The very site of Jesus’ baptism could soon become a spectacle of capitalism.
What began as the center of John the Baptist’s ministry foretelling the arrival of Jesus Christ may soon be transformed into a “tourist city” worth up to $300 million, according to Reuters.
King Abdullah II of Jordan recently entertained a proposal about the Jordan River, the site believed to be home to Jesus’ baptism two millennia ago. Those developing the plans are hoping the infusion of souvenir shops, boutique outlets, luxury hotels, and botanical gardens could increase tourism to the space directly adjacent to the water in which Jesus was baptized.
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Currently, about 200,000 people visit the space annually. With these upgrade, planners believe the area — roughly 30 miles west of Amman, the capital of Jordan — could boast upwards of one million annual visitors.
Developers have said they intend to protect the sacred space for those who visit to see where Jesus began His public earthly ministry.
“We are talking about rustic stones and pebbles in architectural designs that preserve the place’s pristine nature and ensure that the sanctity and spirituality that existed 2,000 years ago are not trampled on by any development,” architect Kamel Mahadin told Reuters.
The story of Jesus’ baptism was recorded in Matthew 3:13-17,
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (NIV).
Jordan, it should be noted, is a predominantly Muslim country. There are some Christian leaders who, as a result, believe the development of the holy Christian space should be very transparent and that painstaking efforts should be made to preserve it.
“This is an attempt to usurp religious spirit,” asserted Jordanian Baptist Evangelical researcher Philiph Madanat. “It is unprecedented to have such a Christian holy site used for this purpose in Jordan.”
Others see the plans more positively.
Many Christian leaders have praised King Abdullah II for his efforts to create harmony between Christians and Muslims in his country. He has offered access to holy lands to both Christians and Muslims.
Al-Rai, Lebanon’s leading Christian cleric, attended the ceremony to unveil the plans for the space along the Jordan River and argued it “helps Christians in the Middle East to preserve their presence and their credo.”
When it comes to persecution of Christians in Jordan, most believers live safer lives than they would in other Middle Eastern countries. It should be noted, though, the government still “exerts pressure” on all Christian communities, according to Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, which lists Jordan as No. 39 on its World Watch List.
Many converts from Islam to Christianity face significant danger from their families and communities.
Father Ibrahim Dabbour, general secretary of the Assembly of Christian leaders of Jordan, representing all denominations, said developing the land near the Jordan River could give Christians more cultural credibility in the Middle Eastern country.
“It will lead to prosperity when tourists who come and buy souvenirs and get services, help the local community, and the country at large,” he said.
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