Chapter 5: Memories of Olivet
The Mountains of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is associated with four mountains: Mount Zion, Mount Moriah, Mount Scopus, and the Mount of Olives. Scopus is not specifically mentioned in our Bible, being often regarded as but an extension of Olivet, but the name Scopus means ‘the view’, as in ‘tele-scope’ or ‘micro-scope’. It was from Scopus that the Crusaders had their first view of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the surrounding country at the close of the 11th century. It was here too that Titus, commander of the Roman armies, strategically pitched his camp in AD 70 with the fortified batteries of the 10th Legion. Scopus, like Mount Nebo, offers panoramic views of the land, Deut 34.1.
But there is something special about the Mount of Olives! Some readers may recognise in the title "Memories of Olivet", an interesting, old volume written by Dr. J.R. MacDuff in 1868. These present meditations have borrowed MacDuff’s title but nothing of the content of his book except to quote an introductory remark of his in which he writes, "A recent visit has confirmed the long-entertained impression that the most interesting locality in Palestine - and if so, in one sense, the most interesting spot in the world - is the Mount of Olives." Those who have studied the history and geography of Israel, or who have been privileged to actually visit the land, will readily agree with this. But MacDuff then adds, so aptly, "The place is nothing; the associations are everything."
The Movements of the Saviour
Blessed associations indeed, with the triumphs and tragedies of king David and with the excesses and backslidings of Solomon, but, in a special way, with the movements and ministry of the greater Son of David! Olivet is saturated with memories of the Lord Jesus. It has been sanctified with His prayers and wet with His tears. It echoes with the sound of His prophecies and warnings, and He has left sacred footprints on its every slope. Bethphage, Bethany, and Gethsemane unite to rehearse the story of His life and love. These are all on the Mount of Olives, places where He wept and prayed and preached. And the mount has yet to be the scene of His future triumph when He returns in power to reign. Olivet is steeped in history, shrouded with a certain glory, and veiled in prophecy. "Memories of Olivet" are very precious indeed, particularly to those who love the Saviour. As another has said, "No name in Scripture calls up associations at once so sacred and so pleasing as that of Olivet. The mount is so intimately connected with the private, the devotional life, of the Saviour, that we read of it and look at it with feelings of deepest interest and affection" (Dr. Porter cited in Easton’s Bible Dictionary).
The Meaning of the Name
Although its Arabic name, "Jebel Hur" means "mountain of mountains" or "the strong mount", the physical features of the Mount of Olives are not at all imposing. It is so called because of the olive groves which at one time clothed its every side, but of which it has largely been denuded except for a few fine old remaining specimens, still bearing fruit, with their memories of former years. The mount rises only about three hundred feet above the level of the Temple Mount, so that compared with Hermon with its crown of snow it is perhaps but a hill. Nor is its outline as clearly defined or as prominent as Tabor. It lies close to Jerusalem, on the eastern side of the city, and separated from it by the Kidron Valley. It is so close indeed, that, descending suddenly from the area of the Golden Gate or from Stephen’s Gate, no sooner is the bed of the valley reached than the ascent of Olivet begins. This Kidron gorge however, narrow though it is, separates the dust and bustle of the Jerusalem streets from the clear air of the hill, and protects the quiet tranquillity from the noise of the city.
The Majesty of the Sight
Many refer to the Mount of Olives as a ridge. It is perhaps about a mile in length, running from north to south and screening the city from the wilderness which lies beyond. Looking east from its summit one may view the sunrise over the distant hills of Moab, and, when the sun has risen, on a clear day perhaps there may be a sight of the Dead Sea. To the south there will be glimpses of the valley of Hinnom, the village of Silwan, and the infamous Aceldama. To the north, beyond the north wall of the city, it may just be possible to see Golgotha itself. On Olivet’s eastern slope, hidden from Jerusalem, lie the villages of Bethphage and Bethany with its memories of the home of Mary and Martha and the tomb of Lazarus. The present road to Bethany winds around Olivet between the mount and the Kidron, but there is an old road which leaves Bethany, ascends for a little, then turns around the shoulder of the mount and descends past Gethsemane to the Kidron and the city. This road is for the most part narrow and stony, at times little more than a bridle path, but, as will be seen, it has very definite memories of the closing days of the Saviour’s lovely life. At the commencement of the descent there will come into view a most glorious panorama of Jerusalem. From this point, the city, shining golden in the sun, presents a sight which, to many, is unequalled anywhere in the world. Of course, this preciousness is particularly so because, without doubt, the Saviour trod this road often, especially during His last week on earth, and wept on it as He looked over the city. And it is almost certain that His father David ascended this same road in rejection, weeping as he went up, with a usurper upon his throne, 2Sam.15.30.
"Memories of Olivet" therefore are many and varied. Some are pleasant and some are painful; some are splendid and some are sad, but the mount remains, standing as a monument, inviting us to recollection and meditation. If "Memories of Olivet" make Him more precious to us, He Who knew the mount so well, then our memories will be worthwhile indeed.
What a sad description of the lovely Mount of Olives, "the mount of corruption", but it is so called in 2Kgs.23.13, as we shall see. The Mount of Olives is mentioned some twelve times in the New Testament, but only twice by name in the Old Testament, 2Sam.15.30; Zech.14.4. There are however, other references to it there, where it is described as "the mountain which is on the east side of the city" Ezek.11.23, and "the hill that is before Jerusalem" 1Kgs.11.7, and these we shall consider in more detail.
David and the Mount
The story in 2Samuel is sad in the extreme. Consequent upon his conspiracy in the slaying of his brother Amnon, Absalom had been banished from the king’s presence. Through the mediation of Joab, David eventually relented and permitted Absalom to return to his home in Jerusalem, but not to see the king’s face. It was only a partial forgiveness, and it was to have bitter consequences. Through the continuing intervention of Joab the king finally agreed to see Absalom and there appeared to be a full restoration to favour. There was though, no true repentance on Absalom’s part, and, as Delitzsch comments, "The king sent for Absalom, and kissed him, as a sign of his restoration to favour. Nothing was said by Absalom about forgiveness; for his falling down before the king when he came into his presence, was nothing more than the ordinary manifestation of reverence with which a subject in the east approaches his king."
Back in Jerusalem and restored to favour and freedom, Absalom soon aspired to the throne. He set up a princely court, adjudicating in the causes of the people and casting aspersions and suspicions about his father’s ability to rule, 2Sam.15.1-6. He then requested the king’s permission to go to Hebron on the pretence of fulfilling a vow which he had made during his banishment. It was but pretence indeed. Absalom had won the hearts of the people. Now in Hebron where he had been born and where David had been crowned king, 2Sam.2.3; 5.3, trumpets were blown, accompanied by the cry, "Absalom reigneth in Hebron". It was rebellion. The king’s own son was a usurper upon his father’s throne. Poor David fled. He was reaping the reward of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. He was soon to be betrayed by his familiar friend Ahithophel, and publicly cursed by Shimei of the house of Saul. The Psalms 41 and 55 are memorials to the sorrows of those days.
