the torch of faith from John the Baptist, the torch that had also been carried by Moses, Elijah and the other prophets. From Bethany beyond the Jordan Jesus declared the good news of God, saying, “The Hour draws near and the Kingdom of God is at hand! So, repent and have faith in the good news of God!”
After returning to Jerusalem, a dispute arose between Jesus and the Jews during the festival of the renovation of the Temple. When this happened Jesus fled back across the Jordan to Bethany where John was still baptizing. The people warmly received Jesus and many came to him from the surrounding towns and villages, from Salt, Amman, Madaba and Hisban. They brought their sick to him. He cured them, and many people came to believe in him.
From Bethany beyond the Jordan, Jesus returned to Jerusalem only to have to flee again, this time to Ephraim (al-Tayyibah) near Ramallah. Later he returned to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the events of his passion, death and resurrection would follow.