The Agony of Gethsemane

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From: Yeshua: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Jewish
Perspective. The Abridged version By Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum p548 – 553


Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1


During the agony of Gethsemane, Yeshua entered one of His greatest spiritual battles as Satan made one more attempt to keep Him from the cross.

The Agony

After crossing the brook Kidron (Jn. 18:1), Yeshua and the eleven apostles arrived at the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (Mt. 26:36). When they entered the garden, He left eight of His disciples near the gateway to serve as the first guard:

Sit ye here, while I pray. Then He took Peter, James, and Yochanan, who had also
accompanied Him during the transfiguration, further up the mount to serve as the second guard.

Mk 14:32-33

He told them their main function:

abide ye here, and watch (Mk. 14:34)

(Mk. 14:34)

and also,

Pray that ye enter not into temptation

(Lk. 22:40).

Finally, Yeshua further separated Himself from those three, about a stone’s cast (Lk. 22:41a).

Initially, he kneeled down and prayed (Lk. 22:41b); but eventually, he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed (Mt. 26:39). Then the ordeal of His agony began. The Gospels provide a vivid description of Yeshua’s agony with six statements.
First, He began to be greatly amazed (Mk. 14:33a). In Greek, the term is expressed by the word ekthambeó, meaning “to be utterly surprised” or “to be stunned with astonishment.” Second, He was sore troubled (Mk. 14:33b), meaning He was full of heaviness.
Third, He said, My soul is exceeding sorrowful (Mk. 14:34a); He was pressed upon and engulfed by sorrow. He was suffering great pressure at that moment.
Fourth, even unto death (Mk. 14:34b), meaning the sorrow was so great that His physical frame was in danger of collapsing.
Fifth, And being in an agony (Lk. 22:44a) or conflict, He struggled with two things, which will be discussed shortly.
Sixth, his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground (Lk. 22:44b). He was in so much agony that He actually began sweating blood. This is a known
but very rare medical condition called hematohidrosis. The rupture of some capillaries surrounding the sweat glands leads to blood entering the glands and oozing out of the sweat ducts.


While the Gospels emphasize the emotional and physical sides of Yeshua’s agony, the Hebrew Bible provides additional insight. Isaiah 50:4-9 sheds light on His suffering, and Isaiah 49:1-13 provides a reason for His agony. This passage speaks about the Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah’s favourite term for the Messiah. The Messiah is pictured as being in a state of discouragement because of Israel’s rejection of His Messiahship (Is. 49:1-4). The implication is that His mission ended in failure:

But I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God

(Is. 49:4).

The Servant of Jehovah is seen as agonizing over His failure. In the midst of this agony, a message reaches Him. According to Luke, it was brought by an angel:

And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him

(Lk. 22:43).

The message was sent by God the Father and is recorded in Isaiah 49:5-6

And now says Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Yaakov again to him, and that Yisrael be gathered unto him, (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God has become my strength); yea, he says, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Yaakov, and to restore the preserved of
Yisrael: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

Is 49:5-6


The message of comfort to the Messiah is that Israel’s rejection of His Messiahship did not surprise God the Father; rather, it was a part of His divine plan. For the Messiah to be only Israel’s restorer was too simple of a mission (it is too light a thing). The messianic mission included being the light to the Gentiles and thus becoming God’s salvation unto the end of the earth. The term end of the earth is an idiom for the Gentile world: The Messiah was to be God’s salvation to the entire Gentile world. In God’s divine program, the Messiah would come and be rejected by His own people, making Him the light to the Gentiles for a while. Eventually, Israel too will turn to Him:

Thus says Jehovah, In an acceptable time have I answered you, and in a day of salvation have I helped you; and I will preserve you, and give you for a covenant of the people, to raise up the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages (Is. 49:8).

(Is. 49:8).

Eventually, Israel will turn to the Messiah, and then He will be a covenant of the people, fulfilling all the covenantal promises God made to Israel. One of the covenantal promises was that He would restore the land to the people and restore the people to the land.

Ultimately, Israel will indeed turn to Him. Isaiah’s outline is the same used by Paul in his Israelology, found in Romans 9 – 11.

The Threefold Prayer

The Gospels emphasize another point of Yeshua’s agony: His prayer. Three times, the Messiah prayed that a certain cup would be removed from Him. The first time, He said:

Abba, Father, all things are possible unto you; remove this cup from me: howbeit not what I will, but what you will (Mk. 14:36).

(Mk. 14:36).

Yeshua called God Abba, which is a very intimate term meaning “my Father” or “Daddy.” He then asked that His Father remove the cup from Him, but the content of the cup and His reason for requesting that it be removed from him was not explained. The meaning of the cup will be discussed in point 3. After making His request, He said, not what I will, but what you will. The best models the believer has for praying are the prayers of Yeshua. When He made His request known to God, Remove this cup from me, He added, not what I will, but what you will. Believers must always pray in the will of the Lord.


After praying for the first time, Yeshua returned to find the three apostles at the second watch sleeping.

He asked them: Could you not watch one hour?

(Mk. 14:37).

Apparently, His first prayer lasted approximately one hour. He admonished them:

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mk. 14:38).