With his head covered, and barefoot, as tokens of his reproach and shame, David crossed the brook Kidron, weeping as he went over to the ascent of the Mount of Olives on the way to the wilderness. Little did he know that he was enacting a prophetic parable, for the greater Son of David, one thousand years later, was to cross this same brook, rejected by His own people. On this same Mount of Olives He, too, would be betrayed by one who had walked with Him, and eaten bread with Him at the same table. And on this mount, He, too, would shed tears of anguish.
Solomon and the Mount
The story of 1Kings chapter 11 is equally sad, if not more so. It involved another son of David, Solomon. Solomon was the son of Bathsheba, destined for the throne and blessed above measure with the gift of wisdom from Jehovah for the ruling of the nation. The early days were glorious, but later years were a tragedy. Polygamy and idolatry stained the record and reign of Solomon, and on the Mount of Olives, "the hill that is before Jerusalem" he erected high places, shrines, sanctuaries, altars, for the worship of Chemosh and Molech, the gods of his strange wives, and the abominations of the Moabites and Ammonites. He made the Mount of Olives a hill of corruption, a mount of scandal or offence, 2Kgs.23.13. It was a grievous transgression of the law that he knew so well, as will be seen in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, 1Kgs.8.22-61.
The Saviour and the Mount
But a greater than Solomon has sanctified the Mount of Olives; here on the very slopes that Solomon had desecrated, our Lord Jesus held communion with His Father. Here He interceded, here He wept and prayed, and here, at Bethany, He spent evenings of fragrant fellowship with those who loved Him and who lived in godly simplicity. His ministry of intercession and His nights of prayer were a reversal of Solomon’s high places indeed.
Ezekiel’s story is of Jehovah’s longsuffering with His people and His reluctance to withdraw from them. It was not at all a hasty or immediate removal of the Shechinah, the glory. First it left the house, the temple, Ezek.10.18; it then withdrew to the eastern gate, where it seemed to linger, Ezek.10.19. Eventually it left Jerusalem and stood upon the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city, Ezek.11.23. From here the glory departed and several commentators quote a remarkable Rabbinical comment from the Jewish Midrash. "The Divine Majesty dwelt three years and a half on the Mount of Olives, to see whether the Jewish people would, or would not, repent, calling, "Return unto Me and I will return unto you:" and then, when all was in vain, returned to its own place." The Shechinah had gone. The glory had departed.
The Saviour, too, left the city, and after three and a half years of gracious ministry, it was from the Mount of Olives that He finally departed and ascended to the heavens. One day the glory will return to the mount, Zech.14.4. In power and great glory the rejected Messiah will set His feet upon the mount which He left so long ago, and from the same Olivet will enter the city to reign as the King of glory, Ps.24.7-10. And we, by grace, shall be with Him!
- Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
- Jesus, our beloved Lord!
- O the joy to see Thee reigning,
- Worshipped, glorified, adored!
(Frances R. Havergal)
There is only one mention of the Mount of Olives in John’s Gospel and there must be a reason for this. That there is only one solitary reference is very significant, but that there should be even one is equally significant. John’s is a lofty theme, as every reader knows. There is something different about the fourth Gospel! Doubtless there are many lovely glimpses of the true Manhood of the Saviour in John’s record of Him Whom he loved so much, but the emphasis in John is that the Man Jesus was the Son of God, Himself a Divine Person.
It seems therefore that every time John speaks of the lowly Man, he is immediately quick to remind his readers that the Man of Galilee was God. He may graciously deign to be a guest, with His mother, at the wedding of a peasant couple in Cana, for He was truly Man. But He can miraculously make water wine in an instant. He was God! He may sit weary, thirsty, hungry, on a well in Sychar, willing to be recognised only as a Jew, but He can, with omniscience, reveal a poor woman’s past and present life and then reveal Himself to her heart. In a later chapter one describes Him as "a man that is called Jesus", only to discover that "The man that is called Jesus" is indeed the Son of God. In true and tender humanity He can weep with the bereaved sisters of Bethany, shedding silent tears for them, but then with a mighty voice He can call the dead Lazarus out from his tomb. And so it is all through John’s Gospel. This is the Gospel where the glory shines, where the Manhood of Jesus is always accompanied by demonstrations of His essential Godhead. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Saviour’s movements on the Mount of Olives are not recorded in detail by John, for that mount was very much the scene of the tears and solitude and intercessions of the lowly dependent Man.
It is in Luke’s Gospel, as many believers know, that we find the Saviour in prayer more often than in any of the other Gospels. A careful comparison of the seven occasions of His prayers in Luke’s Gospel will confirm that while there may indeed be a variety of places and circumstances in which the Lord Jesus prayed, nevertheless there does appear to be, on His part, a holy preference for the quiet hillsides and mountain slopes with which He was so familiar. He did pray while standing in the river Jordan, and He prayed too, in the wilderness, Lk.3.21; 5.16, but perhaps on every other occasion recorded by Luke His prayers are on a mountain side.
While much of our Lord’s ministry was in Galilee, and consequently some of His intercessions were also among the hills of Galilee, yet He was often too in Judea, and it was while He was here that the Mount of Olives became His sanctuary for private communion and devotion. He was "wont" to go there, Lk.22.39. Judas "knew the place: for Jesus oftimes resorted thither …" Jn.18.2.
There is something touching, if not amazing, that the Son of God should be found in prayer on the Mount of Olives. He was, after all, the Omnipotent. He was the All-Sufficient. He was from everlasting and was the very Creator of this Mount of Olives on which He prayed. These olive groves were the work of His hands and He was the Proprietor and Possessor of the cattle on a thousand hills, Ps.102.25; 50.10. The whole creation was His dominion, heaven, earth, and sea. And yet He is alone praying! What example and encouragement for His people. If He, the Almighty, should find the time and the need to pray, how much more His saints!
So much of our Lord’s devotions on the mount however, must have been in the nature of holy communion with His Father. True, He did at times make requests; He did bring petitions, both for Himself and for others. In the dependency of an impeccable Manhood He could say, "I was cast upon Thee from the womb" and the people could say, "He trusted on Jehovah" Ps.22.8,10. Nevertheless, those were delightful times when He just quietly communed with His Father, not necessarily asking for anything, but simply dwelling in the enjoyment of the loving intimacy of a Son in the bosom of the Father. In His address to the Father He might often simply say, "Father". He also said "Righteous Father," and "Holy Father" Jn.17.1,11,25, but it is important to note that He never said "Our Father". He instructed His disciples, "When ye pray say, Our Father" Lk.11.2, but His relationship with the Father was different. It was unique for it was eternal. He was the Son of the Father in truth and love, 2Jn.1.3.
