The River Jordan
The Jordan River—or River Jordan, as it is commonly called—is one of the most sacred places, both historically and symbolically, for Christians throughout the world. Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ all crossed it during their lifetimes, and it is associated with some of the most important events in the Bible.
After the death of Moses, the Bible says that God stopped the waters from flowing, allowing Joshua to lead his people across the River Jordan into Canaan (Joshua 3: 14-17). This reportedly took place at a ford in the river directly opposite Jericho known as Bethabara, or Beit ‘Abara ("house of the crossing").
This place, opposite Jericho, is believed to be the same place where the Prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the waters and crossed miraculously to the east bank of the Jordan. From a nearby spot on the east side, Elijah then ascended into heaven "on a chariot of fire and horses of fire" (2 Kings 2: 5-14).
For Christians, the most significant event associated with the River Jordan is undoubtedly the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. Interestingly enough, this also took place very close to Beit ‘Abara, where Joshua, Elijah and Elisha crossed the river. In New Testament times, it became known as Bethany, the village of John the Baptist. This Bethany is not to be confused with the village of Bethany near Jerusalem, where the Bible says Lazarus was raised from the dead.
The Bible clearly records that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3: 13-17), and that John the Baptist lived, preached and baptized in the village of Bethany, on "the other side of the Jordan" (John 1: 28). The baptism site, known in Arabic as al-Magtas, is located at the head of a lush valley just east of the Jordan River. It is now protected and by early 1999 it will be accessible to visitors. After Jesus’ baptism at Bethany, he spent forty days in the wilderness east of the River Jordan, where he fasted and resisted the temptations of Satan (Mark 1: 13, Matthew 4: 1-11).