Mountains of God – The Mount of Olives

Mountains of God – The Mount of Olives

Mountains of God – The Mount of Olives. 

“Your saving grace and your righteousness are like the mountains of God.” (Psalm 36:6).

Yes, God lives in heaven. But all through Scripture He appears to have a second home here on the earth, in the mountains. God’s personal involvement on mountains deepen the meaning and significance of what mountains have come to symbolize through the ages… stability; safety; permanence; majesty; beauty; spiritual inspiration. One of God’s names in Scripture is El-Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), and an ancient meaning of that name is “God of the Mountain.” It’s easy to see why. God’s attributes can clearly be seen in mountains, including the fixed foundation of His faithful love. “For even if the mountains move and the hills disappear, even then my mercy for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken, says Yahweh Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah is saying that we all know how next to impossible it would be for a mountain to totter and fall. But it’s more likely for mountains to move away than for God to withdraw His unshakeable love for you.

God is like the mountains: He doesn’t change, He stays the same, He is consistently steadfast and stable. Mountains are referenced over 500 times in Scripture. Not only are mountains the go-to place for momentous events all through the Bible, but God Himself made it clear from the beginning that mountains are His first choice as a site to reveal Himself and His favorite place to meet with people. “I lift my eyes to the mountains; where is my help to come from? My help comes from Yahweh Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Down through history people have assumed that since God is in His heavens, the closer one can get to God on high, the more spiritual enlightenment one can receive. There have been pagan shrines and mountaintop gurus as long as we can remember. People have always climbed to the “high places” for heavenly insight and personal contact with the gods, or with God. Irish Christians consider mountains to be one of those sacred “thin places” where the layer between heaven and earth is so thin that a believer can easily step from one to the other. As one person excitedly told Barbara Brown Taylor, ‘You’re sinners going up, but you’ll be saints going down!” People still refer to a special time with God as a “mountaintop experience.” As we study the Mountains of God in Scripture, we come to appreciate how central mountains are in the Word, how important they are to God himself. Mountains will be seen as a sacred part of nature that consistently has seen powerful events and profound conversations between us mere mortals and the Almighty God. Let us rejoice and applaud the God who is the Rock, who has a glorious history of preferring His own mountaintop experiences with us.

“And Jesus came out, and went, as was His habit, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him there… Jesus had often retired to the Mount of Olives with His disciples.” (Luke 22:39; John 18:2).

On the eastern border of Jerusalem, about two miles away from the city, is a small range of mountains known for all the olive groves flanking the hillsides of the mountains. This is the sacred place known as the Mount of Olives, or Olivet. It is a Sabbath’s walk from Jerusalem, and it has a rich biblical history. Because of its proximity to Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples would often go there for fellowship, solitude, prayer, and a place to discuss important matters in peace. There was a special place within the confines of the Mount of Olives that ended up as the site of many momentous events in the life of Jesus, known historically as the Garden of Gethsemane.

One can still visit the Mount of Olives and marvel over the apparent age of the trees. Not long ago some scientists decided to conduct a carbon-dating process on three of the olive trees there. They were found to be over 1,000 years old. Evidently olive trees are especially amenable to growing new shoots from old cut-down stumps. When an olive tree is cut down, the roots beneath the ground will almost certainly grow new shoots out of these roots. The roots of one old stump can produce as many as five new shoots, resulting in five new trees out of that one old stump. Those three olive trees that were examined were found to originate from the same old parent stump. New sprouts reviving the life an old stump and multiplying it three times over. They have found one tree there that is reportedly over 2,000 years old. Was it there when Jesus was walking around the groves and praying to Abba, Father?

