Mount of Olives

Our story has centered on the Temple Mount.  Since about 950 B.C., it was the site of the Temple in which the Name of the Lord dwelt, apart from a the Babylonian, 70-year exile period.  However, when Christ as the-Word-made-flesh entered space-time, He was in fact the Name of the Lord (in the sense of His Being), and the Temple itself.  He ministered primarily away from Jerusalem, where the ‘worship’ at the Temple had become a legalistic avenue to the pride of personal (but false) righteousness.

While in Galilee Christ gave a very different message on a different Mount than that being proclaimed at the Temple Mount, namely:  the famous Sermon on the Mount, begun with the Beatitudes we considered previously.  Now let us turn to yet a third Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the events of the final hours before Christ is crucified..

Below is an aerial view of Jerusalem today looking west (toward the Mediterranean Sea).  The pink oval is over the Mount of Olives.  The light green oval is over the ancient city of David; beyond it is the hill (mount) of Zion.  The golden Dome of the Rock is readily visible on the broad Temple Mount.  Beyond the Temple Mount is the Western Wall, the  old city of Jerusalem, and in the more distant background modern Jerusalem.RBC Retreat, 30 (c) fix Emmanuel Longing Final Sept 2014 copy.030It is unknown, and likely unknowable, exactly were the Last Supper took place in the Upper Room, or where the Garden of Gethsemane was on the Mount of Olives.  It is believed likely that the former was in the green oval, or just beyond it, and Gethsemane was somewhere in the pink oval.

From the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord and His apostles would have had a commanding view of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself, and all of Jerusalem.  The city would have been bustling with visitors as the Passover feast was a major annual holiday.  Jewish men were expected to be in Jerusalem for such event, so the city was full of people, and, intrigue, as to what was to be concluded regarding this Jesus.

The venue of the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives closes out the earthly days of Jesus Christ in a most interesting way.  As we have considered before, Jesus’s earthly ministry was primarily not in the area of the Temple Mount.  In Galilee He preached His opening message, which we know as the Sermon on the Mount.  Here we will consider His closing message, taking place on yet another Mount, that known by its vast grove of olive trees.  But there is another imagery here and that of a garden.  This calls to mind a Garden long long ago where the first Adam disobeyed God and by this sin entered the world and death through sin and so death has spread to all men because all have sinned (see the Epistle to the Romans chapter 6 and 7).  But here in the Garden of Gethsemane, the ‘second Adam’ will chose a very painful obedience to God and so provide to us saving redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.

What was the Garden of Gethsemane?  The word “gethsemane” does not designate a family name or a city.  It is the word for an olive press factory.  On the Mount of Olives there would be a steady commercial gathering of olives.  One of the primary uses of olives was in the form of oil.  In such form it could be used in cooking, as sauces for dipping much as we do today with vinegar and oil, and also for illumination when burned in oil lamps.  Olive oil is made from olives by squeezing them very tightly.

Why was it called a “garden?”  The generic meaning of “garden” is a walled off private area.  It did not necessarily mean what the word does today with the suggestion of flowers, vines, fruits, trees, benches, and the like.  It was an enclosed space open to the sky.

Here are some recent photographs of the very old olive trees which still exist on the Mount of Olives and a recent archaeological discovery of an oil press (a gethsemane, but not “The” Gethsemane).

Let’s consider the context of this time in this Garden.  Jesus and His closest disciples had completed the Passover Supper at an Upper Room, likely somewhere in the Old City of David (see above light green area), or possibly on Mount Zion further behind the Old City.  There was a very extensive discourse by the Lord, primarily recorded in the Gospel of John beginning in Chapter 13:

  • John 13:  Jesus washes the disciples feet, gives the New Commandment (“to love one another”), identifies His betrayer (Judas), and predict’s Peter’s denial.
  • John 14:  Jesus proclaims Himself to be The (not “a”) Way, The (not “one”) Truth, and The Life, departing to prepare a place for the disciples (and us); promises the Helper (The Holy Spirit) that will, upon His departure, indwell His own, and the gift of peace.
  • John 15:  Jesus proclaims that He is the true vine, and we are the branches; and in this world we will be persecuted.
  • John 16:  Jesus foretells the important ministry of the Holy Spirit Who would soon be indwelling in them (and us).
  • John 17:  The High Priestly Prayer (Jesus in His additional role as High Priest, who in a certain sense will see to the sacrifice of Himself, as the Lamb of God).

During this extended supper, Judas leaves the Upper Room, and we are told it was then night.  Darkness, and in particular night, is a trope, something literally true but additionally a picture of something else, here the deepest evil, but an evil that Jesus is completely in control of, and which will be used by God for the greatest possible good, the redemption of sinners (including you and me).

After Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, He leads His disciples away from the Upper Room to walk about a mile East, down into the Kidron Valley and up onto the Mount of Olives into the Garden of Gethsemane.  The next time Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley, in just an hour or so, He will be under arrest and going to His all night (illegal) trial, scourging the next morning, final judgment by the Roman Governor (Pontus Pilate), and crucifixion in the early afternoon.  But for the next hour or so, in utter darkness but for the oil torches and lamps they would have used to provide some lighting, Jesus would complete His final obedience toward the Will of the Father, and His final teaching, on this side of the Cross, to His disciples.

Let us now consider two important connections that the Lord will make for the Disciples and for us, in that final hour in Gethsemane.  First, we need to back up a little and talk of the basic diet of that place and time, the so called Mediterranean Triad:  grain, wine, and olive oil, each of which is used symbolically by Jesus.RBC Retreat, 97 (c) fix Emmanuel Longing Final Sept 2014 copy.097Grain and grapes, made into bread and wine, were the basic ingredients for what we know as The Lord’s Supper in memory of the Upper Room Dinner, and the establishment of “Communion” as a church practice.  The third component of the Mediterranean diet was the oil from olives, which use was both as a food supplement and also illumination in lamps such as the one shown in the above chart.

As discussed, the “garden” of Gethsemane was not what how the word is used today.  Such “garden” was a walled-off, open-air area in which olives were converted into oil.  It was a private place, in that sense like the Upper Room from whence the had just come.  In another sense, the garden was an arena, where a great test of strength and will was to occur for Christ as a second ‘Adam.’  In that very first “garden,” back in Genesis 2 and 3, with the first Adam, there was a test of obedience that turned out to demonstrate man’s (and woman’s) choosing a path of independence of God.  That is the essence of sin.  From that act, death entered them, and every generation since down to you and me.  In this garden on the Mount of Olives, Christ will make a choice that will result in at the reversal of the consequences of that choice by the original Adam.Olive Presses.098The Work of Obedience of Christ in that Garden of Gethsemane, explained more fully later in the Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 5:

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free giftis not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free giftwhich came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (NKJV)

Christ was, as it were, the Second Adam (though He was far more than just human–but in his true humanity He was a parallel to Adam), the progenitor of a new ‘race’ of beings, those made in righteousness because of the finished redemptive sacrifice of Christ, undoing the curse of the first Adam, by paying fully, completely, and eternally the righteous judgment we each deserved and, but for the sacrifice of Christ, would have experienced.  Christ indeed came to redeem sinners and did so in His obedience, even the obedience of the Cross.

The Mount of Olives itself connects a key teaching of the Old and New Testaments.