By Peter Amsterdam
January 18, 2022
After finishing His final meal with His disciples,1 Jesus led them out to the Mount of Olives.2 It was there that He told His disciples that they would all fall away because of me this night.3 Peter and the other disciples stated that they would never fall away.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”4
The name Gethsemane is a combination of two Hebrew/Aramaic words, “gat shemanie,” literally meaning “olive press.” It was likely the name of an olive orchard at the base of Mount Olivet. The Gospel of John describes the place as a garden.5
Gethsemane was within the bounds of “greater Jerusalem,” which meant that Passover groups who had come from all over Israel and even further away would camp there overnight, as they had to remain within Jerusalem during the Passover. It is likely that at earlier times when Jesus and the disciples had gone to Jerusalem, they had slept in Gethsemane, which is why Judas knew that Jesus would be found there.
Having told His disciples to sit here, while I go over there to pray, Jesus separated Himself from the majority, though not all, of the disciples.
Taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”6
Other Bible translations say that Jesus was sorrowful and deeply distressed (CSB), sorrowful and very heavy (KJV), grieved and distressed (NAS), and anguished and distressed (NLT).
Jesus was likely quoting from Psalm 42 when expressing His deeply felt emotion.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? … My soul is cast down within me.7
One author explains: Matthew does not leave his readers to think that Jesus was troubled in the same way as we all are from time to time. In Gethsemane he underwent a most unusual sense of being troubled that we must feel is connected not only with the fact that he would die, but that he would die the kind of death he faced, a death for sinners. … Jesus would be one with sinners in his death, he would experience the death that is due to sinners, and it seems that it was this that brought about the tremendous disturbance of spirit that Matthew records.8
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”9
After asking the three disciples who were with Him to remain here, and watch with me, Jesus withdrew about a stone’s throw away as described in the Gospel of Luke.10 Falling with one’s face to the ground was a posture of supplication, of presenting a petition or prayer. He began His prayer with My Father. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus prays Abba, Father, and in the Gospel of Luke simply prays Father. All of these show the warm relationship Jesus had with the Father.
In starting His prayer with if it be possible, Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t asking for anything that was against His Father’s will. Rather, He was asking whether it was necessary for Him to die by crucifixion. It was a horrible and painful way to die, one that anyone would seek to avoid if possible.
In the Old Testament, the “cup” is often associated with suffering and the wrath of God.
Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.11
Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.12
Throughout His life, Jesus sought only to do the Father’s will; and once again, He confirmed His desire to do so, saying not as I will, but as you will. Of course, this came with a cost. Jesus was the Son of God, but He was also human. He knew He was going to suffer a horrible and painful death, and it was a natural human reaction to pray that if it were possible, that it might be avoided. Even so, Jesus’ main concern was doing the will of His Father.
He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”13
Jesus was a short distance from the disciples as He was praying. He then returned to the disciples, likely referring to Peter, James, and John, who along with Jesus had moved away from the rest of the disciples. The three were sleeping. At this difficult time, when Jesus was looking for support from His friends, they let Him down.
Jesus asked them if they didn’t have the strength to watch with Him for one hour. His question is providing somewhat of an excuse for them, inferring that they didn’t have the strength to do so, and then stating that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. They had earlier professed their loyalty and stated that they were ready to die for Jesus (v.35), but when they were tested, they were too tired and didn’t have the strength to watch with Him for even an hour. Jesus went on to exhort them to watch and to pray. He had earlier told them to “watch with me” (v.38), and He repeats it again (v.41), adding “and pray,” knowing that only the Father could give them what they would need to face the challenges which were to come upon them shortly.
Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”14
Jesus once again went a distance from the three disciples who were with Him and began to pray to His Father. Previously, He had prayed that if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,15 and now He prays, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done. Having earlier made His petition to the Father to let the cup pass, Jesus now understands that drinking of “this cup” is the Father’s will, and He yields to His Father’s will.
And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.16
In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus came to the three disciples a second time, we read:
Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.17
Their response in Mark shows that the disciples were embarrassed, and they couldn’t excuse themselves. They knew that they had let Jesus down.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”18
Different Bibles translate the first sentence differently. KJV says: Sleep on now, and take your rest, while NAS says: Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?19 This is the third and final time that Jesus comes from prayer in order to ask the three disciples to pray with Him, and once again He finds them sleeping. While some translations seem to indicate that He was telling the disciples to keep on sleeping, it is generally understood that Jesus did not want the disciples to keep sleeping this time any more than He did the two other times He went to them.
He stated that the hour is at hand, meaning that the time of His betrayal and of the scattering of the disciples had arrived, as He had predicted earlier when He said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”20 Four times within this chapter we find reference to Jesus’ betrayal.21 He was aware that He was on the verge of being betrayed by one of His own.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.
Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.
Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.
Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.
Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Brill Academic, 1999.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.
Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.
Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.
Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.
Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.
Jeremias, Joachim. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.
Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.
Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.
Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.
Lewis, Gordon R., and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
Manson, T. W. The Sayings of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.
Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.
McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.
Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.
Morris, Leon. Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1960.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words & Works of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
Sheen, Fulton J. Life of Christ. New York: Doubleday, 1958.
Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Stassen, Glen H., and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003.
Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Stein, Robert H. Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.
Stein, Robert H. The New American Commentary: Luke. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1992.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.
Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Witherington, Ben, III. The Christology of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.
Witherington, Ben, III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.
Wood, D. R. W., I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, eds. New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Wright, N. T. After You Believe. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010.
Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.
Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.
Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.
1 Matthew 26:17–20.
2 Matthew 26:30.
3 Matthew 26:31.
4 Matthew 26:36.
5 John 18:1.
6 Matthew 26:37–38.
7 Psalm 42:5–6. See also Psalm 43:5.
8 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 667.
9 Matthew 26:39.
10 Luke 22:41.
11 Psalm 11:6.
12 Isaiah 51:17. See also Ezekiel 23:33–34.
13 Matthew 26:40–41.
14 Matthew 26:42.
15 Matthew 26:39.
16 Matthew 26:43–44.
17 Mark 14:40.
18 Matthew 26:45.
19 Matthew 26:45 NAS.
20 Matthew 26:21.
21 Matthew 26:16, 21, 23, 25.