When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
We come now to consider the closing hours of our blessed Lord’s life upon this earth. All through the time of His sojourn in this scene He had been looking forward to that hour when He was to give Himself a ransom for our sins upon the cross.
Now He had enjoyed a season of hallowed fellowship with the little company whom He had called out of the world to be the companions of His lonely life. They had heard Him lift His heart to God in intercessory prayer, and now they walked over the brook Cedron, crossing by a small bridge, and then up the slope of the Mount of Olives to a garden, the garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane is said by some to mean “oil press.” The olives were thrown into the press that the rich, golden oil might be expelled from them. It was there that our blessed Lord, the Son of God, was to go through the oil press, as it were, the awful pressure that was to be put upon His heart and mind in view of the coming sacrifice He was about to offer on Calvary.
The three Synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all tell us that at this point, in the great agony that He went through in the Garden, His prayer was, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39; see also Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
Luke tells how, under that awful pressure, the blood burst from the pores of His forehead and fell in great drops to the ground, and how an angel came and strengthened Him. We do not have a word of that from John. Why not? John was one of the three who went with Him into the garden. He left eight of them by the gate of the garden and took Peter, James, and John deeper in. And He went forward a little farther and fell on His face, and endured that awful period of anguish of soul. And yet John does not say a word about it. Why?
Oh, in this, as all else, we see the perfection of Holy Scripture. The four Gospels are not mere human records, they are divinely-given accounts of the Lord’s life and death and resurrection. Each presents Him from a special viewpoint, according to the Spirit. It has often been noticed, as we have stated before, the subject of Matthew is Christ as the King of the Jews. The object of Mark is to present Him as the great Servant-Prophet, doing the will of the Father at all times. Luke presents Him in all the perfection of His Manhood, the Son of Man who gave Himself for us. But John’s special object is to present His Eternal Sonship. He brings Him before us as the Divine One. And so in this gospel there is no scene of agony in the garden, for it was not the Deity of Christ that was concerned in that scene. But on the other hand, neither is there any account of the transfiguration, because in John’s gospel the glory is shining out all the way through. So here we have the agony omitted. But it is well for us to think of it and remember what the other Gospels tell us.
What was really involved in that prayer of His? “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” What was that mystic cup of which He speaks? As we turn back to the Old Testament (and we must remember that our blessed Lord, as Man, was nourished on the Old Testament—it was His Bible), we find some very solemn references to the cup of judgment.
In Psalm 11:6 we read, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” In Psalm 75:8, we find these solemn words, “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.” In these passages we read of a cup, a cup of divine judgment, a cup filled with the wrath, the indignation of God against sin. And when we come to the last book of the Bible, that great prophetical book, we read of those who worship the Beast and his image, “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:9).
We are safe in saying that it was that cup of wrath that our Lord Jesus saw before Him as He prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Either you and I had to drink that cup, or He must take it in our stead. And that cup involved His being made sin upon the cross. It involved God dealing with Him as though He were guilty of all the sin, all the wickedness, all the corruption that men and women have been guilty of all down through the millenniums. All our sins were to be laid upon Him, and He was to bear, in His own body and His own spirit there upon the cross all that those sins deserved. This was the cup from which He shrank. He could not have been the absolutely Holy One if He had not dreaded the drinking of this awful cup. And so the three Synoptics tell us how He agonized, how His body was so racked with pain as He faced this time, that the sweat fell to the ground as great drops of blood.
But He was not bearing sin there in Gethsemane. He was not made sin there. All this was before Him. He was anticipating this and looking forward to it. Only on the cross did He settle the sin question. And so we hear Him say at last, “Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. 26:42). And from that moment the struggle was over. He prepared, in perfect calmness, to meet His enemies and to face Judas, the traitor, and then to go on to the judgment hall and to death.
And so we see that this entire scene of His agony comes in between the first and second verses of this eighteenth chapter. “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples” (v. 1). And the agony immediately followed.
