Matthew 26:36-46 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and said to them, “Sit here while I go over and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him, and he caught to get sad and restless. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overcome with sorrow unto death. Stay here and watch with me.” 39 Walking a little further, he fell face to the ground and prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Not as I want, but as you want.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Couldn't you men keep watch with me for an hour?" he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray lest you 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 to take away this cup unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” 43 As when he came back he found her asleep again, for her eyes were heavy. 44 So he left her and went away again and prayed a third time and said the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is near when the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let's go! Here comes my traitor!
Luke 22:39-46 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives as usual and his disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw from them, knelt down and prayed: 42 “Father, if you want, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but thine be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in distress, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he got up from prayer and returned to the disciples, he found them asleep with sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked her. "Rise and pray that you will not be tempted."
Mark 14:32-42 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 with him and began to be very distressed and troubled . 34 "My soul is overcome with sorrow unto death," he said to them. “Stay here and watch.” 35 As he walked a little further, he fell to the ground and prayed that the hour would pass from him, if possible. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Not what I want, but what you want.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you sleeping? Couldn't you keep watch for an hour? 38 Watch and pray lest you 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 found her sleeping again, for her eyes were heavy. They didn't know what to tell him. 41 When he came back the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let's go! Here comes my traitor!”
The six stanzas of our text underline for us that the meaning of a text cannot always be read from its length. As we see here, sometimes we need to recognize the meaning of the text by its weight or its density. Several indicators point to the critical importance of our passage. First, the prominent activity of our section is prayer. From a combined view of Gethsemane, obtained by comparing the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find that our Lord instructed the disciples to pray three times. They should pray that they would not be tempted. Jesus prayed and persevered. The disciples did not, and they failed. Jesus apparently spent at least three agonizing hours in prayer. As we have already seen in Luke, prayer often accompanied (or better yet) very important events. This is what Jesus prayed when the Holy Spirit descended upon him at the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 3:21). Jesus was in prayer when he was transfigured before the three disciples (Luke 9:29). Jesus is also praying here in the Garden of Gethsemane. Therefore, past experience has taught us to look out for something very important that is about to take place in the very near future.
Second, this is our Lord's last act before He is arrested, tried, and executed. These are also his last words to the disciples, his last instructions to them. A person's last words are very often of great importance, since these words of our Lord are for the disciples and for us.
Third, what is being described here has an emotional intensity. The disciples, Luke tells us, are overcome with sorrow, expressed in their drowsiness and slumber. According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus is “overwhelmed with sorrow unto death” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34). Never before have we seen Jesus so emotionally disturbed. He faced a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, completely composed and imperturbable. He has faced demonic opposition, satanic temptation, and the whims of Jerusalem's religious leaders with absolute composure. But here in the garden the disciples must have been very shocked by what they (little) saw. Here Jesus threw himself on the ground and tormented himself in prayer. Something terrible was about to happen. Jesus knew it and the disciples were beginning to understand it too.
The Passover supper is eaten. Jesus finished his “discourse” as recorded in the Gospel of John, including Jesus' high priestly prayer for his disciples in chapter 17. Jesus and the disciples sang a song, they left the upper room, and they crossed the Kidron to the Mount of Olives and in particular to the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke only mentions that the group went to the Mount of Olives, for his Gentile readers would not have known the exact location, which some of the Jewish readers (of other Gospels) recognized.
The cross is now looming large on the horizon. Jesus will pray in the garden and will return to his disciples twice only to find them asleep. He will ask them to pray that they will not fall into temptation, and then He will return to His own agonizing prayer.96In Luke's account, Jesus was still speaking the words of verses 45 and 46 when Judas and the arrests arrived (verse 47). The arrest of Jesus would lead to His trials and then to His crucifixion. Not only was the cross near in time, it weighed heavily on the Savior's soul.
