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NOTES ON THE CUP ABOUT WHICH JESUS PRAYED IN GETHSEMANE
By Dr. Fred Wittman
    Near the close of a Seminar dealing with Heres How the Bible Can Make Sense to You, one of the students asked, What is the cup for which Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane? Herein is an attempt to clarify the apparent confusion which prompted the question. In Scripture the word cup'' is used in thirteen different ways. In addition to the plain literal use of the word cup'' to indicate a drinking vessel, cup'' is used in twelve figures of speech in Scripture. Many of these metaphorical uses are identified by the words associated with it in the context in which cup'' is found. Since the Lord Jesus used the word in figurative literal language, it is necessary to identify such uses throughout all of Scripture and then to focus on those that pertain to the question asked.

Various Uses in Scripture

1. The cup of salvation (Ps. 116:13);
2. The cup of God's wrath (Rev. 16:19 cf. Ps. 11:6; 75:8);
3. The cup of His (The LORD's) fury and cup of trembling (Isa. 51:17, 22;     Jer. 25:15-18, 28 cf. Zech. 12:2
4. The cup of consolation (Jer. 16:7);
5. The cup of The LORD's judgment (Jer. 49:12);
6. The cup of astonishment and desolation (Ezek. 23:31-33);
7. The cup of The LORD's right hand (Hab. 2:16);
8. The cup of violent death (Mt. 20:22, 23; Mk. 10:38,39; Jn. 18:11)
9. The cup of blessing (Mt. 26:27,28; Mk. 14:23,24; Lk. 22:20 cf. 1     Cor.10:16;11:25-29);
10. The cup of The Lord (1 Cor. 10:21);
11. This cup'' about which Jesus prayed (Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Heb. 5:7);
12. The cup of His indignation (Rev. 14:10).

    In order to determine what is the cup about which Jesus prayed, it is necessary to determine if this cup'' (no. 11), about which Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, is the same cup as the cup of violent death (no. 8) or another cup from the above list, or some other cup not previously mentioned in Scripture? To do this, it is well to examine various views which are offered.

Various Views Examined

A.
Some propose that He prayed to be saved from dying. But that cannot be true because Jesus said, Now My soul (natural life) stands disturbed and what should I say? Father, save me out of this hour!' but because of this I came unto this hour'' (Jn. 12:27). And also He foretold to His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and be crucified (Mt. 16:21; 20:18,19). Further proof that this cannot be true can be found in answer to other views refuted below.


B.
Some propose that He prayed to be saved out of the permanent death of His human body. In order to substantiate this view, reference is made to the Messianic Psalm, Psalm 69, which prophesied of His suffering and death. Particular attention is drawn to verses 13-20 as pertaining to His experience in Gethsemane, noting the phrase in verse 15, Let not the pit (they quote as grave') shut her mouth upon me.'' But this view cannot be true because He foretold to His disciples that He shall rise again the third day after He is crucified (Mt. 12:40; 20:19 cf. 16:21; 17:23; 26:32) according to The Scriptures foretelling of His resurrection (Ps. 16:10; Is. 25:8). And He also foretold to the Jews that He will raise up the temple (of His body) in three days after they destroyed It (Jn. 2:19 cf. Mt. 27:63). And they remembered it and told it to Pilate after He died. So Jesus was not doubtful of fulfillment of prophecies concerning His resurrection.


C.
Some think that Satan would kill him before He got to the cross, using Psalm 91:11,12 to substantiate it since Satan quoted it in the days of His testing in the desert [wilderness, AV] (Mt. 4:6). Reference may be made to Psalm 22:21, Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns'' claiming the lion'' is Satan. Indeed Jesus did encounter Satan on the cross, but there Satan could do no more than to bruise His heel, not kill Him (Gen. 3:15). This view is inconceivable in the light of His own prophecies concerning the certainty of His death at Jerusalem by crucifixion (Mt. 20:19) and His confirmed confidence in the reason for His coming as the Son of Man (Mk. 10:45). This could not be accomplished if He did not die on the cross. Further He said that He is The Good Shepherd, Who lays down His natural life for the sheep. No one carries off [takes, AV] My natural life away from Me, but I Myself lay it down by Myself'' (Jn. 10:18, APT). Without the crucifixion, the curse upon the human race reflected in the law could not have been removed, nor could those under the law be redeemed (Gal. 3:13). And His whole purpose for coming, to make atonement and forgiveness for sin(s), to die as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, and to shed His precious blood, would be negated. For without shedding of blood is no remission'' (Heb. 9:22).


