Luke’s account of Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane is the shortest of the three Synoptics. According to the other two, Jesus prayed three times (Matthew 26:39-44; Mark 14:35-41). He prayed, because he was overwhelmed with sorrow and felt he was at the point of death (Matthew 26:38). Nevertheless, he interrupted that prayer for short discussions with Peter, James and John asking them to keep awake and pray with him. Why was it so important that these three stay awake?
Jesus left the other disciples in what might be described as across the garden, but Peter, James and John were near where Jesus prayed, near enough to hear what he was saying. He prayed for awhile, but he would interrupt that prayer to come to these three men. Whatever the reason for him doing so, they failed to keep awake and pray with him, so he would wake them and pray again, only to find them sleeping upon his return. It seems Jesus was looking for something from them. What might that have been?
Jesus tells us that his Father always hears him (John 11:41-42), and according to 1John 5:14 this means that Jesus always prays according to his Father’s will. If God is One, and Jesus is God, it would be schizophrenic, if Jesus even had a different will to pray from than that of his Father. In other words, Jesus always wants what his Father wants. They are One. Therefore, whatever Jesus prayed, he prayed in agreement with the will of his Father, and the answer came in the form of an angel (Luke 22:43)!
It seems that Luke records Jesus’ third session at prayer (Luke 22:41-46), otherwise, why would he continue to go to his sleepy disciples in Matthew and Mark, if his prayer was already answered? Jesus looked for his answer to come from one or more of his three Apostles, because they had already evidenced that they heard the voice of the Father (Matthew 16:17), but, while in the garden, they slept for sorrow (Luke 22:45). When the Father couldn’t reply to Jesus from the heart and will of one of his Apostles, he moved heaven itself to reply to his Son.
The simple appearance of the angel was able to strengthen Jesus physically and emotionally (cf. Acts 9:19), so one has to ask what was depressing Jesus so much that an angel could alleviate, but simple fellowship with his Father could not. The only thing I can think of is that Jesus’ fellowship with his Father was interrupted, and the presence of the angel acted as comfort from the Father. It was a lack of communication between Jesus and the Father that seems to be what troubled Jesus and had him so depressed. Evidently, he sensed a loneliness he never felt before, because the sins of men had already begun to weigh heavily upon him (Isaiah 59:2), as evidenced in the drops of sweat, mingled with blood that flowed from his body (Luke 22:44).
A critic once asked me how the three Apostles knew what was going on, if they had slept through Jesus prayers. Obviously, they were awake for a little while before Jesus began each session of prayer. They were awake long enough to know he prayed the same words over and over (Mark 14:39; Matthew 26:44), to see the angel appear (Luke 22:43), and to know his sweat was mingled with blood (Luke 22:44).
Luke used the word agony (G74) to describe Jesus’ prayer (Luke 22:44). It seems that it was this very matter in Gethsemane that the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 5:7. In other words, it wasn’t the crucifixion Jesus wished to be saved from, nor was it his resurrection he needed to pray for. Rather it was the fact that he was near death due to the sorrow he felt over his inability to sense his Father’s presence with him.