Though the region of Macedonia in northern Greece was located nearly a thousand miles from Jerusalem, it had an indirect impact on the events of the New Testament and the ministry of the apostle Paul. Macedonia is never directly mentioned in the Old Testament, which came to a close with nearly the entire world of the Bible–including Macedonia and Israel–under the rule of the vast Persian Empire. But about a hundred years later (in 356 B.C.) Alexander the Great was born in the Macedonian town of Pella, and within 33 years he conquered virtually the entire Persian Empire. Over time, however, much of Alexander’s empire, including Macedonia, came under the rule of Rome. The Romans built many reliable roads throughout their empire to greatly improve long-distance travel. One of these roads was called the Egnatian Way, and it passed through several towns in Macedonia visited by the apostle Paul in the New Testament as he established churches in Philippi and Thessalonica.
One of the most significant biblical locations that few Bible readers would recognize is the site of the twin fortresses of Mahanaim and Peniel. During the Old Testament these fortresses stood on opposite sides of the Jabbok River and guarded an important road leading from southern Gilead to the roads of the Jordan River valley. They are first mentioned as the place where Jacob camped and wrestled with the man of God as Jacob anxiously prepared to meet his brother Esau. Gideon tore down a tower at Peniel after the people there refused to help him while he was pursuing the Midianites. Later Mahanaim is mentioned as the headquarters of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth as he competed with David for control over the kingdom of Israel. David eventually gained control over all Israel, but he himself had to flee to Mahanaim after his son Absalom staged a rebellion in Hebron and Jerusalem. Finally, Peniel became the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel after the northern tribes rebelled against the southern tribe of Judah. Later the northern kingdom moved their capital to Samaria.
Though the Old Testament never clearly mentions the region encompassing Carthage, southern Italy, and several large islands, these lands eventually influenced some of the events of the New Testament and the early church. The Phoenicians (located just north of Israel) founded Carthage as a trading colony on the coast of North Africa around 800 B.C., and over time the highly prosperous colony grew into an empire in its own right. Around the same time, however, Rome was expanding into an empire as well, as were the city states of Greece. All of these major powers fought for control over nearby islands such as Sicily and Sardinia. After losing three wars to Rome, Carthage and its lands were completely absorbed into the Roman Empire by 146 B.C. Later during the time of the New Testament, Paul was shipwrecked nearby on the small island of Malta while being transferred to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Still later in A.D. 354, the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo was born not far from Carthage.
On the Friday of Passover, Jesus was crucified and his body was placed in a tomb, but early Sunday morning he was raised to life again through the power of the Holy Spirit! After this he appeared to many believers over a period of forty days until he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-4), although it is difficult to know in what order all these events occurred. The first believers to see the risen Jesus were women, including Mary Magdalene, who had gone that morning to finish preparing Jesus’ body with spices. Later that same day (Sunday) Jesus also appeared to two disciples traveling from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus about seven miles away (Luke 24:13-36). Still later that day when the two disciples had returned to Jerusalem and were telling Jesus’ disciples what they saw, Jesus appeared again to them and several other believers. Apparently a week after this, presumably in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared again to a group of disciples that included Thomas (John 20:24-29). At some point Jesus also met his disciples on a mountain in the region of Galilee, perhaps at Mount Tabor or the cliffs of Arbel, where he had told them earlier to meet him (Matthew 28:16). Jesus also met with Peter and some other disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, likely near Capernaum (John 21:1-14). Finally at the end of Jesus’ forty days on earth after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples out from Jerusalem to the vicinity of Bethany and ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50-53).
On the Thursday before Jesus was crucified, Jesus had arranged to share the Passover meal together with his disciples in an upper room. This room is traditionally thought to be located in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem. After they had finished the meal, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus often met with his disciples. There Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own disciples, betrayed him to the soldiers sent from the High Priest, and they arrested Jesus and took him to the High Priest’s residence. In the morning the leading priests and teachers of the law put Jesus on trial and found him guilty of blasphemy. Likely seeking to avoid blame from the people for Jesus’ death, the council then sent Jesus to stand trial for treason before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who resided at the Praetorium while in Jerusalem. The Praetorium was the former residence of Herod the Great, who had died over 30 years earlier. When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Herod Antipas, who had jurisdiction over Galilee. Herod asked him many questions and listened to the charges of the leading priests and teachers of the law, but when Jesus gave no answer, Herod and his soldiers merely ridiculed him and sent him back to Pilate. Though Pilate sought to release Jesus, the people repeatedly demanded that he crucify him, so Pilate ordered that Jesus be led away to be crucified. Jesus was forced to carry his cross out of the city gate to Golgotha, meaning Skull Hill, referring to what may have been a small unquarried hill in the middle of an old quarry just outside the gate. After it became evident, however, that Jesus was unable to carry his cross any further, they forced a man named Simon from Cyrene to carry it for him. There at Golgotha they crucified Jesus. After Jesus died, his body was hurriedly taken down before nightfall and placed in a newly cut, rock tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the council. This tomb was likely located at the perimeter of the old quarry.
