Gethsemane: The Place of the Olive Press

We are continuing our meditations on the drama that took place the night before Christ was crucified. It was late in the evening when the disciples left the Upper Room where they had eaten the Passover supper together. Tradition tells us that the room was situated to the west of the Old City of Jerusalem. They walked eastwards together to the Mount of Olives on the eastern side of the Temple Mount, crossing the Kidron valley that separated the Mount of Olives from Herod’s temple. Luke tells us that this was Christ’s usual place to stay the night, sleeping under the stars (Luke 22:39). Even though He knew that Judas was about to bring the temple guards there to arrest Him, He still went to the place Judas knew of. The arrest was no surprise to Jesus; He knew how much time He had to pray and had no thought of escape or avoiding what was coming. Matthew and Mark both tell us that the place was called Gethsemane, whereas John calls it an olive grove. Luke just says the place was the Mount of Olives. Passover always coincided with the full moon, which afforded the disciples the opportunity to look in on the scene that took place. The Mount of Olives was so called because of the many olive trees growing there. Gethsemane literally means the place of the olive press. Olive oil was used for lighting, and perhaps was the very source of the huge candelabra’s that lit up the temple and the surrounding area of Jerusalem at night. The oil was extracted by crushing the olives in the press, maybe the very press there in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:39-46).

What was happening there on the Mount of Olives? That’s the big question we want to answer with our study today. In this passage, we see Jesus confronting His own death. In the Garden, we get a picture of what was going through His mind as He talks to His Father in prayer. We see the state of His heart and the thoughts He had in the hours before crucifixion. It seems significant that He who called Himself the Light of the World (John 8:12), would go through a crushing and pressing experience there in Gethsemane, the place of the olive press. The Lord also said that we as Christians are also lights of the world (Matthew 5:14). If we desire to shine brightly for God, we also will be taken by the Spirit into the darkness of a Gethsemane experience, where we will have to make spiritual choices to relinquish our wills to Christ. Many of us have come to Christ by going through a broken and pressing experience that has caused us to wonder about what would happen to us when we die, or wonder about the meaning of our lives. The Lord allows a Gethsemane in our lives. In Gethsemane we are tempted to give in to our flesh to do whatever would please us or give us some relief. Life teaches us that the easy way is not always the right way. We can answer to our fears and our appetites, or we can seek a higher way. During these times, we face crossroads in our lives. We can take the easy road or we can take the “Christ road.” The Christ road will bring us pain at times, but it is the way of fruitfulness. The road to maturity is the way of the Cross. The Lord allows growth spurts to come to our lives by giving us situations designed by God to prompt faith-filled choices. These choices seem counter-intuitive when viewed in the light of self-preservation. In our Gethsemane experiences, we can trust the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the way to go. He will reveal the choices that honor God and keep us true. He will give us the strength and ability to choose the right way, if that is what we desire. Although it may be hard, He offers us His strength and peace when we face our own temptations. He will always leave us to make the choice. Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. To view, click here. Click on study 60, Jesus at Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-53). Keith Thomas