Spurgeon wrote this about Jesus’ experience in the garden of Gethsemane: “Here we come to the Holy of Holies of our Lord’s life on earth. This is a mystery like that which Moses saw when the bush burned with fire, and was not consumed. No man can rightly expound such a passage as this; it is a subject for prayerful, heart-broken meditation, more than for human language.”
Calling this episode the “holy of holies” is quite a superlative statement. Spurgeon is highlighting the significance of this episode in the ministry of Jesus, but we can say even more.
The tabernacle and temple were both designed with an outer court, holy place, and most holy place, three areas of increasing holiness and sacredness. The most holy place was also known as the holy of holies. With this threefold division in mind, notice the progression of the Gethsemane narrative.
First, Jesus is only traveling with eleven disciples because Judas had previously departed. Second, Jesus arrives at Gethsemane and tells his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray” (Matt. 26:36). Third, he took with him three disciples–Peter, James, and John–and went away with them from the remaining eight (26:37). Fourth, he separated from these three and went to be alone in prayer (26:38-39).
People are now in three places. The groups get smaller and smaller (eight to three to one), and the groups increase in significance (eight disciples; Peter, James, and John; Jesus).
If we think of the three locations as a kind of outer court, holy place, and most holy place, then Jesus was in the most holy place, in a sense, as he communed with his Father about the coming cup.