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In the Footsteps of the Messiah: The Mount of Olives

A view of the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives

A view of the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives

“Yeshua went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His talmidim (disciples) followed Him.”  (Luke 22:39)

If Yeshua (Jesus) had favorite places to visit during His earthly lifetime, one of His most favored would have been the Mount of Olives (Har HaZeitim), which has been an important part of Jewish life for over 3,000 years.

This special mount is also called the Mount of Anointing (Har HaMishcha) because the olive oil made from the many olive trees that lined its slopes was used to anoint kings in Biblical times.

Yeshua, the King of Kings, who has been anointed by God Himself, often visited the Mount of Olives for prayer, solitude, and fellowship.

On His way to visit His friend Lazarus, He traveled over it.

Pilgrims in the Grotto at Gethsemane

Pilgrims in the Grotto at Gethsemane

It was from atop this mountain that He revealed to His talmidim (disciples) the events of the Last Days (Matthew 24:151) in what has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse or Olivet Prophecy.

Yeshua rode over and down the Mount of Olives on a donkey during His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44).

Ultimately, it was here that He was betrayed and God’s plan for the resolving the problem of sin was set in motion after He prayed on the Mount of Olives with His talmidim just before His arrest (Luke 22:39-46).

And from this mountain He ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:1-12).  Immediately afterward, the angels told the talmidim that Yeshua would also return here:

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Yeshua, who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”  (Acts 1:11) 

The Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives

The Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives

The Shekinah Glory of God on the Mount of Olives

Rabbi Jonathan, who witnessed the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in AD 66–70, wrote that the Shekinah glory of God left the Temple in AD 66 and moved to the Mount of Olives.

He said, the Lord’s presence “abode on the Mount of Olives hoping that Israel would repent, but they did not; while a Bet Kol [a supernatural voice] issued forth announcing, Return, O backsliding children [Jeremiah 3:14].  Return unto Me, and I will return unto you [Malachi 3:7], when they did not repent, it said, I will return to My place [Hosea 5:15]” (Midrash Rabbah, Lamentations 2:11).

According to Jewish tradition, the Presence of God atop the Mount of Olives left in AD 70 when His children would not repent and return to Him.  In that year, the Romans razed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.  Not one stone was left atop another, just as Yeshua prophesied.

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts

The prophet Ezekiel who was taken into the Babylonian exile around 597 BC also foresaw that God’s glory would leave the city and rest on the Mount of Olives.

“The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.”  (Ezekiel 11:23)

Seventy years after Ezekiel prophesied this, the Lord returned His people to Israel.  There, Zechariah announced that the Lord would come to the Mount of Olives:

“On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives….”  (Zechariah 14:4)

While some Jews believe God Himself will stand on the Mount of Olives on Judgment Day, others interpret this verse more symbolically, believing God’s feet represent obedience to Him and that He is standing on the intellect of the people, which is represented by the Mount of Olives.  (The Gutnick Edition Chumash, Book of Haftaros: According to Chabad …, p158, note 8)

Jewish Believers in the Messiah, however, realize that the Messiah, the Son of David, who is the King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords in physical form will return to the Mount of Olives in the same way as He ascended from it.

“Yeshua has been taken from you into Heaven, but someday He will return from Heaven in the same way you saw Him go!”  (Acts 1:11)

Tomb Zechariah Mount of Olives cemetery monolith  Benei Hezir Kidron Valley

The Tomb of Zechariah, which is located at the base of the Mount of Olives cemetery, is an ancient stone monolith carved out of the rock.  It is adjacent to the Tomb of Benei Hezir, the oldest of four monumental rock-cut tombs in the Kidron Valley.  (Photo: Go Israel)

Living, Working and Resting on the Mount

In Judaism, the Mount of Olives is associated with the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead.  Because it is believed that the resurrection of the dead will begin here, the oldest and holiest cemetery in the Jewish world is located here.

The chalk and flint of the Mount of Olives has been chiseled and crafted into a variety of burial caves and chambers.

Those buried here have, in effect, front-row seats.

The most ancient are on the southern slopes, dating back 3,000 years to the time of the first Temple.  More caves and burial monuments line the mountain spreading northward, with the tombs of Zechariah and Absalom at the foot of the Mount.

During the Middle Ages, people were buried on the eastern slope of the Temple Mount.  As space filled, the burial plots moved across the Kidron Valley, and eventually up the slope of the Mount of Olives.

Today, there are over 150,000 graves here.  Each are estimated to cost between $50,000–$60,000, with locations near famous rabbis and Jewish leaders demanding higher rates.

