1-3. (a) How severe is Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and what is the cause? (b) What can be said about Jesus’ example of endurance, and what questions arise?
THE pressure is intense. Jesus has never before experienced such mental and emotional anguish. He is in the final hours of his life on earth. Together with his apostles, he comes to a familiar place, the garden of Gethsemane. He has often met with them here. On this night, however, he needs some time alone. Leaving his apostles, he goes deeper into the garden, and kneeling, he begins to pray. He prays so earnestly and gets into such an agony that his sweat becomes “as drops of blood falling to the ground.”—Luke 22:39-44.
2 Why is Jesus so troubled? True, he knows that soon he will have to face extreme physical suffering, but that is not the reason for his anguish. Far more important matters weigh on him. He is deeply concerned about his Father’s name and recognizes that the future of the human family depends on his remaining faithful. Jesus knows how vital it is that he endure. Were he to fail, he would bring great reproach on Jehovah’s name. But Jesus does not fail. Later that day, moments before drawing his last breath, the man who set the finest example of endurance ever on earth cries out triumphantly: “It has been accomplished!”—John 19:30.
3 The Bible urges us to “consider closely the one [Jesus] who has endured.” (Hebrews 12:3) Some important questions thus arise: What are some of the trials Jesus endured? What enabled him to endure? How can we follow his example? Before we answer these questions, though, let us examine what endurance involves.
What Is Endurance?
4, 5. (a) What does “endurance” mean? (b) How might we illustrate that endurance involves more than just experiencing inescapable hardship?
4 From time to time, all of us are “distressed by various trials.” (1 Peter 1:6) Does the fact that we undergo a trial necessarily mean that we are enduring it? No. The Greek noun for “endurance” means “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty.” Regarding the kind of endurance referred to by Bible writers, one scholar explains: “It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope . . . It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal.”
5 To endure, then, is not simply a matter of experiencing inescapable hardship. In the Biblical sense, endurance involves steadfastness, keeping the right mental attitude and a hopeful outlook in the face of trials. Consider an illustration: Two men are imprisoned in similar conditions but for very different reasons. One, a common criminal, begrudgingly serves his sentence with sad-faced compliance. The other, a true Christian imprisoned for his faithful course, stands his ground and keeps a positive attitude because he sees his situation as an opportunity to demonstrate his faith. The criminal can hardly be considered an example of endurance, whereas the loyal Christian exemplifies this sterling quality.—James 1:2-4.
6. How do we cultivate endurance?
6 Endurance is essential if we are to gain salvation. (Matthew 24:13) However, we are not born with this vital quality. Endurance must be cultivated. How? “Tribulation produces endurance,” says Romans 5:3. Yes, if we truly want to develop endurance, we cannot fearfully withdraw from all tests of faith. Rather, we must face them. Endurance results when day by day we confront and overcome trials large and small. Each test we pass strengthens us to meet the next one. Of course, we do not build endurance on our own. We need to keep “depending on the strength that God supplies.” (1 Peter 4:11) To help us remain steadfast, Jehovah has given us the best possible aid—the example of his Son. Let us take a closer look at Jesus’ flawless record of endurance.
What Jesus Endured
7, 8. What did Jesus endure as the end of his earthly life drew near?
7 As the end of his earthly life drew near, Jesus endured cruelty upon cruelty. In addition to the extreme mental stress that he was under on his final night, consider the disappointment he must have felt and the humiliation he suffered. He was betrayed by an intimate associate, abandoned by his closest friends, and subjected to an illegal trial during which members of the highest religious court of the land ridiculed him, spit on him, and hit him with their fists. Yet, he endured it all with quiet dignity and strength.—Matthew 26:46-49, 56, 59-68.
8 In his final hours, Jesus endured tremendous physical suffering. He was scourged, severely beaten in a way that is said to cause “deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss.” He was executed in a manner that led to “a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.” Think about the agony he must have felt as large nails were pounded through his hands and feet, fastening him to the stake. (John 19:1, 16-18) Imagine the searing pain that seized him as the stake was swung upright and the weight of his body hung from the nails and his torn back scraped against the stake. And he endured this extreme physical suffering while bearing the load described at the outset of this chapter.
