An Explanation of Jesus’ Anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane

Of all of the books of the Old Testament, only the book of Isaiah has been fully preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. To me, that is significant, given the fact that Isaiah is the source of some of the greatest prophecies of Jesus, which were made over six hundred years prior to his earthly appearance. These include prophecies of his birth (Isaiah 9:6) and death and resurrection (Isaiah 53). These further include an explanation for Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane (Isaiah 51), which I will examine in the present blog.

Anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane

Just prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the Gospels inform us that he was “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37) and that his soul was “overwhelmed” to the “point of death” (Matthew 26:38). “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Three times he asked the Lord to spare him of the cup, which represented God’s wrath over the sins of the world. In Mark 14:36, Jesus cried out to his father, “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.’”

Through the cup of the Lord’s wrath, the Lord glorified Jesus. “‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’”

Jesus, who was without sin, bore the sins of the world so that we could be freed from the binds of our sins to share eternal joy with our Lord in heaven. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). In other words, it was the Lord’s will that Jesus bear the cup of his wrath for the sins of the world. Only one without sins could break the binds of humanity’s sins, so Jesus was uniquely qualified to take on this role. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Isaiah 51:22 elaborates on the cup of the Lord’s wrath. “This is what your Sovereign Lord says, your God, who defends his people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.’” Instead of the cup of God’s wrath, we have been given the cup of God’s grace, as shared by Jesus during the Last Supper.

In all but one instance, when Jesus prayed to the Lord, he always began the prayer by addressing the Lord as “Father,” or “Abba.” Yet when he bore the sins of the world and became sin itself, the Lord was not with him. In his final words, he did not call out to his father. Instead he called out to God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22). The reason for Jesus’ anguish was his knowledge that by bearing all of the sins of the world, he would be sin itself and therefore would be separated from the love and light of the Lord.

Prior to a sermon I heard this morning, I thought that Jesus’ anguish stemmed from his love for humanity, including even those who persecuted him and whom he forgave (Luke 23:34). Yet Jesus’ great anguish suggests something much more powerful is at work – and only the dread of his separation from the Lord helps to explain it.

God’s Cup of Grace

The gift of God’s grace to humanity over his wrath should not be taken lightly. Consider the way Jesus’ grace-filled disciples served as exemplars of Christ, despite much persecution. Multiple sources indicate that they were stoned, jailed, beaten, crucified, beheaded, and burned to death. Peter was crucified upside down, James was killed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12: 1-2), and Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome. These were confirmed by the Eusebius, the first church historian, in his book “Ecclesiastical History.” The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul were also documented by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertillian and Origen. The martyrdom of James was also documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Yet they sang and rejoiced while in prison (c.f., Acts 16:25). They refused to recant to save themselves. They were filled with God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.

Death Could Not Stop Them

A Pharisee named Gamaliel rather presciently predicted the rise of Christianity when he convinced his fellow Pharisees to leave Peter and the other apostles alone at one point. Gamaliel said, “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:35-39).

By 313 A.D., when Constantine legalized Christianity, Christians numbered between five and six million (Wawro, 2008). Because Christianity is from God, it is the world’s largest religion and has adherents in every country of the world. It is not geographically limited to a single region or a few regions of the world as is the case with many other faiths. It is not based on a words of a single man from a single generation. The Bible was written by forty authors, many of whom were martyred for their beliefs, over fifteen hundred years and across three continents. No one was able to stop the early Christian disciples, despite attempts to cut short their lives and their messages by martyring them. No one was able to stop their leader, Jesus, despite the attempt to cut his life short via the crucifixion. And no one will ever be able to take the glory of the Lord away from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Thank you for your time. I would also like to thank Pastor Daniel Butson of the Fishhawk Fellowship Church for his sermon this morning, which inspired this blog.

References

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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