Agony in the Garden
WHEN Jesus finishes praying, he and his 11 faithful apostles sing songs of praise to Jehovah. Then they descend from the upper room, emerge into the cool darkness of the night, and head back across the Kidron Valley toward Bethany. But along the way, they stop at a favorite spot, the garden of Gethsemane. This is located on or in the vicinity of the Mount of Olives. Jesus has often met with his apostles here amid the olive trees.
Leaving eight of the apostles—perhaps near the garden’s entrance—he instructs them: “Sit down here while I go over there and pray.” He then takes the other three—Peter, James, and John—and proceeds farther into the garden. Jesus becomes grieved and sorely troubled. “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death,” he tells them. “Stay here and keep on the watch with me.”
Going a little way forward, Jesus drops to the ground and with his face to the ground begins earnestly praying: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” What does he mean? Why is he “deeply grieved, even to death”? Is he backing down from his decision to die and provide the ransom?
Not at all! Jesus is not appealing to be spared from death. Even the thought of avoiding a sacrificial death, once suggested by Peter, is repugnant to him. Rather, he is in agony because he fears that the way he will soon die—as a despicable criminal—will bring reproach upon his Father’s name. He now senses that in a few hours he is going to be impaled upon a stake as the worst kind of person—a blasphemer against God! This is what sorely troubles him.
After praying at length, Jesus returns and finds the three apostles sleeping. Addressing Peter, he says: “Could you men not so much as watch one hour with me? Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.” Acknowledging, however, the stress they have been under and the lateness of the hour, he says: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
Jesus then goes off a second time and requests that God remove from him “this cup,” that is, Jehovah’s assigned portion, or will, for him. When he returns, he again finds the three sleeping when they should have been praying that they not enter into temptation. When Jesus speaks to them, they do not know what to say in reply.
Finally, a third time, Jesus goes away, about the distance of a stone’s throw, and on bended knees, with strong outcries and tears, he prays: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me.” Jesus keenly feels severe pains because of the reproach that his death as a criminal will bring on his Father’s name. Why, to be charged as a blasphemer—one who curses God—is almost too much to bear!
Nevertheless, Jesus continues to pray: “Not what I want, but what you want.” Jesus obediently submits his will to God’s. At this, an angel from heaven appears and strengthens him with some encouraging words. Likely, the angel tells Jesus that he has his Father’s smile of approval.
Yet, what a weight is on Jesus’ shoulders! His own eternal life and that of the whole human race hangs in the balance. The emotional stress is enormous. So Jesus continues praying more earnestly, and his sweat becomes as drops of blood as it falls to the ground. “Although this is a very rare phenomenon,” observes The Journal of the American Medical Association, “bloody sweat . . . may occur in highly emotional states.”
Afterward, Jesus returns for a third time to his apostles, and once more finds them sleeping. They are exhausted from sheer grief. “At such a time as this you are sleeping and taking your rest!” he exclaims. “It is enough! The hour has come! Look! The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer has drawn near.”
While he is yet speaking, Judas Iscariot approaches, accompanied by a large crowd carrying torches and lamps and weapons. Matthew 26:30, 36-47; 16:21-23; Mark 14:26, 32-43; Luke 22:39-47; John 18:1-3; Hebrews 5:7.
▪ After leaving the upper room, where does Jesus lead the apostles, and what does he do there?
▪ While Jesus is praying, what are the apostles doing?
▪ Why is Jesus in agony, and what request does he make of God?
▪ What is indicated by Jesus’ sweat becoming as drops of blood?