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Gethsemane

J Gibson, Derby

(Mt 26.30-56; Mk 14.26-52; Lk 22.31-53; Jn 18.1-12; Heb 5.7)

Introduction

Gethsemane lies on the western slopes of the Mount of Olives (Mt 26.30). To reach it, as with David before Him during Absalom’s revolt (2 Sam 15.23,30), the Saviour crossed "over the brook Cedron" (Jn 18.1). Both of these occasions signalled Israel’s rejection of their King. At Gethsemane the Lord Jesus anticipated His "hour" (Mk 14.35) or "cup" (Mk 14.36) of suffering. This contemplation resulted in growing pressure: He "began to be sorrowful" (Mt 26.37) and "sore amazed" (Mk 14.33), became "very heavy" and then "exceeding sorrowful [perilupos, grieved all around1], even unto death" (Mt 26.37,38). How appropriate therefore for Gethsemane to mean the "oil press"2 . To this large garden – it accommodated the Lord, His disciples, Judas, and the "great multitude" (Mt 26.47) – "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples (Jn 18.2; Lk 22.39), for their spiritual development, like ours, necessitated frequent communion with Him. It was night (Mt 26.34); hence the sleepiness of the disciples (Mt 26.40,43,45) and, ironically, the soldiers needed "lanterns and torches" (Jn 18.3) to find the light of the world (Jn 8.12; 9.5). It was also spiritually dark (Lk 22.53). Satan had energized Judas’ betrayal (Jn 13.2) and desired to have them [the remaining disciples], that he might sift [them all] as wheat" (Lk 22.31).

Peter and the Disciples

Before leaving the upper room Christ and His disciples sang a hymn (Mt 26.30), probably "the second portion of the Hallel (Ps 115-118)".3 This suitably finishes with "the stone which the builders refused" (Ps 118.22), and "the sacrifice [bound] with cords, even unto the horns of the altar" (Ps 118.27). Christian singing should likewise be independent of circumstances (Acts 16.25), in conjunction with fellow believers (Eph 5.19; Col 3.16), and intelligent (1 Cor 14.15). Just as saints today vary in their appreciation of Christ, so Peter, James and John were permitted to go further than the others, to witness Christ’s agony (Mt 26.37).

Three illustrations from nature portray the severe temptation all the disciples were about to face.

Snared animal. The Lord predicted of His disciples, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night" (Mt 26.31). "Offended" translates skandalizo which conveys "the notion of…setting a trap or snare"4 and implies the work of an adversary.

Scattered sheep. In fulfilment of Scripture – "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Mt 26.31; Zech 13.7) – "all the disciples forsook him, and fled" (Mt 26.56); even the young man who followed briefly (Mk 14.51,52).

Sifted wheat. Unable to overstep the boundaries of God’s permissive will (see Job 1.12; 2.6), Satan "begged" (William Kelly) for the disciples "that he may sift [them] as wheat" (Lk 22.31). In so doing, he inadvertently accomplished God’s purifying purpose (Job 23.10; 1 Pet 1.7), for "God uses the devil as His agricultural labourer to purge rubbish from our hearts".5 Even though Peter was singled out as the enemy’s prime target he vehemently rejected the Saviour’s solemn warnings, as did all the disciples (Mt 26.33-35). Gracious as ever, the Lord prayed for Peter, confident that, despite his inevitable threefold denial (Mt 26.34), when finally restored he would strengthen his brethren (Lk 22.32). This he did by, amongst other things, consistently supporting the church at Jerusalem (Gal 2.1,9) and writing two inspired epistles. Although all the disciples were keenly embarrassed at falling asleep (Mk 14.40), Peter was particularly admonished by the Lord (Mk 14.37).

Why, at such a critical time, did the disciples fail? Satanic opposition played its part (Lk 22.31). In addition, human weakness (Mt 26.41) and sorrow (Lk 22.45), self-confidence (Mt 26.35) and insufficient prayer (Lk 22.40,46) all contributed. Never forget, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16.18). Again, constant prayer forms a key element in our battle against temptation (Lk 22.40,46).

