Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, Sit here while I go over there and pray. Matthew 26:36
Luke wrote that Jesus and his disciples made regular trips to the Mount of Olives, a ridge running north and south of Jerusalem that’s 200 foot higher than the temple mound. The mountain received its name from the abundant olive groves. The word “gethsemane” is associated with the garden where Jesus prayed before his Crucifixion and where Judas betrayed him.
In Hebrew, the word “gethsemane” means olive press. Olive trees were of great importance to Judean economy and everyday life. Not only were olives eaten but the oil was used in lamps, as a preservative, and a lubricant for skin care.
Ray Vander Laan explains the long-ago process for extracting olive oil. “Whole olives were put into a circular stone basin in which a millstone sat.” An animal harnessed to the millstone walked in a circle rolling the stone and breaking the olives. “The cracked olives were scooped into burlap bags,” then the bags were stacked under “a huge stone column—a gethsemane.”
The enormous weight of the stone column pressed on the bags of olives forcing out the precious oil. The oil collected in a pit at the base of the gethsemane. It was near an olive press where Jesus agonized in prayer before his Crucifixion. His burden was great and it pressed down on him in such a manner that even God’s Son asked excuse from his mission.
During that evening, Jesus knelt and prayed several times, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” In great anguish, he prayed. The stress took a toll and weighed down, pressed upon, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42, 44). That night, the enormity of the world’s sins bore down on him.
Another fact about aging olive trees is when the trunk thickens the leaves cannot give the nourishment the trunk needs to survive. The tree is then cut back to a stump, and that’s when a new shoot will appear.
God used this gardening example to say, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse . . . . The spirit of the LORD will rest on him” (Isaiah 11:1, 2). The world never encountered anyone like this new green shoot, the Branch Jesus, who could give new life to a sinful world.
Although God often used common sights like olive trees and gardening to express spiritual messages, there was nothing common about his Son. Isaiah further wrote about him, “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (11:5). Wholehearted devotion to God and us characterized the Son of God who prayed near a place we call Gethsemane.