The sacred history of the Mount of Olives is brought to light with a simple survey of what has happened there in Scripture:

(1.) A thousand years before Christ, David escaped to the Mount of Olives while fleeing from the insurrection led by his son Absolom. It is reported in 2 Samuel 15 that the weeping David entered the Mount of Olives barefooted, broken, distraught by the betrayal of his son;

(2.) Solomon proved fickle with his promises to be faithful to God, and he wickedly erected a pagan worship site on the Mount of Olives to please one of his foreign wives. This of course caused irrevocable damage to his relationship with the Lord (1 Kings 11:6-9);

(3.) According to rabbinic tradition based on a prophecy found in Ezekiel 11:23, the Mount of Olives was the holy site from which the coming Messiah would make Himself known to Israel;

(4.) The Mount of Olives is the place the Messiah will return one day to usher in the messianic era and the restoration of Israel, according to the prophecy of Zechariah 14:4;

(5.) Fulfilling the prophecy and rabbinic expectations, Jesus did indeed begin His journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday from the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 21:1). He began His journey into the city from the crest of one of the three peaks of the Mount, approximately a mile and a half from Jerusalem. The crest of the hill where He began reached about 100 feet above Jerusalem. With the open road approaching the city from the hilltop, city dwellers could have literally seen Jesus riding on a donkey and coming to them from miles away. That’s why there were so many people waiting for Him as He entered the city;

(6.) The fifth and final recorded discourse of Jesus occurred on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3). It has historically been called the Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24 and 25 and Mark 13. The Lord wanted to share with the disciples the signs of His return and the signs of the End of the Age. This teaching is also referred to as “the little Apocalypse.”  Immediately following the Olivet Discourse, the chief priests and elders consulted on how they could successfully arrest Jesus and put Him to death. (Matt. 26:3-4).

(7.) At the foot of the Mount of Olives is a private space that was ideal for solitude and prayer… the Garden of Gethsemane. It is in this garden where Jesus underwent sheer agony, where He showed Himself most human. (Matt. 26). He continued pleading with His Father to relieve Him from His apparent destiny of torture and shame and pain. Three times He requested to be relieved of the cup of suffering. Each of those times, Jesus repeated, “Not my will, Abba Father, but your will be done.” During these agonizing prayers the sweat of anxiety dripped from his head like drops of blood, and a comforting angel came to minister to Him. Once the prayers were finished, a mob arrived to take Him into custody. Judas His betrayer was in the lead and took the mob right to Jesus after a friendly kiss on the cheek. Scholars estimate that anywhere from 200-600 men were in this group approaching Jesus, all of them with weapons. Mostly they comprised of Roman soldiers, with a few of the Temple priests and Temple police. Jesus knew who they were looking for, and so when they got close to him Jesus blurted out “I AM He!”  There was so much spiritual power and authority in His declaration, and with the wind of the Holy Spirit at His back, all the men, every single one, fell backward, flat on the ground. Jesus’ claim to be divine, the Great I AM, further scandalized the religious authorities of course, but they remained convinced of Jesus’ guilt even after His divine demonstration of strength. The disciples were alarmed at this spectacle, and Peter responded by drawing his dagger and cutting off the ear of one of the priest’s servants at the scene. Jesus wanted none of that violence, and after telling Peter to put away the dagger, He healed the ear of the servant. Jesus was then arrested, bound, and led away by the soldiers. He was dragged from Gethsemane to the home of the retired chief priest, Annas. From there, Jesus would have to endure six hostile hearings, leading to the final decision, execution by crucifixion.

(8.) There was one more highly significant event on the Mount of Olives… The Ascension! Acts 1:9-12 describes it well. “And when He had said this to the disciples, even as they were looking right at Jesus, He was lifted into the sky, and a cloud received Him and carried Him away, out of their sight… Then the disciples went back to Jerusalem from the hill called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, only a Sabbath’s journey from the city…” 

The biblical site of the Mount of Olives carries a lot of spiritual weight. We are filled with awe as we look at all the events that occurred there. This won’t be the last we see of the Mount of Olives, though. We will witness Jesus in His triumphant return as the world’s Messiah, when He will plant both feet on the Mount of Olives, ushering in the Kingdom of God.