“Rise, Let Us Be Going”: The Resolve of Jesus at Gethsemane

Three times at Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). He struggled against temptation and prayed for the Father’s will to be done (26:39, 42).

Jesus’ resolve is evident when he returns to the disciples and says, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matt. 26:45-46).

Jesus did not rise to flee. “Let us be going” did not mean “let us escape.” The command meant he would meet the encroaching arresting party. Jesus knew the betrayer was coming, yet he rose anyway. Jesus knew his “hour” was at hand, yet he went anyway. After his prayers to the Father, the resolve of Jesus was clear. The words “Rise, let us be going” showed that Jesus was ready to drink the cup.

In order for him to die on a cross, he must first be sentenced. To be sentenced, he must be tried. To be tried, he must be arrested. And to be arrested, he must be betrayed. Jesus said, “Rise, let us be going,” because the moment of betrayal had come, a moment ordained from the foundation of the world, a moment that would lead to the cross and to the cup.

The Glory of the Transfiguration and the Agony at Gethsemane

Scholars have noted important connections between the episode of the transfiguration (in Matthew 17) and the episode at Gethsemane (in Matthew 26). There are at least seven points of contact.

  1. Both events are associated with a mountain. In Matthew 17 the mountain is unnamed (17:1), while in Matthew 26 the mountain is the Mount of Olives (26:30).
  2. Both events involve Jesus taking the same three disciples. In 17:1, he took Peter, James, and John. And in 26:37, he separated the same three from the other disciples.
  3. At the transfiguration we hear the words of the Father (17:5), while at Gethsemane we hear the words of the Son (26:39, 42).
  4. At the transfiguration, the disciples fell on their faces (17:6). At Gethsemane, Jesus fell on his face (26:39).
  5. At the transfiguration, the disciples were awake and alert to all that took place (17:4, 6, 8). At Gethsemane, Jesus repeatedly found them sleeping (26:40, 43, 45).
  6. The transfiguration displayed the divine glory of Jesus (17:2). The episode at Gethsemane displayed the overwhelming sorrow of Jesus (26:37-38).
  7. After the transfiguration, Jesus says the Son of Man would suffer at the hands of others (17:12). At Gethsemane, Jesus was delivered into the hands of others (26:45-46, 49-50).

Weak Flesh and the Need for Prayer

The episode of Jesus at Gethsemane teaches us, among other things, about prayer.

First, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, prayed. And if Jesus prayed, why should we not? If Jesus prioritized prayer, should we not view the practice with supreme importance and devotion and perseverance? If prayer mattered to Jesus, let it matter to us.

Second, Jesus embodied his own teachings on prayer. There are multiple allusions to his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. For example:

  • “My Father” (Matt. 26:39, 42; see 6:9)
  • “as you will…your will be done” (26:39, 42; see 6:10)
  • “that you may not enter into temptation” (26:41; see 6:13)

We learn here that Jesus doesn’t just teach his disciples what to pray. The teaching for his disciples was the example he himself modeled.

Third, there are times we’re not praying when we should be praying. Jesus had asked the disciples at Gethsemane to “remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38), and this watchfulness probably involved a call to prayer because of 26:41: “Watch and pray.” Yet when Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John, he found them sleeping (26:40, 43). Earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would fall away “this night” (26:31), and yet disciples slept instead of prayed. Jesus had told Peter “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (26:34), yet Peter slept instead of prayed.

Fourth, we need to pray because we are weak. We’re not as strong as we think we are. The disciples had already declared their intentions: Peter insisted he wouldn’t fall away or deny Jesus (Matt. 26:33, 35a), and all the disciples claimed the same (26:35b). They had willing spirits, but good intentions don’t sustain devotion to Christ. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41). Prayer comes from a recognized position of weakness not strength. Prayer says, “I am weak and tempted, but God is faithful and able to deliver.” Jesus and the disciples were heading into temptation, but only Jesus prayed.

Fifth, we need to pray because God’s will matters most. We have desires, and God invites us to ask and intercede and plead, but prayer also involves the practice of submitting our desires to God. Think about these words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will….My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42). True prayer is not an exercise in manipulating God to accomplish our will on earth.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:9-13

Isaac and Jesus at Gethsemane

While studying for a sermon about Jesus at Gethsemane, I noticed several Matthew commentaries highlighting an echo of the Abraham-Isaac story in Genesis 22. They pointed to Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:36, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray,” as an echo of Genesis 22:5 when Abraham told his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Echoes of Isaac would not be surprising in Matthew, for the opening verse of the Gospel says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Jesus is the true and greater Isaac, the Father’s Son who would be sacrificed.