At the start of Passover one week before Jesus was crucified, he and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem, approaching the city from the east. When they arrived at the village of Bethphage, Jesus mounted a donkey and rode down the Mount of Olives as a humble king entering his capital city. Along the way, many people laid branches and cloaks in his path to welcome him. After Jesus entered the city, he immediately went up to the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and merchants there, and he healed the blind and the lame. Then he traveled nearly two miles outside the city to the village of Bethany to spend the night, which appears to have been where he typically lodged each night while visiting Jerusalem during the crowded Passover festival. Bethany is also where Jesus’ close friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. One evening while Jesus was there at a large dinner party given in his honor, Martha served the food, and Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.
The Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, where all Israelite males were commanded to offer sacrifices to the Lord, underwent several stages of reconstruction and development over hundreds of years. The first Temple was built by King Solomon to replace the aging Tabernacle, and it was constructed on a threshing floor on high ground on the north side of the city. Hundreds of years later King Hezekiah expanded the platform surrounding the Temple. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. the Temple was completely destroyed. It was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after a group of Jews returned to Judea from exile in Babylon. Herod the Great completely rebuilt and expanded the Temple once again around 20 B.C., making it one of the largest temples in the Roman world. But Herod’s Temple did not last long: After many Jews revolted against Rome, the Romans eventually recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70. Not far from Herod’s Temple were several pools where Jesus performed healings. Jesus often met with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, which lay across the Kidron Valley, and it was there that soldiers arrested Jesus. Further east was the Mount of Olives, where Jesus began his triumphal entry one week before his crucifixion, taught his disciples about the last days, and eventually ascended to heaven after his resurrection.
Though the Old Testament never directly mentions Crete (shown in inset), this island had a significant impact on the history of Israel. Crete was home to the ancient city of Knossos and the great Minoan civilization, the first advanced society in Europe, which flourished from before the time of Abraham until around the time of Moses. As this civilization declined, many people from Crete and mainland Greece began to migrate in vast numbers to new lands further east, including Israel. This is likely how the Philistines came to inhabit the Mediterranean coast of southern Israel. In the centuries that followed, various world powers gained control over Crete until finally it came under the rule of Rome, which grouped it together with the area around Cyrene on the North African coast to form a single province. (Cyrene was the home of a man named Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross for him after Jesus was no longer able to carry it.) As Paul was on his way to stand trial in Rome (Acts 27), he sailed along the southern coast of Crete, and there the captain lost control of the ship in a storm while attempting to reach safe harbor at Phoenix. The sailors became terrified that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, but instead they sailed on to the island of Malta much further west, and the crew was saved.
The region commonly called Mesopotamia (“between the rivers”) was home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world, and it was the birthplace of Abraham, the ancestor of the Israelite people. Located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamia is often speculated to be the location of the Garden of Eden, and it gave rise to the nations of Elam, Babylonia, and Assyria, each of which interacted with the people of Israel at various points history. In the later part of the Old Testament the Assyrians exiled many Israelites to Assyrian lands, and the Babylonians exiled many other Israelites (primarily from the tribe of Judah) to Babylon and its surroundings. Hundreds of years later in the time of Jesus, Magi (priestly astrologers) traveled from this region to worship Jesus, for they had seen a sign in the heavens that signaled the birth of the king of the Jews.
Sometime after ministering at the church in Jerusalem the apostle John moved his ministry to Ephesus, one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. From Ephesus John ministered to several other churches in the province of Asia. Later, however, John was exiled to the island of Patmos, and there he recorded visions of the end of the world. Included in his visions were messages specifically addressed to seven different churches throughout Asia, and each message was listed in the order that a courier likely would have delivered it to the church addressed.