How often too, on this sacred mount of communion must the Lord Jesus have been engaged in thanksgiving? It was on the Mount of Olives that He lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me" Jn.11.41, but compare also Matt.11.25; Lk.10.21. In this again He has given example to His people, that they should ever be characterised by a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness, remembering that the beginning of that awful moral degeneracy of the nations so graphically described by Paul, was this, "Neither were they thankful" Rom.1.21.
What memories there are then, on the Mount of Olives, of the prayers of our blessed Lord. He has made the mount fragrant with His intercessions, His supplications, His thanksgivings, and His holy converse with His Father. Well He could say, "The Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him" Jn.8.29, and well might His people sing as they meet to remember Him on the first day of the week:
- Those nights on Olivet
- Locks with the night dews wet
- Remembering those days
- Calling for constant praise,
- Ours unto Thee we raise,
The Scene and its Location
The neighbouring villages, Bethphage and Bethany, are twice mentioned together in a single verse, Mk.11.1; Lk.19.29. Nestling on the farther slope of Olivet, they are both hidden from the bustle of Jerusalem. They are close to, and yet remote from, the noisy city. Bethphage may not be so well known or as familiar as Bethany, for the name occurs only three times in Scripture, Matt.21.1; Mk.11.1; Lk.19.29, but its associations with the Saviour are equally precious. It was to Bethany however, that the Lord Jesus resorted so often, and His presence there has assured for Bethany an abiding place in history and in the hearts of those who love Him.
There is nothing spectacular or imposing about the village of Bethany either naturally or materially. It is never mentioned in the Old Testament and has no place at all in the early history of the nation. It is in itself a rather insignificant village with just a dusty street or two and a few simple houses. But it has a large place in the affections of the saints and it now appears on almost every map of Israel. What has given it this prominence? It is just the fact that the Lord was there. There they made room for the Saviour when so many others had rejected Him. They gave Him a place in their homes and in their hearts and they have not been forgotten. What lessons are here for present day believers! We are, in ourselves, completely insignificant, but we too have the privilege of making room for the rejected Lord, in our hearts, in our homes, and in our assemblies.
The Suggested Meanings of Its Name
There are six places in our New Testament whose names begin with "Beth". There is Bethlehem, Bethabara, Bethesda, and Bethsaida, and of course Bethphage and Bethany. "Beth" always means "the house of", so that Bethlehem means, as is well known, "the house of bread", and with another four of these names there is no problem. There is a difficulty however, with Bethany, and in commentaries and Bible dictionaries there are actually four suggested meanings of the name. Some say "the house of sweetness" and others say "the house of sorrow". A few say "the house of singing", and others say "the house of the poor".
Although among its Arab residents Bethany is more generally known as El Azariyeh, "the town of Lazarus", yet to many it is indeed "Betania", but what is the true meaning of the name? Perhaps there is a sense in which all of the suggested meanings have at times been true of the village, but local people will assure us quite definitely that Bethany means "the house of the poor", or "the house of poverty".
How much this must have appealed to Him of Whom Paul wrote, "For your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" 2Cor.8.9. Born in lowly circumstances in an outside place, He then lived for thirty years in the relative obscurity of Nazareth. For three years and more our Lord Jesus preached the glad tidings to the poor, and while many others rejected Him, the common people heard Him gladly, Lk.4.16,18; Mk.12.37.
The Spiritual Lessons
The Saviour’s first recorded word of public ministry was "Blessed are the poor in spirit" Matt.5.3. He did not, of course, mean "poor spirited!" Poor in spirit is the opposite of pride. It means one who has no wealthy opinion of self. The man who is poor in spirit makes no high claims but is characterised by lowliness and humility. Pride is mentioned more than fifty times in our Bible and is always obnoxious to God, Who "resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble" Jms.4.6; 1Pet.5.5. Our Lord associated pride with moral evils of every kind and Paul reminded Timothy that pride was the sin of the devil, Mk.7.21-23; 1Tim.3.6. What, after all, has any man anything of which he may be proud? Bethany was the house of the poor. The simple appeal of the village is legendary and they rejoiced to share their poverty with the lowly Man from Galilee. Poverty and wealth are mentioned twice in the letters to the Asian assemblies in the early chapters of Revelation. Of the assembly in Smyrna the Saviour said, "I know thy poverty", adding, "But thou art rich!" Of the assembly in Laodicea He said, "Thou sayest I am rich … and knowest not that thou art poor". It has been so aptly said that at Smyrna they were rich, poor men and at Laodicea they were poor, rich men!
In "the house of the poor" on the Mount of Olives they spread a table for the Saviour. He accepted and appreciated their hospitality, so much so that during His last week on earth He resorted every night to Bethany. There is no record of His spending even one night inside the walls of Jerusalem except on that last night as a willing prisoner of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
The earliest mention of Bethany is in Matt.21.17 and it is so significant: "He went out of the city into Bethany, and He lodged there". "Out of the city … into Bethany"! He left the pomp and splendour, the religion and ritual and ceremonialism of great Jerusalem to lodge in "the house of the poor" on the farther slope of Olivet.
What an example is this for every assembly of His people. There is still a noisy society all around us. There is still much ritual and empty ceremony. May we be content to be a "house of the poor", humbly welcoming Him into our midst and giving Him that place of honour which is His by right.
Bethany, "the house of the poor", did indeed become "the house of sorrow", but out of the sorrow was born the sweetness which filled the house in John chapter 12, and made it a house of singing and joy. But more of this later.
All the recorded tears of the Lord Jesus were shed on the Mount of Olives, but perhaps those tears which are most tenderly remembered by His people are the tears at Bethany, recorded for us in those two poignant words, "Jesus wept" Jn.11.35. Bethany, "the house of the poor," had indeed become "the house of sorrow," and the Saviour shared their sorrow with them. Some sixty years after the event John cannot forget that amazing spectacle of the Son of God in tears, weeping with His Bethany friends.
The Multiple Sorrows
The sorrows of the two sisters had been multiple. Their brother Lazarus was sick, and this was but the beginning of their sorrow. It was compounded by the fact that their Lord and Friend was not with them. Indeed He was quite far away at the time, at Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John Baptist had baptised, Jn.1.28; 10.40, and that was two or three days distant. They sent for Jesus, but, to add to their sadness, He did not immediately come. The days passed and Lazarus died! Then the sorrow of the burial, and still the Saviour had not come to them. It was indeed sorrow upon sorrow during those trying days.
The Mystery of Suffering
There is an interesting and important word in the early verses of John chapter 11. Having stated the love of Jesus for Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus, it then says, "When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was" v.6. What an apparently strange observation is this, He loved them, and "therefore" He delayed going to them for two days! "Then, after that saith He to His disciples, let us go ... "! v.7. If He loved them why should He delay? If He loved them why did He not at once hasten to be with them in the sorrow of sickness and bereavement?
