“Gethsemane” is Hebrew and means “oil press,” a device used to extract the oil from olives. It was to this garden on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives that Jesus came with his disciples on his last night of freedom before his intense suffering and crucifixion. It was a place familiar to him as he frequented it:
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
It would also be the place Judas knew to find him at the hour Jesus would hand himself over:
John 18:2 and 3
(2) Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
(3) So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees.
We learn what occurred there through the Four Gospels. The first three gospels are called the “synoptic” gospels (syn meaning “same” and optic relating to “seeing,” “sight”). The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record similar and identical events witnessed by Jesus’ followers. The gospel of John diverges from that pattern, standing somewhat alone, especially in the use of language, often recording events as past tense when they were still occurring. While this article does not deal with the hows and whys of the Gospels, it is helpful to understand when studying and reading about Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane, that each gospel is noted to portray Jesus in the following lights:
Matthew portrays Jesus as a king.
Mark portrays Jesus as a servant.
Luke portrays Jesus as a man.
John portrays Jesus as the Son of God.
As we pursue the records of Jesus’ time in the garden, these portrayals can shed some beautiful light of understanding.
(32) They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
(33) He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
(34) “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
(35) Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
(36) “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Before we proceed, let’s stop to see the whole picture. Jesus went with a few of his disciples to the garden, leaving most at a certain spot and going on farther with three men: Peter, James, and John. In their presence, our Lord began to be deeply distressed and troubled. I can see him in my mind’s eye pacing, looking distracted, and perhaps wringing his hands. Being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death must have produced some very outward and visible signs to those around him. I can see Peter, James, and John throwing concerned glances at one another, racing in their minds as to what they might do to help, and coming up short. Jesus is struggling. The man who raised Lazarus from death, who walked as if invisible through an angry mob who wanted to hurl him off a cliff, the man who calmed storms and walked on water, seemed to be at a loss.
After asking them to keep watch, Jesus moves even farther away from them, collapsing onto the ground in prayer. While they may not have known what he prayed, we have the benefit of the recorded revelation of the written Word of God. Jesus said to God, “I know you can do anything…” While we acknowledge this statement to be true, I pause to consider this with you: Have you ever been in a life and death struggle and called on God, reminding Him that He could do anything He wanted to? It is a great heart-cry of man toward God, “God, you can do anything! Help me! Change things!” Did you ever consider that your Lord prayed this prayer? But Jesus didn’t condemn God when a miraculous way out didn’t suddenly appear. Often, our prayers become, “If You can do all, Why won’t You help me?” Instead, Jesus fully trusted God in that moment, unlike Adam and every man to come after. He did not falter in his faith that God was love, that God was doing His best for him. Jesus chose to trust God fully and faced the realization that he had to go through to get to the glory on the other side: “Yet not what I will, but what You will.” He returns to his friends to find them sleeping. I can see him shaking the shoulder of Peter with an expression of disappointment and pain.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?
Why do you think Jesus came back to his men, his friends? Did he have the presence of mind to say, “Oh, yeah! I gave those guys a command. Wonder if they’re obeying?” No. This was the most difficult moment of his life. He was a man, just like you or me, facing torture beyond that which man had experienced. He, our Lord, even asked God to get him out of it, to find another way. I’ve asked God to heal a tooth or another malady just to get out of going to the dentist or doctor! Jesus was facing the total and complete unleashing of the Devil’s fury. I think he came back for encouragement and comfort, for help. People will fail you. Even your best friends, your closest allies, will drop the ball in time of need. Jesus experienced this. Not once, but three times. The failure of others is never a reason to step out of the mission God has sent you to do.
(38) Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
(39) Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
(40) When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
What a difficult moment for Peter, James, and John. How awful to have let down the Lord Jesus when all he asked them to do was to watch and pray.
One pause on the phrase “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” It appears in both Matthew and Mark, the two gospels that include the disciples’ failure to pray and watch with Jesus. It has often grabbed my attention because it appears to be almost an under-the-breath comment. Who was he saying this to? The disciples, or himself? I submit that perhaps God was bolstering Jesus through showing him the pathetic state of man in the very hour Jesus was tempted to quit. Jesus had come to them, as so often they had come to Jesus, but they could not even stay awake, let alone engage in prayer.
Mark 14:41 and 42
(41) Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
(42) Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Next, I want to look at Matthew, the gospel that portrays Jesus as a King.
(36) Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
(37) He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
(38) Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Here we have the addition of two little words that add a great deal to the actual occurrence: with me. Jesus needed these men at this hour.
(39) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
(40) Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.
(41) “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
(42) He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
In Mark we began to see a troubled Jesus, perhaps pacing and definitely disturbed. He walked off, falling to the ground in prayer, and here we see him fall with his face to the ground, flat out. In moments of extreme distress, when the soul is deeply shaken, it is not uncommon to collapse physically. Jesus was suffering intensely. Yet he knew this was coming. What he was about to undergo was not sprung on him in this moment.