Things were soon to change for the disciples (Lk.22.35,36). The Lord Jesus had supplied all their needs and supernaturally protected them from harm. A wonderful example of this took place at Gethsemane when He ensured their safety (Jn 18.8). However, following His departure they would have to provide for themselves (e.g. Paul the tent-maker, Acts 18.3). The Lord’s reference to swords did not condone violent living – "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Mt 26.52) – but did warn of danger ahead. With Calvary looming the Lord stated, "It is enough" (Lk 22.38), of this kind of talk. Peter, lacking due swordsmanship – contrast our needed skill with "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6.17) – and patience to wait for an answer, sliced off Malchus’ ear (Lk 22.50). A relative of that same injured man later identified Peter (Jn 18.26), for our rash actions frequently reap repercussions.

Judas and the Multitude

Judas, being "one of the twelve" (Mt 26.47), "knew the place" (Jn 18.2). His love of money (he betrayed Christ for merely thirty pieces of silver, Mt 26.15) drove him to unimaginable lengths of hypocrisy. Just as "Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him" (2 Sam 20.9) in feigned friendship before slaying him, Judas likewise "covered [Christ] with kisses" (Mt 26.48,49, JND) as the sign of his betrayal. Let us remember, not only that the love of money holds many dangers (1 Tim 6.9,10), but also that "the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov 27.6).

The "great multitude" (Mt 26.47) that followed Judas mainly consisted of Roman military and Jewish religious personnel. During Passover, in order to prevent uprisings, a cohort (speira) of Roman soldiers (400-600 men) was despatched to Jerusalem and garrisoned at Fort Antonia.6 In all probability this was the "band [speira]" (Jn 18.3) that came, armed "with swords and staves" (Mt 26.47), to take the Lord Jesus. Finally, at the end of a week which saw Christ teaching daily in the temple (Lk 22.53), the "chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders" finding opportunity to vent their hatred for Him, accompanied Judas to the garden (Lk 22.52). Thus, Jew and Gentile were united against God’s anointed (Ps 2.2; Acts 4.27).

This small army, so confident of their ability to apprehend Christ (Mt 26.48; Mk 14.44), was in fact powerless before Him. Although "Jesus the Nazarene" – a term of derision – was the name on their arrest warrant, His declaration, "I am" (Jn 18.5) – an Old Testament name for God (Ex 3.14) – forced them "backward, and…to the ground" (Jn 18.6). This was but a small foretaste of what will transpire on a much larger scale when "the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies" will be defeated swiftly and utterly at Christ’s glorious return (Rev 19.19-21).

Christ and the Scriptures

Throughout this section Christ’s glories shine brightly. As the omniscient (all knowing) One, He knew the precise details (Jn 18.4) and timing (Mt 26.45) of His suffering, foresaw the disciples’ failure (Mt 26.31), predicted His own resurrection, and their subsequent reunion in Galilee (Mt 26.32). Neither was He surprised by Judas’ betrayal (Mt 26.46). Being omnipotent (all powerful), He secured the safe passage of His disciples in fulfilment of His own words (Jn 18.8,9) and even healed Malchus’ ear (Lk 22.51). Despite having all of heaven’s power at His disposal (Mt 26.53), because He is God’s beloved Son, He fully submitted to the Father’s will (Mt 26.39,42). Since He is the main theme of Scripture, every prophecy relating to Him "must be fulfilled" (Mk 14.49) in its time, "for the things concerning [Him] have an end" (Lk 22.37). For instance, "He was reckoned among the transgressors" (Lk 22.37; Is 53.12) when crucified between two malefactors (Lk 23.33). Finally, being a perfect man, the Lord Jesus at this distressing time longed for companionship (Mt 26.38; Ps 69.20), experienced extreme physical fatigue – so much so that an angel strengthened Him (Lk 22.43) – and prayed in exemplary fashion. Notice the following details of the Lord’s prayers on this occasion:

May God bow our hearts in adoration as we grow in knowledge of our lovely Saviour, and give us help to emulate Him, in small measure; especially in the way He prayed.

Concluded.

1 Strong J. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament; with their Renderings in the Authorized English Version. (Hendrickson Publishers), p. 57.
2 Edersheim A. The Life and Times of JESUS THE MESSIAH (Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), p. 842.
3 ibid.
4 Robertson’s Word Pictures, cited in e-sword.
5 Newell DJ. The Gospel according to Luke (East Park Bible Class Notes), p. 62.
6 Edersheim A. The Life and Times of JESUS THE MESSIAH (Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), p. 847.

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