John Heading, Aberystwyth
The city of Jerusalem was built upon four hills, mount Zion lying towards the south-west and mount Moriah towards the east. Immediately on the east outside the city in the valley of Jehoshaphat, flowed the brook Kidron separating the hills of the city from the slopes of the mount of Olives with Bethany on its eastern slopes. The city was almost surrounded by hills, Ps. 125. 2, these being of the same height as the hills on which the city was built. But Olivet was distinct; this was 200 feet higher than the city and 400 feet above the Kidron valley. The mount was thus named since its slopes were thickly studded with olive trees used for wood, fruit and oil.
In Scripture, Olivet is associated with many practical and prophetical principles, some dovetailing together in a remarkable way. Here we shall approach the subject from the point of view that God’s standards are so selective that in this scene where death reigns He can only occupy Himself with holy things. His Son was ‘the Holy One and the Just’, Acts 3. 14, One who was ‘holy, harmless’, Heb. 7. 26. We are exhorted to be imitators of Him, 1 Cor. 11. 1, our standard of conduct being fashioned according to His holy character, thereby to fulfil the unalterable rule of both Testaments, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy’, Lev. 11. 44, 1 Pet. 1. 16. Both individual believers and local assemblies are thus described in the grace of God, Col. 3. 12, 1 Cor. 3. 17.
No Place for the Ark of God
The sad events recorded in chapters 11 to 19 of 2 Samuel are wholly omitted from 1 Chronicles. The latter records the grace of God in His house, while the former describes as an ensample the failure of responsible man. After the ark had been taken up mount Zion in chapter 6, David had been deeply exercised about the house of God, and he would not have fallen had he maintained this occupation with the holy things of God. Abiding in the tabernacle for ever, provides no time for the unholy activity of the flesh. David’s sin in the matter of Uriah and Bath-sheba had repercussions throughout the rest of his life, although he repented in Psalm 51 and although the Lord had put away his sin, 2 Sam. 12. 13. His flight from Absalom was a direct consequence of the governmental declaration ‘the sword shall never depart from thine house’, 12. 10. All believers are cleansed by the precious blood of Christ, but meddling with sinful affairs affects the Christian life and testimony.
In chapter 15, the priests sought to bring the ark to David on Olivet, v. 24, but fellowship was temporarily lost because of God’s governmental dealings with David. The ark returned to Zion, but David had hope of seeing it again, v. 25. And although he worshipped at the top of the mount, yet there he was not dwelling in the house of the Lord. The principle we learn is that we cannot bring God into situations that are out of keeping with His standards of holiness. ‘Fellowship’ and walking ‘in the light’ go together, 1 John 1. 6-7. If assembly matters do not form our chief occupation, then contact with the world brings in weakness affecting testimony for a great while to come.
In one sense, Solomon was a type of Christ, witnessed by the quotation ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ from 2 Samuel 7. 14 appearing in Hebrews 1. 5. On the other hand, he also reflected weaknesses to which believers today are susceptible. He had not commenced his reign completely satisfied with the things of God. His visit to the arkless tabernacle at Gibeon rather than to Zion, 2 Chron. 1. 3, 4; his affections for Pharaoh’s daughter as wife, realising that she could not dwell in the house of David on account of the holy places to which the ark had come, 2 Chron. 8. 11; these but suggest the lack of spiritual wisdom in believers being associated with empty religious professions, and show the danger of a soul paying no heed to a conscience enlightened by divine standards. Solomon’s final declension followed, when he built high places for the gods of the nations ‘in the hill that is before Jerusalem’, 1 Kings 11. 7. This act temporarily excluded God from taking up the mount of Olives for any purpose, since it was now tainted with things whose character was the exact opposite of the demands of His sanctity. As those presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, may we not depart from the unique loyalty due to Christ and His Word, that our minds may not be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ, 2 Cor. 11. 2, 3.
The Lord Remained Separated
During the period recorded in the historical books, the Lord had no need to take up Olivet in preference to His house in Jerusalem. Solomon’s idols remained on the mount for many years, and the kingdom was divided as a result. King Asa destroyed idols from the city by the brook Kidron, but the high places on Olivet were not removed, 1 Kings 15. 13,14; likewise Hezekiah disposed of idolatrous refuse at the brook, but failed to cleanse Olivet, 2 Chron. 29. 16. The implications are that even spiritual men can overlook things displeasing to Christ, things perhaps rooted in historical tradition and not in the Word of God. The pure waters of the brook Kidron, valuable for cleansing, flowed between heights dominated by evil. The saints today possess the Word on the ‘narrow way’ bounded by darkness on every hand, and this Word is profitable for correction and for practical sanctification; our way is cleansed by taking heed according to His Word. The Lord’s presence blesses service in this narrow way, but must remain absent from surrounding heights dominated by the unsanctified activity of the flesh.