9. What is involved in picking up our “torture stake” and following Jesus?
9 As followers of Christ, what may we have to endure? Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him . . . pick up his torture stake and keep following me.” (Matthew 16:24) The expression “torture stake” is here used figuratively to represent suffering, shame, or even death. Following Christ is not an easy course. Our Christian standards make us different. This world hates us because we are no part of it. (John 15:18-20; 1 Peter 4:4) Nevertheless, we are willing to pick up our torture stake—yes, we are prepared to suffer, even die, rather than give up following our Exemplar.—2 Timothy 3:12.
10-12. (a) Why did the imperfections of those around him pose a test of endurance for Jesus? (b) What were some of the trialsome situations that Jesus endured?
10 During his ministry, Jesus faced other tests brought on by the imperfections of those around him. Recall that he was the “master worker,” whom Jehovah used to create the earth and all life on it. (Proverbs 8:22-31) So Jesus knew what Jehovah purposed for humankind; they were to reflect His qualities and enjoy life in perfect health. (Genesis 1:26-28) When on earth, Jesus saw the tragic results of sin from a different perspective—he himself was a man, able to experience human feelings and emotions. How it must have pained him to see firsthand how far humans had fallen from the original perfection of Adam and Eve! A test of endurance thus confronted Jesus. Would he get discouraged and give up, viewing sinful humans as a lost cause? Let us see.
11 The unresponsiveness of the Jews caused Jesus such distress that he openly wept. Did he allow their indifference to dampen his zeal or cause him to stop preaching? On the contrary, “he continued teaching daily in the temple.” (Luke 19:41-44, 47) He was “thoroughly grieved” at the insensibility of the hearts of the Pharisees who were watching closely to see whether he would heal a certain man on the Sabbath. Did he let those self-righteous opposers intimidate him? Certainly not! He stood firm and healed the man—right in the center of the synagogue at that!—Mark 3:1-5.
12 Something else must have been trialsome for Jesus—the weaknesses of his closest disciples. As we learned in Chapter 3, they demonstrated a persistent desire for prominence. (Matthew 20:20-24; Luke 9:46) Jesus counseled them more than once about the need for humility. (Matthew 18:1-6; 20:25-28) Yet, they were slow to respond. Why, on his final night with them, they got into “a heated dispute” about who was the greatest among them! (Luke 22:24) Did Jesus give up on them, reasoning that they were beyond hope? No. Ever patient, he remained positive and hopeful, continuing to see the good in them. He knew that at heart they loved Jehovah and really wanted to do His will.—Luke 22:25-27.
13. We may face what tests that are similar to those that Jesus endured?
13 We may face tests that are similar to those that Jesus endured. For example, we may encounter people who are unresponsive or even opposed to the Kingdom message. Will we allow such negative reactions to dampen our spirits, or will we continue to preach with zeal? (Titus 2:14) We may be tested as a result of the imperfections of our Christian brothers. A thoughtless word or careless deed may hurt our feelings. (Proverbs 12:18) Will we let the shortcomings of fellow believers cause us to give up on them, or will we continue to put up with their faults and look for the good in them?—Colossians 3:13.
Why Jesus Endured
14. What two factors helped Jesus to stand firm?
14 What helped Jesus to stand firm and keep his integrity despite all the indignities, disappointments, and sufferings he faced? There are two outstanding factors that sustained Jesus. First, he looked above, appealing to “the God who supplies endurance.” (Romans 15:5) Second, Jesus looked ahead, focusing on what his endurance would lead to. Let us consider these factors one at a time.
15, 16. (a) What shows that Jesus did not rely on his own strength to endure? (b) What confidence did Jesus have in his Father, and why?
15 Jesus, although the perfect Son of God, did not rely on his own strength to endure. Instead, he turned to his heavenly Father and prayed for help from above. The apostle Paul wrote: “Christ offered up supplications and also petitions, with strong outcries and tears, to the One who was able to save him out of death.” (Hebrews 5:7) Notice that Jesus “offered up” not just petitions but also supplications. The term “supplication” refers to an especially heartfelt and earnest entreaty—yes, a begging for help. The use of the plural “supplications” indicates that Jesus implored Jehovah more than once. Indeed, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed repeatedly and fervently.—Matthew 26:36-44.