There is a great principle here on this mount of compassion. Of course He loved them, sincerely and intensely. They meant much to Him, this little family circle at Bethany. The fact is that He had greater things in mind for them than what they desired or imagined. They were soon to see the glory of God at Bethany, and His delay was all part of the plan for a demonstration of His power. As has often been said, His delays are not denials. We must trust Him, as He told Martha, v.40, and eventually we shall see the glory.
The Majesty of His Sobbing
It must have been with mixed feelings and emotions that they met Him just outside the town. Mary and Martha and the friends who had come from Jerusalem to sympathise, all converged. Of course they were relieved, and pleased, to see Him. But why had He not come to them earlier? The two sorrowing sisters say exactly the same thing to Him, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died". Of His healing power they had no doubt, but He had something greater than a miracle of healing in mind for Bethany. There was to be such a manifestation of the glory of God that Bethany would never be forgotten, so that men would ever after refer to it as El Azariyeh, the town of Lazarus!
But, before the triumph - the tears! What havoc sin had wrought in His fair creation, and what sorrow among His creatures! The little company of mourners wailed, for such is the significance of their weeping. Compassionately the Man of Sorrows joined in their weeping, but silently. He will indeed weep aloud on another occasion, Lk.19.41, but now it is silent tears that moisten His eyes and wet His tender cheeks. Well He knows that soon, so very soon, He will give their brother back to them, alive, but they do not yet know that, and He knows that their sorrow is deep and real. So He weeps with them and for them.
There is a great principle here on the mount of compassion. How many dear saints have prayed, and prayed earnestly, and prayed long, but the Lord does not appear to have heard, or sent an answer. Many grieving hearts ask, "Why?" Believers sing:
- Unanswered yet?
- The prayer your lips have pleaded
- In agony of heart these many years.
- Does faith begin to fail? Is hope departing?
- Or think you all in vain those falling tears?
(Charles D. Tillman)
Of course He hears, and of course He loves every saint, as He loved Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. But does He want more for us than what we are asking? With our limited knowledge and indeed our human ignorance of the future, is He not planning our way for us better than we can comprehend or anticipate?
So to Martha His word was, "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" Whether this means that He has just now, in the immediate conversation, told her this, or that it is something that He has been trying to teach them during His past days and evenings with them, is not clear. But the principle is not changed: trust, and see the glory; as He said to another, on a different occasion of sorrow, "Be not afraid, only believe" Mk.5.36. He asks for our trust. How difficult it sometimes is, through the gloom and through our tears, to simply trust and leave all to Him! But this is what He desires.
Again then, the Mount of Olives is wet with His tears, but the heart that wept with the sisters of Bethany is unchanged, and still He sees and shares the sorrows of His people everywhere. Eventually it will all be glory. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" Ps.30.5.
- Unanswered yet?
- Nay, do not say "ungranted;"
- Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done;
- The work began when first your prayer was uttered,
- And God will finish what He has begun;
- If you will keep the incense burning there,
- His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.
(Charles D. Tillman)
As has been noticed earlier, the name of Bethphage is mentioned only three times in our Bible and the three references are all related to the same incident, Matt.21.1; Mk.11.1; Lk.19.29. Although it is mentioned several times in the Jewish Talmud, it is never mentioned in the Old Testament. John does not mention the name Bethphage at all, but, with the other three evangelists he does record the majestic scene in which the village figures so prominently, Jn.12.12-15.
Bethphage was a neighbouring village of Bethany. It was situated between Bethany and the summit of the Mount of Olives, on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and is today identified with the village of Abu Dis. The name means "the house of figs," and this may be reminiscent of earlier, more fertile days. The approach to the Mount of Olives from Jericho is through desert country, so that the fig trees and olive groves of the mount would have been a pleasant sight indeed. However, the otherwise quiet village of Bethphage was about to become associated with the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy, and will ever be remembered for this reason, Zech.9.9.
As the little company, Jesus and His disciples, made their way to the Mount of Olives from Jericho, the Saviour sent two of the disciples on to Bethphage. He was about to display both His omniscience and His omnipotence. "Go into the village", He commanded, "and ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: Loose them, and bring them unto Me." In His all-knowledge He knew that the animals were there, He knew just where they were to be found, at the entering in to the village. He knew that no man had yet sat upon that colt: it was unbroken, untrained, and He knew too that someone would query the disciples taking the animals. It was exactly as He had said, for they found the ass with its colt, and when they began to loose them someone did indeed ask, "Why loose ye the colt?" They answered as they had been instructed, "The Lord hath need of him," and there was no objection. It was, says Matthew, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. It was to be an historical day and a momentous event.
Jerusalem was crowded. Pilgrims would be arriving from all parts of the country for the feast of the passover. Soon the news spread that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem and multitudes went out to meet Him. They waved branches of palm trees and spread them in the way. Others spread their garments on the donkey for Him to sit upon, and on the rough pathway in preparation for His approach. The crowds rejoiced. In the words of Ps.118.25,26 they cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" Matt.21.9.
From the humble village of Bethphage the great procession ascended the mount. The ancient prophecy of Zechariah was being fulfilled literally, "Behold thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass" Matt.21.5; Zech.9.9. It was a memorable hour as they slowly wended their way up the mount. Nearer the summit of the mount they turned around its shoulder and began the descent, suddenly arriving at that point on the road where the whole city comes into view, shining golden in the sun. It is a panorama of splendour, but the scene was soon to be shrouded in the tears of the King Himself. The multitudes might rejoice. They might, exultantly, praise God. But the King would weep. He knew what they did not, and, says Luke, "When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it" Lk.19.41.
In that same omniscience which had directed the disciples to the ass at the entering in of the village, He looked forward, and He knew. How sadly He cried through His tears, "If thou hadst known". They had not recognised their day of visitation while He had ministered among them. They did not appreciate the things that belonged to their peace. Even now, as the people rejoiced, their proud leaders were complaining, demanding that He should rebuke them. In less than forty years from that day, forty years from the commencement of His ministry, the favoured city of Jerusalem would be raised to the ground. The Saviour could envisage the siege, like a trench around them. City and sanctuary would be destroyed. Titus and his legions would sit on these very hills, watching the siege of the city and plotting its final demise. Not one stone would be left upon another. He knew. It was the city of the great King, and He was that King, but Jerusalem had no place or time for Him. Bethphage and Bethany might give Him welcome, but not the great city, and now it was doomed.
Yet again Olivet was wet with His tears, but these tears were different to the silent weeping of Jn.11.35 at Bethany. Now He wept aloud. His weeping might be heard now, and this day of rejoicing which began at Bethphage was to be crowned with sorrow as they made their way into the city. He entered the courts of the temple and with royal authority He began to purge it as He had done on an earlier occasion, Jn.2.13-17. Mercenaries had turned the temple court into a market-place. With their dishonest dealings they had made it a den of thieves. He overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and cast out those who were making merchandise out of Divine things. Now it was evening; an eventful day was drawing to a close. What now? He made His way, with His disciples, back over Olivet to Bethany. They would welcome Him there and provide hospitality even though it was a "house of the poor". They appreciated Him and He appreciated their appreciation! It is so today. We must give Him a large place in our gatherings, in our ministry, in our hearts, and in our homes. The world has cast Him out and He looks to His people for a place in their midst.
