|The Unfinished Reconstruction of the Eleona Church (foreground) |
in front of the Pater Noster Church (facade at back partially hidden by a palm tree);
the cave is under the platform in the foreground
· The Traditional Location of Jesus’ Endtimes Teaching on the Mt. of Olives
(the “Olivet Discourse,” Matt. 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21)
· Site of the Byzantine Eleona Church (the “Olive Grove” Church, also known
as the Church of the Disciples)
· Site of a Crusader-era chapel associated with Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer
· Currently the location of the Pater Noster Church commemorating Jesus’ teaching
of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the partly rebuilt Eleona Church.
Biblical events remembered here:
(1) Jesus’ Endtimes Teaching (the “Olivet Discourse,” Matt. 24-25),
(2) Jesus’ Teaching of the Lord’s Prayer
Location: On top of the Mt. of Olives, east of Jerusalem, beside the old road from Jerusalem to Bethany.
Authenticity: The church is in the right general area for Jesus’ endtimes teaching, which took place on the Mt. of Olives directly opposite the Jewish Temple. However, the cave on the property, said to be the exact location of this teaching, contains a first-century AD tomb (a kochim-style tomb of a type popular in the time of Jesus). The presence of this tomb makes it highly unlikely that Jesus and his disciples would have come here, or that the early Jewish Christians would have revered the site (see our teaching on Clean and Unclean), though it is possible that the tomb was introduced at a later time. Nor does the Bible say anything about a cave. However, the actual location of Jesus’ teaching could not have been very far away.
The association with Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer has no Biblical basis, given the fact that the gospels say this took place in Galilee (Matt. 4:23-5:1,9-13). This tradition emerged for the first time in the Middle Ages.
|View down on the top of the Mt. of Olives. The Bethany-Jerusalem road goes from bottom right |
to upper left in the photo. (Google satellite view)
Jesus’ Endtimes Teaching: Matthew says that Jesus and his disciples left the Temple and were sitting on the Mt. of Olives (Matt. 24:1,3). Mark adds that they were sitting “opposite the Temple,” that is, directly across the Kidron Valley from the Temple, which certainly matches this spot (Mark 13:3). It’s hard to imagine for such a dramatic teaching that they didn’t go to the top of the hill with its magnificent view over Jerusalem. They certainly wouldn’t have sat at the bottom of the hill, which today is a cemetery just as it was in Jesus’ day. Touching any of the tombs there would have made them ritually unclean, and would prevent entry into the Temple that day. Instead, they would have crossed the Kidron on the bridge (or “causeway”) that extended part-way up the Mt. of Olives to avoid contact with the cemetery. This, too, points to a location higher up the hill.
Jesus’ endtimes teaching here was in response to a question by his disciples: "And as he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:3). First Jesus warned them of the things that would not be signs of his coming: false Messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes: these things, he said, are not yet the end (Matt. 24:4-7). They are only the “beginning of birth pangs,” the beginning of the difficult period that would precede his return (Matt. 24:8). This difficult time was known to the Jewish people as the approaching footsteps, or literally the “heels,” of the Messiah (iqvot haMeshiach; Psa. 89:51). During these birth pangs, Jesus said, his followers would be persecuted, and hated, even killed (Matt. 24:9). Some would fall away, others would betray one another and hate one another, and there would be much false teaching (Matt. 24:10-11). Most people's love would grow cold (Matt. 24:12). But even so, the gospel will be preached throughout the whole world before the end comes (Matt. 24:14). And the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt. 24:13).
Then he warned of the horrible tragedy that was about to come on Jerusalem: its destruction by the Roman armies, which would usher in a long period of tribulation (Matt. 24:15-28, Luke 21:20-24). But then, finally, would come the signs of his return: the sun and moon will be darkened, stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken (Matt. 24:29). Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky (Matt. 24:30), and the Jewish people will mourn as they see him coming in power and glory (Matt. 24:30 as in Zech. 12:10). Then he will send his angels out with the sound of a great trumpet to gather in those who believe in him from all over the world (Matt. 24:31,40-41). This is the catching up of believers mentioned by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when the dead in Messiah will also be raised. Then will follow the destruction of the wicked (Matt. 24:39), and the descent of the believers with Messiah to earth to reign with him in his Messianic kingdom (Matt. 25:34).
