Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Significance of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives

Once it is realized that the Messiah was in fact crucified on the Mount of Olives, all these historical and symbolic matters found in the early Judahite records and the New Testament begin to make sense to those who understand the basic facts of the Holy Scriptures.

by Ernest L. Martin

The village of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives was a most important religious center for the Judahite authorities in the period of the Messiah and the apostles. It was a walled village which was the only area outside the walls and camp of Jerusalem that was considered by the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the nation) to be an official part of the city of Jerusalem. In this village was one of the two seats of the great Sanhedrin of seventy-one members. The prime seat of the Sanhedrin was in the Temple at the Chamber of Hewn Stones located just to the south and east of the Altar of Burnt Offering. The other was at this walled village of Bethphage located just east of the western summit of the Mount of Olives (a little to the east of the Miphkad Altar where the Red Heifer was burnt to ashes and the Day of Atonement sacrifices were burnt). There were specific decisions of the Sanhedrin that were reserved for determination only at this official seat of the court in Bethphage. Those were decisions affecting what were the limits of the camp of Israel around the city of Jerusalem (and this included where the Red Heifer could be burnt). This also embraced what districts surrounding Jerusalem were to be reckoned as inside the city: This also included what were to be the dimensions of the Temple (whether enlarged or restricted). And this is also where death sentences for rebellious leaders of the nation as shown in Deuteronomy 17:8-13 were validated (Sanhedrin 14a, b; Sotah 44b; 45a).

The reason that these types of decisions were to be made at this special village on the east side of Jerusalem proper is because it was necessary that these decisions be made "at the entrance" to Jerusalem (or if local decisions were made by lesser Sanhedrins associated with the various towns throughout Judaea, they were held in the gates or entrances to the towns). There were biblical reasons for this. Note Proverbs 31:23 which says "Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders." Also: "Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates" (Zechariah 8:16). In the case of Jerusalem, which was the capital city of the nation, the principal gate to the city was on the eastern side just beyond the camp (that is, "outside the camp"). Thus, the Sanhedrin had the village of Bethphage built just to the east of the city limits of Jerusalem proper. This village of priests was located just to the east of the summit of the Mount of Olives.

Now note this important point. The word "Bethphage" means the "House of Unripe Figs." There were two symbolic reasons for naming this village of priests by this name. As I explained in my book Secrets of Golgotha, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve ate that brought sin into the world was the fig (not the apple). Adam and Eve took leaves from that very tree from which they ate to hide their nakedness from YEHOVAH God. But, with the Sanhedrin, they were supposed to act as YEHOVAH's judges and thereby were to be rendered free of sin in their judgments. This is why they named the village the "House of Unripe Figs" because at this place there were supposed to be "no ripe figs" available to tempt the judges to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But there was a second reason for naming the village Bethphage. Figs are always unripe at the start of the growing season. This place of Bethphage was the site where the Sanhedrin determined legal measurements for the nation. It was where they set the limits on sacred and secular things (the size of the city, the Temple, the day to start the sacred calendar, when to observe the festival days, starting the census, etc.) This part of the court was located east of Jerusalem and away from the city lights so that the heavens could be observed in starting the new season for the months and years, etc. It was also from Bethphage where fire signals were sent to the Jewish communities outside Jerusalem so that they could determine when to start the festival seasons with those at Jerusalem. In a word, it was from Bethphage where the measurements for the nation were enacted and legalized. It was also the place where the most rebellious of the elders in Israel were sentenced to die. Indeed, after the Messiah was tried by the Sanhedrin at the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple itself, and afterward was taken to Pilate to obtain Roman permission for his death, he was then taken to the Mount of Olives to await the final sentence of the Sanhedrin when they gave their decision for his death at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. The New Testament says that all the chief priests, scribes and elders of the Judahites witnessed the crucifixion of the Messiah (Matthew 27:41), and in the Talmud it states that all the elders of the Sanhedrin including the High Priest had to make the decision for such things at Bethphage (Sanhedrin 14b).

