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 Savior 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 Savior’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 Savior 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 (Luke 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 (Luke 22:39). Judas knew the place, for Jesus oftimes resorted thither (John 18:3).
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 (Psalm 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” (Psalm 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” (John 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” (Luke 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 (2 John 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” (John 11.41), but compare also Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21. In this again He has given example to His people, that they should ever be characterized 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” (Romans 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” (John 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,