(Mk. 14:38).

The disciples, failing to watch and pray, scattered, and when the temptation came, they were weak and could not resist. Yeshua’s second prayer is summarized by Matthew: Again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying,

My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, your will be done

(Mt. 26:42).

This time, He focused more on accepting the fact of having to drink the cup, then returned to His disciples and again found them sleeping (Mk. 14:40).
Yeshua repeated the two previous prayers a third time: And he left them again, and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words (Mt. 26:44).
When He returned, the disciples were sleeping again, but it was inconsequential because Judas was approaching the garden (Mk. 14:41).
Matthew added:

Arise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that betrays me

(Mt. 26:46).

The Meaning of the Cup

Three times, Yeshua prayed that the cup might be removed, so the question arises: What was this cup from which He did not want to drink? Three suggestions have been made as to the meaning of this prayer.

Suggestion One:

The Cup Represents Physical Death One suggestion is that the cup represents physical death. The argument goes something like this: Yeshua, afraid of dying, asked God to spare Him from physical death. This interpretation is weak for three reasons.
First, since the Messiah was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8, NKJV), it would mean that Yeshua was asking for a cancellation of God’s program which He put into effect before the earth was formed. Second, it would mean that He was asking to cancel the whole purpose of the incarnation. Yeshua became human so that He could die. God as God cannot die; God had to become a man to die, so the request would render the incarnation meaningless.
Furthermore, Yeshua predicted that He would die (Jn. 10:17), that He came for the purpose of dying (Lk. 19:10; Heb. 10:5-9), and that His obedience included the obedience of the cross (Phil. 2:8). Hence, it is impossible that He would ask for death to be taken away, rendering Himself a false prophet.
Third, He clearly said that He would not ask the Father to spare Him from death (Jn. 12:27). Therefore, if He now asked the Father to spare Him from death, then He had lied, making Himself a sinner and disqualifying Himself from being the atonement sacrifice.

Suggestion Two:

The Cup Represents Premature Death Another suggestion is that the cup refers to premature physical death; Yeshua feared dying before He actually got to the cross. This is not a good interpretation either because there was no danger of this happening. The Messiah—not the Jewish or Roman leaders or Satan—was in total control of everything pertaining to His death. Yeshua alone controlled everything pertaining to His death. When the soldiers came to arrest Him, He said one word, and that was sufficient to force them all to the ground (Jn. 18:6), proving that He could only be arrested if He allowed it. On the cross, Yeshua dismissed His spirit from His body. If He had wanted to, He could have hung on the cross forever. He chose the moment of His own death (Lk. 23:46). John 10:18 is probably the best verse to refute the notion that Yeshua feared premature death, as it says: No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself.

Suggestion Three:

The Cup Represents Separation from God The third suggestion is most convincing, since it views the word cup as it is often used symbolically in the Hebrew Scriptures: representing the wrath of God. Spiritual death accompanies this wrath and indicates separation from God. All are born spiritually dead, and only those who believe in Yeshua become spiritually alive through rebirth and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual death Yeshua faced in the garden of Gethsemane does not result in His torture by Satan in hell for three days, as some have claimed. For a time, He would be spiritually separated from His Father, and He dreaded that experience. The spiritual separation affected His human spirit, not His divine Spirit, which could never die.

Concerning the Hebrew Bible, two observations can be made.
First, while many Old Testament prophecies predicted Messiah’s physical death, not one prophesied that He would die spiritually.
Second, while His physical death was essential for the atonement, His spiritual death was not, because the principle was always that atonement comes by the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11). The Old and New Testaments emphasize the shedding of His blood for the atonement, and so Yeshua could not legitimately ask to be spared from the physical death that was both
predicted and necessary for the atonement. His spiritual death was neither essential for the atonement, nor prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures; therefore, Yeshua could request to avoid spiritual death. It is difficult for those who are born spiritually dead to appreciate His agony over this. From the time of the incarnation, Yeshua had an unending, uninterrupted relationship and fellowship with God the Father. Facing a severance of this relationship was agonizing for Him.

Conclusions

God the Father’s will was that the Messiah would partake of this cup of wrath, and during the second three hours on the cross, in the period of darkness, He indeed partook of the cup of the wrath of God. For three hours, He was spiritually dead and separated from His Father.16 While this was not essential to the atonement, it became important and relevant to His present high priestly ministry (Heb. 4:14-16).

A common misconception about prayer is that if a person fails to receive what is requested, it is due to a lack of faith. The agony of Gethsemane disproves that teaching. Yeshua prayed that He would not have to drink the cup, and yet God the Father said, “No.” Did Yeshua lack sufficient faith? If so, then He was a sinner, because the Bible teaches that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23b). Sometimes God does say “no” because of a lack of faith (Jam.1:6), but sometimes He says “no” because He knows what the believer will face down the road. God knows what is important for spiritual growth and development. Therefore, a negative answer is not always due to lack of faith. Centuries earlier, in another garden, the first Adam learned disobedience and brought death. Now, in this garden, the last Adam learned obedience and brought life.

16 This will be discussed in § 178.

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