What Really Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane

What Really Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane

What Jesus saw in Garden of Gethsemane caused him such strain that he began to literally sweat great drops of blood. Here is Jesus—the eternal Word of God, who spoke the worlds into existence and brought the dead back to life—so horrified at something he sees that his capillaries burst, nearly causing his death.

What had he seen that troubled him so? The real question is what he had not seen. You see, in Matthew 26:39, when he called out to God his Father, as he had numerous times throughout his life, he gets no response. He refers to God as Abba, a term of closest intimacy.

But, for the first time in all of eternity, the Father was silent.

When you look at the scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was betrayed, you have to acknowledge that Jesus does not appear to be going to his death with the courage that we might have expected. In fact, he appears weak—almost scared.

A lot of the world’s other great martyrs, by contrast, died with their fist in the face of the evil empire, saying, “I’m not afraid of death. Bring it on; I’ll never back down!” Think of William Wallace in Braveheart, defiant to the end, crying out “Freedom!” even as he was being killed.

Yet here, we see Jesus approach death with a decidedly different spirit. He’s trembling, stammering, going back and forth frenetically between God and his disciples, asking God if there is another way. Matthew even says at one point that Jesus falls facedown; he’s too weak even to stand up (Matthew 26:39). Martin Luther said, “Never do we see a man fear death like this man!”

And what is really strange about this is that everywhere else in the Gospels, Jesus is the one who shows unflinching courage in the face of danger. Right before this, for example, Jesus’ disciples are trying to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem because it was so dangerous for him there, but Jesus told them it was his destiny and he had to go. Right after this, he’s going to stare down Pilate with stone cold resolve.

So, what happened at this moment?

Matthew 26:37 gives us a clue: It says that as Jesus prayed, “He began to be sorrowful and troubled” (CSB). “Began” means that he saw something while he was praying, something that he hadn’t experienced until that point. And it astonished him. The word translated “sorrowful” is a very strong Greek word that can mean “horrified,” especially when you couple it with “troubled.” One scholar says it indicates the kind of feeling you’d have, for example, if you came home one evening and found your family murdered.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus saw something so horrifying he literally almost died under the strain (Matthew 26:38).

In fact, Luke says that what Jesus saw caused him such strain that he began to literally sweat great drops of blood. Here is Jesus—the eternal Word of God, who spoke the worlds into existence, who walked on top of angry waves, calmed the fiercest storms, cast out demons, healed diseases and brought the dead back to life—so horrified at something he sees that his capillaries burst, nearly causing his death.

What had he seen that troubled him so? The real question is what he had not seen. You see, in Matthew 26:39, when he called out to God his Father, as he had numerous times throughout his life, he gets no response. He refers to God as Abba, a term of closest intimacy.

But, for the first time in all of eternity, the Father was silent.

And so, he stumbles back to his disciples, looking, it seems, for some kind of comfort. But the disciples aren’t there to help him because they are asleep. So he goes back again to the Father, saying the exact same thing: “Father, if there is any other way, save me from this.”

Again, only silence.

William Lane, a New Testament scholar, says that here, in Gethsemane, God had already begun to turn his face away. The judgment for our sin had already begun. Before the first nail was driven into his body, Jesus’ soul was being abandoned by God.

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J. D. Greear
J.D. Greear, Ph.D., pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.

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