There is even further New Testament significance to these matters. It was no accident that the Messiah told his disciples to go into Bethphage and obtain a donkey for him to ride into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah about the Judahites adoring their king riding on a donkey. By getting this donkey at Bethphage was like saying that the Messiah went to the central Supreme Court area of the land in order to get his royal position for legal sovereignty approved (note that the owners of the donkey at Bethphage did in fact allow the donkey to be taken and Bethphage was the village of the priests and the measuring center for all things that the Sanhedrin had to determine).

But there is even more. Note that when the Messiah departed on the donkey from Bethphage that the people praised him as the King of Israel (Matthew 21:1-17). The Messiah then returned to Bethany on the east side of the Mount of Olives and the next morning started once again into Jerusalem. He then saw a fig tree (note carefully that this was a fig tree) that had no eatable fruit on it. Indeed, the texts say that it was not yet the time for ripe figs because it was so early in the season. But the Messiah, finding no ripe figs on it, cursed it then and there! This event occurred on the Mount of Olives and right next to the village of Bethphage (the House of Unripe Figs). And soon, that fig tree withered away and died, and this all happened suddenly, within a matter of hours.

Judahites living at the time in Jerusalem (without the slightest doubt in their minds) would have known the significance that the Messiah was placing on that miraculous event. That fig tree was a Tree of Unripe Figs next to the village of Bethphage (the House of Unripe Figs) which was the site where the Sanhedrin determined the limits of things that were holy and things not holy. In effect the Messiah, through the miraculous withering of that fig tree of unripe figs, was showing the demise and final authority of the Sanhedrin to make decisions at Bethphage (the House of Unripe Figs). This symbolic act was taking away the authority of the Sanhedrin and the Messiah said it would be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. Recall, the Messiah then went on to the Temple and stated dogmatically: "Therefore say I unto you. The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43).

Yet there is even more symbolism to this withering of the fig tree and its unripe figs. Since it was recognized that the fig tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (again, not the apple), the Messiah cursed the tree that introduced sin into the world with our first parents. The symbol the Messiah was creating showed that the type of tree that introduced sin into the world will not be available for humans as a temptation to sin in the future. This, of course, became the case when he was crucified two days later for the sins of the world not but a few yards from that symbolically accursed tree.

Once it is realized that the Messiah was in fact crucified on the Mount of Olives, all these historical and symbolic matters found in the early Judahite records and the New Testament begin to make sense to those who understand the basic facts of the Holy Scriptures.

The Significance of the City of Nob

After the Philistines took the Ark of YEHOVAH God from Shiloh (the first Sanctuary site), the Tabernacle finally came to rest at a place called Nob which became the chief sanctuary of YHVH. This is where the Messiah said David illegally ate the shew­bread (Matthew 23:3, 4). It was a center for the priests (I Samuel 22:11) but it was destroyed not long after David was there by Doeg the Edomite (I Samuel 22:20-23; see Psalm 52). Isaiah later spoke of Nob as overlooking the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (see Isaiah 10:24-34 and especially verse 32). This place, though scholars are not yet sure of its exact location, was clearly on the Mount of Olives because the Temple and all Jerusalem could be seen from it. Jones in his Proper Names of the Old Testament says that "Nob" means "High Place," and this answers to a summit of a mountain. This could answer to the later Bethphage which was a city of priests in the Messiah's time and even Origen in the third century said priests lived in Bethphage. Nob, however, was destroyed by Doeg. When David at a later time went to the summit of Olivet to mourn for the actions of his son Absalom (II Samuel 15:30-37), there was no city there, just an altar for worshipping YEHOVAH God. But note this point. Before David ever picked Zion to be the place of YEHOVAH's Temple, the summit of the Mount of Olives at Nob was the chief site for the Sanctuary after the fall of Shiloh. This shows that the Mount of Olives has a long and valid history of holiness attached to it.


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Hope of Israel Ministries
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Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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