On the Mount of Olives

In the closing verse of the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel and the first verse of the eighth chapter there is an omission that perhaps some have never noticed. A very significant word has been dropped out in our English translation. As we have it here, we read in John 7:53, “And every man went unto his own house.” Then when we turn to chapter 8, verse 1, we read, “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.” We appear to have two sentences here, but the fact of the matter is that this is just one sentence in the original, and the connective that makes it one is the little word, “but.” “Every man went unto his own house, but Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.” Do you get the pathos of that? They had houses to which they might go. His opponents, who had been disputing with Him about His wonderful mission, when the evening shadows fell went off to their own homes. Every man went to his own house, but Jesus had no house. He who had left the Father’s house to come into this dark world of sin, was homeless that night, and so He went out to seek shelter beneath the kindly boughs of the trees on the Mount of Olives. For the Mount of Olives of that day was very different to the Mount of Olives of today.

I have been asked by a good many people if I was disappointed in Palestine. No; I was not disappointed. I was wonderfully stirred in my inmost soul by what I saw there. Yet there were some things that were very different to the way they have often been pictured. For instance, if I had gone to Jerusalem expecting to see the Mount of Olives as the painters have imagined it, and as the artists down through the centuries have attempted to portray it, I would have been very much disappointed. Of course, I had seen photographs of it and so was prepared for what I found. In the Saviour’s day the Mount of Olives was literally covered with olive orchards, and with other trees, principally cypresses, so that it accorded a marvelous place of rest and recreation just outside the busy city of Jerusalem. But during the siege of Jerusalem under Titus the Roman, he cut down every tree on the Mount of Olives, and there have never been many trees on that mountain since. He even cut down all the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, though from those old roots have sprung up again and again other olive trees, so that possibly the very trees that are growing in the Garden today, some of them known to be 800 years old, have actually sprung from the older trees that were there when Jesus resorted, as He often did, to that mountain for rest and prayer. The Mount of Olives, however, today is almost denuded of trees, and to that extent might be a disappointment to those who would expect to find it beautifully wooded and bearing olive orchards upon its crest.

It occupies a rather prominent place in Scripture. The first mention of it by name is in the 15th chapter of 2 Samuel, where we read of David, when his own son proved a traitor and turned against his father, that David fled from Absalom and his army, and he passed over the brook Kedron and up over the side of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went up. David, the rejected king! He was a type in that way of great David’s greater Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is a striking fact that our Lord too, on the night of His betrayal, passed over the brook Kedron and wended His way up the side of the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane’s garden, there to speak with His Father before going out to die for our sins.

He had often frequented that spot during His earthly ministry. Jesus loved the countryside. He loved the out-of-doors. He loved the woods, and into the woods of Olivet He often went. Again and again you will find Him going out there to spend the night in prayer. When even His own disciples were sleeping soundly and seeking the rest their bodies needed, He was over there on the ground beneath the shade of the trees, lifting His heart to the Father on behalf of the world that did not understand and did not care. And when at last He had offered the one supreme Sacrifice for sin, settled the sin question, and then was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, it was to Mount Olivet that He led His disciples, and as they went over the crest of that hill to Bethany, He lifted up His hands in blessing, commissioning them to go out into the world preaching the gospel, and assuring them that all who put their trust in Him would be saved. Then He was taken up to be with the Father, who said to Him, “Sit Thou on My right hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” But as we turn to the prophetic Word we find Him coming back again, and the striking thing is that when He comes again He is coming to the very place that He left. Zechariah tells us that “His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives,” and there shall be a great earthquake and the Mount of Olives shall be literally rent asunder, and half shall remove toward the north and half toward the south, and then a river will flow out from the temple in Jerusalem down that valley to the Dead Sea, and the waters of the sea in that day shall be healed.

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives when He uttered His great prophecy concerning His second coming. He was on the Mount of Olives when He wept and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” And He told them, “Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation,” “thy house is left unto thee desolate.” And so He gave Israel up that day until the time when they shall say, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” His disciples were standing on the Mount of Olives when they spoke of the great temple that Herod had erected in the city. The Mount of Olives is on the east of Jerusalem just across the brook Kedron. Jerusalem is built upon four hills, and is about 2500 feet above sea level, whilst the Mount of Olives is about 260 feet higher, and so standing upon the mount the whole city is spread out before one as a marvelous panorama, and the disciples, as they looked down upon it and the temple, were filled with a pardonable pride, and said, “Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” He could not take any pleasure in that scene for He saw its sin and folly, and with prophetic eye He looked on to the time when that city was to be destroyed by Titus, that ruthless invader, because it knew not the time of its visitation. “For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another.” Forty years after Christ’s ascension to Heaven, that prophecy was literally fulfilled, and it was at that time that Titus ordered all the trees on the Mount of Olives cut down, that he might use them in manufacturing battering-rams and other formidable engines with which to destroy the walls of the city of Jerusalem in order that he and his armies might enter it and take possession of it.