It is perhaps to be expected, in fact it is almost inevitable, that demonstrations of our Lord’s power should produce worship on the part of His people. It was just so at Bethany, resulting in some of the sweetest "Memories of Olivet". The Pharisees may have been angered by His miracles, and indeed they now took counsel together to put Jesus to death, issuing an arrogant decree that anyone who knew where He was should declare it so that they could arrest Him, Jn.11.53,57, but those who knew Him and loved Him at Bethany had very different thoughts about Him. They prepared hospitality for Him and enjoyed happy and loving fellowship with Him, in complete disregard of the decree of their religious leaders. "There", at Bethany, "they made Him a supper" Jn.12.2.
The Eloquence of Silence
Those must have been blessed hours. Lazarus was alive; sitting at the table with Him Who had raised him from the dead. Martha enjoyed her serving now, not cumbered with care as on an earlier occasion, Lk.10.40 and Mary worshipped.
In all that we know of Lazarus he never speaks! No words of his have been recorded for us. We do appreciate those brethren in the assembly who can rise and suitably lead the saints in expressions of praise and adoration. We need such. But many dear brethren do remain seated in silent sincerity, as indeed do the sisters, and they worship nevertheless. We must appreciate this too, for all contribute to the holy atmosphere of a worshipping company. Lazarus sits at the table with Him Whom he loves, fellowshipping in the quietness of the supper.
The Expression of Service
Martha is busy, hers is the service described by the word "deacon". Strong’s definition of the word says much for Martha and her ministry. He writes, "diakonoeo; to be an attendant, i.e. wait upon (menially or as a host or friend)." Martha’s very name means ‘mistress’. She may have been the mistress in that Bethany household but she was happy to serve. And again, we need such in the assembly, brethren and sisters, who without complaint or murmur are content to serve the Lord and His people in whatever way they can. Much service, done quietly in the background may often remain unrecognised and may seem to go unrewarded. But He knows, and in due time will suitably reward His servants.
The Excellence of Sweetness
Mary of Bethany seems to be always at the Saviour’s feet. In Luke chapter 10 she is at His feet learning. In John chapter 11 she is at His feet weeping. In John chapter 12 she is at His feet worshipping. Perhaps it may be said that in Luke chapter 10 she knows Him as a Prophet. In John chapter 11 she knows Him as a Priest. But in John chapter 12 she is at the feet of the King, and Mary could well have quoted the words of another who said, "While the King is at His table, my spikenard sendeth forth its fragrance" S of S.1.12, J.N.D. She has indeed made Bethany a "house of sweetness".
Mary brings a pound of ointment of spikenard. It was "very costly" John says, for it was the perfume of pure unadulterated nard. Sometimes nard was mixed with lesser expensive balsams, but this was undiluted genuine nard of great price. We are not indebted to Judas Iscariot for very much, but we are for this, that he tells us the value of Mary’s spikenard, Jn.12.5. It could have been sold, he says, for three hundred pence. Three hundred days’ wages! A year’s income! It could have been given to the poor, he remarks. John observes, with hindsight, that it was not that Judas cared for the poor. He was a thief and carried the bag! How sad in the extreme, that that should be counted waste which was lavished upon the Saviour.
Mary anointed the feet of Christ with her spikenard, and wiped His anointed feet with her hair, and to those who murmured Jesus said, "Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this". "Kept" is a strong word (tereo). It means that she watched it, guarded it, retained it and reserved it, for Him, in preparation for His burial. But this raises several questions. First, what would she have done with her spikenard if the little family had never ever come to know the Lord? Would she have poured it upon the dead form of her brother? Perhaps, but they had found a Friend Who was closer than a brother, and after the death of Lazarus Mary was still reserving her treasure for Him. Second, if she had been keeping the spikenard for the Lord in burial, why anoint Him now, at this moment of His life?
There seems to be little doubt that Mary, sitting quietly, meditatively, at the Master’s feet, had grasped things which the men had not. She knew certainly that He was going to die, but did she learn, while she sat there, that He would rise again? He had tried to teach His disciples this but somehow they had failed to understand. Had Mary come to the conclusion that the Saviour would not really need her embalming spikenard? Well, she would not be denied the holy privilege and she would anoint Him now with that which she had intended for His burial. Precious privilege indeed!
There is a lovely principle here. Mary could not have done what she did without the fragrance of it clinging to her own person. It was in her very hair! And is it not so, that we cannot truly worship without something of the sweetness of that holy exercise remaining with us, and upon us, making our lives and testimonies fragrant for Him Whom we love?
- We meditate on matchless worth
- That marked His outward ways,
- And told the inner glories forth -
- Too much for mortal gaze.
- We muse on more than heart can hold,
- On more than tongue can tell,
- And simply say, like those of old,
- "He hath done all things well".
We refer to it as "The Olivet Discourse", and what a discourse it was! It is a magnificent outline of future events given to the disciples in answer to their three-fold question. They had just spoken to the Lord about the beauty of the temple. They remarked upon the goodly stones which adorned it, white marble stones ornamented, as Josephus records, with golden plates which shone dazzlingly in the sun. As good Jews, these men would be justifiably proud of their temple. It had been built by Zerubbabel on the return from Babylon back in the days of Cyrus king of Persia, and later reconstructed by Herod the Great over many years. It was something to be proud of! Our Lord’s answer must have been rather disconcerting. "See ye not all these things?" He said, "Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." For them it must have seemed almost inconceivable that all this splendour was to be demolished. They made their way quietly across to the Mount of Olives where they now sat musing upon the Lord’s words, with a glorious view of the city, and their temple shining in the Jerusalem sun.
Peter, James, John, and Andrew are particularly mentioned, Mk.13.3. Whether these alone were present on the occasion is not clear, but perhaps they were the spokesmen for the little band of disciples. They asked Him particularly about three matters. "Tell us," they said, "when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" His protracted answer is the Olivet discourse, sometimes called, "the little Apocalypse".
Two things ought to be remembered. First, these disciples were literally a Jewish remnant. They were Jews who thought and spoke ‘Jewishly’. This discourse has nothing to do with the church, and to introduce the church into it creates confusion. If it is argued that these men were indeed the nucleus of the new church, that is so, but at that present moment they were a remnant of Israel who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. But why should He address them as a Jewish remnant? The answer is that after the rapture of the church there would be another remnant, just like them, and the instruction that He would give to them now would be most applicable in the difficult days of that future remnant.
