Gethsemane – The Real Story


The fifty-seventh Good Friday has passed since I became a Christian and during that time I have heard hundreds of sermons, read articles and heard services on the radio and television regarding the Easter message of hope, encouragement and Christ’s ultimate victory for all men and women. At some point nearly all the preachers mentioned, in varying degrees of sincerity, that the human side of Jesus momentary shrank from the thought that he was to take on the sin of the world and prayed for another way to be found. The material for their comments is taken entirely from what Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane. “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Matt 26:39). Mark gives a slightly different version of what Jesus said, “And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36). Luke also adds to the uncertainty of the dilemma Jesus faced when he wrote, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done." Luke 22:42.

All theological interpretations draw the same conclusions.

Ever since my teenage days I have always had problems with the normal interpretation of these passages. To me it seemed that Jesus was going back on what he had said previously to his disciples. The Bible commentaries of the older theologians, when consulted, did not help. Adam Clarke, Barnes, Calvin Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, the Pulpit Commentary, the more recent publication, The Interpreter’s Bible, all have a similar view that the humanity of Jesus shrank from the awfulness of the cross. The reason given was the consequences of taking on the sin of the world were to lead to separation from God. William Barclay goes into great detail about the agony that Jesus must have gone through in the Garden of Gethsemane when facing the immediacy of the Cross. Hendriksen is no less forthcoming in mentioning the struggle Jesus had in a accepting the Father’s will. No greater authority than I Howard Marshall in his latest book on St. Luke indicates the dilemma Jesus went through at this point in his life.

The problem to me is that the conversation in the Garden is one-sided. What did God say in the Garden to provoke such an outburst? Was it God speaking at all or was it Satan bringing Jesus under attack? This aspect is not considered at all by the commentators.

Gathering evidence -The statements of Jesus during his ministry

I believe there is another interpretation to these texts and to make the case I want to do what detectives do. Not only to look at the evidence at the scene but undertake a profile of the actions of the person before the event. It can change the interpretation of what happened at the scene of the investigation.

Let us see how Jesus dealt with those who opposed him going to the cross because, during his lifetime, he forecast his death many times. Not only did he tell his disciples that he would die but gave them a clear reason for his death. It was to be a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). He clearly shows that his death was more than a human being giving his life for some cause or other. This was to be a deliberate and predetermined sacrifice as payment (ransom) for people. Rev 13:8 shows that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. To say that Jesus was surprised or even taken unawares by the enormity of being in the ransom position is stretching the imagination too far. He came into the world to do just that. All humans are born to live, whereas Jesus main purpose in being born was to die.

(1) The clash with Peter

From early on in Matthew, Jesus began at a certain point in his ministry, to show his disciples that he was to suffer death at the hands of elders, chief priests and scribes and it was to take place in Jerusalem. In the same text he also forecast his resurrection (Matt 16:21-23). Again he repeats his claim that he was to be killed but this time he adds that it is to be by betrayal with the promise that he would be raised from the dead. (Matt 17:22-23).The incident with the rebuke of Peter has real repercussions for Jesus if he did in the end have a problem with going to the cross. See Peter’s reactions when Jesus forecast his death in the text above. “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you!" Look at the stern way Jesus dealt with Peter. But he (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an offence to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Mt 16:23). See the forthright condemnation of Peter by Jesus. Possibly the most scathing remarks Jesus ever made to a disciple. If, for some reason, Jesus did falter in the Garden of Gethsemane we would have expected him at the very least to have explained more fully the situation of the Garden or have made some mention of it to Peter after the resurrection and try and make amends with him. This scene is repeated by Mark and Luke (See Mk 8:233 & Luke 4:8). The reason Jesus did not mention it to Peter when they had breakfast together was that he had nothing to reproach himself about.

(2) Other warnings about his death

Another warning was given to the disciples about his impending death. He again tells them of his death and resurrection but this time that he will be condemned to death and the Gentiles will mock and flog him. This is of course what happened. He was handed over to civil authorities and flogged and crucified by Roman soldiers (Matt 20:18-19). See also Mark 10:34 & Luke 18:33.In Luke we are told that Jesus mentioned his sufferings and the rejection of his claim to be Saviour by the Jewish spiritual elders and be killed. The promise is added of a third day resurrection (Luke 9:22).
Jesus even mentions the method of his death is to be by crucifixion (Luke 24:7). While Mark shows Jesus prophesying that he will be mocked and spit upon (Mark 10:34).How is John’s account of what Jesus said equate to the notion that Jesus shrank from the horror of the Cross. John records that during a discourse a few hours before the Garden episode Jesus said; "Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ’Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour’ John 12:27. Is it really the proposition that Jesus changed his mind when in the Garden a few hours later?