Consider some correspondences between Genesis 22 and Matthew 26.

  • Both stories involve a mountain. Abraham journeyed to a mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen. 22:2-4), and Gethsemane was at the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30).
  • Both stories involve a son who is facing death. In Genesis 22, the plan is to sacrifice Isaac. In Matthew 26, Jesus is facing sacrifice as well, an experienced heightened by the reality of the “cup” he will drink.
  • Both stories involve other people traveling with the person who will be sacrificed. In Genesis 22, young men from Abraham’s household joined them on the journey. In Matthew 26, eleven of Jesus’ disciples came with him to the Mount of Olives.
  • Both stories report instructions to stay and wait. In Genesis 22, the two young men receive instructions. In Matthew 26, the eleven disciples receive instructions.
  • Both stories climax with a son being alone with his father. In Genesis 22, Isaac is alone with Abraham. In Matthew 26, Jesus is alone with his heavenly Father.

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing sacrifice and wrath. But no voice from heaven would stop the proceedings. There would be no ram provided in a thicket. The Father would not rescind the knife. The Son would willingly lay down his life, in obedience to the Father and in the stead of sinners. Jesus is the true and greater Isaac.

Job and Jesus at Gethsemane

Jesus was a righteous sufferer. There were righteous sufferers in the Old Testament but none like Jesus. As the sinless Son of God, his suffering was as the consummate righteous person.

The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane was especially sorrowful. Jesus, on his face before his Father, prayed that the cup of wrath might pass from him (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). Someone close to him–Judas–had already turned against him (26:14-16). And his three friends–Peter, James, and John–slept instead of watching and praying with him (26:40-41, 43, 45). In his hour of need, they failed him.

There was a righteous sufferer in the Old Testament named Job. Someone close to him–his wife–had turned against him and against God: “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asked. “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). And during his suffering there were three friends–Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar–who sat with him and sympathized for his situation (2:11-13). But as time went on, as days compiled into more than a week, they ultimately failed to be the comforters he needed.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was the true and greater Job. His three disciples didn’t have to last for days like Job’s three friends did. Jesus needed them for a few hours of prayer, but they couldn’t persevere even through that. Compared to the emotional and physical turmoil Job endured, the “cup” for Jesus was still more dreadful. Job was a righteous sufferer, but not sinless. Job endured great hardship, but not the cup of God’s wrath.

Reverence, Not Rebellion, in the Garden of Gethsemane

The words of Hebrews 5:7 may refer to the agonizing experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” He may have prayed other agonizing prayers during his earthly ministry, but none were more climactic and sorrowful than the Gethsemane prayers.

The term reverence is an important lens through which to see the Gethsemane experience. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” If his words in the garden were rebellious, he would have been sinning. And if he sinned, we would no longer have a sinless Savior going to the cross in our place.

Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not an expression of rebellion. He prayed again in Matthew 26:42, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” In both 26:39 and 26:42, Jesus resolved to do the Father’s will, and the author of Hebrews said Jesus was heard because of his reverence. The Son was praying to the Father and submitting to the Father as he battled temptation in the garden.

In what way did the Father hear the Son? Perhaps the Hebrews author only means that the Father heard the Son’s prayer that the “cup pass from me” yet held out the cup anyway. Or perhaps the Father “heard” the prayer in the sense of answering it. If the second option is best, then the vindication of the Son was the Father’s answer to the prayer. Jesus was delivered indeed–only not from the cup but through it. On the cross, the Son of God hung condemned, yet divine justice did not abide on him forever. He cried out “It is finished!” That moment showed that God’s wrath was satisfied and no longer rested on the Son. And nothing proved the vindicated status of Jesus like his resurrection on the third day.

The earthly ministry of Jesus was characterized by his reverence for the Father. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was a scene of deep sorrow and grief, we see a submissive Son who, as Spurgeon put it, resolved to “drink damnation dry.”

Jesus the Last Adam: Temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane

jesus finding the three disciples sleepingAt the Mount of Olives was a place called Gethsemane. It was where Jesus took his disciples, where he pulled aside Peter and James and John, where he fell on his face in fervent prayer, and where his sorrowful soul communed with his Father. John 18:1 calls Gethsemane a “garden,” which is where the name “Garden of Gethsemane” comes from.

This garden was not just a place of sorrow and prayer. It was a place of temptation. The hour of God’s wrath was nearer than it had ever been, and this prospect was an enormous weight on the soul of Jesus. As our Lord prayed about the “cup” he was facing, he resolved to do his Father’s will no matter what (see Matt. 26:39, 42, 44).

