Susan C. Anthony

Olive press at CapernaumGethsemane

Christians are familiar with the word "Gethsemane" because it is the name of the garden where Jesus was taken into custody the night before His Crucifixion.

In Hebrew, the word gethsemane means "olive press." The photo is of part of the olive press in Capernaum. The Garden of Gethsemane was (and is) a grove of olive trees.

Ray Vander Laan wrote the following about the literal and symbolic meaning of the name of the garden in which Jesus prayed the night before his Crucifixion:

When considering the symbolic meaning of the gethsemane, it is important to understand both the economic and religious importance of the olive and its oil in Biblical times. Much of Israel was, and still is today, olive-producing. The olive was much more than food: Its oil was burned in lamps and served as a preserving agent and a lubricant for skin care. It had great value in daily life.

The process used to extract olive oil was a laborious one. Whole olives were put into a circular stone basin in which a millstone sat (see photo). A donkey or other animal was then harnessed to the millstone and walked in a circle, rolling the stone over the olives and cracking them.

The cracked olives were scooped up into burlap bags, which were then stacked beneath a large stone column—a gethsemane. The enormous weight forced the precious oil to drip from the fruit into a groove and on into a pit at the base of the gethsemane, from which it was collected.

The gethsemane and mill were large and expensive tools, and private citizens could rarely afford to own them. Whoever controlled the equipment, the wealthy elite or government officials, had economic power over the local population. People had to pay steep fees in order to process their olives. The gethsemane and mill were a burden born by many, because olives were an economic mainstay of society.

Deeper Meaning. The olive tree and its oil had even greater cultural importance as religious elements. The verb mashach—from the same root word for messiah in Hebrew—means "to be anointed with olive oil." Priests, kings and prophets were anointed with olive oil, indicating that they were gifted and called by God. So it was understood that the anticipated Messiah would be specially anointed with olive oil.

The tree also represented the purpose of the promised Messiah—to renew Israel. When an olive tree grows old, it is cut down because there's too much trunk for the leaves to nourish. The following year, a new shoot comes out of the old tree, eventually producing new fruit and lots of healthy branches.

In Isaiah 5, God says to the unbelieving nation of Israel (paraphrased), "You didn't produce any fruit. But I was patient. I dug around you. I fertilized you. I kept you growing. And after a while, I looked. There was still no fruit, so I cut you down." And then He says in chapter 11, "Behold, a new shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse and will become a new tree with new fruit."

The Jews believed that the new shoot, which was going to renew, restore and revitalize the nation of Israel, was the Messiah. The Messiah is the shoot or branch out of Jesse. If Jesus is the branch or stem, then we, as Gentiles, have been grafted in, according to the apostle Paul. That means our roots are the Jewish people. That's our stump. We can't exist and bear fruit without the Jewish roots. Second, it means Jesus is where we get life and energy.

But the key is the olives we produce. Paul says in Romans 11:21 (paraphrased), "If God cut down the natural tree, what do you think He would do to you who have been grafted in if you don't bear fruit?" Jesus came to be the new shoot for what reason? So we would have life to bear fruit.

Greatly Pressed. The night before His Crucifixion, Jesus went to the garden of the olive press—the Garden of Gethsemane. He got down on His knees and began to experience the weight of what was going to be laid on Him. That weight was so incredibly heavy that it squeezed out of Him His own blood. He was heavily pressed. This Jesus, who taught and preached and performed miracles and was raised from the dead, went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Laid on Him was the sin of the entire world.

Ray Vander Laan is the author of the video series
"That the World May Know", from which this article was excerpted.

Have you ever felt the weight of sin? We are not always aware of the weight of our own sin because we carry it day and night and it seems normal. But if anyone has sinned against you, perhaps by robbing, cheating or betraying you or someone you love, you have felt a tiny tiny fraction of what Jesus experienced. Sometimes I can hardly bear the heaviness of sin in just my one small life. Jesus bore the weight of all the sins of all people for all time. It is unimaginable.

The entire Bible is a story of how God reconciles perfect justice with perfect love and mercy. As a just God, He has promised justice, though delayed. If ever you've been wronged, you know how it feels to long for justice, to demand justice. Romans 12 tells us never to take our own revenge, never to pay back evil for evil to anyone. "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. "I will repay!" We must wait with patience for that promised justice.

By taking the sins of the world upon Himself, Jesus made it possible to break the endless human cycle of war and revenge, whereby more and more wrongs are done that must be avenged, as in the story of the Hatfields and McCoys. We can rest assured that those who have wronged us will not "get away with it." A Day of Judgment is promised, wherein every individual will answer for the wrongs he or she has done, intentionally or unintentionally. Until that Day, we are told to forgive and rest on the knowledge that He has not forgotten. From a human perspective, it's like a child refusing to engage in a fight, instead saying, "You just wait until Daddy comes!"

With love and mercy, God gives each individual a choice as to how He will repay, how He will ensure that payment is made for the wrongs an individual has done in the world. We can choose to pay for our own sins in Hell or we can choose to repent (turn away) from our sins and allow Jesus to reconcile our sin debts. We can choose death (eternal separation from God) or life (connection to the Source of Life).

Don't imagine that doing good works will cancel out sin. What honest judge would acquit a murderer because he was a good husband or because he had contributed to charity? How could that be fair and just to the family of the individual who was murdered? Judges may weigh a person's good works when deciding the sentence, but not when determining guilt.

Without Jesus' volunteering His life on the Cross as a substitute for our lives, without Him taking on Himself the punishment for our wrongdoing, mercy would not be just and justice would not be merciful. Jesus on the Cross opened an avenue for sinful man to be reconciled with Holy God, out of love for us. We should be grateful that there is even one way by which perfect justice and perfect love and mercy can be reconciled. No wrong will go unpunished, yet wrongdoers are given time and opportunity to accept an undeserved pardon.

All because Jesus submitted to gethsemane, the press. Perfect love. Perfect justice.

Go on to read about the Petra Hotel
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony