Many have tended to equate the olive press with the olive mill. I regard this to be an error. I have seen both in Bible lands, and a result, they are quite distinct in my mind.
The mill, whether for grapes or olives, is really a device for crushing. While the actual details of construction vary with individual mills, the basic design and mode of operation are essentially the same. There is a larger vat, usually hewn from stone, which is shaped with a rounded bottom on the inside, like the large, old-fashioned iron cauldrons that were formerly used on farms to cook feed for animals. Placed inside this vat in an upright position is a huge wheel-shaped stone similar to a grindstone, with its circumference fitting the contour of the rounded bottom of the vat. In the center of this stone wheel is a large hole into which is fitted a long wooden beam, or sweep. An animal (donkey, ox or camel) is then hitched to the end of the sweep and turns the wheel by walking in a circle. As the great stone wheel turns round and round in the vat, the olives are crushed and mangled, and their oil is released. The same device is used to crush grapes to extract their juice. There is a drain in the vat at a certain level to allow the accumulated liquid to flow out into a lower, adjoining vat.
Following this operation, the mangled olives are put into woven straw containers shaped something like huge washtubs. These are then stacked one on the other under the press for the purpose of squeezing out every available drop of oil.
The press is an ingenious device by means of which a tremendous weight is placed on the stacked baskets of crushed fruit. A long, heavy beam, anchor-hinged at one end, is cantilevered over the stacked baskets. Hung from its far end is a huge stone weight, perhaps weighing a ton or more. The beam is ingeniously maneuvered so that this weight, multiplied by the mechanics of the beam-lever, presses down on the stacked baskets of pulp until every ounce of oil is squeezed out and drained into an adjoining stone vat. The baskets are left under the weight of the press for several days to make sure this squeezing is accomplished to the last drop.
Gethsemane was truly Jesus’ “olive press”. It was there in Gethsemane that the weight of human sin guilt was vicariously placed on Him and all but crushed Him to death. The combined sin and guilt of all humanity of all time is a load too great and too heavy to be grasped by our human imaginations, and it literally crushed Him to the ground.
The press was so great that “44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Lk. 22.44). In His agony, He fell to the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. “And he said , Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will , but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14.35,36). But despite the pressure and the agony He felt, He still said, “Saying , Father, if thou be willing , remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done . And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Lk. 22.42, 43)
The Bible declares plainly that He bore our sins in His own body, and the awful weight of that guilt and agony was beyond the ability of mere human flesh to endure.
A visualization of the olive press in conjunction with Gethsemane and Golgotha helps one to understand the true significance of His words, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with ; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished !” (Lk. 12.50).
Next time you enjoy the sin of the world with your movies, music, dress, talk and lifestyles remember this example. Your very sin was what crushed the one you claim to love into the ground and continues to add sorrow to the Lamb who was slain for you.