The Most Powerful Place In Jerusalem That Almost No One Sees

"I would guess that less than 1 percent of 1 percent realize that when they are in the Upper Room, they are actually standing in a building that became the first Messianic synagogue." -Ron Cantor

One of the most amazing sites in Jerusalem is also one that is overlooked by more than 99.9 percent of tourists, and sadly, even educated tour guides don't realize its significance. Millions of tourists pass through this site every year. In fact, I would guess that less than 1 percent of 1 percent realize that when they are in the Upper Room, they are actually standing in a building that became the first Messianic synagogue. (Photo: Cenacle/via Wikimedia Commons)

The very first Jewish Believers did not see a need for a synagogue of their own. They all continued to go to the traditional synagogue—the only place to hear the Scriptures read on a weekly basis—and then, they met together on the first day of the week (believed to be Saturday evening, not Sunday—a work day in Israel). These meetings were held in homes, and they also met daily in the Temple Courts as well (Acts 2:46).

However, persecution grew intense in the 60s. It is believed that Yaakov (James), despite being one of the most respected Jews in Jerusalem, was martyred through a conspiracy led by the Pharisees in A.D. 62. The book of Hebrews encourages the Jewish Believers to stand strong in the face of persecution (Heb. 12:1-4).

Messianics Flee Jerusalem

Then in the late 60s, the Zealots, a Jewish sect seeking independence from Rome, rebelled. The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem and prepared to raze it to the ground. The Messianic Jews were warned by angel to escape according to the historian Eusebius. They remembered the words of Yeshua.

When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you know that its desolation has drawn near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter it (Luke 21:20-21).

The second coming was just around the corner, they assumed. They fled across the Jordan River. After Jerusalem was destroyed and the Zealots were thoroughly defeated, the Messianic community returned to Jerusalem.

An Amazing Discovery

Now, this is where our story gets interesting.

In 1948, during Israel's War of Independence, a shell exploded near the traditional site of King David's tomb (we now know that is not his tomb) and the site of the Upper Room. In 1951, an Israeli archeologist, Jacob Pinkerfeld, was tasked with repairing the damage. In doing so, he discovered the original floor of the building and an alcove. Bargil Pixner, the renowned Benedictine monk, Biblical scholar and archaeologist, writes: "Similar niches at similar heights above floor level have been found in ancient synagogues and were presumably used to house an ark for Torah scrolls."

In other words, this room, the Upper Room, was actually an ancient synagogue. The question is, was it always a synagogue and if not, when did it become a synagogue? Some claim that the Roman General Titus spared the area during his conquest in A.D. 70. However, it is more likely—since we know that the entire city was destroyed—that it was rebuilt into a synagogue after the A.D. 70 war. We know that in the time of Yeshua, 40 years prior, it was not a synagogue, but merely a room.

Pinkerfeld concurred that this was indeed a synagogue, unlike churches that faced the east, the building was oriented toward the temple or where the temple once stood. Pinkerfeld was correct; it was a synagogue, but his conclusion that it could not be a church, or for our purposes, a gathering of Yeshua Believers, because it did not face east is erroneous. Churches didn't begin to face east until the second half of the fourth century, according to Bixler.

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