On the west side of the ancient city of Jerusalem stands the Jaffa Gate. Its magnificent doors stand open, beckoning those who pass by to enter—wide open and willing to receive any visitors or residents who choose to pass through the ancient walls of Jerusalem.
If this gate could speak, it would tell of a tumultuous history. The actual gate in view today was built in the 1600s by the Turkish monarch, Suliman the Magnificent. The original gate, built during the second temple period was probably the work of the Jewish Hasmonean rulers in the second century B.C. Later, Herod the Great rebuilt and further fortified the gate and its surroundings.
If gates could speak, the Jaffa Gate would tell centuries old stories of joyous worshipers arriving from the west after a long and arduous journey. To these weary pilgrims, arriving at the gate meant entering the city of God’s Holy Temple. Now they could worship the LORD God freely; they could fulfill His commandments at the temple.
Jewish men were required by the Law of Moses to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to present themselves and their sacrifices. During these specially appointed times of worship, an unceasing flow of pilgrims passed through the gate. At other times in the year, the flow of worshipers and pilgrims would slow to a trickle, but the gate was open to receive them. All who feared the LORD had a place in Jerusalem.
If the gate could speak, it would tell not only tales of joy, but also songs of sorrow over invading armies passing through the Jaffa Gate to conquer the people of Jerusalem. Neither Jerusalem’s mighty walls nor her sturdy gates were ever successful in keeping invaders out of the city.
In fact, on at least two occasions the gates of Jerusalem were voluntarily opened to Greek and Roman armies. According to Jewish tradition, they came to Jaffa Gate on the Sabbath and entered unopposed. During that era, the Jewish religion banned self-defense on the Sabbath. Later, a rabbinic decree made self-defense on the Sabbath a commandment of the highest order.
The massive gate delayed the Romans from entering in A.D. 70, but after two years of siege, they wore down the defenders of Jerusalem and broke down the gate. They destroyed the temple and burned the city. Jewish people were banned from Jerusalem, and the city fell into a decline that lasted for hundreds of years.
Eventually, the city wall and the gates were rebuilt, only to be neglected and destroyed. First there were the Romans, then came the Moslem invasion, then the Crusaders’ ransack, the Turkish rulers, the British occupation, Jordanians, and finally, in 1967, Israeli liberation. The Israeli Army, Tzhal, wrested the Old City of Jerusalem from the hands of the Jordanians. The walls, gates and inside of the Old City were restored, and the Jewish government guaranteed free worship for Jews, Moslems and Christians at their respective sites.
If the Jaffa Gate could speak, the story of the city would also include tales of faith, hope and promise. Israel was never to rely upon strong gates, mighty walls or vast armies. The nation’s defense was always to reside in the LORD God of Israel. The nation’s hope was to find peace in the promise of the Messiah. Two thousand years ago, there came to Jerusalem one man who was heralded as the Messiah. Yeshua first entered the massive walls of Jerusalem as a baby. We know He came again as a twelve-year-old youth, and He probably entered the city through the stout walls and enormous Jaffa Gate many times that are not recorded. Then of course, we know of His teachings in Jerusalem during His adult ministry.
The Gospel of John tells of one trip to the city, when Yeshua claimed to be the gate. That may seem odd to modern readers, but in the language of His day, it was understood.
Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9).
In Yeshua’s time, the metaphor was understood as part of the shepherd’s duty. When the shepherd brought his flock back to the sheepfold, he would stand at the gate and inspect the sheep as they entered. Those that had thorns or other wounds would be treated, and all of the sheep were carefully counted. Then the shepherd would lay down at the entrance to the sheepfold and remain there until morning. In essence, the shepherd functioned as the gate, thus protecting the sheep.
By claiming to be the true Shepherd of Israel, by declaring Himself as the Gate of the Nation, Jesus was putting Himself in the position of protecting and providing for the needs of the people of Israel. He would watch over all who came in and went out. He would treat the wounds of the injured and meet the needs of the ailing.
If gates could speak, the Jaffa Gate would tell of the Messiah of Israel, who quietly passed through her massive doors two thousand years ago. If gates could speak, they would call all to enter into the love of the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.