The 40-minute walk to Bethany

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, April 27, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By R.A. Mathews

It’s a great mystery: the 40-minute walk to Bethany. It’s also one that hardly anyone notices. 

Why did Jesus take His disciples to Bethany, where He ascended to God? What was so special about that village?

Email newsletter signup

It’s clear that Jesus appeared to His disciples on the day of His resurrection. Luke seems to write that He then took them to Bethany, a 40-minute walk, where He ascended to God. Here’s the passage:

…Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst and … He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures … And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:36-51)

That’s the closing chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Scholars believe Luke also wrote Acts, which opens with the author pointing out that his first account was about all that Jesus had done until He was taken to heaven. The author also relays that Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples and ascended on the Mount of Olivet, “a Sabbath day’s journey” from Jerusalem. Here’s the passage:

“(My) first account … (was) about all that Jesus began to do and teach … (and) He also presented Himself alive after His suffering … appearing to them over a period of forty days … and a cloud took Him up, out of their sight … And … two men in white clothing stood beside them, and they said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus … will come in the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet … a Sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts 1:1-12)

Is Luke describing two different ascensions—one at Bethany, a 40-minute walk from Jerusalem, and another at Olivet, a Sabbath day’s journey, which would have been about 15 minutes?

Whatever you believe about when Jesus ascended, whether it was 40 days after His resurrection or also that same night, the big mystery remains: Why did Jesus walk with His disciples to Bethany?

What was so special about that village?

Scripture tells us only three events that happened in Bethany, but they’re all big! First, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was raised from the dead in Bethany. (John 11:1-44)

Second, Jesus ate at the home of Lazarus on Friday, six days before the Passover. That’s also when Mary anointed His feet with a pound of costly perfume. (John 12:1-8)

Third, another dinner happened in Bethany on Tuesday evening, but this time Scripture says Jesus ate at the home of Simon the leper, where an unnamed woman anointed His head with a vial of perfume. (Matthew 26:6-15, Mark 14:1-11)

Apparently, Jesus stayed in Bethany Friday night, Saturday night, and Tuesday night of the week of the Passover. He also wasn’t in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, because the following day He sent His disciples into the city to prepare the Passover meal. Here’s the passage:

”Now the first day of Unleavened Bread came, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And so Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us … When you have entered the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you; follow him…” (Luke 22:7-10)

Why wasn’t Jesus staying in Jerusalem? 

It’s important to understand that centuries earlier the Assyrians and Babylonians deported many Jews, spreading them all over the world. At the Passover, they came together, and some scholars believe the city swelled to four or five times its normal capacity.

So if Jesus and His disciples stayed that week in Bethany, did the women who traveled with them also stay there? Remember, at the Crucifixion, Jesus gave John charge of His mother. Here’s the passage:

“…Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (John 19:26-27)

It’s fair to say, wherever John was staying with his mother, Mary would have been there as well. 

The most likely place was Bethany.

Did Jesus walk that distance to see His mother? I welcome your thoughts. Write to me.

The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of Emerald Coast: The Vendetta. Write to her at (Just one t in Mathews)

Copyright © 2024 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.