Speaking of the Church, Romans 11:16-17 says, “And if the root be holy, the branches are also. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree . . . .” (also vv. 18-24).
The Olive Tree is taken as a symbol of Israel, but it is quite a bit more specific than that. The Olive Tree is a symbol of the Temple of God, created by the Holy Spirit, and it is especially a symbol of the Holy of Holies. Let us consider the Olive in its revelation in the Bible.
First, on the third day we find fruit trees and grain plants created, and only these plants. The other plants had not been made before Adam was created (Genesis 2:5). Thus, the olive was one of the semi-sacramental plants, like wine (fruit) and bread (grain) made on the third day. Accordingly, the Israelite is always said to have a vineyard, a field, and an oliveyard (Ex. 23:11, Dt. 6:11; Josh. 24:13; etc.). These are to lie fallow in the sabbath year (Ex. 23:11). Gleaning laws are phrased in terms of these three (Dt. 23:19-22). The curse is phrased in terms of these three (Dt. 28:38-40).
Second, bread is associated with priesthood and the Word (the Son), wine with kingship and rule (the Father), and olive oil with anointing and presence (the Spirit). It is with the last that we are concerned. All the articles of the Tabernacle and Courtyard, as well as the priests, were anointed with olive oil (Ex. 30:22-33), signifying the impregnation of these items with the Spirit of God. Symbolically, the Tabernacle was an olive grove.
Third, the Holy of Holies in the Temple was guarded by the olive. Two large cherubim of olive wood stood next to the Ark in the Temple, and the doors leading into the Holy of Holies were of olive wood. The doorposts of both the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place were of olive wood (1 Kings 6:23-34). Thus, the olive has a particular association with guarding God’s holiness, and with the Holy of Holies. Along these lines, notice Psalm 52:8, “But as for me, I am a green olive tree in the house of God.”
Fourth, the olive was the first tree to grow after the Flood, signifying obviously the re-creation of the Kingdom of God as the first order of events after the Flood (Genesis 8:11). Note that it was a dove, signifying the Spirit, who delivered the olive branch to Noah.
Fifth, very significant is the vision in Zechariah 4, where the prophet sees the two olive cherubim as two olive trees, feeding the oil of the Spirit into the lampstand of Israel’s witness. See also Revelation 11:4 for a further exposition of this imagery.
With this background, we can see that when Jesus moves to the Mount of Olives at the end of His ministry, He is moving into the garden-form of the Holy of Holies to complete His work. Let us now turn to the passages that mention this.
In Matthew 21, Jesus is specifically said to move in His triumphal entry from the Mount of Olives to the Temple, where He judges the Temple. Part of what is being “fulfilled” here is God’s fiery judgment of Nadab and Abihu from His throne in the Holy of Holies (Lev. 10:1-2).
Luke 21:37 says that Jesus spent each night on the Mount of Olives. See also John 8:1. He went to the Temple each day from the Holy of Holies, and returned to it each night.
In Matthew 23-24, Jesus departs from the Temple for the last time and moves to the Mount of Olives to pronounce judgment upon the Temple and Jerusalem. Again the Holy of Holies judges the Temple.
In Matthew 26:30, we find that after celebrating the Passover and instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and His disciples went to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus went to Gethsemane, which means Olive Press, to pray to God. Here we see the High Priest in the Holy of Holies. Here in the Mount of Olives, in the very Holy of Holies, Jesus was captured and arrested.
Now, this is not all. A careful reading of the text will reveal that Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Olives. Matthew 27:33 says that Jesus was crucified at “a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull.” While some have tried to find a hill around Jerusalem that looks like a skull, this is clearly wrong. Golgotha is just a contraction of Goliath of Gath (Hebrew: Goliath-Gath). 1 Samuel 17:54 says that David took the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, but since Jerusalem was to be a holy city, this dead corpse would not have been set up inside the city, but someplace outside. The Mount of Olives was right in front of the city (1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13), and a place of ready access. Jesus was crucified at the place where Goliath’s head had been exhibited. Even as His foot was bruised, He was crushing the giant’s head! This was at a place right outside Jerusalem, and likely on the Mount of Olives. But there is more certain evidence.
Now, while Jesus was being crucified, the veil of the Temple was ripped in half from the top to the bottom. For this event to have been seen, or its effects perceived, those perceiving it would have to be due east of Jerusalem, on a line with the Temple’s doorways. Luke 23:44-47 indicates that the centurion did perceive this event. It cannot have been the darkening of the sun that shocked the centurion, for that had been going on for three hours. And it could not have been Jesus’ death, because that was an expected event, hardly unusual in the case of crucifixion. Thus, the centurion must have been standing up the slope of Olivet and been able to see westward into the Temple area. This puts the crucifixion on the Mount of Olives.
Another rather clear indication comes from John 19:20, which reads (literally), “Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read, for near was the Place of the city, where Jesus was crucified.” What is the Place of the city? Routinely, the Place is the Temple (John 11:48; Acts 6:14; 21:28). Thus, the statement seems to mean that Jesus was crucified near to the Temple, in some relation to it, and not in some random spot around Jerusalem somewhere.
Indeed, several passages in the Bible indicate that Jesus was crucified to a living tree, which in this case would be an olive tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24). The stauros or pole that Jesus carried would refer to the crosspiece, which was affixed to the tree. After all, why would the Roman soldiers want to go to the trouble of digging a hole and planting a stake when there were lots of trees around that would do just as well? We surely cannot be as certain of this suggestion as we are that Jesus died on the Mount of Olives, but it makes a great deal of sense.
Thus, the site of Goliath’s head and the site of the crucifixion were on the Mount of Olives. Here, in the garden-form of the Holy of Holies, Jesus presented His blood to the Father (see Leviticus 16 for a full exposition).
This means that the garden-tomb was located on the Mount of Olives (John 19:41). And when Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener of this olive orchard, she was certainly right, for He is the New Adam of the New Garden, the Bride (John 20:15). More to the point, even, is that when Mary looked into the tomb, she saw the slab where Jesus had lain with an angel at either end of it (John 20:12), clearly an image of the Ark of the Covenant, the meeting place of God and humanity in the Holy of Holies.
Naturally, Jesus also ascended into the heavenly Temple from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12).
Jesus’ crucifixion on the Mount of Olives, and the rending of the veil in the Temple of Olives, can now be seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 14:4, “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west . . . .” The Mount of Olives before Jerusalem corresponds symbolically to the olive-wood doors before the Temple and the Holy of Holies. Their opening to the sides is an opening to east and west, releasing God’s energy into the world. Similarly, the Olive-veil before the City would be split, so to speak, so that God’s energy could flow out into the whole world.
In conclusion, the reference to the Church as an Olive Tree, rather than as some other kind of tree, tells us that the Church is positioned in the Temple of God, in the Holy of Holies, and is impregnated with the oil of the Spirit. Like the olive cherubim, we now guard God’s throne and praise Him day and night. This is made possible because Jesus shed His blood before the Father in the Holy of Holies of the Mount of Olives.