Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

An angel comforts Jesus as he agonizes and suffers in the Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane


Jesus had spent three years ministering to the people and training his disciples. Now the time had come for him to fulfill the main purpose for which he had come to earth: to sacrifice his life as payment for our sin. He would then rise again so that others could be raised to live with him. To prepare for his death, he arrived with his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  During Jesus’ time in the garden, he faced the most difficult trial of his earthly life. Let’s find out why.

Jesus’ imminent suffering

What was he going through in that turbulent episode? Let’s read the story.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:36-39)

At Gethsemane, Jesus’ agony over what he was about to experience was overwhelming. As a human, Jesus knew he would die a painful death on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. And he not only would experience physical death, but he would also be separated from the Father. He would be detached from his source of life, power, and joy.


Jesus’ humanity

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that his Father would take “this cup” from him, if possible. He wanted to know if there was any way he could avoid what he was about to experience. Even though Jesus’ spirit was strong, his body trembled at what was to come. This showed his humanity.

Jesus’ flesh was starting to fail him, and he needed strength from his Father to complete his task. Luke records that at that time, the Father sent an angel to minister to him.

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:43-44) 

Luke the doctor records that Jesus’ anguish was so great that drops of blood sweat from the pores of his skin. This is a documented condition we now call hematohidrosis, caused by extreme anxiety and stress.

Willing spirits but weak flesh

Jesus finally gets up and goes back to his three most committed disciples. But he finds he can’t rely on them.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Matthew 26:40-41)

This story also shows the weakness and humanity of the disciples. They weren’t nearly as strong as Jesus. Their spirits were willing to follow Jesus, but their flesh was weak. After a long tiring day, they let their exhaustion pull them into sleep. They couldn’t stay awake with Jesus during his most difficult hour. And they completely misjudged the severity of the moment—they had no idea what he was going through.

Watch and pray

Jesus warned the disciples about falling into temptation. They were on the verge of losing a major spiritual battle with Satan, but they didn’t know it. They needed God’s strength to fight. But weren’t watching, and they certainly weren’t praying. Even Peter’s manly self-confidence was no match for what was about to happen. But if Peter had been watching and praying, he may not have done the stupid things he later did that night.

The world is full of temptations, conflicts, and dangers. We all need to be vigilant and watch for the temptations that come.  We also need to be praying for the strength to withstand them when they come. Those who are careless about their walk with God will easily fall prey to sin.

And our adversary is strong. We need to watch for his deceptions that divert us and beguile us into falsehood. When evil confronts us head on, we need to be ready to stand against it and fight. We also need to be vigilant about the physical dangers around us, from sinful people, evil leaders, and corrupt governments. Given the state of the world right now, shouldn’t we also be watching and praying? And shouldn’t we have on the full armor of Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18) that God provides, so we can resist the temptations that come and fight the battles in front of us?

Jesus’ last request

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  (Matthew 26:42-44)

Three times Jesus prayed the same prayer to the Father, that he would spare him the ordeal. We don’t know for sure, but it appears that each time the Father was silent.


The Father’s answer in the garden

After Jesus’ third prayer, it was clear the Father was not going to grant his request. Jesus knew that he had to drink the cup the Father gave to him.

In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from him. It did not. (C.S. Lewis, Joyful Christian)

Jesus then uttered his final prayer to the Father: “May your will be done.” This is the prayer that we all must pray at the end of our questioning, our trials, our disappointments, and our tears. The Father’s will is always what we should want, whether or not he grants our request. At this, Jesus returned to the three disciples, found them sleeping again, and woke them.

Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”  (Matthew chapter 26:45-46)


Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane

As God’s answer was confirmed, he then heard the threatening crowd coming for him, with Judas in the lead.

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.  (Matthew 26:47-50)

The betrayer’s kiss marked the beginning of the final conflict. From then on, there was no turning back. Jesus would now begin to drink the cup that the Father gave him.


Christ’s submission to the Father in Gethsemane

Did God the Father answer Jesus’ prayer to remove the cup from him? Yes, he did answer it, at two different times. The Father’s first answer was silence, indicating that Jesus had to die. God would indeed remove his suffering, but only by first drinking the cup given to him. So, Jesus submits to the Father’s plan, and willingly goes to his death.

