The Mount of Olives

Kidron Valley and St. Steven's monastery
Kidron Valley and St. Steven's monastery

During the reign of famous King David (1004-965 BC), Jerusalem became a capital of the Kingdom of Israel which continued until the time of the last Jewish king, Agrippa (41-44 AD), son of Herod the Great. 


Throughout history, the Mount of Olives has always been the eastern border of the city and rests in the Judean Mountains where there are two major ridges, Mount Scopus (826 m, 2709 ft) and Ascension Mount (746 m, 2447 ft). The width of the ridge is 2.5 km (1.6 miles) to 3.5 km (2.2 mile). The Judean Desert is one of the arid regions of Israel which begins behind the eastern side of Judean Mountains and descends to the Dead Sea. 

The gates of Mercy and the wall of the Old city of jerusalem
The gates of Mercy and the wall of the Old city of jerusalem

The Mount of Olives directly faces Jerusalem and is first mentioned in the Old Testament when King David fled from the city from his own son Absalom (II Samuel 15:13-30). 


In the book of 2 Kings, the Mount of Olives was called the “Mount of Corruption” because King Solomon erected an altar on the hill dedicated to pagan gods (23:13).  

View of Kidron Valley and St. Steven Monastery
View of Kidron Valley and St. Steven Monastery

Prophet Zechariah foretold of glorious apocalyptic events which will occur on the Mount of Olives: 


"A day of the Lord is coming, Jerusalem, when your possessions will be plundered and divided up within your very walls. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the City will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the City will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the City. 


Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights on a day of battle. On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, King of Judah. 


Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him. On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. 


On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be King over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name” (Zechariah 14:1-9).

The Jewish cemetery on the slopes of Mt. of Olives
The Jewish cemetery on the slopes of Mt. of Olives

Today, the are many cemeteries covering the Mount of Olives because the prophecy states this is where the Lord will return and will stand during the day of battle and many Jews believe that those buried on the Mount will be the first to arise for everlasting life. The Kidron Valley which is nearby also has cemeteries. Of these burial grounds, the largest is Jewish with more than 150,000 tombs, some more than 2000 years old. Although it has existed from the First Temple period, the current form has been present since the 14th century AD.


Many famous people are buried here from ancient to contemporary times. Among them are contemporary Jewish leaders such as Or Ha-chaim (the first European Rabbi of Jerusalem), Abraham Itshak Cook, Henrietta Sold (the founder of women's fund Hadassa), Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (reformer of modern Hebrew language), Shai Agnon ( Nobel prize winner for Literature) and Menachem Begin (sixth prime minister of Israel). Notable people from ancient and biblical times have also been buried here including the prophets Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi, David’s son Absalom.

Ancient Jewish cemetery on Mt. of Olives slopes
Ancient Jewish cemetery on Mt. of Olives slopes

There was an ancient route laid through the Mount of Olives via which crowds of people came to the Temple during major Jewish feasts. According to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth used this road on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, 

"When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied {there} and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.  If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them. This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:




The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them and brought the donkey and the colt and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!’


When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee’” (Matthew 21:1-12).

A predominant Christian tradition argues that Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives after his resurrection. There are multiple Bible passages which refer to the time Jesus spent on earth following His resurrection which offer different views on this belief.  The Great Commission given by Jesus to His disciples in the Gospel of Matthew does not specifically say so as the mountain described in this passage is in Galilee. 

 " Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20). 


The Gospel of Luke states: 

"When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God" (Luke 24:50-53). 


Bethany is situated just on top of the mount of Olives. The Apostle John reports:

"Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee" (John 21:1). 


And finally, the book of Acts says:

“Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.’ Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city" (Acts 1:6-13). 


According to this account, Jesus ascended to Heaven from the Mount of Olives.