It is easy to see that Luke's account of our Lord's torment in Gethsemane is much shorter than that of Matthew and Mark. Luke, for example, does not distinguish the three disciples (Peter, James and John) from the other eight, even though these three were taken by our Lord to "watch" with Him from a greater distance. Luke also does not focus on Peter, although in the other accounts Jesus specifically asked Peter to watch and pray. While Matthew and Mark give three different prayer times, with our Lord returning twice to awaken His disciples and urge them to pray, Luke only refers to two.
Luke's unique contribution to the Gethsemane account of the Lord's Prayer is found in verses 43 and 44. These verses have been omitted from very few manuscripts, leading some to question their originality. I believe that these verses are not only original, but that they are Luke's unique contribution to the gospel narrative of the event. It is much easier to see how a copyist could have left them out than to see how they could have been added. We will look closely at these two verses and consider their unique contribution.
Leading Jesu into Gethsemane
39 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives as usual, and his disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw from them, knelt down and prayed: 42 “Father, if you want, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but thine be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in distress, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Jesus pressed on his own cross even while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke tells us that Jesus "went out to the Mount of Olives as usual" (verse 39). We are also told that the Savior and the disciples "reached the place" (verse 40). That was all part of the plan. While Jesus had purposely concealed the place where the Passover meal would be celebrated, he was completely forthright and predictable as to where he would be on that fateful night. He followed His habit, He acted according to a very predictable pattern. Judas would know exactly where to lead the arresting officers to "the place," the place where they had slept every night. There is no evasion here, for it was Jesus' time to be betrayed. He will be taken, but it's not surprising. Everything is going according to plan and according to our Lord's predictions.
When he reached "the place," Jesus told his disciples to pray. There was a specific purpose, a specific goal in mind, "that you may not fall into temptation" (verse 40). They should pray that they would not succumb to temptation. Note that Jesus did not hold a prayer meeting like we sometimes do. He left the disciples in one place while he went alone to another. Neither Luke nor any other writer tells us that Jesus prayed for his disciples as he did in John 17. Also, Jesus did not ask his disciples to pray for him as if he might succumb to temptation. It was the disciples who were failing, not Jesus. Nowhere in this text (or its parallels) do I see any indication that Jesus is in danger of forsaking his way to the cross. Here neither the Lord Jesus nor the plan of salvation were in danger. That had been settled in the past eternity. In the entire account of our Lord's life in Luke's gospel, we saw only the firm resolve to do the Father's will, to go to Jerusalem, to be rejected by the people, and to die. That determined spirit continues here.
Three times Jesus asked his disciples to "pray that they would not fall into temptation," that is, that they would not succumb to it. What temptation was our Lord referring to? I believe that temptation is specific, not general, and that it can be discerned from the context of our Lord's words. What was it in this context that the disciples threatened to do that would succumb to temptation? The temptation, I believe, was based on the disposition of the disciples to see their circumstances in the light of their own ambitions and desires and their own distorted ideas of how and when the Kingdom would come. Early on Peter had tried to rebuke the Lord for speaking of His own death (Matthew 16:21-23). However, this is not recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In the immediate context of Luke's Gospel, the disciples debate among themselves who is considered greatest. We also find Peter boldly assuring Jesus of his faithfulness even though Jesus had already told him he was going to fall. The danger is that the disciples would try to resist our Lord's sacrificial death on Calvary's cross, just as they did when Peter drew his sword to resist his arrest (Luke 22:49-51). Furthermore, there was to be the scattering of the disillusioned disciples when their Lord was arrested and when their hopes for an immediate Kingdom were dashed on the rocks of His rejection by the nation of Israel. In short, the disciples would be tempted to resist rather than submit to God's will for the Savior and for themselves.
After making his disciples obligated to pray for themselves, Jesus moved a little way from them - about a stone's throw, Luke tells us - and began to pray himself. The Lord's Prayer, although it had three sessions and took quite a long time, could be summed up in these words: “Father, if you will, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
What is our Lord praying for? What does he ask of the father? Is Jesus trying to escape his obligation to go to the cross at the last moment? Is he trying to change the father's mind? Is the fate of all mankind at stake here? Was there a very real danger that Jesus might change his mind?