The Father’s second and final answer is found in the book of Hebrews, which said this about Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he had suffered…   (Hebrews 5:7-8)

This passage says Jesus learned obedience from this time in the garden. He learned patient endurance to complete God’s mission for him. He submitted to the humiliation, pain, persecution, and finally to his own death.

This passage also says that God did finally answer Jesus’ prayer to save him from death. However, Christ died a painful physical death. So, how do we explain this? We explain it by the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. God delivered his Son from death not only to save him, but to give eternal life to all who believe in him. And this was his plan from the beginning.


What was the cup that Jesus was to drink?

From the Hebrews 5 passage we learn that Jesus prayed to the Father to save him from death. This strongly suggests that the cup Jesus was asking the Father to remove in the Garden of Gethsemane was the cup of death.  More accurately, it was death by persecution, or martyrdom.

During Jesus’ ministry, the sons of Zebedee had their mother approach Jesus and ask that he give them powerful and prestigious places in his kingdom. The Lord gave them this response:

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

Jesus told these disciples they would someday drink the cup he was going to drink. And we know from history that the disciples suffered intense persecution at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, and later from the Roman government. Most of them were martyred. So, they did drink the same cup that Jesus drank, that of martyrdom.

Some Bible teachers teach the cup Jesus drank from was the “cup of God’s wrath.” The Bible mentions the cup of God’s wrath six times.¹ A review of these verses reveals that God gave this cup only to those who were rebellious and unrepentant, as punishment for continued defiance. But he never gave it to the obedient.


Jesus’ obedience pleased the Father

In Hebrews 10 the writer again makes the case for the obedience of Christ. Quoting Psalm 40, he wrote:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’”   (Hebrews 10:5-7)

From these passages in Hebrews, we see that even though God required the animal sacrifices, he was not pleased with them. But the Father was pleased with Jesus’ obedience in going to the cross. Why was God so pleased when his Son died? Because it was an acceptable sacrifice, the one he required.  It provided a way for sinners to escape God’s judgment and be forgiven. God would not have to punish those he loved. Christ took the punishment we deserved upon himself through his sacrificial death. This sacrifice satisfied God’s justice. In short, Christ’s obedience accomplished God’s plan to provide the path to salvation for the world. That’s why God was pleased.


God works all things for our good

What about us? Does God’s silence produce in us patient endurance? Or do we lose our faith when God doesn’t give us what we pray for? Although as humans we don’t always like it when God answers our prayer with silence, we must learn to accept the Father’s will. By this we learn patience, humility, and obedience.

During his ministry the apostle Paul had a severe ailment—a “thorn in the flesh.” And three times Paul asked God to take it from him, just as Jesus asked three times. God’s answer to Paul was not silence but:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God had a greater purpose for the apostle’s suffering. This is why Paul wrote:

We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

We all go through times of suffering. And though we may ask God to spare us from it, he may or may not grant our request. But after all is done, if we love God, he works it all for our good and our ultimate salvation—our full redemption. As we suffer, we are sharing in life’s pain, as Jesus did. And in the process, we gain patient endurance and become more like Christ. As a result, God’s kingdom grows.

So remember: Our full redemption is coming, but before it comes, we must go through suffering. So watch and pray! When our dark hours come, may the Lord not find us sleeping.


All praise to the Lord for his great sacrifice

As we look at Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the great sacrifices he made to submit to the Father’s will. Jesus gave up all human hopes, aspirations, comfort, health, love, and life. He was even giving up his relationship with the Father, albeit temporarily. This gives us reason to thank and praise him for his great love for us—while we were sinful and undeserving, he willingly died for us.

Do you know Christ the Savior? Do you know of his love? It’s greater and deeper than any other. And more than just knowing about it, you can experience it yourself. Have you experienced his saving grace? It can save you completely and fully. It’s yours when you place your faith in him.






¹  References to “the cup of God’s wrath:” Job 21:20, Isaiah 51:17, 51:22, Jeremiah 25:15, Revelation 14:10, 16:19

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2 thoughts on “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane”

  1. A wonderful reminder that our prayers must always put the Father’s will ahead of our own. Jesus’ suffered greatly and had no more desire to suffer and die than any of us, but the will of the Father had to prevail. Even the Son of God had to put His will in second place.

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