Second, there is in the discourse, both a near and a distant fulfilment. The destruction of the temple, as Jesus had predicted, would take place in less than forty years, and how literally it would all be fulfilled. The first of their questions, "When shall these things be?" has to do with that destruction and is answered first. The Lord gives the details of that terrible siege by the Roman legions and the ultimate devastation. The historian records that although the Roman general Titus had given orders that the temple was to be spared, one of his soldiers "snatched a brand from the blazing timber, and, hoisted by one of his fellow-soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window". Some of the soldiers then stripped off the golden plates, but in the fierce conflagration which ensued, much of the gold ran molten between the stones. Later they searched amid the debris for gold, pulling every stone apart from its neighbour. In AD 70 the Saviour’s words were literally fulfilled and not one stone was left upon another. One million Jews perished in the siege and a further one hundred thousand were taken prisoner, many of whom were to be crucified.
However, all this was but a foreshadowing of a more distant fulfilment of the Lord’s predictions. Days of vengeance still lie ahead for the nation. Dark days are in store for Israel. The future time of Jacob’s trouble will be without parallel. Neither before nor after will there be anything to equal that coming great tribulation, Matt.24.21; Jer.30.7; Dan.12.1. "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?" they had then asked. He warned them that false Messiahs would arise, and a suffering remnant, anxiously looking for deliverance, might be easily deceived. They should not be deluded for there would be no mistaking the event when the true Messiah would appear. His coming would lighten the sky from east to west, Matt.24.27. There would be another temple in those days, but when they would see it desecrated by the coming prince, this would be a sign. It would be the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, Dan.9.27; Matt.24.15. It would be either the ensign of Rome emblazoned with their eagle, or the image of the beast himself. The man of sin would sit in their holy place as God, 2Thess.2.3,4. He would demand homage on penalty of death, Rev.13.14,15. The godly should then flee to the mountains. References to Judea, to the temple, the housetop, and the Sabbath day, all confirm that this is Israel in view. It must be emphasised that the church is not in this discourse.
There will, though, be triumph even in the midst of tragedy. The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world by a faithful remnant. This will be the good news that the King is coming to set up His kingdom. Large numbers of Jews and Gentiles will respond to the message and await the King, Revelation chapter 7. He will come! He must come, for the salvation of the beleaguered remnant, for the fulfilment of Messianic psalms and prophecies, for the accomplishment of the purposes of God, and for His own glory. What a day that will be!
- The heavens shall glow with splendour,
- But brighter far than they,
- The saints shall shine in glory,
- As Christ shall them array:
- The beauty of the Saviour
- Shall dazzle every eye,
- In the crowning day that’s coming
- By and by.
(Daniel W. Whittle)
It will be appreciated that other dear brethren have written volumes on the Olivet discourse! These brief notes are penned only to be included as more "Memories of Olivet".
In what we call the synoptic Gospels the story of the sufferings of Christ lies between two evenings. Matthew and Mark refer to these evenings very specifically, Matt.26.20; 27.57; Mk.14.17; 15.42. John however, records the story between two gardens, Jn.18.1; 19.41. It is only John who tells us that Gethsemane was a garden, and it is only John who tells us that the tomb was a garden tomb. The two gardens were almost certainly separated by the Kidron valley. Though it may not now be possible to locate the exact spot, yet Gethsemane was most definitely on the slope of the Mount of Olives just across the valley from the city, and the garden tomb was, we believe, on the northern end of Mount Moriah. For our Lord it was a deep valley indeed. Between the evenings, for Him there lay an eternity of suffering. Between the gardens lay a vale of sorrow.
"Gethsemane" means "the oil press". Several ancient olive trees still flourish on the traditional site and the place was obviously a place where the oil was crushed from the olives. The name "Gethsemane" appears to be derived from the Aramaic gath shemanim, the olive press, but it is interesting to note that both Matthew and Mark refer to it as a "place called Gethsemane, Matt.26.36; Mk.14.32. The word "place" which they use is chorion, which, according to several scholars indicates that it was an enclosed piece of ground, perhaps, indeed, a walled garden. Who owned this garden? Who had given the little company the use of it for frequent moments of quiet meditation and fellowship? "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples" Jn.18.2. Perhaps one day we may know, but meantime the owner of the garden remains anonymous, teaching us the lesson that much is done for the Lord which may not have present publicity but which He will suitably reward in due time.
It seems so fitting that our Lord should choose the garden for His last hours with His disciples before He suffers. But Gethsemane is shrouded in mystery! Eight of the remaining eleven must stay at a distance, and even the specially privileged three must be left while He goes a little farther, Matt.26.39, a stone’s cast, Lk.22.41. Just as there was a distance between the holy ark of the covenant and the people in ancient times, so now, Josh.3.3,4. The holy Saviour goes where none can follow. It would be an agony that none could share and He enters it alone. What pressure He was to endure as He anticipated the awful hours of sin-bearing that lay ahead at Golgotha.
- Gethsemane, the olive press;
- And why so named let angels guess.
He did not shrink from death, but this would be no ordinary death. He would be saved, not from it, but out of it, Heb.5.7 (R.V. margin). He Who had raised others from the dead would Himself go into death, voluntarily and obediently, though death was foreign to His deathless nature, and, as He knew and could anticipate, there would be also the darkness, the loneliness of it all. The face of God would be hidden from Him. He would be forsaken, the sinless One bearing the sins of others. Is it to be wondered at that there should be "strong crying and tears" in these hours in the garden immediately preceding Calvary?
Crying and tears! There are two words for tears in our New Testament. Those were silent tears which the Saviour shed as He wept with the sisters at Bethany. His tears over the city of Jerusalem as He thought of its sad future were different. That was a weeping which could be heard. Both words are here in Heb.5.7. This "crying and tears" need not necessarily be confined to Gethsemane, but it is there that we may view it all very specially. "Crying" (krauge) is a crying aloud, a wailing which can be heard, like that of Lk.19.41. "Tears" (dakruon) is a silent weeping, the quiet trickling of tears down the cheeks as in Jn.11.35. He knew both as He anticipated Golgotha. They were "strong" crying and tears too. The adjective "strong" is a powerful one. It is ischuros, meaning strong, powerful, mighty, boisterous. It describes the might of angels, Rev.5.2, the power of a storm, Matt.14.30, and even the strength of the Lord, Rev.18.8. Such was the character of our Lord’s crying and tears in the garden on that last evening.
- Garden of tears that never
- Mortal could ever weep!
- Not of the common river:
- Drawn from a deeper deep!
- Drawn from a depth unsounded,
- Coursing toward the sod,
- Telling of love unbounded,
- Sourced in the heart of God.
In His anguish of soul the Saviour was exceeding sorrowful, and very heavy, Mk.14.33,34. He fell on His face in prayer but His disciples slept. He came to them with the sad "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" He went away again to pray, and returned a second time to find them sleeping again. The spirit was willing, He knew, but the flesh was weak. For a third time He left them, and now, on His return, He beckoned, "Rise up … he that betrayeth Me is at hand".
