What really happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? Was this just a resting stop on the way to the Cross? Or was something else going on there? Why did nine disciples outside the area of action fall asleep as well as the three disciples, Peter, James and John, who accompanied Jesus further into the Garden? What was going on in this place that the very closest disciples Jesus had, the inner circle, could not resist and allow them to minister to their Lord at the moment of His greatest challenge? And just what was this greatest challenge that Jesus faced, greater than even the challenge of the Cross? Have you ever asked yourselves these questions as you read about the events in that garden of old? Although all four Gospels have a reference to Gethsemane, only Matthew and Mark identify the garden by name. We will look at Matthew’s account first for it seems to be the most complete in the details
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” (Matt 26:36-46, KJV)
By looking at Luke’s account, we pick up some more detail “And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine,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. 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. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. (Luke 22:39-46, KJV). Now by prayerfully reading both Matthew’s account and Luke’s account, we can gain some much-needed insight into the actual situation Jesus encountered in the Garden of Gethsemane.
First, Matthew has Jesus taking His disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane, depositing eight of them (Judas was meeting with the religious leaders and receiving the price of a slave [30 pieces of silver] for his betrayal) near the entrance to the garden with instructions to sit there while He went and prayed further into the garden. Jesus then took the inner circle, Peter James and John with Him farther into the garden “and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:36-38, KJV). Why would the soul of Jesus be exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death? And was this the death of the Cross, or by some other means? Luke helps out here by telling us “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. 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” (Luke 22:43-44, KJV). Notice that Jesus was in great agony and He was sweating blood. This condition (hematradosis) is caused when the small blood vessels in the face, particularly in the forehead, burst and allows the blood they were carrying to mingle with the sweat forming on their brow. I heard a medical doctor talking about this condition once. He stated that in all of his years of medical practice, he had only seen two cases of a patient “sweating blood”. In both instances, it was in an emergency room at the hospital. Both patients had been in a terrible accident, which caused extreme stress to their body. Both patients were unconscious during the time they were “sweating blood”, and both patients died without ever regaining consciousness. Their bodies were in such deep shock that they never came out of the shock their bodies were suffering.
Doesn’t this sound like what Jesus was going through, when He said in Matthew “my soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (v.38)? Then, at this point in the narrative Luke tells us that an angel from Heaven began to strengthen him. What would have happened to the physical body of Jesus if the angel were not there to strengthen Him? Suppose that it would have reacted as other physical bodies have reacted and just shut down for the trauma was too great for the physical body to handle? But Jesus could not die in that garden; He had to physically die on the cross to pay our sin debt. No wonder there was an angel from Heaven to strengthen Him!
So what was the job of the three disciples who accompanied Jesus into the garden? In Matthew, Jesus went back to the three disciples that were with Him in the garden proper. “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:40-41, KJV). Jesus “went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (v.42). And a third time, Jesus prayed the same prayer, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (v. 44). Three times now, Jesus has pleaded with His Father to let the cup He is about to drink pass from Him, however it is not His will he seeks fulfilled, but His Father’s will. Now what was the role of the three disciples there in the garden with Jesus? They were there to “watch and pray”, in other words, they were to be intercessors for Jesus during His darkest hour and they utterly failed because they were sleeping, not once, but three times. Instead of the intercessory prayer of His closest disciples sustaining Him in the agony within the garden, He had an angel from Heaven to strengthen Him because the disciples were simply not up to the task.
But why would the disciples not be up to the task? Because there was a battle raging in that garden that fateful night which the disciples were not equipped to handle. What battle was there? After all the only people present were the disciples and Jesus who was in prayer to His Father. And this is the point that usually escapes us when we read about Jesus’ experiences in the Garden of Gethsemane. Up to this point in the life of Jesus, He had not sinned once, even though sorely tempted by the devil on many occasions. Now, here in the Garden of Gethsemane, the greatest temptation in the life of Jesus was unfolding. If Jesus were to refuse to follow the plan for the salvation of men laid down from before the foundations of the world were laid, then Jesus would be in disobedience to His Father just as surely as Adam was when he ate the forbidden fruit. So just what was the part of the salvation plan that would cause Jesus such great agony that blood would actually drip from His forehead and He would plead with His Father three times to take this cup away from Him and three times end His prayer each time by telling His Father that it was not the will of Jesus which mattered, it was the Father’s will that must be done. Had Jesus refused to drink from the cup the Father was offering, then Jesus would have sinned and could never have paid our sin debt for us.
Don’t you know that Satan was working overtime in the garden to cause Jesus to refuse His Father’s cup? For then, the sinless Lamb of God would have at least one sin of His own and that one sin would hav3e prevented Jesus from paying our sin debt. So what was this terrible thing that was in the Father’s cup, which Jesus would drink, that would cause such tremendous trauma in the body of Jesus that He would actually sweat blood? To understand this, you must understand what the wages of sin are. The actual wages of sin, the just payment for the sin, is to be totally separated from a holy God, for a holy God cannot look upon nor tolerate sin in any form. From the very beginning, the Trinity existed as an entity; no person of the Trinity had ever been separated from the others in their entire existence. Not only that, but there was no precedent established to show that upon separation of one member of the Trinity, that member could again join the other two and be just as they were before the separation. This had never been done before, new ground was being plowed.
Yet, the very cup that Jesus was being offered by His Father was to be separated from Him for the first time in all of eternity. As Paul said to the Corinthian church “for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21, KJV). Jesus, being made sin for us, would be totally separated from His Father and the Holy Spirit, for they could not look upon Jesus in the sinful state He would be in to pay our sin debt. This is why Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). It was the separation from the Trinity that was the true payment for our sins. In this way, a just God would have the payment justice demanded, separation from God, or spiritual death. However, since Jesus had no sin of His own that would cause a separation from God, i.e. a spiritual death; when He had paid our sin debt by having our sin separate Him from the Trinity, then He would be free to come up out of Hell and rejoin the Trinity once more in Heaven. This is why Satan tried so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane to convince Jesus that He really didn’t want to be separated from the Trinity and why Jesus sought three times for the Father to remove the cup which would require Jesus to be totally separated from the Trinity, not only separated, but be actually in Hell, a place no one had ever escaped from in all eternity. What a battle that was between Jesus and Satan there in that garden! Praise be to God, Jesus persevered. Our salvation was assured because Jesus chose to be obedient to His Father rather than insist on having His own way. The garden was the last place before the cross itself where Satan could try to tempt Jesus into sinning. The heavy drama unfolding in the garden that night was what acted like a drug on the disciples and caused them to sleep rather than intercede for Jesus as He wanted. Surely, as Jesus said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41).