Mount of Olives Cemetery Orthodox Jews

Orthodox Jews on the Mount of Olives visit the cemetery.  (Photo: Go Israel)

Sadly, under Jordanian rule from 1949–1967, about 38,000 graves were desecrated as Jordan’s King Hussein approved the building of the Intercontinental Hotel at the summit of the Mount.  Four roads, parking lots, and a filling station were built over and through cemeteries.

Tombstones were used as paving stones and within Jordanian army camps.

In recent years, boys from an Arab school on the Mount have made a game of throwing rocks at Jewish cemetery visitors and at the taxis coming into the cemeteries.  Pick-pocketing and other petty crimes are also a problem, and consequently in 2012 a Mount of Olives police station opened.  It can dispatch up to 20 officers, as needed.

To further protect the Mount and tourists, Israel is investing 100 million shekels ($27 million) in a five-year project to develop and maintain the roads, restore thousands of graves destroyed during the Jordanian rule, and build a tourist information center.  (Go Israel)

One can live on the Mount as well.  Apartments are currently available for about $400,000 for 1,075 square feet (100 square meters) and a balcony.  (Israel Land Fund) 

Mount of Olives Jerusalem at-Tur

The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge in Jerusalem with three peaks running from north to south.  The highest, at-Tur, rises to 818 meters.  It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes.  Because the Mount of Olives is associated with Jewish and Christian traditions, it has a variety of churches and other important sites.  (Photo: Go Israel)

Seeking the Messiah and His Salvation from the Mountain Top

Since the first century AD, Jews and Believers in Yeshua have come to the Mount of Olives to seek the Lord and His coming.

Today, Christians find it is easy to spend an entire day here, sitting atop the summit overlooking the magnificent Old City and Temple Mount, walking the Palm Sunday road, and entering one of many Russian Orthodox, Catholic and other churches on the Mount that commemorate the ascension of Yeshua, His agony in the Garden, and His weeping for the Jewish People’s salvation.

Stopping to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane before crossing the Kidron Valley into the Old City is a spiritual highlight.  Though the olive trees here have been dated at 900-years-old, they all have the DNA of one parent tree, perhaps one that Yeshua Himself knelt under to commune with our Father in Heaven.

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane (Photo: Go Israel)

Long ago, because the mountain towers 80 meters (260 feet) above the Temple Mount, Jewish pilgrims once had an amazing panoramic view of the First and Second Jewish Temples, and many religious ceremonies were held here, including the New Moon ceremony and the rite of the Red Heifer.

After the destruction of the Temple, on the fast day of Tisha B’Av, pilgrims began lamenting the Temple’s destruction from atop the Mount of Olives because of the beautiful view of the Temple Mount.

In the 15th century, an Italian Jewish pilgrim, Rabbi Meshulam de Volterra wrote, “And all the community of Jews, every year, goes up to Mount Zion on the day of Tisha B’Av to fast and mourn, and from there they move down along Yoshafat Valley (another name for the Kidron Valley) and up to the Mount of Olives.  From there they see the whole Temple (the Temple Mount) and they weep and lament the destruction of this House.”

Tourists on the Mount of Olives

Tourists on the Mount of Olives (Go Israel)

In the 13th century, pilgrims began a new tradition.  During each of the seven days of the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), they ascended the top of the Mount and circled the summit in a parade of song and celebration—one circle each day for the first six days of the Feast.  This symbolized the holiday’s Temple service in which the priests circled the altar once a day.

On the last day of the Feast, which is called Hoshana Rabbah (Hosanna in the Highest or the Great Save Us Now), the procession circled the summit seven times, just as the priests used to circle the Temple altar seven times.  On this day, Jews around the world and the pilgrims atop the Mount of Olives cry out for salvation:

“Save us, we pray, O LORD!  O LORD, we pray, let us thrive!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!  We bless you from the house of the LORD.”  (Psalm 118:25–26)

In Jewish tradition, Hoshana Rabbah is the final day for receiving forgiveness of sins; and indeed, when the LORD steps atop the Mount of Olives, He will not only bring salvation to those who believe in Him, He will then make His judgment decrees on all people final.

Yeshua HaMashiach will fulfill all these expectations and prayers when He returns to the Mount of Olives with the trumpet call of God:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Yeshua will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; see Acts 1:10–11)

Hoshana Rabbah

On Hoshana Rabbah, Jewish men encircle the bimah (table where the Torah is read) with palm, willow, myrtle and citron in hand in memory of the circles once made around the altar on the Temple Mount.

Yeshua’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

The Mount of Olives has already played a role in the salvation of the Jewish People, indeed of all mankind.

In the final year of His first coming, just before Pesach (Passover), Yeshua left Bethpage (the house of unripe figs) near Bethany (the house of dates), which are located on the east side of the Mount of Olives.