What sacred ground is this upon which we tread? Even the privileged Peter, James, and John were not permitted to enter here, and we must come with unshod feet. We are, by inspiration, admitted to hear Him cry, in holy resignation, "Not My will, but Thine, be done!" He would be obedient even unto death in the doing of the will of His Father. He alone then knew all that that entailed. He knew every particular of the long night of mockery that lay ahead, and of the morning of agony that would follow the night. But it was His Father’s will and He would go. He knew too, that Judas was even then approaching for his act of treachery, but that belongs to the next consideration of "Memories of Olivet".
Judas Iscariot is mentioned more than twenty times in our New Testament. Many times he is described as "Judas, which also betrayed Him", and once he is referred to as "the traitor" Lk.6.16. His name is synonymous with treachery, but his is not the first treachery to be associated with the Mount of Olives. There is a foreshadowing in 2Samuel chapters 15 and 16. Ahithophel was David’s counsellor, described by David as "Mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted" Ps.41.9, and, "A man mine equal, my guide, and my acquaintance" Ps.55.12,13. David and Ahithophel had taken sweet counsel together; he had eaten at David’s table, and they had walked in company to the house of God. But now, a usurper was upon David’s throne; Absalom had stolen the hearts of the people and proclaimed himself as king. Ahithophel joined him in his rebellion, treacherously turning his back upon David. David left Jerusalem, betrayed by his close friend, and crossed the brook Kidron to the Mount of Olives where Judas, centuries later, would also betray the King.
Judas would appear to be the only one of the twelve who was not a Galilean. He was Judas Iscariot, Judas Ish Kerioth, the man from Kerioth, a Judean city or town believed to be situated some ten miles south of Hebron, Josh.15.25. For three years and more he companied with the Saviour as one of the twelve, but it is interesting to note that he never, in the records, calls Jesus "Lord". His avarice and greed made him a willing tool of Satan, who entered into him on that fatal evening, Lk.22.3; Jn.13.27. He had earlier decided to betray the Master and actually left the supper at Bethany to covenant with the chief priests and captains about the betrayal. What a contrast was his dastardly act with the sacrificial giving of Mary of Bethany! Of the priests he asked the infamous question, "What will ye give me?" Matt.26.15. Doubtless, in the way of the east, they would barter, but finally agree on the price, "thirty pieces of silver". It will be well-known that this was the price of a slave, Ex.21.32. Was this their estimate of the Son of God? How little value they placed upon Him, priests and Judas alike!
Judas later left another supper to finalise the awful transaction. The little company had been eating the passover together in the upper room when Judas departed, energised by Satan himself, Jn.13.27. Was he arranging to guide them back to the upper room? We cannot tell, but it is possible that they did indeed return there only to find that the Saviour and His disciples had now left. Judas knew where they would be. They crossed to the Mount of Olives, to the garden, Gethsemane.
Jesus was finished praying and the disciples were awake now as the band arrived. They came with lanterns and torches and weapons, Jn.18.3. How ironic this was! With lanterns and torches looking for the Light of the World on the night of a full Passover moon! Coming for the Prince of Peace with weapons! Did they imagine He would hide among the olive groves? Did they think He would resist? Judas should have known. With Judas at their head they approached. There was no need to search for Him. He took the initiative and went forth to meet them with, "Whom seek ye?" "Jesus of Nazareth" they replied, and He answered simply, "I am He". And Judas stood with them. As soon as He said this they went backward and fell to the ground. Did they shrink backward and then fall, involuntarily, on their faces before Him? When they were composed He asked again, "Whom seek ye?" Again they answered "Jesus of Nazareth" and He replied, "I have told you that I am He", but then adding, in precious thoughtfulness for His own, "if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way". Good Shepherd that He was, He would guard His sheep, even in those moments of sadness in the garden.
Judas of course had identified the Saviour for them. He had guided the chief priests to the garden and he now directs them to the Lord Himself. In awful callousness he had betrayed the Saviour with a kiss. Notice our Lord’s last form of address to Judas. He called Him "friend", saying, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" Matt.26.50. "Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me," David had said of Ahithophel, Ps.41.9. Jesus had spoken similarly of Judas, saying "He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me" Jn.13.18. But He did not add, as David had, "in whom I trusted," for He could say, "I know whom I have chosen". How graciously He bore with Judas for those years, knowing the treachery that lay ahead.
Judas Iscariot must be one of the most wretched figures of history. After all the privileges and opportunities he had had, and the rich ministry he had heard from the lips of the Son of God, to become apostate for thirty pieces of silver! Then, at the last, to die a most ignominious suicidal death, Matt.27.3,4; Acts 1.16-19. When Judas left the upper room on that last evening; John records, "And it was night" Jn.13.30. It has been dark for Judas ever since.
The Record of the Ascension
Luke records the ascension of the Lord Jesus twice, once at the end of his Gospel and once at the beginning of his treatise on the Acts of the Apostles, Lk.24.50,51; Acts 1.9-12. The ascension is the end and climax of our Lord’s earthly ministry as it is the basis and foundation of the ministry of His servants. On both occasions Luke reminds us that the Saviour ascended from the Mount of Olives. What a scene the disciples witnessed on that memorable day: a Man going up, through the heavens and into the heavens, into heaven itself to become, as we love to call Him, "the Man in the glory".
So much had happened since that evening in Gethsemane. There had been the long night of mockery in the house of Caiaphas, followed by the hours of continuing mockery and physical pain in the Antonia Fortress where the Romans scourged Him, crowned Him with thorns, shamefully disrobed Him, buffeted Him, sentenced Him, and led Him out to die. At Golgotha they had crucified Him, gambled for His garments, and finally, on His death after six hours of suffering, had pierced His side with a spear. Joseph and Nicodemus had buried Him. Where were His disciples? There had been three days of sad silence, and then, the tomb was empty. He was risen, leaving behind in the tomb the vacated grave clothes as silent witnesses to the miracle of resurrection. For almost six weeks then, He had shown Himself alive, appearing to them at appropriate moments of His own choosing. Now, from the Mount of Olives, He was returning to the heavens from which He had come.
He led them out as far as to Bethany. He would leave earth from the village that had received Him when so many others had refused Him. He would leave from Bethany, where they had given Him a place in their homes and in their hearts. Was He reluctant to leave Bethany? He could have ascended from the temple court in splendour, when thousands of pilgrims might have witnessed the great event. He could have gone up from Nazareth, where He had lived for those thirty early years of His lovely life. He could have chosen Bethlehem, completing a visitation of earth which had begun there, or it might have been Cana where He made the water wine and had first manifested His glory as Messiah. But no! He led them out as far as to Bethany. He would ascend from the Mount of Olives with all its other memories, and from Bethany where loving hearts had made room for Him during the years of His sojourn.
The Results of the Ascension
The ascension was a momentous event and the implications are of tremendous import as we ponder them. What does it mean to the Lord Jesus? What does it mean to us, to the church? What does it mean to the world, or to the prince of this world, Satan himself? The answers to these questions are far reaching indeed.
