[No. 5 of 5 Lenten meditations on Jesus in Gethsemane]
Second Adam Dying in a Second Garden
Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”1 The phrase, “to death,” is not a figure of speech. It is not a look forward to the cross where death lay shortly ahead of him. Jesus tells the three disciples plainly, “I am dying here.”
The Greek translated “to” death is heos. Let’s look some at uses of this word in the New Testament.
When Christ died, the veil of the temple was torn “from top to [heos] bottom.”2 The tearing was all the way to the bottom.
The Father said to the Son, “Sit at my right hand, until [heos] I put your enemies under your feet.”3 He promised to put all of Christ’s enemies under his feet.
Jesus said, “I am with you always, to [heos] the end of the age.”4 He promised his presence all the way to the end of the age.
This is the sense of sorrowful to [heos] death: not just toward or in the direction of death, but all the way to the verge of it. Richard C. H. Lenski says,
Jesus says how sad he is: “until death,” up to the point of death itself … [T]his phrase conveyed the actuality; Jesus was now on the very edge of death.5
“My sorrow is killing me, is the thought; it is crushing the life out of me.”6 Jesus suffered “a sorrow that well-nigh kills,”7 and “a sorrow which threatens life itself.”8
Comfortless Touch of an Angel
“Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”9 This was strengthening, but not comforting. This was only to keep Jesus from dying too soon, in the wrong place, in the wrong way, and without suffering fully for our sin.
Jesus must die on the prophesied day, at the prophesied place, by the prophesied method. He must die as our Passover Lamb by crucifixion on Golgotha. In the garden, Jesus felt “death coming before its time.”10 To fortify him, an angel appeared,
not to minister light or comfort (He was to have none of that, and they were not needed nor fitted to convey it), but purely to sustain and brace up sinking nature for a yet hotter and fiercer struggle.11
There is a tendency to make this strengthening spiritual and not physical. But this is unwarranted. [I]t was … not stimulating the spirit of Jesus by exhortation but strengthening his exhausted body by means of new vitality. The body of Jesus was about to give way and expire in death under the terrific strain; the prayers reveal the mighty power of Jesus’ spirit. This angel … performed the same service as did those mentioned in Matt. 4:11. The angel’s coming for this purpose was the Father’s answer that he, indeed, willed that Jesus drink the cup, that he accepted the submission of Jesus’ own will in this regard, and that his strengthening would fully enable also Jesus’ body and human nature to do their hard part.12
The angel put Jesus on life support, and now Luke brings into play the word agonia. “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.”13 With his dying body strengthened, he can enter into agony.
Think how this sequence fills the word agony with more than we would suppose or could imagine. Lenski says,
The new strength that was imparted by the angel brought the agony of the struggle to its highest pitch. The mind and the body that were sinking lower and lower beneath the strain rallied powerfully to face the full horror of the curse and the wrath that were impending.14
Agony means an intense struggle for victory. Agonia was used among the Greeks as an alternative to agon, which was first a reference to “a place of assembly,” and then became a reference for the contests or games that took place there, and then came to denote the emotion of those contests. It speaks of extreme and prolonged efforts in wrestling, then of the severe mental and emotional level of the conflict as anguish and agony. Neither Luke nor any other Bible writer uses the word agonia anywhere else. This agony of Jesus is unique.
After all this, Jesus sweat drops of blood. The life is in the blood.15 Jesus was sweating out his life.
The Evangelical Gethsemane
Gethsemane illuminates the cross. In the garden, without nails, Jesus was bleeding and dying from bearing sin and wrath. This helps us see that on the cross, Jesus bore sin and wrath, and that is why He died. The same things that were killing him in Gethsemane killed him on the cross.
The evangelists report this suffering in Gethsemane for our assurance. It is one more light, and a brilliant one, showing that Christ entered fully into our place and made full atonement for us.
Does the “accuser of our brethren”16 accuse you of your sins? Does he say your sins are too enormous, too numerous, or that they come from too deeply inside of you, so that the Savior’s work does not go far enough to save you? Gethsemane shows the lie of the Devil’s attack.
Cling to the Word. In these five meditations we have seen that Jesus went heos into lupeo, ademoneo, perilupos, ekthambeo, and agonia. He fully suffered sin and wrath for you. Sin, wrath, death, and the Devil expended themselves on Jesus in a death struggle, and by setting his face to the cross and enduring it, He defeated them. You are smaller than Christ, and his innocent suffering and victorious atonement are greater than your sins. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”17
1. Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34.
2. Matthew 27:51.
3. Mark 12:36
4. Matthew 28:20.
5. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), p. 635.
6. Ezra P. Gould, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (Edinburgh, 1907), p. 269.
7. Henry Barklay Swete, The Gospel according to St. Mark, 2nd ed. (London, 1902), p. 342.
8. Vincent Taylor, The Gospel according to St. Mark, 2nd ed. (London, 1966), p. 553.
9. Luke 22:43.
10. Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871), Luke 22:39-46.
11. Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871), Luke 22:39-46.
12. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), p. 1076.
13. Luke 22:44.
14. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), p. 1076.
15. Genesis 9:4-5; Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23; John 6:53-64.
16. Revelation 12;10.
17. Acts 16:31.