He went over the Mount, humbly descending toward Jerusalem on a donkey, just as Zechariah prophesied about 500 years earlier:

“Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  (Zechariah 9:9)

Overlooking the city that Lamentations calls “the joy of all the world” and a people whom God calls “the apple of His eye,” He wept for God’s people, saying, “If you only knew today what is needed for shalom [peace]!  But for now it is hidden from your sight.”  (Luke 19:42)

He understood that many of God’s cherished children would fail to recognize that He is the Messiah promised in Scripture.

Flevit Super Illam (He Wept Over It), by Enrique Simonet

Flevit Super Illam (He Wept Over It), by Enrique Simonet

Yeshua also foresaw the destruction that would happen as a result of their rejection and prophesied:  “For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you, encircle you, hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within your walls, leaving not one stone standing on another—and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!”  (Luke 19:43–44)

So many of God’s Chosen blindly missed the opportunity for true inner peace that Yeshua offers, but in these Last Days as the time of the Gentiles ends, we see that blindness lifting, just as Yeshua prophesied would happen:

“For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  (Matthew 23:39)

In Israel, there are now about 20,000 Jewish Believers worshiping Yeshua as their Messiah in over 100 Messianic congregations.  But the vast majority of Israel’s six million Jewish people still do not know Yeshua, and far too many have even rejected God.

We are working tirelessly to provide the Jewish People, whom God also calls “My Chosen Ones” with the Messianic Prophecy Bible so they can easily discover how Yeshua is the Messiah that they pray for daily. 

Messianic Believers

Messianic Believers praise and worship in Israel (YouTube capture)

We must not think, however, that every Jewish person rejected Yeshua.  There have always been Jewish Believers in Yeshua and many Jewish people followed Him in the days of His First Coming.

Crowds laid their cloaks on the road in front of Yeshua as well as leafy branches they had cut from the trees (thought to be Palm branches) shouting,

“Hosanna!  [Save us now!] Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hoshana Rabbah!  (Hosanna in the highest!)”  (Mark 11:9-10)

They understood that His riding into Jerusalem was in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem, by James Tissot

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem, by James Tissot

The Bridge to Sacrificial Cleansing

Although Yeshua traveled down the Mount of Olives through the Kidron Valley on a donkey, in His day, there was a bridge that crossed that valley, connecting the Temple Mount to the Mount Olives.

The holiest walk in Jerusalem at that time was this bridge that began at the east entrance to the Temple at the East Gate and ended directly across the Temple on this Mount, which was so important to Yeshua.

In a time when ritual purity was paramount, the bridge allowed the high priest to cross over the Kidron Valley, which was riddled with graves that would render those who walked there unclean.

The bridge was created to maintain purity so that on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the scapegoat that carried the sins of Israel could be led onto the Mount of Olives and into the Judean desert without the priest being rendered unclean by passing through a graveyard. 

Israeli goats

Israeli goats

The bridge was also used by priests and Temple servants as they led a Red Heifer to its final destination on the Mount of Olives.

God ordained that the ashes of that Red Heifer dissolved in Living Water would purify unclean people, the vessels of the Temple, and the Temple itself.  Only nine such heifers have been sacrificed in Jewish history, the last one occurring when Yeshua was a teen, around AD 15.

Just before the return of Yeshua to the Mount of Olives, the tenth Red Heifer sacrifice will likely be hosted here.

While Yeshua became the final sacrifice for all sin, according to the Torah, a red heifer is required to purify the priests, vessels, and the Third Temple before it can be used.

Jewish tradition says the Third Temple, whose blueprints are in the funding stages, will usher in the Messianic Era.

A model in Jerusalem of the Second Temple

A model in Jerusalem of the Second Temple

Communing With God on the Mount of Olives

“Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your most holy sanctuary.”  (Psalm 28:2)

During His ministry, Yeshua often came to the Mount of Olives and to the Garden of Gethsemane (Oil Press in Hebrew) where He would talk with God alone.

Indeed, at His final Passover Seder, after sharing the Passover matzah (unleavened bread) and wine, which became the first communion service with His talmidim (disciples), Yeshua walked across the Kidron Valley and into the garden, a distance the Bible describes as a Sabbath day’s journey, roughly 2,000 cubits (3,000 feet).

Today, the official garden site is located at the base of the Mount, across from the Dung Gate of the Old City, with easy walking access from the main street that leads into the Mount.

King Solomon's prayer-Temple Mount-Sigd-annual holyday-Ethiopian Jews-OCT 31

In accordance with King Solomon’s prayer, an Ethiopian Jewish woman prays toward the Temple Mount where the First and Second Temples once stood.