D.
Some advance the view that Jesus was praying for deliverance from dying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Reference is made to Christ's statement to His disciples before leaving them to pray alone a stone's throw away, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death '' (Mt. 26:38; Mk. 14:34). Additional reference is made to Luke's report, And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him'' (22:43). Those espousing this view conclude it to be the correct view because it would be plain that the prayers and supplications of Christ were heard because He did not die in Gethsemane.'' But this view is also inconceivable in the light of His own prophecies concerning the certainty of His death at Jerusalem by crucifixion (Mt. 20:19) and His confirmed confidence in the reason for His coming as the Son of Man, to give His life a ransom for many'' (Mk. 10:45). This could not be accomplished if He did not die on the cross. Further He said that He is The Good Shepherd Who lays down His natural life for the sheep. No one carries off (takes, AV) My natural life away from Me, but I Myself lay it down by Myself. I continuously have authority to lay it down and I continuously have authority to take it again'' (Jn. 10:18,19 APT). Without the crucifixion, the curse upon the human race reflected in the law could not have been removed nor could those under the law be redeemed (Gal. 3:13). And as in C above, His whole purpose for coming, to become the sacrifice for sin, to make atonement and forgiveness for sin(s), to die as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, and to shed His precious blood, would be negated. For apart from shed blood forgiveness does not come to pass'' (Heb. 9:22, APT).


E.
Then another view presented is that the cup' is the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin, involving that forsaking (sic) concerning which our Lord cried with such anguish, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?' It is the Father (not Satan) Who is presenting the cup' to our Lord's lips in Gethsemane--not to drink at that moment, but that he may taste it in all the awfulness of it, what it will mean to drink it fully on the cross.'' (Wm. R. Newell, Hebrews p. 159 ). Newell concludes his presentation by saying, "What our Lord prayed for was that upon His dying such Scriptures might be fulfilled as:[quotation of ] (Ps. 16:10,11)'' (Newell p. 161). Others point to the verse in Hebrews referring to His prayer, He, Who in the days of His flesh, when offering both supplications and entreaties with strong shouting and tears to The One being able to save Him out of death and was heard and answered on account of His reverence, even though being Son, He learned the obedience by which things He suffered'' (Heb. 5:7,8). However, those supplications and entreaties were presented, not to be saved out of death, but addressed to The One (that is God,) Who is able to save out of death.'' The content of the prayer is not recorded by Paul. He is only indicating Who, and the ability of The One Who, is being addressed. But why is it necessary for Jesus to pray that, upon His dying, the Scriptures should be fulfilled? Jesus had already indicated that No one carries off [takes, AV] My natural life away from Me, but I Myself lay it down by Myself'' (Jn. 10:18, APT) and He constantly demonstrated commitment and full confidence in the fulfillment of every Scripture? This view cannot be true also, because He foretold to His disciples that He shall rise again the third day after He is crucified (Mt. 12:40; 20:19 cf. 16:21; 17:23; 26:32) according to The Scriptures which prophesy of His resurrection (Ps. 16:10; Is. 25:8). And He also foretold to the Jews that He will raise up the temple (of His body) in three days after they destroyed it (Jn. 2:19 cf. Mt. 27:63). And after He died, they remembered He promised it and told it to Pilate. So Jesus was not doubtful of fulfillment of prophecies concerning His resurrection. To pray for that which God has promised and which is recorded in God's Word is the sin of doubt, reflecting double mindedness which could not be found in the Life of The Lord Jesus Christ. It is the same as actually saying, I don't believe God told the truth when He said . . .'' This could not be true of our Blessed, Holy, and Righteous Lord! Additionally James wrote, For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord'' (James 1:7).


F.
Others also link the agony of Gethsemane with Calvary enduring our hell so that we might be set free to enter Heaven (Philip Edgecombe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews p.183). In this way Gethsemane is made to be a portion of the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin and give His experience in Gethsemane equal value to receiving the judgment for our sin born on Calvary. In addition, if the prayer in the garden was to be saved out of death''--to be resurrected, the same objections in the previous paragraph apply here. It seems inconceivable that The Consistent Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever and Who demonstrated perfect faith throughout His life, should demonstrate variableness and waver in the final day of His human life on Earth. Yet that is what many are unintentially proposing.


G.
An alternative view presented by Adolph Saphir in The Epistle to the Hebrews gives an exposition of Hebrews 5:7 and mentions that The anticipation of His agony on the cross overwhelms Him''-- The Son of Man (p. 269). Later he states The anguish that well-nigh overcame Him was conquered'' (p. 270). Herein lies a vital distinction between the cup'' referred to in Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin indicated when speaking to Peter before the multitude led by Judas Iscariot. The cup which My Father has given to Me, I should positively drink it, should I not?'' (Jn. 18:11). Additional distinctions can be noted after comparing the accounts in the synoptic Gospels quoted from The New Testament: A Precise Translation.