First, let me point out that it wasn't Jesus who was in danger of changing his mind. Jesus wanted to know from the Father what His will was. Jesus was obligated all along to do the will of the Father. Purely hypothetically, Jesus could have told the Father that he had changed his mind and that he would not go to the cross. Jesus did not change his mind about obedience to the Father; He's asking the father, so to speak, if he's changed his mind. Our Lord's submission to the Father's will is never in question. If there is any question, it is the Father's will. In a way, Jesus is simply seeking a final "reading" of what the Father's will was. And even here there was never really any doubt.
Second, Jesus examined the issue of the cross with His Father to see if there was another way of gaining salvation for the people. Jesus asks the Father if there is another way people's sins can be forgiven. The answer is obvious, for the purpose and plan of God stands and is being faithfully pursued by the Lord Jesus.
Let me pause for a moment to underscore this very important point: THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY FOR PEOPLE THAN TO BE SAVED BY THE INNOCENT AND COMPENSATORY SUFFERING OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Jesus had said it before. He was the way, the truth and the life. No one could come to the Father except through Him, except by believing in His death on Calvary in the sinner's place. How often do we hear people speak of the cross of Calvary as one way, one option among many, by which people can gain eternal life. Let me say that if there had been another way, Jesus would not have gone to the cross and the Father would not have sent him. Our Lord's prayer in the garden underscores the New Testament truth that there is only one way, and that way is the shed blood of the sinless Savior, shed for sinners.
Third, we should note from the Lord's Prayer in the garden that he greatly feared "the cup" and that it was this "cup" that Jesus asked to be removed if possible. Why is "the Chalice" such a dreaded thing? What is “the cup” referred to by Jesus, the Lord Jesus? The answer is crystal clear in the Bible. Consider just a few of the passages that speak of this "cup" which our Lord feared so much, and we shall see that his fear was fully justified.
The "cup" of God's wrath
For neither from the east nor from the west nor from the wilderness comes exaltation; But God is the judge; He degrades one and exalts another. For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine is foaming; It is well mixed and He pours out of it; Verily, all the ungodly of the earth must drain and drink down their dregs. But as for me, I'll proclaim it forever, I'll sing praises to the God of Jacob. And all the horns of the wicked he will cut off, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up (Psalm 75:6-10, NASB).
Stand up! Stand up! Arise, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath; You have drained the cup of tumbling to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17, NASB).
And I took the cup out of the hand of the LORD, and gave drink to all the peoples to whom the LORD had sent me: Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and its kings, and its princes, to make them destruction, and a terror, and hissing, and curse as it is today; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people; and all strangers... (Jeremiah 25:15-20a).
And another angel, a third, followed them and said with a loud voice, "Whoever worships the beast and his image, and receives a sign on his forehead or on his hand, will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is full power is mingled in the cup of his wrath; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night that worship the beast and his image, and all that accept the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).
What, then, is the “cup” that our Lord feared? It is the cup of God's wrath poured out on sinners. It is the cup poured out on the unrighteous, whether Jew or Gentile. It is the "cup" prophesied in the Old Testament and still prophesied in the book of Revelation. It is the cup of God's wrath that begins with the Great Tribulation and continues through eternity. The cup97what our Lord feared to drink was the wrath of God manifested in everlasting torment.
No wonder our Lord was "sorrowful and sorrowful" (Matthew 26:37) and His soul "was overcome with sorrow unto death" (Matthew 26:38). Jesus' torment was due to the cross looming before him. He was not in mortal fear that he would be forsaken by man, but that he would be forsaken and smitten by God. Jesus feared, suffered in anticipation of His fullness of the sins of the world and the wrath of God they deserved.
This text tells us that because Jesus bore the wrath of God (the "cup," so to speak) in the place of the sinner, it is not necessary for people to drink that cup as well. Salvation comes when a person comes to faith in Christ, who was innocent yet died in their place and bore the wrath of God that their sins deserved. Those who reject Christ and His atonement must bear the wrath of God that will be poured out on unbelievers in the future. The book of Revelation refers to this anger (see text above).