Now we read, “And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples” (v. 2). He had often been there to pour out His heart in prayer in fullest, happiest communion with the Father. Now He went through a very different experience. In deepest distress of soul He poured out His heart to the Father, but with no rebellion. When there was no other way, He accepted the cup with perfect submission.
“Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons” (v. 3). Christ had arisen from His knees and had come back to the three, Peter, James, and John, and gently rebuked them for sleeping. And then He said to them, “Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (Mark 14:42). Then they met the officers and Judas coming to take Him.
“Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?” (v. 4). Nothing took Him by surprise. He knew all that was coming and went forth voluntarily to meet them, asking, “Whom seek ye?” And the answer came, “Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he” (v. 5a). Really, what He said was this, “I am.” He used the very name of Deity, “I am,” as He had so often before.
We read, “And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them” (v. 5b). Judas, who knew Him so well; Judas, who had been with the company for those three-and-a-half years, and yet whose conscience had never been really reached; Judas who had never truly yielded his heart to Christ. It shows how possible it is for people to keep company with those who are God’s children and frequent the house of God, and yet never open the heart to the Savior.
“As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground” (v. 6), bowing at His feet. Then as they rose, He turned again and said, “Whom seek ye? And [once more] they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way” (vv. 7-8). His heart went out to His disciples. He would not have them arrested with Him. He would not have them go through a martyr’s death at this time. He undertook to protect His own. He had said to His Father, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, none of them is lost” (17:12). And if He can keep their souls for eternity, He can keep their lives in this world. And so He says, “Let these go their way.”
But, then, at this moment activity began among them. It was very fleshly activity. “Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear” (18:10). What a foolish thing to do, flashing about without any commandment from the Lord! And after all, just injuring a poor servant who was not responsible for what went on. We are not told the sequel here, but if we turn to the other Gospels we learn that Jesus healed the wounded man. Somebody has said, “How often we are like Peter. How busy we keep the Lord putting on ears that we cut off.” We do not mean to do it, perhaps, but we go around saying such unkind, foolish things that we injure people instead of helping them. I am sure that Peter would have had great difficulty in leading Malchus to Christ after cutting off his ear! Don’t cut people’s ears off and then expect them to hear your message. Peter forgot that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He was going to fight for His Lord, but it was in a very carnal way. It got him into trouble afterward, for it added to his difficulties when the time of testing came.
“Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (v. 11). Before, in His agony, He prayed, “Let this cup pass,” and later, “If this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” Now He goes forth in perfect serenity of spirit. The battle is over; the victory is won. He says, “I am going out to take that cup, not from man, but from the hand of My Father.” In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah we read, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief” (v. 10).
I am afraid sometimes we have a very shallow conception of the work of the cross. It was not merely the physical sufferings of Jesus which made atonement for sin. He did suffer in His body more than anyone, for as He hung upon that cross, every nerve, every fiber of His being must have been affected, but it was not that which settled the sin question. It was when Jehovah made His soul an offering for sin; when it pleased God to bruise Him. In other words, it was not what Jesus suffered at the hands of man that made atonement for sin, it was what He suffered at the hands of God. It was God who put to His lips the cup of judgment. He received that cup from the Father’s hands and drained it to the dregs.
Death and the curse were in that cup,
Oh Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark dregs,
’Tis empty now for me.
And this is what we remember when we gather at the table of the Lord. We think of Him, our blessed Savior, going to that cross and draining the cup of judgment to the dregs. If that cup had been placed at our lips, it would have taken all eternity to empty it, but He drank it all in those three hours of darkness on the tree. “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
He put Himself into their hands and allowed them to take Him captive. “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, and led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year” (John 18:12-13). Such a midnight session of the Sanhedrin was absolutely unlawful, but they did not stop to consider that. “Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (v. 14). And, thank God, the words he spoke were blessedly true. It was necessary that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not. This he said indicating that Jesus should die not for the nation only, but for the whole world. Through that death all who will may have life everlasting and “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1).
We remember Him today as the One who died for us. We, who have a saving interest in His blood, who have trusted Him as our Savior, will never have to drink the cup of judgment, for He took it for us, and gives to us the cup of salvation.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.