Synoptic Accounts of Jesus Praying
Matthew 26:37-46 (APT)
37And after taking aside Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be grieved and to be sorely troubled. 38At that time He says to them,
        My natural life is surrounded by sorrow as much as death. Remain here!         And continually watch with Me!
39And He went forward a little and fell upon His face for the purpose of praying, and saying,
        O My Father! if (and it is true) it is a possible thing, this cup is to go         from alongside Me! Nevertheless not as I Myself determinedly will, but as         You.
40And He comes to the disciples and He finds them sleeping. And He says to /Peter,
        In this way you do not prevail one hour to watch with Me, do you?         41Continually watch! and continually pray! lest you enter into testing to
         prove. On the one hand the spirit |is| eager, but on the other hand the flesh
         |is| impotent.
42Again for a second |time|, He departed and prayed, saying,
        O My Father! if (and it is true) it is not possible for this cup to pass from
        alongside Me, unless I drink it, Your determined will is to come to pass!
43And when coming, He finds them sleeping again. For their eyes had been very heavy. 44And He abandoned them and departed again and He prayed for a third |time| and said the same saying. 45At that time He comes to His disciples and He says to them,
        Sleep for the remaining |time| and refreshingly repose yourselves! Lo! the
        hour has drawn near and The Son of Man is being betrayed into hands of
        sinners. 46Be arising! Let us pass on! Lo! The one betraying Me has drawn
        near.

Mark 14:33-42 (APT)
33And He takes Peter and James and John alongside with Himself. And He began to be awestruck and to be sorely troubled. 34And He says to them,
        My natural life is surrounded by sorrow as much as death. Remain here!
        And continually watch!
35And after He went forward a little, He fell upon the earth and He began praying that if (and it is true) it is a possible thing, the hour should go from alongside away from Him! 36And He said,
        O Abba Father! all things |are| possible things to You. Bear this cup from
        alongside away from Me! But not what I Myself determinedly will, on the
        contrary what You |determinedly will|.
37And He comes and finds them sleeping. And He says to Peter,
        Simon, you are sleeping, are you? You are not prevailing to watch one hour,
        are you? 38Continually watch and continually pray lest you enter into trial!
        On the one hand the spirit |is| eager, but on the other hand the flesh |is|
        impotent.
39And again He departed and prayed and said the same saying. 40And when He returned, He found them sleeping again, for their eyes have been heavy and they had not perceived what they should answer Him. 41And He comes the third time and He says to them,
        Sleep the remaining time! And refreshingly repose yourselves! It is far
        distant away. The hour is gone. Lo! The Son of Man is being betrayed into
        the hands of the sinners. 42Be raising yourselves up! Let us pass on! Lo!
        The one betraying Me has drawn near.

Luke 22:40-47 (APT)
40Now when He emerged upon the place, He said to them,
        Continually pray in order that you do not enter into trial!
41And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw. And when He kneeled down, He began praying, 42saying,
        Father, if (and it is true) You desirously will, bring this cup from Alongside
        away from Me! Nevertheless, not My determined will, but on the contrary
        the one belonging to You is to come to pass!
43Then an angel from Heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44And after becoming in agony in conflict, He prayed more fervently. Then His sweat became as if thick clots of blood descending upon the soil. 45And when He rose up from prayer and came to His disciples, He found them reposing in sleep on account of the sorrow. 46And He said to them,
        Why are you sleeping? Rise up and continually pray! lest you enter into trial.
47Now while He was yet speaking, lo! a crowd and the one addressed Judas, one of the twelve, was going before them. And he drew near to /Jesus to kiss Him.

