On many occasions throughout His public life and ministry the Lord Jesus would travel to Jerusalem. Only He never spent the night inside the city. Have you ever noticed that? Search the gospels and you will find that every time the Lord was in Jerusalem he would always leave the city before nightfall. Even if he planned on staying in the area for more than a few days, he would never stay in the city. Instead he would go to Bethany, a little village a few miles outside of town. There he would spend the night.
You will probably recognize Bethany. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was here that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It was here that He ascended back to heaven forty days after His resurrection. And it was here that Mary sat at His feet and listened to His word. Yes, more than anything else, it was here in Bethany that the Lord was always welcomed, always received, and always appreciated. In Bethany He was given pre-eminence.
What is pre-eminence? Pre-eminence is first place. For something to be pre-eminent means that it is central. Everything else hinges upon it, revolves around it, proceeds from it and ministers to it. With this in mind, consider what Paul had to say about the Father’s plan for His Son:
“…that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:18)
Anyway, in the days of His earthly life, it was in Bethany above all other places that the Lord Jesus was given His rightful place. It was in Bethany where He found those who were eager to hear and respond to the desires of His heart. More than anywhere else, it was in Bethany where the Lord was loved and sought after for who He was.
In this case, then, Bethany is a picture of the church. Come into a gathering of believers where Christ alone is the Head, where He is desperately sought after and where there is a constant listening for and responding to His Word; where He is given His rightful place as pre-eminent above all else, and there you will find the Lord Jesus is at rest. There He has found a home, a dwelling place. In the midst of a hostile, rejecting world, the church is God’s house upon this earth, a harbinger of things to come when Christ will be embraced as Lord of all.
It’s significant that Jesus never spent the night in Jerusalem because Jerusalem represented the very height and pinnacle of the Old Covenant system. The Lord never spent the night there because in effect He found no “rest” in what had become of that system. His spiritual hunger went unfulfilled there, so He continually resorted to Bethany, the “House of Figs”.
Read Mark 11 and you will see a very interesting scene. It was the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people shouted and waived and threw palm branches down before Him, hailing Him as King of the Jews. He then entered the city on a donkey and went into the temple. The record goes like this: “And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). After spending the night in Bethany they returned to the city, when upon the way they ran across a fig tree (in the Old Testament the nation of Israel was often pictured as a fig tree). Jesus was hungry, so he went to find fruit on it to eat. But there was no fruit, for the season for figs was not yet. So he cursed the tree and said, “May no one eat fruit from you ever again.” Then he went into the temple and drove out the money changers and salesmen, and afterwards taught the people. When evening came he left again. The next morning they passed the fig tree again on their way back and the disciples took note of the fact that it had withered and died.
All this is a picture of the fact that the Lord Jesus came into this world a hungry man. Longing for acceptance from His own, His own received Him not. The very system He Himself set up now set itself against Him and rejected Him. Though they gave Him lip service with the cry, “Hosanna in the Highest,” only days later the same people called for his execution (The only night the Lord did spend in Jerusalem was the night He was betrayed to be crucified-think about that!). Even still, the Lord was not wholly rejected. He found acceptance among a few, and those few became His church.
And so we see what God is after today. He is after Bethanies. Little assemblies of believers who will gladly receive the Lord Jesus as their life, who will minister to His satisfaction by listening and repsonding to the desires of His heart, and who will give Him His rightful place of pre-eminence, thus offering to this world a foretaste of the coming Day of glory in which “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.”