Historic Jesus
Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives is a small chain of mountainous hills that rises into four summits and lies directly east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. The highest of the four peaks, called Mount Galilee, rises just over 2,700 feet; it looks directly down on the temple area and the pool of Siloam. During the first century, the summit of Mount Galilee was considered a Sabbath day's journey from Jerusalem. The other three peaks are the Mount of Ascension, generally regarded as the mount from which Jesus ascended; the Mount of Prophets, given that name because tombs of the prophets are located on its slope; and the Mount of Offense, which was given that name because King Solomon supposedly built pagan altars there for his foreign wives.

In Jesus' day, the entire range was green with olive trees. During the siege of Jerusalem by Titus in A. D. 70, the Romans denuded the hills for firewood, for siegeworks, and for use in the crucifixion of thousands of Jews. Near the present-day Church of All Nations, there is an ancient grove of olive trees on a site close to where the Garden of Gethsemane must have been. As old as they are, these trees postdate the first century.

In rabbinic literature, the Mount of Olives was sometimes known as the "Mount of Three Lights." People observed that the mountain often glowed at night with light reflected from the temple altar fires, from reflected light as the sun dramatically rose opposite the mount, and from the light that shone from the temple lamps, which used oil pressed from olives grown on the mount.

Jesus often visited the Mount of Olives for meditation, prayer, and teaching. His long discourse on the last days (Matt. 13) was given to his disciples on the Mount of Olives during his last week. Bethany, where he often stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, lay behind the mount from Jerusalem. It was while he descended the mount to cross the Kidron Valley on his way to Jerusalem that the crowds waved palm branches and shouted "Hosanna!" Standing on the slope of the Mount of Olives, he looked across the valley to the city and the temple and predicted the coming destruction of Jerusalem. After the Passover meal, he and his disciples went to a private grove of olive trees on the side of the mount for prayer; there he was arrested.