Memories of Olivet: The Garden on the Mount

In what we call the Synoptic Gospels, the story of the sufferings of Christ lies between two evenings. Matthew and Mark refer to these evenings very specifically (Matt 26:20; 27:57; Mark 14:17; 15:42). John, however, records the story between two gardens (John 18:1; 19:41). It is only John who tells us that Gethsemane was a garden, and it is only John who tells us that the tomb was a garden tomb. The two gardens were almost certainly separated by the Kidron Valley. Though it may not now be possible to locate the exact spot, yet Gethsemane was most definitely on the slope of the Mount of Olives just across the valley from the City, and the garden tomb was, we believe, on the northern end of Mount Moriah. For our Lord it was a deep valley indeed. Between the evenings, for Him there lay an eternity of suffering. Between the gardens lay a vale of sorrow.

“Gethsemane” means “the oil press.” Several ancient olive trees still flourish on the traditional site and the place was obviously a place where the oil was crushed from the olives. The name “Gethsemane” appears to be derived from the Aramaic gath shemanim, the olive press, but it is interesting to note that both Matthew and Mark refer to it as a “place” called Gethsemane (Matt 26:36; Mark 14:32). The word “place” which they use is chorion, which, according to several scholars, indicates that it was an enclosed piece of ground, perhaps, indeed, a walled garden. Who owned this garden? Who had given the little company the use of it for frequent moments of quiet meditation and fellowship? “Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples” (John 18:2). Perhaps one day we may know, but meantime the owner of the garden remains anonymous, teaching us the lesson that much is done for the Lord which may not have present publicity but which He will suitably reward in due time.

It seems so fitting that our Lord should choose the garden for His last hours with His disciples before His suffering. But Gethsemane is shrouded in mystery! Eight of the remaining eleven must stay at a distance, and even the specially privileged three must be left while He goes a little farther (Matt 26:39), a stone’s cast (Luke 22:41). Just as there was a distance between the holy Ark of the Covenant and the people in ancient times, so now (Josh 3:3-4). The holy Savior goes where none can follow. It would be an agony that none could share and He enters it alone. What pressure He was to endure as He anticipated the awful hours of sin-bearing that lay ahead at Golgotha!

Gethsemane, the olive press;
And why so named let angels guess.

He did not shrink from death, but this would be no ordinary death. He would be saved, not from it, but out of it (Heb 5:7 RV margin). He Who had raised others from the dead would Himself go into death, voluntarily and obediently, though death was foreign to His deathless nature, and, as He knew and could anticipate, there would be also the darkness, the loneliness of it all. The face of God would be hidden from Him. He would be forsaken, the Sinless One bearing the sins of others. Is it to be wondered at that there should be “strong crying and tears” in these hours in the garden immediately preceding Calvary?

Crying and tears! There are two words for tears in our New Testament. Those were silent tears which the Savior shed as He wept with the sisters at Bethany. His tears over the city of Jerusalem as He thought of its sad future were different. That was a weeping which could be heard. Both words are here in Hebrews 5:7. This “crying and tears” need not necessarily be confined to Gethsemane, but it is there that we may view it all very specially. “Crying” (krauge) is a crying aloud, a wailing which can be heard, like that of Luke 19:41. “Tears” (dakruon) is a silent weeping, the quiet trickling of tears down the cheeks as in John 11:35. He knew both as He anticipated Golgotha. They were “strong” crying and tears too. The adjective “strong” is a powerful one. It is ischuros, meaning strong, powerful, mighty, boisterous. It describes the might of angels (Rev 5:2), the power of a storm (Matt 14:30), and even the strength of the Lord (Rev 18:8). Such was the character of our Lord’s crying and tears in the garden on that last evening.

Garden of tears that never
Mortal could ever weep!
Not of the common river:
Drawn from a deeper deep!
Drawn from a depth unsounded,
Coursing toward the sod,
Telling of love unbounded,
Sourced in the heart of God.

In His anguish of soul the Savior was exceeding sorrowful, and very heavy (Mark 14:33-34). He fell on His face in prayer but His disciples slept. He came to them with the sad, “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?” He went away again to pray, and returned a second time to find them sleeping again. The spirit was willing, He knew, but the flesh was weak. For a third time He left them, and now, on His return, He beckoned, “Rise up … he that betrayeth Me is at hand.”

What sacred ground is this upon which we tread. Even the privileged Peter, James, and John were not permitted to enter here, and we must come with unshod feet. We are, by inspiration, admitted to hear Him cry, in holy resignation, “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” He would be obedient even unto death in the doing of the will of His Father. He alone then knew all that that entailed. He knew every particular of the long night of mockery that lay ahead, and of the morning of agony that would follow the night. But it was His Father’s will and He would go. He knew, too, that Judas was even then approaching for his act of treachery, but that belongs to future “Memories of Olivet.”