This brings up the relationship God had to have with His precious Son. At what point while Jesus was growing up do you think God showed him from the Scriptures what his life’s course was? As a tender Father, God would have chosen the right moment to reveal to His sinless Son that a day and hour was coming when he would have to face death by torture. Jesus didn’t ask to be born—he didn’t ask to take on our sin. But now here he was—alive, breathing. If the mere fact that he had been born and now drew breath meant that he had to obey God all the time, we were saved by a robot, which by default would mean we were not saved. As a sinless man, Jesus had options: 1. Disobey God as Adam had, live a pretty long life due to uncorrupted blood at the time of his conception, and then die a permanent death, or 2. Obey God, live a sinless life and die a horrific death in order to redeem (buy back) sinful man. But one thing is certain: in order for Jesus to save us according to God’s righteous law, it had to be by his free will choice. There had to be an option for Jesus, and it had to be evident to him.
I know that by the time God revealed to Jesus who he was and what had to be accomplished to redeem us, their relationship was well established and Jesus both saw and fully understood the heart of God as love. Pure, unconditional love. I would further imagine that in spite of that, it was difficult for Jesus to grasp and accept a sentence of such magnitude. After all, he was a man, a human being. But there was time. God continued by revelation and His Holy Word to teach Jesus, to encourage him, to motivate him by the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2), to guide him to the point of enduring the cross, scorning its shame. All of God’s reputation and His Word lay in Jesus’ obedience. Whoa…
And now, in the garden, came the moment that Jesus knew was coming. Perhaps in quiet times he even envisioned it as a little easier, while it was yet far off. But here he faces prophecy that he would be beaten beyond recognition as a human being (Isa. 52:14). He had seen the cruelty and depravity of the Roman soldiers and the pain and misery they inflicted on his fellow man. He asks God, with a longing springing from deep, deep within, “God, you can do anything…Take this cup from me.”
Let’s continue the narrative:
(43) When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.
(44) So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
(45) Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
(46) Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
Something occurred here in the garden between Jesus and his Father, God; something that gave Jesus what he needed to stand up, face his betrayer and allow Scripture to be fulfilled.
(47) While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
(48) Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.”
(49) Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
(50) Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
(51) With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
(52) “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
(53) Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Whoa! Hold on here! Where did Jesus get such a specific number? Why would he say such a thing? He was the living Word of God—all that he said and did he received from the Father (John 5:19). I submit that back in the garden, when Jesus struggled so desperately with going forward with his mission, His loving Father, having enormous compassion on him, and knowing it had to be Jesus’ own decision, gave him that way out. “See them, Jesus?” Jesus looked and saw them, more than 12 legions of angels, flaming swords drawn, ready to dive into battle for the only-begotten Son of God, who up to this point had fulfilled every request of His Father’s, even suffering 40 days and nights in the desert being tempted by the Devil himself—no small feat. “If you want, Jesus, if it’s your will, your army stands at your beck and call. Call on them, and they will fight for you and they will win—it will be you and me for eternity. But know what you’re choosing, my Son—My Word to David, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezra, who all lie in death—even Peter, James and John…we’ll lose them.” In that moment the King of Israel chose by his own free will to stay his army!
“But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”(Matt. 29:54). Jesus freely chose the path of the Word of God to our redemption at his cost.
In Luke, which portrays Jesus as a man, we see the absence of the three trips back to the disciples who failed him in his hour of need. But in its shortened version we see again the compassion of a loving Father tending to his obedient and faithful son.
Luke 22: 39-48
(39) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
(40) On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
(41) He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,
(42) “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
(43) An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
(44) And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
(45) When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
(46) “Why are you sleeping? He asked hem. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
(47) While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,
(48) but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
As a human being, one suffering both emotionally and physically, Jesus had searched out the companionship and encouragement of his friends. They were not there for him; they didn’t “get it.” God, understanding the need for physical companionship for His son, sent an angel. I submit that the angel didn’t deliver a big, long pep talk, but maybe that angel just wrapped his arms around Jesus and held him, encouraged him, loved him. He might have needed physical touch.
In John, portraying Jesus as who he was/is in his greatest strength and glory, the Son of the Living God, the rest of this picture is still there. He was not God, Who could not have even been tempted. He was a man, God’s Son, the Last Adam, choosing by free will, with options available otherwise, to go forth and take upon him the Devil’s greatest fury, and in so doing, to pay the debt for man’s sin nature.
(1) When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.
(2) Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
(3) So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
(4) Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
Can you see Jesus coming back to his disciples after resolving to go ahead? He wakes them, tells them to rise, this now is the hour! They wipe the sleep from their eyes, but they cannot wipe the guilt of having fallen asleep out of their guts. Suddenly they hear a sound coming through the night toward them, then the glow of torches. They look to Jesus for leadership—run? Hide? No—he stands with a firm visage, quite different from the one that agonized earlier in the evening. He knows all that is about to happen, even seeing forward to his glory, and has taken it on freely. More than that, he moves toward the approaching threat with boldness, asking them whom they are seeking.
John 18:5 and 6
(5) “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
(6) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
When soldiers come to arrest a person, they come with their adrenaline up—they are the predators. Jesus answered them with such authority and fearlessness, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as the Son of God, that these men fell back upon each other! I can see the shields clashing, the swords getting tangled up, and the confusion among the men! I love the Lord’s response.
(7) Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said “Jesus of Nazareth.”
(8) “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
(9) This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
Jesus’ walk on earth, his life, and his death, were never a given until he chose it to be. His resurrection from death, his raising those among us who have died as Christians, and his gathering together those still alive when he comes are a given now, now that he chose in the Garden of Gethsemane to go forward. Because of this wonderful man, we today can rejoice greatly with God in His Son, for:
2 Corinthians 1:20
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.