When Jesus found Peter, James, and John asleep, he told them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41a). They should’ve been doing what he was doing. Earlier he had said “remain here, and watch with me” (26:38), but more was in view than serving as lookouts. His words “watch and pray” (26:41a) expanded on what it meant for them to “watch with me” (26:38). He wanted their Gethsemane experience to be prayerful and Godward. After all, they would face their own temptations to fall away from him (see 26:31).

So by telling his disciples to watch (and pray) “with him” (Matt. 26:38, 41a), they would be battling against temptation (26:41a). But the disciples slept, while Jesus prayed. He faced temptation alone.

This temptation in a garden should make us think of temptation another garden–the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Jesus faced temptation, but only one was faithful. Adam disobeyed God’s will, whereas Jesus submitted to it. In a garden, Jesus, the Last Adam, overcame temptation.

The Most Holy Place in the Garden of Gethsemane

jesu praying in the garden of gethsemaneSpurgeon 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.


The Cup at the Last Supper: The Words of Jesus and Old Testament Allusions

After Jesus interpreted bread as his body (Matt. 26:26), he spoke of a cup as his blood: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (26:27-28). His words alluded to at least three places in the Old Testament.

“blood of the covenant”–This alludes to Exodus 24:8. Moses threw blood on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The context was the sealing of the Mosaic covenant, and the blood he threw was from animals.

When Jesus appropriates Exodus 24, like Moses he is also speaking in a covenant context, only not about that old covenant. He is making a new covenant (see Luke 22:20, which adds the word “new”). This new covenant didn’t involve animal blood. Jesus said the cup was “my” blood.

“which is poured out for many”–This alludes to Isaiah 53:12. The prophet Isaiah said, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

When Jesus appropriates Isaiah 53, he is taking on the Suffering Servant role described by that ancient prophet. The words of Isaiah 53 painted a graphic picture of the suffering and death of Jesus who would pour out his life unto death. The language also shows that his death is substitutionary.

“for the forgiveness of sins”–This alludes to Isaiah 53:4-6. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Again alluding to Isaiah 53, Jesus teaches that his upcoming death would achieve the reconciliation with God that sinners so desperately needed. The Son’s substitutionary death had a design, a purpose. The Father would crush him in the place of sinners in order that forgiveness for sinners could justly and permanently applied.

In Matthew 26:27-28, as Jesus spoke about the cup, we learn how he would live up to his name that the angel proclaimed in 1:21: “. . . you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Jesus would bring salvation, saving sinners from their sins.
How will such a feat be achieved?
Through death, his own blood poured out.
His own blood? But the covenant with Moses already prescribes sacrifices.
Yes, but animal sacrifices cannot atone for sin. This will be a new covenant.
How will his death atone for sin?
It will be substitutionary. He will be crushed in our place, bearing our iniquities.
Forgiveness of sins! For how long will this last?
Forgiveness is full and forever. If anyone be in Christ, he is not condemned.

The Most Important Meal in the Ministry of Jesus

Jesus speaking at the last supper

On the week Jesus was crucified, he shared the most important meal of his ministry. The words and actions were full of meaning, and what took place would constitute the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the early church (see 1 Cor. 11:23-25).

To understand why Christians look back to the last supper in the Gospels, we must go back even further in Scripture. Exodus 12 instituted the annual Passover meal. Over a thousand years later, Jesus sat down at a Passover meal with his disciples. His meal fulfilled the purpose of that ancient feast, for he himself would be the lamb of God. He would be slain. His shed blood would bring atonement, a covering from righteous wrath.

Normally at a Passover meal, the family head would explain how the elements reminded them of God’s passing over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt (Exod. 12:27). That had been the explanation of the meal for more than a millennium. No one expected a divergence from the script.

But in the Gospel accounts of the last supper, when Jesus began to speak about the elements on the table, he did something different. He didn’t refer to a lamb. He didn’t mention the Israelites in Egypt. He didn’t remind the disciples of God’s judgment passing over houses with shed blood on doorposts and lintels. Instead he took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). He took the cup and said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (26:27-28).

No one had ever gathered at a Passover meal and heard those words. Jesus was doing something new. He wasn’t talking about the past, he was talking about the future. He wasn’t talking about a lamb’s death, he was talking about his own. He wasn’t talking about deliverance from Egyptian slavery, he was talking about forgiveness of sins.

More than a thousand Passovers had come and gone since the days of Moses. Now here in Jerusalem, meeting in secret with his disciples, Jesus spoke words connected to a new and greater exodus and to a new and greater covenant.