THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #11 (Most quotes are NIV)
LATE NIGHT THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 30 A.D. THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
John’s Gospel goes into GREAT detail about Jesus’ parting words to his disciples. You can read this in John 14-16. Chapter 17 is known as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” as Jesus prepares to hand over the spiritual care and feeding of his Disciples.
All four Gospels relate the story of Jesus and the Disciples going to the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew, Mark and Luke give more detail, although John adds one tidbit: “they crossed over the brook Kidron” (John 18:1) to get to the garden. Remember the topography: Jerusalem, then to the east is the valley of Kidron, then the Mount of Olives with Bethphage near the top of the hill, Bethany on the far east side of the Mount of Olives. But going back to the west side, nearer to Jerusalem and actually overlooking the city, was the Garden of Gethsemane.
This was the spot where Jesus prayed to the Father while the Disciples fell asleep. Don’t fault them. They had a big day, and it may well have been far into the night, on the Friday-side of midnight. The day had not gone as planned, and their hopes were dashed. They were let down and confused: their expectations of a glorious announcement of the new Messianic kingdom had not happened. But Jesus had no problem staying awake: he knew what was coming, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
If you travel to the Holy Land, you will be approached by many hucksters (some of which pass themselves off as travel guides) who attempt to show you where Jesus did this and where Jesus did that and the exact place where Jesus was crucified. All perfect nonsense! There are very, very few places where we know the exact spot, BUT the Garden of Gethsemane is one we DO know, and here is why:
“Gethsemane”: This Hebrew word means “oil press.” The Garden of Gethsemane in Jesus’ day was a hillside of olive trees, but they would typically press olives in a cave or grotto. There is only one cave on the hillside, so we can be pretty sure that this is the place Jesus prayed. Warning: two churches have been erected on other sites—one based on Constantine’s goofy mom, Empress Helena, having some ill-informed mystic revelation about the exact spot of this and everything else (she also found “the true cross”); the other site based on Roman Catholic guesswork to give the Latin church something to compete with the Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries. The Grotto spot is the correct one—but it doesn’t have any tourist value—and no church!
One additional note about Gethsemane: Luke 22:44 adds a detail “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Known as the “bloody sweat” passage, it is not included in some of the best or oldest manuscripts. Is it original? We don’t know, but it is certainly a vivid enhancement of Jesus’ grief. This passage gives us our unusual MODERN idiom “I sweat blood over getting this report finished on time!”
It would be a mistake to think of Jesus’ prayers as “trying to get out of the crucifixion.” Certainly, He prayed that God the Father might have a “PLAN B” handy. But this is not the equivalent of the song “Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t want to go.” Jesus is facing death, and death is totally alien to God! He will face it alone, abandoned by his disciples, his followers, and even God the Father, and then handed over to Satan. This prospect is so overwhelmingly frightening that, if Jesus DIDN’T sweat blood, He should have!
EARLY FRIDAY, STILL NIGHTTIME, APRIL 7, 30 A.D. THE ARREST
All four Gospels have the story of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, but John has the greatest detail. John 18:2 gives an interesting—and often overlooked—detail: “Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.“ Just because he “knew the place” doesn’t mean he would know that this is where Jesus was going to be. Jesus still would have had to tell Judas. Why? Would YOU go to the most powerful men in the country, the Chief Priests, get a large band of Temple Guards, and then wander around in the HOPE that you will find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? You would have more than “egg on your face” if you were wrong! These Jewish leaders were ruthless men.
John adds another detail which is missing from Matthew, Mark and Luke (the “Synoptics”). Mark and Luke say Judas came with a “multitude” (ὄχλος) and Matthew says “a great multitude” (ὄχλος πολὺς). How many people constitute “a great multitude?” It’s a little vague, isn’t it? But John 18:2 says “a cohort” (the exact Greek term is σπεῖραν). This is a Roman military term, meaning one tenth of a Legion. In other words, Judas is leading SIX HUNDRED TEMPLE GUARDS to arrest Jesus! Now THAT is a “multitude!” WOW!
One is reminded of Confucius’ saying: “Don’t use a canon to kill a mosquito!” These 600 guards are not sent to arrest Jesus, however, but to provide “insurance” in case the crazy Galilean mob is awake and decides to take offense at the arrest of Jesus! Pilate would do a lot more than “frown” if there is a riot in the streets. A cohort of Temple Guards are there to insure mob control.
These are not Roman soldiers. These are Jewish guards under the auspices of the Chief Priest in charge of keeping the peace (2nd most powerful in the land). Pilate wouldn’t send Roman soliders to arrest Jesus. He doesn’t care if Jesus is arrested or not. He has no complaint with Jesus. But during Passover week, what Pilate wants is control of the population and he will do whatever is necessary to get it.
Next “little detail” is located in John 18:4-5 “Jesus, knowing (there’s that “knowing” again) all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. ‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”
Jesus, however, did not say “I am he.” He said “I AM.” Here is another of those puzzling passages where Jesus apparently uses God’s proper name—“I AM” or “Yahweh.” Translations usually add “he” to smooth out the text, but “he” doesn’t exist in the Greek text. Does it actually mean “I am God?” Some theologians say “Absolutely not! It is just another way of saying ‘I am the one.’” And they point to John 9:9 where the man who was born blind uses the same phrase to say “Yes, I am the one he healed.”
My response: this is classic John. He is like a knuckle-ball pitcher. He engages in double entendre, contradictions, phrasing that makes no sense, etc. His “Prologue” (1:1-18) is a mass of seeming contradictions, ending with verses 17-18 “No one has ever seen God—ever! But the only God who is in the bosom of the Father has shown Him to us.” That’s an exact translation and it makes no sense—it sounds like double-talk UNLESS you understand what John is trying to do! He is leading the reader to his original ending verse, 20:31 “But these are written that you may believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that bybelieving you may have life in his name.” From the first verse, John has been aiming at that last phrase “life in his name.” But WHAT is “his name?” John’s message: If you don’t understand that Jesus’ real name is YAHWEH, then you don’t know who Jesus is at all!
Now, back to the arrest: “We’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus’ response: “I AM.” And it is like a thunderbolt hit them—600 men get knocked on their butts! Two things are happening here: 1. You’re out to arrest a man, but you are really trying to arrest God himself! 2. You think you are overpowering me, but I’m surrendering. You couldn’t touch me if I didn’t want this, and I will prove it with just two powerful words—my real name!
A third thing may also have happened with “Please be seated.” By stunning this group of 600 with a knockdown pitch, he has bought a little confusion-time to plead for the release of His disciples. The guards may have intended to arrest the followers as well as the Master, but after Jesus knocked them down, their focus would have been more on Him. “This arrest might be tougher than we thought!” And there is MORE TO COME about the arrest!