The Garden of Gethsemane

If you’ve been to Israel, you know that there’s no place in the world quite like it. Jerusalem was one of my favorite parts of our visit. Going to Jerusalem feels a little like going to the top of the world, because since the world began this little patch of land has been right at the center of the action.

Just to the East of the Temple Mount is the Mount of Olives, a very significant little hilltop. Many believe that it was there that Jesus ascended into heaven (although the gospels are unclear on the exact location), and Zechariah 14:4 prophesies that Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives and split it in two on the “day of the Lord.”

If you stand on the Mount of Olives and look down in the valley in between there and the Temple Mount, you will see a grove of olive trees. Olive trees are  not an uncommon sight around Jerusalem, but this particular grove of trees is very special. This is the garden of Gethsemane.

Because of the many centuries that have passed and the fact that there are so many “olive gardens” around, it is difficult to know the exact spot described in the gospels where Jesus went and prayed before his arrest. But we can be confident that the spot was very near the garden site identified today. Our group gathered in a fenced-in area adjacent to the traditional Gethsemane spot to pray and reflect. 

As I looked around at the trees, it was very easy to imagine Jesus kneeling
next to one of them, grasping the knobby, porous and almost perforated trunk, crying out to God to take the cup of suffering from him. How striking the contrast between the peace of such a beautiful place and the anguish that Christ felt as he prepared to bear the weight of sin.

The fascinating thing about the word Gethsemane is that it actually means “olive press.” Because olives were (and still are) such an important in Israel, it made sense to have an olive press near the place where the olives were grown. After the olives are harvested, they are taken into a building or cave where they are crushed to a pulp with a stone wheel and then placed into large, circular bag-like baskets. The baskets are then stacked up and pressed by a large beam that can be attached to varying stone weights, thus extracting the oil from them. The first press is the purest and most precious oil, and each subsequent press is of lower quality. While olive oil is used for cooking and other general use, it specifically prescribed for use in worship in the Old Testament. Consecrated oil was used for anointing, for incense, and for lighting the lamps that burned in God’s house.

Here’s the kicker: Do you know how many times they press olives? Three. Do you know how many times Jesus went away to pray in the garden? Three. You see, Jesus wasn’t praying in a random place outside the city before he went to the cross. God in his sovereignty was giving us another picture of what Jesus was about to do through his death: be utterly crushed on our behalf so that the anointing of God could rest on us, so that the incense of our prayers could be heard, so that the light of the gospel could shine on us.

Jesus struggled over the weight of the crushing as it pressed upon him, but he chose it willingly. He submitted to the Father’s will to be crushed for the glory of God to be shown in salvation. As I stood there in the garden I marveled at the weight of standing in this place. If you look up towards the Temple Mount you can see the East gate where the soldiers would have come with torches to arrest him. It’s no surprise that they found Jesus praying there, or that he knew when they were coming to get him. He could easily see them coming down the hill to find him. He had time to escape, and certainly could have if he wanted to. But he didn’t. He was pressed until nothing was left.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5