For the Saviour, His ascension means vindication. Despised and rejected in the world, He has been received in the heavens. By Divine invitation He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Ps.110.1; Heb.1.3. The world knew Him not and His own received Him not. He lived unknown and unrecognised by men in general and by His own nation, but heaven has enthroned Him. He has been vindicated and now sits in glory.
For the church the ascended Christ is now her Head in heaven. She is "the church, which is His body …" Eph.1.23, and with affection and authority He has given gifts for her nourishment and increase, Eph.4.16. His apostles and prophets began the ministry of edifying. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers continue that ministry for the perfecting of the saints, Eph.4.11,12. He Who loved the Church and gave Himself for it, now lives for it and waits expectantly in the heavens until that moment when He will come for her and redeem His purchased possession.
For the individual believer, the ascension of Christ brings great assurance and comfort. It was when He had by Himself purged our sins that He ascended and sat down. This is confirmation indeed that the work of the cross has satisfied all the Divine claims. God’s heart and throne have been satisfied, and in certain recognition of this God has raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand, Eph.1.20. God "raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory," so that, writes Peter, "your faith and hope might be in God" 1Pet.1.21. With our Saviour seated in the heavens we cannot doubt. All is assured.
For the world, the enthronement of Christ brings a three-fold indictment. The world that cast Him out stands indicted on these three counts. First, "of sin, because they believe not on Me" Jn.16.9. He was the faithful and true witness. He was the very exegesis of the God Whom they had never seen. He declared the Father, fully and faithfully, but they did not believe. For the sin of unbelief the world stands accused before God by the ascension of Him Whom they cast out. Second, the world is indicted in the matter of righteousness. Twice in those early days the apostles preached Christ as "the Just One" Acts 7.52; 22.14. Even as the pagan Roman governor insisted, "I find no fault in Him" they were shouting "Crucify Him, Crucify Him". They denied the Holy One and the Just and desired a murderer, Acts 3.14. Now, since He has gone to the Father, they stand accused in the matter of His righteousness, Jn.16.10. Third, the exaltation and enthronement of Christ spell the judgment of the world, and not the judgment of men only but the judgment of their prince too, Jn.16.11. How grateful we are for those faithful records of the ascension from Olivet of Him Who is now "The Man in the glory".
- We did not mark the chosen few,
- When Thou did’st through the clouds ascend,
- First lift to heaven their wondering view,
- Then to the earth all prostrate bend;
- But we believe that mortal eyes
- Beheld that journey to the skies.
(John H. Gurney)
The Mount of Olives has figured much in past history, as we have seen in our meditations. But there is yet an important place for the mount in the history which has still to be written. At the moment that is prophecy, but one day it will indeed be history and there will yet be more "Memories of Olivet".
It will be remembered that on that day of our Lord’s ascension from Olivet to the heavens, two white-robed angels descended to the mount with the now well-known promise, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" Acts 1.11. It was with the promise of His coming ringing in their ears that the disciples left Olivet for Jerusalem with great joy, Lk.24.52. He would return! The rejected Lord would come again!
How we are to interpret the words of the angelic promise may not be clear. Some think that here we have a promise of the rapture of the church; others prefer to see rather our Lord’s return to earth in glory. In favour of the latter view it does seem that just as a faithful remnant saw Him leave, so an equally faithful remnant will watch for His return. Are we to see here that Jewish remnant of a future day? Again, what exactly does "in like manner" really mean? He left Olivet, so if He returns "in like manner" does this indeed promise a return to the same mount? Perhaps that word of Zechariah would confirm this. "His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east" Zech.14.4. Here, beyond all question, is Messiah’s return in power and glory, and He will return to the very mount from which He left those many centuries earlier.
Saints of today, of course, wait for the Lord from heaven, "Jesus, our deliverer from the coming wrath" 1Thess.1.10, J.N.D. This is our immediate hope, but dark days of vengeance will follow the rapture of the church, both for Israel and for the nations. Those days will be preceded by a period of relative calm and peace. The world has long waited for someone to take control. It was Paul Henri Spaak, Secretary General of N.A.T.O. in 1957, who said, "We do not want another committee; we have too many already. What we want is a man, a man of sufficient stature to hold the allegiance of all people and lift us out of the economic morass into which we are sinking." He concluded with the infamous, blasphemous words, "Send us such a man, and be he god or devil we will receive him".
This awful wish will be granted with the appearing of the man of sin, a man energised by Satan himself, Rev.13.2. He will enter the world arena on a white horse, going forth conquering and to conquer, Rev.6.2. He will be the devil’s counterfeit of the true Prince of Peace, and will conquer at first by deceit and flattery. But the peace will be short-lived. Storm clouds will gather in the north, in the south, and from the east, threatening his supremacy in the west. Deceit will be followed by violence to impose his rule and his influence worldwide. World religion, politics, and commerce will come under his control. He will break the promises made to Israel and will invade their land. His henchman and lieutenant, the false prophet, will set up an image in the temple and demand allegiance to the beast on pain of death, Rev.13.15. A faithful remnant, true to Christ, will wait expectantly for the return of the King. They will read the "Olivet discourse" of Matthew chapters 24 and 25, and follow its guidance for them, prepared to flee for refuge.
Four blocks of nations will eventually converge on Jerusalem. The armies of the northern confederacy, the king of the south, the kings from the east, from the sun rising, and the armies of the beast in the west, will face each other. It will be again as it was in AD 70, with Jerusalem surrounded. Perhaps the interest of these nations in the land of Israel is secondary. They are opposing each other for world supremacy and since Jerusalem is in the centre of the land masses of earth then Israel is the obvious place for the final confrontation. Then, when it seems as if the remnant and the nation will be crushed among them, the King will come, whose right it is, Ezek.21.27.
His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives. The mount will cleave asunder and create a valley of escape for the beleaguered remnant. Three other places are then associated with His coming, Megiddo, Edom, and Bozrah, Isa.63.1; Rev.16.16. Edom and Bozrah lie south; Megiddo, from which is Armageddon, is more northerly; Jerusalem and Olivet lie between. In the awful language of Rev.14.20 there will be blood "even to the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs". This is the whole length of the land of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. Messiah will crush His enemies as men crush grapes in a winepress. From Edom through Olivet to Megiddo; from Megiddo through Olivet to Edom and Bozrah, He will triumph.
How precious it is, that when the King comes in power and great glory, He will indeed be Jesus of the Mount of Olives. What memories will fill the hearts of His people on that day? There will be memories of His tears, memories of Bethany and Bethphage, memories of His gracious ministry, memories of Gethsemane, and memories of that moment of ascension when, after thirty-three wondrous years of His lovely life on earth, He left for glory with the promise that He would indeed return. "Memories of Olivet" are precious indeed.
- Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
- Once for guilty sinners slain;
- Thousand, thousand saints attending,
- Swell the triumph of His train;
- Jesus comes, and comes to reign.
(Initially by John Cennick, but revised by Charles Wesley and Martin Madan)