We were greatly interested in seeing this historic and sacred mount. It was the first thing we did see as we were going down from the north and drew near Jerusalem. Our driver said, “In a few moments now you will get your first sight of Jerusalem,” and in a moment or two, as we came round the bend, he said, “There is the Mount of Olives,” and soon we could see the city itself. The name, “Mount of Olives,” does not describe what one really sees. It is not just one mountain; it is a range of rather high hills. Beginning on the north-east, there is Mount Scopus, then that which is properly called the Mount of Olives, and then below that the Hill of Evil Counsel, where Caiaphas is said to have had his house when they took counsel with Judas and arranged that the Lord should be betrayed. As we drove around Mount Scopus we saw the British burial-ground, where thousands of boys lie, boys who gave their lives in the Great War to drive the Turks from Palestine; there, too, is the mansion of the present High Commissioner; and also to one side the buildings of the Hebrew University, and then as we went down we came to the Mount of Olives proper. There are many churches built upon it, one called the Church of the Ascension. There is a Mohammedan Mosque also, for the Mohammedans believe in Jesus as a Prophet, as the Christians do, but they do not admit His Deity. And they showed us something in the stone which they say is the mark left by Jesus just before He ascended up to Heaven. We knew that was not true, for Luke has told us definitely the place from which He ascended. We knew it was at Bethany. Somewhere in that neighborhood our Lord had His last interview with the little company of His disciples before He left this scene. They had been with Him in His days of humiliation, in His sorrow and suffering. True, they had failed Him at the hour of the cross when He most needed their sympathy, because, though He was God incarnate, He was true Man, and He felt the loneliness of those hours. In Psalm 69, which depicts His suffering upon the cross, we hear Him say: “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” They had all forsaken Him, they had all fled, and He was left alone to die. But there upon that cross He poured out His soul unto death. His soul was made an offering for sin. In some mysterious way that you and I will perhaps never be fully able to understand, He offered up Himself as a ransom for all. And now having finished that wondrous work, He was eager that the news of it should be carried into all the earth. After His resurrection He walked over the brook Kedron again, not now as a rejected One, but as the triumphant, risen One, and He led them out to Bethany, where He was wont to go and where He had friends to love Him, and there He commanded them to go forth as His messengers throughout the world, proclaiming His testimony. That is why we are trying to preach the Gospel today, because He said, “Go,” and in obedience to His word we have gone and we are proclaiming His truth and we are bringing the message to you from Olivet just as He gave it to His disciples so long ago. He said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” And so we come to you with the message from the Mount of Olives. We come to tell you that if you are still in your sins, if you are still without Christ, if you are still unsaved, that God in infinite grace is even yet waiting to receive you. He is calling upon all men everywhere to repent and to come to a knowledge of the truth, “because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained: whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” And mark this: there is no salvation for any soul of man until he comes to God as a repentant sinner. Oh, I know that some will tell you who do not even understand the meaning of the word, that if you tell men to repent you are on legal ground, as though repentance was a good work that people had to do. But the word simply means to change the mind. Here you are in your sins and unsaved, yet proud, self-sufficient, indifferent to the claims of God. Oh, that you might hear His voice, change your mind, change your whole attitude about your sin, about God, and turn to Him. Plead the merits of the precious blood of His Son, and thus be saved for eternity. I know we have so-called gospels today without repentance, but remember this, that men who try to meet God solely in a carnal way, without ever facing their sins, are only deluded by the devil with a false profession and will never be saved. Our Lord Jesus Christ has said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” My dear, unsaved friend, you who have been trying to cover up your sin, you who have been saying, “I am not so bad as other people,” you who are comparing yourself with others and have become self-satisfied and have built upon your own righteousness, I pray that God may give you repentance now. Confess yourself a lost, ruined sinner and, giving up all pretension to merit of your own, turn to Christ. He won’t turn you away. Charles Spurgeon used to say that for over thirty years he had stood in that pulpit and preached, “Him that cometh to Me I will never cast out.” And he used to declare over and over again, “If you will come and He turns you back, if He does not accept you, then I will never preach again,” But he never had to retract his message, he never ceased proclaiming it until the Lord took him home and he went to be with the Christ whom he had served so faithfully. Jesus will never go back on His word. He promises to receive you if you turn to Him, and that is repentance. Judging yourself and owning your guilt, you may be saved now and saved for eternity.

You say, “If I do not come to Him, what then?” Well, then you will be lost forever. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins, and whither I go ye cannot come.” These are the Lord’s own words! We would like to believe there is only one way to die. We would like to believe that everyone will die in Christ. But Scripture forbids such a conclusion. We would like to believe that after all the sorrows of life, when a man comes to die there is something about death that purifies and cleanses the soul. But that is not the testimony of this Book. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” that is one side. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins;” that is the other side. Just as there are two ways to die, so there are two destinies before men. Those who are saved shall be with Christ, but those who refuse His grace, Scripture says, “will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Do not come to me and ask me what that means. I cannot explain it, but I know it is in the Book and I know at least it means this: Loving what God hates and hating what God loves, you can never be with Him in eternity, but you must be shut away in outer darkness and misery forever. Why trifle with your soul? Why not heed the message that comes from Olivet, of repentance and salvation preached to all men? Come and find an all-sufficient Saviour. The Christ of Olivet stands today with arms outstretched calling to all men everywhere to turn to Him and live, offering remission of sins to all who receive His word in faith.