As Zechariah put it: "For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle.... Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fights on a day of battle. 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 by a very large valley.... Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with him!" (Zech. 14:2-5).
And what happens after that? The wedding feast of the Lamb (Matt. 25:10)! Many imagine that the wedding feast will be somewhere in heaven. But Isaiah says: “On this mountain,” speaking of Mt. Zion (Isa. 24:23), “the Lord will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples... And on this mountain he will swallow up the covering that is over all the peoples... he will swallow up death for all time” (Isa. 25:6-8). Isaiah 4:5 adds that at that time there will be over Jerusalem “a cloud by day, and smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy (a chuppah).” What canopy is this? A bridal canopy (a chuppah), like those used in Jewish weddings. Why a bridal canopy? For the wedding feast of the Lamb! Jesus said that “many will come from east and west, and recline at the table [to eat] with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob” (Matt. 8:11). What a day of rejoicing that will be!
Then Jesus gave them many warnings in parables of the need to keep alert and not to stumble in the long time of waiting until his return (Matt. 24:40-25:46).
The Cave: The cave under the later Byzantine-period church is not mentioned in the Bible. But a cave on the Mt. of Olives was associated from an early date with the endtimes teaching of Jesus. It’s first mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of John (2nd-3rd cent. AD)
The Byzantine Eleona Church: After the legalization of Christianity, the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena built three large basilica-style churches in the Holy Land (4th cent. AD). They were all associated with the new Nicene Creed: 1) the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ("born of the Virgin Mary"), 2) the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem ("was crucified, died, and was buried; on the third day he rose again from the dead"), and 3) the Eleona Church on the Mt. of Olives ("and ascended into heaven”). Eusebius the Church historian says directly that Helena built the Eleona Church “in memory of [Jesus’] ascent to heaven.” But the location chosen for the church was above a cave which he says was remembered as the “very cave [in which] the Savior imparted his secret revelations to his disciples” (Life of Constantine 3.43). This seems to be why Helena named the church the Church of the Disciples. But it soon came to be known as the Eleona (the “Olive Grove”) Church, completed by 333 AD.
|Diagram of the Byzantine-period Eleona Church based on the excavations in the early 20th century.|
The actual site of Jesus’ ascension, however, was thought to be on “an open hillock nearby” (the pilgrimage diary of Egeria, mid 4th cent.), where another church was built by 378, currently the site of the Chapel of the Ascension.
The Eleona Church had a terrace in front of its main entrance on the west side with a beautiful view over the city of Jerusalem. Steps led up to the church from the Kidron Valley below. This marble stairway is reminiscent of the bridge (or “causeway”) that went across the Kidron Valley and part way up the Mt. of Olives in the time of Jesus. The Eleona was destroyed by the Persians in 614.
The Middle Ages: In the Middle Ages, a chapel built here was associated with the teaching of the Lord's Prayer (1106). This was made into a church in 1152. There was also another chapel where the apostles were said to have formulated the Apostle’s Creed, though the creed dates in its earliest form to the 3rd or 4th century. These medieval structures were heavily damaged in the Muslim reconquest of the city in 1187 and abandoned by 1345.
The Modern Church and Cloister: In 1868, the site was purchased by Princesse Aurelia Bossi de la Tour d’Auvergne, whose tomb can still be seen on the site. She built a church dedicated to the Lord’s Prayer and a convent for French Carmelite nuns that continues today. Archeological work in 1910 discovered the ruins of the Byzantine-period church and the cave over which it was built. But an attempt to rebuild the Eleona Church failed for lack of funds (1915-1927), which accounts for the incomplete state of the structure seen today. The modern church and cloister continue the Crusader commemoration of the Lord’s Prayer, today shown in more than 60 languages.
|Three of the dozens of plaques of the Lord's Prayer in different languages |
These are in Latin, Arabic, and Armenian.
Inside the Cave: From the Byzantine church above there were originally two entrances to the cave below. The raised platform above the cave was located at the eastern end of the sanctuary (see the diagram above). The cave was originally larger than it appears today; it partly collapsed in 1910.
Photo of the Partly Reconstructed Eleona Church in front of the Pater Noster Church courtesy of Hoshvilim under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
Photo of Lord’s Prayer plaques at Pater Noster Church courtesy of Pater Noster – Carmelite sisters – Mount of Olives under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
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