[No. 1 of 5 Lenten meditations on Jesus in Gethsemane]
This is the first in a series of five Lenten meditations on Jesus in Gethsemane. The meditations are organized loosely around six Greek words the evangelists use to describe his suffering: lupeo, ademoneo, perilupos, ekthambeo, agonia, and heos.
The King James Version uses an odd phrase when Jesus “taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed.” (Mark 14:33) As Lutherans, we see “sore amazed” and ask, “What does this mean?”
Luther’s Bible uses zu zittern, “to tremble.”1 That shows a reaction like Belshazzar’s when he saw a hand writing on a wall. (Daniel 5:25) “Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed, and his lords were perplexed.” (Daniel 5:9) The root of “greatly alarmed” is bahal, “to tremble inwardly,” “to be suddenly alarmed.”2
The word translated as “sore amazed” is ekthambeo. There is another strong word, thambeo, but Mark uses the more intensive form ekthambeo. It means “to throw into terror or amazement; to alarm thoroughly, to terrify or astound.”3
Exegetes have struggled to find adequate words to bring out the force of … ekthambeo …. Ekthambeo is normally translated “to be amazed,” but the connotations of “amazement” in current English (entertained, amused) make it inappropriate. The context here demands the note of “shock” …. It is an expression of “terrified surprise”, a dawning awareness that produces “shuddering horror”.4
This is not an ordinary word for being troubled.
[Mark] makes use of a word … which implies a sudden and horrifying alarm at a terrific object. The Evangelist evidently intends to intimate thereby that the cause of Jesus’ trembling must be sought … in appearances from without which forced themselves upon him; something approached Him which threatened to rend His nerves, and the sight of it to freeze the blood in His veins.5
“His first feeling was one of terrified surprise”6 followed by “being in the grip of a shuddering horror.”7
The words “began to be” reinforce the suddenness of the object’s appearance. “Christ has known sorrow before this, but the assertion that in Gethsemane he began to be sorrowful indicates a sudden steep descent into the billows of distress.”8 This corresponds with the “hasten” sense of bhal in Daniel 5:9 meaning “to terrify, hasten.”9
Jesus saw writing on the wall, so to speak, that struck sudden, hastening terror in him. Like the writing to Belshazzar, the one in Gethsemane was about sin and wrath.
Not stoically, but biblically Jesus enters into the suffering he shares with men as willed by God. This is the cast down soul and the turmoil of the soul within Jesus revealed in Psalm 42:5, 6, 11; 43:5; 116:3.10
In the coming articles we’ll look at the words ekthambeo, ademoneo, perilupos, lupeo, agonia and heos. These show something unlike the typical portraits of Jesus praying beside a rock. As a foretaste, see how Johann Gerhard explains some of these words:
He began to shiver, ademoneo — [a word] which actually refers to one’s being confronted with an unavoidable danger and falling into shivering and fright. He began to waver. He was anxious and fearful beyond measure; the same word is used by physicians when they speak of one who is lying in terminal illness. … Sadness [perilupos] wants to overwhelm Me on the spot. For the evangelists use a word here which does not mean generic, common sadness. Instead [perilupos refers] to a person’s being overcome with such a degree of sadness, being so plagued and terrorized, that he does not know “what is in or out”; the heart is oppressed and heavy laden, understanding is numbed, the hands fall at one’s side, [and] the feet will no longer carry one. In anguish, He fell on His face to the ground. His strength deserted Him to the degree that He could no longer stand.11
In truth, something happened to Jesus that brings us completely out of our depth. This is not a place for hurried theological tourism. Should we be treading here? Can this even be studied?
But Jesus chose to have Matthew, Mark, and Luke show it to us. We sense that it has such a bearing on our redemption that we must look, for Luther says:
Thus the scene at the mount of Olives also serves for our consolation; it assures us that Christ has taken our sins upon Himself and rendered satisfaction for them. For how could we otherwise account for such fear and trembling?12
Because Jesus took sin and wrath upon himself fully, they are removed from us fully.
1. The whole verse is,“Und nahm Petrus und Jakobus und Johannes und fing an, zu zittern und zu zagen.” Luther Bibel 1545, public domain. For what it’s worth, here are some other translations. Tyndale: “began to waxe abashed.” Coverdale: “begane to waxe fearefull.” Weymouth’s New Testament and Montgomery New Testament: “began to be full of terror.” Holman Christian Standard Bible: “began to be deeply distressed and horrified.” New Living Translation: “began to be filled with horror and deep distress. Williams’ New Testament: “began to feel completely dazed.” J. B. Phillips New Testament: “horror stricken.”
2. Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries (2008).
3. Thayer’s Greek Definitions; and The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, Strong’s Number 1568, p. 80.
4. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 86.
5. Frederick W. Krummacher, The Suffering Saviour: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 printing of 1855 English translation from the 1854 German original), pp. 106-107.
6. Henry Barklay Swete, The Gospel according to St. Mark, 2nd ed. (London, 1902), p. 342.
7. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to Mark (Cambridge, 1959), p. 431.
8. Frederick S. Leahy, The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), p. 1.
9. Mickelson’s Enhanced Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries (2008).
10. Eduard Schweizer, Dad Evangelium nach Markus (Gottingen, 1967), p. 179.
11. Johann Gerhard, trans. Elmer M. Hohle, An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ (Malone, Texas: Repristination Press, 1998), p. 63.
12. Martin Luther, The Sufferings of Jesus Christ for Sinners: a Series of Sermons Delivered by Martin Luther, edited by Chris Rosebrough, Pirate Christian Media, Kindle Edition,4-27-2011, Locations 133-134.