It is in Gethsemane where many believe Jesus faced his greatest trial. While this may be true, is it for the reason that most Christians think? Many have thought that this was the time when Satan almost won and Jesus almost lost. Is this true? Do we have a Savior who almost lost, that barely came through the battle unscathed in righteousness and integrity? Did Jesus ever ask his Father to save him from the cross, and then say, let it be your will and not mine? How could I have ever thought so of my Savior?
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38 KJV)
Jesus and his disciples arrived on Mount Olivet at a place called Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36), and he told the disciples to pray they would not “enter” (G1525 – eiserchomai) into temptation (Luke 22:40). That is, they would not lodge in temptation. Christ is not saying to pray that we should never be tested, but that we should not open ourselves up to temptation, like Lot did by setting his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). This is the same word used in Luke 19:7 for Christ having gone (G1525) to be a guest of Zacchaeus.
I find that most often when I sin that I am tempting temptation. It is almost like I want to go right up to the border of righteousness and dwell there, looking at the darkness over the hedge God placed around me. Seldom does sin take me unawares. I sin because I want to sin! I sin because I welcome temptation. I go as far as I am permitted by my righteousness, and I lodge there. This is what Jesus told the disciples to pray would not occur, but they didn’t. Peter lodged at the fire in the court of the High Priest’s home and denied knowing Christ three times. He could not admit that he was weak. He could not agree with Jesus. If he had agreed that he was weak, I don’t believe Jesus would have prophesied Peter’s three denials. If I agree with the word of God that I am corrupt in my flesh and have no good thing dwelling there, then I will save myself from numerous defeats and find my faithfulness to God in abiding in Christ. If as a whole Christians could admit that we are weak, we would not be scattered in so many denominations (Matthew 26:31). We all think that we are so faithful. May God open our eyes to see the truth and see how the Temple has been defiled. God, forgive us!
Jesus then withdrew from the disciples a short distance while he prayed, asking his Father to remove the cup from him, but with Jesus expressing his desire for his Father’s will to be done and not his own (Luke 22:41-42). If this test was, indeed, a temptation of Satan, was Jesus lodging at the border of righteousness, looking into the darkness and wishing for something that was not his Father’s will? I am speaking like a fool of course, but we need to think of such things, if we are to find the truth.
So, what does Jesus’ prayer mean and how does it square with other Scriptures? For example, Jesus said that he always prays according to his Father’s will (John 8:28-29; 5:19-20), and that the Father always answers Jesus’ requests (John 11:41-42; cp. 1John 5:14-15). If Jesus was praying that the cross should be removed from him, as is traditionally assumed and taught by many Christian scholars, would he be praying according to his Father’s will? Furthermore, Jesus has been claiming for over a year that he would be betrayed and crucified. If the Father answered such a prayer, wouldn’t that make Jesus a false prophet, if he never went to the cross? Didn’t Jesus say the cross was the very reason that he came into this world (John 12:27; 18:37)? If so, how could Jesus act or speak against his destiny?
Is it possible for Jesus to have a will differing from that of his Father, after all, didn’t he claim they are One (John 10:30; 17:11, 22)? Jesus had just told his disciples that Satan did not have a base of operation within him (cp. John 14:30). Could Jesus have been so terrified of the cross that he was tempted to lay it aside? How would this square with Jesus own teaching about being anxious concerning the future (Matthew 6:34)? If Jesus was so terrified concerning what lay just ahead, is this not an expression of imperfection in his relationship with the Father (1John 4:18)? How would one interpret John 14:30, if Jesus’ will was to run from the cross?
Matthew 26:37 reveals Jesus was sorrowful and “very heavy” (G85 – ademoneo; meaning “to faint, be depressed, almost overwhelmed with sorrow”). Jesus knew what type of death he would undergo. This did not come as a surprise to him, yet he became depressed only hours before he was to die. Why? How could the Son of God not have been prepared for his destiny? Was he hiding his head in the sand for three and one half years, trying to avoid thinking about the inevitable? I speak as a fool, but such questions must be asked, if this preposterous doctrine of Jesus’ near defeat is to be laid to rest. In Matthew 26:38 Jesus admitted he was “exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death!” Did Jesus love his life that much (John 12:25)? Was he so afraid of the cross that the anxiety alone was bringing him to the point of death itself?
None of this makes sense, when viewed against the backdrop of Jesus’ whole life. This doctrine, that Jesus had his greatest enticement to sin in this garden on Mt. Olivet, is preposterous and defames our Savior. How I wish I could say, I never believed it!
Isn’t the Church the Bride of Christ? Doesn’t it sound a bit fleshy, if not cowardly, to think that Jesus was tempted to love his own life, and entertained the idea of abandoning his Bride? If God is love (1John 4:8, 16), is this love in action (1John 4:9)? How could I have ever believed this doctrine? Let me go on with these ridiculous questions a bit longer so that I may reveal this foolish doctrine for what it is—a preposterous lie. God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus (Luke 22:43). If Jesus is God, how does an angel strengthen God? Is it possible for an angel to strengthen God’s integrity, righteousness or moral character? If Jesus needed to be strengthened in this way, wouldn’t Jesus plus something else be needed to save us? If Jesus needed a helper in temptation, how could he be enough when I am tested to my limitations? How is an angel able to do what Jesus (God) cannot do? To put it another way, how would an angel do the work of the Holy Spirit? For, certainly, we can all agree that courage, faithfulness, endurance, and love are all fruits of the Holy Spirit’s filling. Was Jesus no longer filled with the Holy Spirit when he asked his Father to remove this cup from him? The further we go on in this, the more ridiculous it sounds that Jesus almost was not my Savior, and that Satan almost won. However, knowing that Jesus was not praying for God to remove the cross doesn’t tell us what he actually prayed for. For what was Jesus praying when he asked his Father to remove “this cup” from him? What was the cup of which Jesus spoke?