(3) Evidence from Isaiah

How therefore do we explain Isaiah’s prophecy when he forecast the behaviour of Jesus in Isaiah 53:7?“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. “

There is not one word of protest given by Isaiah from the lips of the Saviour of the world. Therefore whatever Jesus was shrinking from in the Garden I would suggest that there is no evidence that it was the cross and its consequences. Jesus even forecast that his disciples would be baptised with the baptism he was going to be baptised with and drink the same cup (Matt 20:22-23). Therefore this cannot be the same cup as the cup Jesus was asked to drink of in Garden of Gethsemane. The disciples were not asked to take on the sin of the world at their death!Gathering all this information together we find that we cannot deduce from what the Saviour said that there was anything that at the last moment he would want, even for a moment, to change his mind about being a ransom for many. He went as a lamb to the slaughter with his mouth closed. There is therefore no evidence that he would shrink from the cross and indeed it would be out of character for him to do so.

Times when Jesus was under the threat of death

For a solution for the Garden episode we must look first at the times where Jesus so aggravated the crowds that they wanted to kill him. John records that he made the crowds so angry on one occasion that they were prepared to throw stones at him but Jesus hid himself then went out of the temple (John 8:59). Luke records a situation when the crowd arose and took Jesus outside the city and led him to the top of a hill so that they might throw him off it but he just passed through them. No cry for help because he knew his time had not yet come (Luke 4:29-30). It was only in the Garden that Jesus cried out to God in the time of emergency. See what preparations Jesus made for the Garden episode.

What really happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Jesus took the disciples and entered the Garden and told them to sit there. Jesus chose James, John and Peter to walk further with him. He had often made this choice before. He took the three to see the healing of a little girl (Mk 5:37) and brought them up a mountain for them to experience the transfiguration (Mk 9:2). This time however was different. He wanted the three to undertake a specific task, to stay and watch. This is the only time he asked disciples to do something for him personally. He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. (Mk 14:33). Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch." The three were to stay and watch. (Mark 14:33-35). His posture is significant in that he fell to the ground. The only time this action is reported in Scripture. Further the text says that he was in agony falling to the ground. This could mean either physical or mental agony.

The words of Jesus are significant. My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Not death tomorrow or after the trial but the present now. The word thanatos can mean physical death. Link the agony causing Jesus to fall to the ground and physical death hovering over him and we have a scene of frightening proportions. No wonder Satan caused a heaviness to fall upon the disciples. There was no one to help. There is always an assumption with preachers that Jesus was reflecting into the near future. However, the tense of the text is clear. It was happening to Jesus right then, “Even unto death”. Jesus prayed for two things. That the hour might pass and they he may not drink of the cup.“He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.”” Mark 14:35-36

There was a cry from the Saviour. Where else in Scripture was Jesus in such a state that he cried for deliverance? It occurred just once, in the Garden. For most commentators his cries were not heard. Yet the Book of Hebrews tells us that they were heard and that he was delivered from death.

…”Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,” Heb 5:7

So there was a time when Jesus was saved from death by his prayers and supplications accompanied by cries to God. “Father …take this cup away from me”. On the basis of this information Jesus wanted to go through to the cross and fulfil his ambition to offer his life a ransom for many but was being prevented from doing so by Satan!

What was the cup? Was it Satan’s last chance of stopping the Saviour fulfilling his ultimate task of bringing salvation to all people by his death and resurrection. In Greek administration of justice the condemned person was required to drink poison from a cup. Socrates died by drinking Hemlock (Atropine). Was this cup presented to Jesus as an alternative to dying on a cross? Not likely? See what Satan offered Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. No less that the kingdoms of the world. Luke offers a deeper glimpse into the Garden struggle (Luke 22:43-44). He mentions the appearance of an angel. “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him Luke 22:43-44. Then the text continues, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
When Jesus was last in the position of complete exhaustion was after he had been tempted by Satan and had fasted for forty days. Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. (Mk 1:14).
Further evidence of this satanic attack is revealed when Luke says that Jesus was in agony and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. This man was dying and cried out to the one who can save and he was saved as the writer to the book of Hebrews stated so clearly.


There is no evidence that Jesus ever shrunk for even one moment from the task given to him by the Father. He fought the greatest battle for our salvation in Gethsemane. Satan offered a way out which did not tempt Jesus at all but asked while coming under attack what the Father’s will was in the matter. His motivation was to die on a cross as he himself prophesied but Father’s ultimate will was to be obeyed. Jesus did not take the cup and drink but lived to die on the cross. I am so glad that he won the victory before going on the cross. I believe that this interpretation is nearer the truth than that Jesus at the last moment shrank from his ultimate sacrifice. 

Printer Printable Version