Just as Daniel, Jonah and many others did and still do when they pray, Yeshua would have prayed facing the Temple, which is the seat of God’s Kingdom on Earth, the very Kingdom that He came to prepare in order to save the people.

Knowing that He would soon become the final Passover Lamb, He earnestly prayed while in the Garden for another way to offer salvation to the world—for the agonizing death that lay before Him to be replaced with something else.

Nothing forced Him to stay and face the mockery of trial, the humiliation of being spat upon, a vicious beating, and excruciating death on a Roman execution stake.

Knowing what lay ahead, He could have gone up the Mount and around the east ridge to Bethany where His friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived.  Or He could have used the His power to end the plot against Him.

Yet, Yeshua revealed His love for us by following the plan of salvation ordained for Him alone since the time of creation in another garden called Eden.  There, in Eden, God Himself prophesied to Satan that one of Eve’s seed would crush his head, destroying the death sentence over man forever (Genesis 3:15).

That seed is Yeshua, a Hebrew name that means salvation.

The Kiss of Judas and Peter Cutting Off the Ear of Malchus, by Jose Joaquim da Rocha

The Kiss of Judas and Peter Cutting Off the Ear of Malchus, by Jose Joaquim da Rocha

As He remained in the garden praying, Judas Iscariot led the priests and Pharisees to Him and betrayed Him with a kiss.  Peter, zealous to save Yeshua, drew his sword and swung.

With a confirmed mission as the answer to His prayers, however, Yeshua picked up the ear of the servant that Peter had cut off and placed it back on his head, healing him.

He said to Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”  (John 18:11)

Even after experiencing firsthand the miraculous healing power of Yeshua, the soldiers and religious leaders led Him back to town as a prisoner. 

The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple, by James Tissot

The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple, by James Tissot

Yeshua Gives Us Signs of His Return

Jewish People pray every day for the coming of the Messiah.  The Tanakh makes it clear that He will come to the Mount of Olives.

Many believe that building the Third Temple will help to usher that coming.

The Bible does indeed indicate some validity to this hope.  The Third Temple is one prerequisite of His return (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).

However, on the Mount of Olives, Yeshua prophesied about some other signs of His return (Matthew 24:1–25:46; Mark 13:1–37; Luke 21:5–36):

These signs include the following:

  • Famines and Earthquakes in various places,
  • Wars and rumors of wars,
  • False Messiahs doing signs and wonders that impress even Believers,
  • People being hated and killed, turned in by parents and children, for Believing in Yeshua,
  • The “Abomination of Desolation” (the anti-Messiah) standing in the Temple (See also Daniel 9:27),
  • A time of great tribulation and trouble for the Jewish People, and
  • Celestial signs.
Blood moon

Yeshua predicted celestial signs would occur before His return.  The Earth is currently in the midst of a cycle of four Blood Moons that coincide with Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles.  This “coincidence” is rare and has in the past signaled major events for the Jewish People and Israel.  This year, after the first of the four blood moons appeared, war broke out between Gaza and Israel, among other significant events.  The next one is but a few weeks away.  Some Christians believe this Blood Moon cycle is connected to the soon return of the Messiah, whose feet will first touch the Mount of Olives.

The Anointed One Comes Again to the Mount of Anointing

Jews and Christians alike pray for the fulfillment of prophecies by Zechariah which tell us that the Lord will come to the Mount of Olives to usher in His Messianic Kingdom, where there will be no more rocket attacks, illness, or tears.

But before He comes, we can expect a devastating war from the surrounding nations, which is being plotted even as this is being written.

“A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls.  I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped.  Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.”  (Zechariah 14:1–2)

The great army of Israel which in 1967 recaptured Jerusalem in six days from Jordan (who took it by force in 1949) will have God’s supernatural help to defeat the enemy in this coming battle:

“Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights on a day of battle.”  (Zechariah 14:3)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

The scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in which the Nazis are judged for opening the Ark.

His coming will be glorious and in full view of the entire world, which is very easily accomplished because of today’s media.  When He comes, every news station in the world will likely witness and broadcast His return:

“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.”   (Zechariah 14:4)

The punishment to those who come against Jerusalem will be shocking, possibly reminiscent of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Nazi scavengers dared to open the Ark of the Covenant.

“Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.”  (Zechariah 14:12) 

Sukkot Israel

Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) commemorates when the Jewish People lived in booths, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  These simple dwellings could easily be transported when they were led to do so by the Presence of God, which was manifested in the cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night.

The fall moadim, appointed times to meet with God, are almost upon us.

These holidays are appointed times of repentance, forgiveness, and judgment, and prophetically connected to the return of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

In particular, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), which represents the Presence of God, is associated with His return.

When His feet touch the Mount of Olives, He is coming back for a redeemed community comprising Jew and Gentile.

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