April 2, 2015

Holy Week: Gethsemane and the Olive Press



After the Savior had finished the Last Supper with his disciples, which was probably around 10 pm on Thursday night, the Lord took His disciples down the Kidron Valley and then up the Mount of Olives. Only five days previous, on what we now call Palm Sunday, the Savior had come down this same mount to the shouts of praise by the Jews who hailed Him as King of kings, as the anointed Messiah. Yet, now He went with no fanfare into a garden where He would take upon Him the sins of the world.

Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew words 'gath' meaning press, and 'shemen' meaning oil. The fact that Christ chose a garden called Gethsemane is significant for many reasons. Olive oil was considered one of the most important substances for life. This rich golden oil was used to light the home of every family in Judea. Oil was also used to light the inner chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was used to cook most food and in particular was used in the process of making bread, the very staff of life. Olive oil was also used to help create many ointments that were used for both the living, for healing purposes, and for the dead, to anoint the body prior to placing it in the tomb. Oil was also used to anoint kings, priests, and prophets. In short, olive oil played a central part of Jewish religious and daily life.

Iron age courtyard with olive press (from Atlas of the Bible, page 80)
The very process by which olive oil was produced is also very significant and symbolic. To produce the oil, you had to first crush the olives with a huge stone wheel that turned the olives into a pulp like mush. Large woven bags were then filled with the pulp and placed under the gethsemane, or olive press. "The mash sacks were placed towards the front of the beam under a round pressing board. Large stones were used to weigh down the beam pressing upon the mash sacks." [1] Additional weight was added until the olive oil began to spill from the woven bag into the collecting bowls. Because of the crushed rinds of the olives, the oil was actually brownish red in color, giving it the appearance of blood. [2]

Note how the olive oil is reddish-brown in color (from Satterfield)
The symbolism of olive oil and the suffering that Christ endured in this garden of the press is laden with significance. Christ in the Gospel of John states that He is the Light of the world (see John 8:12). It is through His precious blood that our way has been illuminated. Christ is the ointment that will not only heal our souls, but give a sweet fragrance to the bitter difficulties we face in life. It is through His precious blood that our wounds are healed. Christ also stated that He was the bread of life, a critical ingredient of ancient bread being olive oil. It is through His precious blood that we can have the bread of life, and live forever (see John 6:51). Even the very name Christ in Greek and Messiah in Hebrew mean anointed. [3] Thus, Jesus was the anointed one in every aspect, the great King of kings, the High Priest, the holy Prophet.

Christ alone paid the price for sin. He had the weight of the world press down upon Him, crushing Him until He bled from every pore. How grateful I am that on this night the Christ would be willing to bear the burden of my sins, that I might be healed.

In 2007 I had the chance to sit in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. As I sat there in the Church of All Nations (the Catholic Church located in the garden), I felt a great pain for the suffering that Christ suffered on my behalf. I sat there completely alone in the church and thought of when He was completely alone in the garden. I sat there in dark (the chapel is intentionally dark to represent night) as I thought of how the Messiah knelt in darkness, pleading on my behalf to the Father. As He bore my burden, blood came from every pore. As these thoughts filled my mind, I was then filled with the most joyous happiness I have perhaps ever felt. I did not feel guilt for His pain, I felt peace. I did not feel anxiety for the suffering I caused Him, I felt forgiveness. I did not feel sadness for causing such anguish, I felt pure love.

I love my Savior, and will be eternally grateful for that which He did for me, in a garden called Gethsemane. In a garden that by its very name symbolizes the freedom, life, and light that has been brought into my life through His precious blood.

[1] Gethsemane, by Bruce Satterfield of BYU-Idaho
[2] For pictures showing entire process of making olive oil see Gethsemane, by Bruce Satterfield
[3] See Mashiach (Hebrew) and Christos (Greek) in Strong's Concordance

2 comments:

  1. Thank you. The symbolism makes His sacrifice all the more poignant.

    ReplyDelete