16 Jesus had complete confidence that Jehovah would answer his supplications, for he knew that his Father is the “Hearer of prayer.” (Psalm 65:2) During his prehuman existence, the firstborn Son had seen how his Father responds to the prayers of loyal worshippers. For example, the Son was an eyewitness in the heavens when Jehovah dispatched an angel to answer the heartfelt prayer of the prophet Daniel—even before Daniel had finished praying. (Daniel 9:20, 21) How, then, could the Father fail to answer when his only-begotten Son poured out his heart “with strong outcries and tears”? Jehovah did respond to the entreaties of his Son and sent an angel to strengthen him to bear up under the ordeal.—Luke 22:43.
17. To endure, why should we look heavenward, and how may we do so?
17 To endure, we too must look heavenward—to the God “who gives [us] power.” (Philippians 4:13) If the perfect Son of God felt the need to supplicate Jehovah for help, how much more so should we! Like Jesus, we may need to implore Jehovah repeatedly. (Matthew 7:7) Although we do not expect to receive an angelic visit, of this we can be sure: Our loving God will respond to the pleas of the loyal Christian who “continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” (1 Timothy 5:5) Regardless of the trials we may face—whether ill health, the death of a loved one, or persecution from opposers—Jehovah will answer our fervent prayers for wisdom, courage, and strength to endure.—2 Corinthians 4:7-11; James 1:5.
18. How did Jesus look beyond his suffering to what lay ahead?
18 The second factor that enabled Jesus to endure is that he looked ahead, beyond the suffering to what lay before him. Of Jesus, the Bible says: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake.” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus’ example illustrates how hope, joy, and endurance work together. This might be summed up as follows: Hope leads to joy, and joy to endurance. (Romans 15:13; Colossians 1:11) Jesus had marvelous prospects. He knew that faithfulness on his part would help to sanctify his Father’s name and enable him to repurchase the human family from sin and death. Jesus also had the hope of ruling as King and serving as High Priest, to bring further blessings to obedient humans. (Matthew 20:28; Hebrews 7:23-26) By focusing on the prospects and hope before him, Jesus found immeasurable joy, and that joy, in turn, helped him to endure.
19. When faced with tests of faith, how can we let hope, joy, and endurance work together in our behalf?
19 Like Jesus, we need to let hope, joy, and endurance work together in our behalf. “Rejoice in the hope,” said the apostle Paul. He then added: “Endure under tribulation.” (Romans 12:12) Are you facing a severe test of faith at the present time? Then by all means look ahead. Do not lose sight of the way your endurance will bring praise to Jehovah’s name. Keep the precious Kingdom hope in clear focus. Picture yourself in God’s coming new world, and imagine yourself experiencing the blessings of the Paradise. Anticipating the fulfillment of the wonderful things Jehovah has promised—including the sanctification of his name, the removal of wickedness from the earth, and the elimination of sickness and death—will fill your heart with joy, and that joy can help you to endure no matter what trials may befall you. When compared with the realization of the Kingdom hope, any suffering in this system of things is indeed “momentary and light.”—2 Corinthians 4:17.
“Follow His Steps Closely”
20, 21. When it comes to endurance, what does Jehovah expect of us, and what should be our determination?
20 Jesus knew that being his follower would be challenging, a course calling for endurance. (John 15:20) He was prepared to lead the way, knowing that his example would strengthen others. (John 16:33) Granted, Jesus set the perfect example of endurance, but we are far from perfect. What does Jehovah expect of us? Peter explains: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:21) In the way he dealt with trials, Jesus left “a model,” a pattern to be copied.a The record of endurance that he built up may be compared to “steps,” or footprints. We cannot follow those steps perfectly, but we can follow them “closely.”
21 Let us, then, be determined to follow Jesus’ example to the best of our ability. Let us never forget that the more closely we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, the better equipped we will be to endure “to the end”—the end of this old system of things or the end of our present life. We do not know which will come first, but we do know this: For all eternity, Jehovah will reward us for our endurance.—Matthew 24:13.
a The Greek word translated “model” literally means “under-writing.” The apostle Peter is the only writer of the Christian Greek Scriptures to use this word, which is said to mean “‘a copyhead’ in a child’s exercise book, a perfect piece of writing which the child is to imitate as exactly as it can.”