There is much disagreement among evangelicals as to when and how the second coming of the Lord will come, but one thing seems certain to me from our text: No Christian will go through the tribulation, the future outpouring of God's wrath upon an unbelieving world. All who are godly will suffer “tribulation” (lower case “t”), which represents the wrath of unbelieving people against God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12), but the Great Tribulation (upper case “T”)—the outpouring the Divine's wrath on sinful people - will only come on the unbelievers. The Great Tribulation is a terrible repetition of the torments of Calvary that men must endure because of their rejection of the Savior, and it will only come upon unbelievers.
A problem passage
43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in distress, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Verses 43 and 44 pose a problem for some. First, these verses are not found in very few of the "older" manuscripts. Since "older" is not necessarily "better" and few manuscripts omit these verses, I find it easy to assume that the verses are original. The fact that these verses are difficult to understand and not found in the parallel accounts is, in my opinion, strong evidence of their originality.
Assuming the verses to be genuine, the problem of their interpretation remains. At first glance, the two verses appear to be in reverse order. One would think Jesus should have been strengthened by an angel from heaven at the end of his prayer time in the garden, not somewhere in the middle. One must also ask oneself how it is possible that an angel was able to strengthen Jesus at all. How could an angel “strengthen” the Son of God? If this is not a problem for you, imagine that you were sent from heaven to come to earth and strengthen the Son of God. What would you have done? What would you have said or done?
Fortunately for us, the term "fortified" is found again in the New Testament, in Acts 9:19, where it is said that Paul was "fortified" after eating something after his three-day fast (which began with the appearance of the Lord to him on the way to Damascus). Here it is evident that Paul's strengthening was physical in nature. It seems that the strengthening of our Lord through angelic ministry at the end of His temptation was also primarily physical (cf. Matthew 4:11).
But why would Jesus need physical strengthening here? Matthew and Mark both tell us that our Lord was grieved unto death. I take that very literally and not figuratively. Luke, a physician you will remember, tells us that sorrow was the cause of the disciples' sleepiness (22:45). If these disciples were sleepy with grief and so ignorant of the situation, how do you think our Lord's grief must have touched Him? Luke doesn't leave us to our imaginations here. He tells us that Jesus' agony was so great that "his sweat fell like drops of blood to the earth" (22:44).
I believe our Lord's grief was such that he was practically dying. I believe that without supernatural food (brought from heaven by the angel) Jesus would not have died on the cross but in the Garden of Gethsemane. Such was His agony at the thought of the cross and all that was connected with it, that our Lord was grieved unto death. The physical strengthening was undoubtedly intended to carry our Lord through all the physical and emotional demands of His arrest, trials and crucifixion, but it was also given to sustain Him through His night of prayer. So Jesus, having been strengthened, returned to His prayer in the garden and, Luke tells us, prayed more "more earnestly" (22:44).
Our Lord's suffering was not only in his humanity struggling with the ugly realities of the cross. It was a supernatural suffering, the singular, unparalleled suffering of the sinless God-man, who alone could fathom the depths of God's righteousness, man's sin, and the measure of divine wrath these required. Jesus was supernaturally strengthened because he was supernaturally suffering. We do him a great injustice when we compare him to us and his sufferings to those we would have had in such an environment.
An explanation and a rebuke
45 When he got up from prayer and returned to the disciples, he found them asleep with sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked her. "Rise and pray that you will not be tempted."
The last two verses conclude the section on the Garden of Gethsemane and take us straight to the point of our Lord's arrest. In verse 47 Luke goes on to tell us that Judas and the arresting party arrived at the scene as Jesus said these words (from verses 45-46). In a general description of the disciples as a whole, Luke tells us that when Jesus returned to the place where his disciples were to "watch and pray," he found them asleep. Luke alone tells us that their sleep was induced by sorrow. This was not only due to physical exhaustion, the late hour or apathy. I believe the disciples (cf. "The spirit is willing, but the body is weak," Mark 14:38) desperately wanted to stay awake and "watch" with Him, but could not. Their grief, perhaps vaguely understood or recognized by them, was too much for them.
