You’ve heard it said that “faith can move mountains.” This is in regards to a lesson Jesus taught to his disciples.
The context of this verse is that Jesus is telling his disciples to pray for the over-throwing of apostate Israel. For context, the imagery of the mountain was originally used by Jeremiah to describe the destruction of the wicked empire of Babylon and the liberation of God’s people, the Israelites:
“Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith Jehovah, which destroyest all the earth; and I will stretch out my hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain. And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 51:25-26)
For turning away from God and rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, the Israelites became like Babylon. Further, the symbol of Israel was often that of a mountain, particularly Mount Zion. For example, from Exodus:
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone —
until your people pass by, Lord,
until the people you boughtpass by.
You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.(Exodus 15:16-17)
From the prophet Isaiah:
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.” (Isaiah 2:3)
During exile under the Babylonians, Ezekiel wrote:
“‘As for you, people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you! But afterward you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols. For on my holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord, there in the land all the people of Israel will serve me, and there I will accept them.’” (Ezekiel 20:39-40)
Israel was God’s holy mountain. Mountains are long-lasting and long-standing. They are landmarks, visible to all surrounding nations and people. Tall mountains are close to the heavens, and thus closer to God. Israel was selected by God to be His people. They were to be blessed among all the nations and inherit the land. They were covenanted to God, and by obeying his commandments they kept His covenant.
When they broke God’s commandments, they would be subject to curses. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 lay out the increasingly more severe progression of those curses for nations who continue to disobey God’s commandments even while under a curse.
JESUS’ ANGER AT WHAT HE SEES IN JERUSALEM
When Jesus came to Jerusalem and entered the temple, he saw the vile behavior of the Israelites who were buying and selling there. He grew angry and ran them out. (Matthew 21:12)
He then says this:
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”(Matthew 21:18-22)
We read later in Revelation that the prayers of God’s people find Him. He then directs his seven angels to answer those prayers, beginning in Revelation 8. When the second angel sounded his trumpet:
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and there died the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, even they that had life; and the third part of the ships was destroyed. (Revelation 8:8-9)
Israel had become apostate and rejected God’s salvation. They themselves became the next Babylon. They were spiritual adulterers, turning away from God their husband and instead worshipping Caesar and other gods. They persecuted the early Christian church (as Paul did before he was converted), and the early Church prayed for their destruction as Jesus directed them to.
THEY WERE TOLD TO PRAY, AND THEIR PRAYERS WERE HEARD
Their prayers were heard, and Israel eventually became entrenched in war with Rome (The Jewish War from 66-70 AD) that was ultimately ended with the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)
The Israelites, God’s holy people, trampled their only means of salvation, Jesus Christ, under their feet. They profaned the blood of the covenant, and they outraged the Spirit of grace. They fell into the hands of the living God, and their once holy nation, God’s holy mountain, was consumed by fire and cut down and tossed into the depths of the sea.
They were the most righteous of all nations when they walked in God’s footsteps, but by their apostasy and adultery they were cast down from the highest peak closest to God and buried under the depths of the sea — the place furthest from God.