The Mount Rendered Holy
Later, in Josiah’s reign, judgment upon Jerusalem was near; the time had come for Olivet to be cleansed so as to be taken up in the purposes of God. In the final revival by Josiah, he placed the holy ark in the temple again, 2 Chron. 35. 3; the Book was found and read to all, 34. 14, 18, 30; idols were burnt at the brook Kidron and the high places which Solomon had built were destroyed on the mount of corruption, 2 Kings 23. 13. This final revival looked to the future and prepared the way for God’s first use of Olivet. How similar are circumstances now, which we believe to be the final days. The Lord has been given again His rightful place amongst His saints; the Word in doctrine and in practice has been taken up; the truth of the prophetic future has been unfolded from the Word, being released from traditional interpretation. We live in the solemn realization that His coming for His people will imply judgment for those who are not His own. These characteristics of final revival days are remarkably similar.
Olivet taken up by the Lord for the first Time
The time finally arrived when that which spoke of Christ had to be removed from amongst men. The glory of God had been manifested at Sinai, in the tabernacle and in the temple, and finally to Isaiah, Isa. 6, but such grace would not be indefinitely extended to a rebellious people. Hence in captivity Ezekiel first sees this glory by the river Chebar, Ezek. 1; in chapters 8 to 10 he sees the heading up of evil in the temple in Jerusalem, the glory of God being there not in complacency but in judgment, and finally, ‘the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city’, Ezek. 11. 23. In other words, the glory of God removed to the cleansed position on Olivet, there to remain as it were during the period known as the times of the Gentiles.
The similarity with our position is remarkable. The Lord has now departed from the man-made system of Jewish religion, and is on the outside of both it and the system of the world, being found in a holy position associated with His assembly. Instead of clinging to the world, we should view its ways and pleasures from the purified stand of Olivet.
Olivet and the Lord’s Separated Experience
We thus pass on to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth. He used Olivet as a place of separation and of contact with heaven, particularly during the last week before His cross. After men had questioned the Lord and refused His truth, He went to the mount of Olives, John 8. 1, while men went to their own homes; this was a place of separation from the religious opposing world to a home of love and understanding, since the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was in Bethany on the eastern slopes. From Olivet, He had entered Jerusalem in triumph at the beginning of the last week; He had taught daily in the temple, but at night abode in the mount of Olives, Luke 21. 37. In Matthew 24. 1-3, He had departed from the temple for the last time, and went to Olivet there to foretell the destruction of both temple and city. Finally, having sung an hymn in the upper room, He went out into the mount of Olives and to Gethsemane just over the brook Kidron (Cedron), John 18. 1; this was to be His final hour of liberty spent in contact with heaven. How we notice the perfect balance between prayer, fellowship, and teaching His own in the sanctified precincts of Olivet on the one hand, and gospel work in the religious city on the other.
The Place of Ascension
The record of His ascension from Olivet is given in Luke 24. 50 and Acts 1. 9-12. Only eyes touched by revelation knew of this, only witnesses chosen before of God; in Ezekiel too, only a chosen prophet was permitted to see the departure of the glory. Moreover, the promise of a return in like manner implied both a cloud and also the physical location on Olivet.
The ascension from Olivet suggests a complete break with Judaism; the Lord had led them out of Jerusalem, and they only returned for practical testimony. Olivet speaks of the position of the saints separated unto Him; it stands for our nearest position to heaven. The sphere of the world from whence we have been called is a sphere of testimony only.
His Return in like Manner
Olivet yet remains in the purposes of God. His return there is not for the assembly, but for the battle in Revelation 19. He comes to Olivet, the mount nearest to heaven and nearest to the city of the great King, the centre of His future purposes in this scene. ‘His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives’, Zech. 14. 4, not as the unseen Victor over death as in Acts 1, but as ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’.
The new house described in Ezekiel 40 to 47 refers to this time. The prophet who saw the glory depart now sees it return, for ‘the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east’, Ezek. 43. 1-4, that is, from Olivet. It takes us to the ultimate accomplishment of the purpose of God in this scene for His Son, a purpose not foiled by man’s failure on Olivet, in Jerusalem, or in the religious world of today, but a purpose as sure as God Himself, a purpose using a mount ultimately sanctified for His holy use.