The human weakness of the disciples, however, did not fully excuse the disciples, and so did the Savior's final rebuke in verse 46. They were told one last time to wake up, stand up, and pray so that they would not fall into temptation. There was no time, however, for Judas had now arrived with a heavily armed group who were attacking Jesus as if he were a dangerous criminal, perhaps a robber.
This passage may be brief, but it is weighty indeed. I feel emotionally drained just reading it. Finally, let us consider some of the implications and applications of our text.
First, the suffering of Jesus was not just his humanity grappling with the physical agony of the cross, but the divinity and humanity of Jesus grappling inseparably with the awful torment of Calvary. It is not the humanity of Jesus that dominates this text, but the humanity of the disciples. It is his deity and humanity dying for man that is the focus. This is about supernatural suffering.
Second, the measure of Christ's torment in Gethsemane is the measure of man's sinfulness and its disastrous and painful consequences. We read the words "the wages of sin is death," but these words take on a much deeper and more personal meaning in the light of Gethsemane.
Third, the measure of Christ's torment in Gethsemane is the measure of the suffering Christ endured in bearing the wrath of God upon sinners at Calvary.98The immeasurable torment of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is in direct proportion to the torment that unsaved men and women will experience in Hell as they drink of the "cup" of God's wrath. The doctrine of atonement focuses on this area, emphasizing the fact that Jesus bore the wrath of God on the cross and satisfied His righteous anger so that people might have peace with God.
Fourth, the measure of Christ's torment in Gethsemane is the measure of God's love for sinners, which caused him to die so that we might live. The songwriter put it well when he wrote, "What wondrous love is this...?" It is amazing love indeed that caused the Son of God to willingly walk the path of pain that led to the cross. If the thought of an angry God and Hell troubles you, remember that the same God bore His own wrath for sinners. Those who will suffer the torment of Hell will do so only because they chose to reject the love of God that brought salvation to all who would receive them on the cross.
Fifth, this text makes it clear that he alone did what Jesus did for man's salvation. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing. They tried to fight back when it started by drawing their swords. They did not watch and pray with the Savior. They did not carry Him in His hour of mourning. Jesus suffered and died alone, without the help of people, even the closest of his followers. What Christ did, he did in spite of the people, not because of them.
Sixth, our Lord's suffering is the test, the measure of all suffering. Let those who think they have suffered for God place their suffering alongside His as described here. The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers that they had not yet suffered bloodshed (Hebrews 12:4). But whose suffering will ever approach His? The best thing we can do in our suffering is to get a sense of fellowship with Christ and His suffering, a tiny sense of what He went through for us (cf. Philippians 3:10). Surely His suffering should silence our complaints of giving up much for Him.
Finally, we are reminded of the tremendous power of prayer. In this text, prayer did not free our Lord from suffering, but it did free Him through it. So often we pray that God will take us out of adversity instead of overcoming it. Prayer is one of God's most important provisions for our endurance and perseverance. His words to his disciples apply to us too: "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."
96 Matthew's account shows that there was some progress in our Lord's prayers in the garden. In his first prayer, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; but not as I want, but as you want” (26:39). In the second prayer, Jesus said, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, thy will be done" (26:42). Our Lord's prayer thus changed from "If it is possible..." to "If it is not possible..."
97 Much less frequently does the Bible speak of another cup—the cup of redemption or joy (cf. Psalm 16:5; 23:5; 116:13; cf. Jeremiah 16:7). I believe the disciples got the two "cups" confused. When James and John asked to sit on Jesus' right hand and left hand in the kingdom, and Jesus asked them if they could drink the "cup" that He was going to drink (Matthew 20:20-23), they said they thought in the "cup" of salvation, in joy, not in His suffering on the Cross, when they quickly replied, "We can."
98 I understand that our Lord had to suffer all his earthly life. He endured suffering because he identified with sinful people and had to "endure" us (cf. Luke 9:41). He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and perhaps at other times in anticipation of the wrath of God that he would bear (cf. Hebrews 5:7-10). And finally He suffered the ultimate torment of the cross at Calvary.