Highlights of Israel – The Mount of Olives
Stories filled my mind as I sat on the Mount of Olives. The view was spectacular. From here I could see the entire Temple courtyard. In Jesus’ day, the temple stood in its glory in the center of that courtyard, approximately where the golden dome now stands.
Jesus spent a lot of time with His disciples here, on this mountain.
The disciples feared traveling near Jerusalem because they knew the religious leaders hated Jesus and wanted Him dead. But they couldn’t deny Jesus the trip to see his friends Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died. So, when they arrived in Bethany, everyone was on high alert for conflict. They were only two miles from Jerusalem, on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives.
But Jesus boldly walked up to the tomb and commanded Lazarus to come out. The disciples blinked in shock at his suggestion. Then suddenly, Lazarus came walking out of the grave. I bet the disciples weren’t the only ones wide-eyed – imagine the look on Lazarus’ face! Silence broke into celebration. Fear disappeared in the face of resurrection from the dead.
The next few weeks seemed normal. They traveled further away from Jerusalem and resumed their ministry.
Jewish graves cover the Mount of Olives. Once the body has decayed, the bones are placed in small boxes on the hillside. This graveyard has been in existence over 3000 years and holds 150,000 graves. Unlike our country’s tradition of flowers, the mourners leave small pebbles on the grave boxes of their loved ones. I wonder what Lazarus felt as he walked among the bones.
We find Jesus at the Mount of Olives a few weeks later. They returned to see Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany, on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Following their visit, the disciples climbed the Mount with Jesus and waited for His instructions concerning Passover, only a few days away. I’m sure their emotions fluttered between fear of the religious leaders, and the joyful memories of Lazarus coming back to life.
Jesus sent them for a donkey in a nearby village. Then he sat on the colt and rode into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. A celebration awaited them. People lined the streets cheering the one who could raise the dead. Crowds shouted “Hosanna” and laid their coats and palm branches on the road before Him in His honor.
Maybe this trip to Jerusalem wouldn’t be so bad after all! The disciples probably started daydreaming about reigning with Jesus in His kingdom instead of worrying about dying.
The city streets of Jerusalem are narrow. I envisioned the crowds of people and the noise of the Hosannas as we walked down the Mount of Olives, and then back up the hill of Jerusalem. Jesus probably entered the eastern gate into Jerusalem, which is now sealed.
The disciples spent the week in Jerusalem with Jesus, as the city began to fill with pilgrims coming to celebrate Passover.
On Thursday, Jesus led the Passover meal with the disciples in a gathering room above a home in Jerusalem. The disciples expected a relaxing evening, filled with the meaningful story of God’s miraculous rescue of the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery. They knew the story by heart. That was the point – retell the story every year so future generations never forget the love and power of our God.
Each Passover, they ate unleavened bread and roasted lamb, re-enacting the night the angel of death “passed over” their homes, and took the life of every firstborn son in every Egyptian home. That’s the night Pharaoh freed the Israelites. He feared our God.
But Jesus didn’t follow the traditional story line. Instead, when he passed the unleavened bread, he said, “Take and eat; this is my body,” (Matthew 26:26) and when he passed the cup, he said, “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
Suddenly, the room filled with sorrow.
“When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Matthew 26:30
At the Mount of Olives, Jesus explained more to the disciples. He told them that the shepherd will be struck, and the sheep will be scattered. When Peter claimed that he would never run away, Jesus solemnly told Peter he would not only leave, he would deny even knowing Jesus.
As I looked at the olive trees scattered across the hillside, I imagined Peter walking among them. This is the place where Jesus and his disciples retreated from the crowds of Jerusalem. This is where they talked and laughed and learned from Jesus. And I’m sure this is where the disciples spent time thinking among the olive groves as they considered the difficult words of Jesus.
We know what happened next. Jesus was betrayed, abused, crucified and died. Willing to pay the price of separation from God in exchange for me, God’s son paid my penalty – and yours.
And then He rose from the dead proving He has the power to raise us from the dead. Then He spent 40 more days with them, teaching them and building their faith.
Guess where Jesus met his disciples for the last time? Yes, the Mount of Olives. There, he rose into the sky while the disciples watched in awe.
Monumental, true stories of the past happened in this special place. But none of them hold a candle to the moment still to come – when He returns to the Mount of Olives.
“On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. . . The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” Zechariah 13:4,9