Explanation and Determination of Jesus' Garden Prayer
    Observe that both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus began to be sorely troubled and they both quote Jesus telling His disciples that His natural life is surrounded by sorrow as much as death. It is true that The Scriptures do not mention Satan in the accounts of His agony in conflict in Gethsemane. However there is a strong indication that the agony in conflict was with Satan in a last testing before the encounter at Calvary, where Satan will bruise His heel, but He will bruise Satan's head (Gen. 3:15). If we recall Christ's experience in the forty-day testing in the desert, two things will be noted: (1) that Luke records, And when the devil consummated every test, he stood off away from Him until an appointed time'' (4:13); and (2) Matthew records, At that time the devil abandons Him. And lo! angels approached and began domestically serving Him'' (4:11). Also note Mark 1:13, And He was there in the desert forty days being continually tested by Satan. And He was continually with the beasts and the angels were continually domestically serving Him.'' Scripture does not record the appointed time when the devil returned to further test The Lord Jesus, but the indication immediately after the forty-day testing in the wilderness (desert) is that he will return at the appointed time not to kill Him, because we already observed that no one can take His natural life from Christ (Jn. 10:18), but to afflict and test Him. The ordeal on the cross is not a test but a battle in warfare. Luke wrote that, after the strengthening by an angel, Jesus became in agony in conflict and prayed more fervently. Then His sweat became as thick clots of blood. Such condition occurs only under extreme agony and exertion. With whom was this agony in conflict in Gethsemane recorded by Luke (22:44). It could not be The Father! Jesus was praying to Him about that hour which both Mark and Matthew refer to as this cup.'' Jesus was alone physically. So His agony in conflict was with a spiritual enemy, Satan. But Satan could not kill Him, nor cause Him to take His own Life. He did not have the power of death over Christ. He said that no one carries off His natural life from Him. Satan could only tantalize Him by calling attention to all the suffering that the cross would entail, the total cost of that day of sacrifice on the cruel Roman cross, but far more excruciating, the burning wrath of God in darkness upon sin and the sinner endured by Him , The Holy One Who knew no sin, but Who was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). And furthermore, by His own prediction one of His own disciples shall betray Him, another shall deny Him, and all shall be offended because of Him. The only times we read in Scripture that the angels strengthened or ministered unto The Lord Jesus Christ is in the forty day testing in the desert (wilderness, AV) and this hour in Gethsemane.

    The Hebrews passage (4:15-5:10) deals with the preparation of The Lord Jesus Christ for His High Priestly ministry (already explained, see under (e) p. 2). In order for Him to be tested in all points like as we are, yet without sin, one more test was forthcoming -- in the garden, where he experienced being awestruck (Mark 14:33), extreme agony (Luke 22:44), disturbance, distress (sorely troubled), and experiencing God's silence after prayer according to God's will.

    We need only examine the words Jesus used in His prayer to be able to recognize that He was not praying to avoid the cross, or the death connected with it, or to be resurrected after death. He already indicated that He could raise Himself from the grave (Jn. 2:19; 10:18.19). No! He is praying for something else. But what?

    Note that Jesus refers to this cup'' (Mt. 26:38, 42) as the hour'' (Mk. 14:35). Also note that Jesus referred to the time in prayer in the Garden as one hour'' (Mt. 26:40; Mk. 14:37). He requested them to pray for one hour only. When He returned to them, He asked, In this way you do not prevail one hour to watch with Me, do you?'' (Mt. 26:40; Mk. 14:37). And after the hour had passed, He returned the third time and said, The hour is gone''(Mk. 14:41). The verb is aorist. The culminative aorist, which is a regular use of the aorist tense, indicates the action is regarded as completed and the process is ended without consideration of the results. Here it fits the grammatical flow with regard to one hour''.

    Now consider the content of Jesus' prayer by phrase. What were the words Jesus used in expressing His request to His Father? If (and it is true) it is a possible thing'' (Mt. 26:39; Mk. 14:35). The first class conditional clause is used by our Lord. It is the condition of reality. If a condition of unreality existed, the second class condition would be used. If it was a condition of probability the third class condition, contrary to fact would be used. In the mind of Christ it was possible for this cup'' to pass from alongside away from Him, so He used the first class conditional phrase. But He knew it was not possible for the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin to pass from alongside away from Him. Because that is the very reason He came to Earth and took upon Himself the form of a human (Phil. 2:5-8). He came to die on the cross. If He is The Savior, it is impossible for Him to avoid crucifixion, the shedding of His blood, and the darkness of wrath burning with brimstone. So for Him to say that it is possible would be a lie. And The Savior could not lie because He is The Truth.

    The first time he prayed: This cup is to go from alongside Me!'' (Mt. 26:39); the hour should go from alongside away from Him!'' (Mk. 14:35); Bear this cup from alongside away from Me!'' (Mk. 14:35); bear this cup from alongside away from Me!'' (Lk. 22:42). The verb used in each statement has the prefix para'' which means from along side''. This cup''is not in front of, or before, or to the face of, or upon Him, but alongside of Him. He requests that This cup' 'go away from alongside'' or from in the presence of'' Him, while the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin still awaited ahead of Him. He does not refer to this cup as the cup which My Father has given to Me.'' It means something else!

    Following His request, He adds the words: Nevertheless not as I Myself determinedly will, but as You'' (Mt. 26:39); But not what I Myself determinedly will, on the contrary what You |determinedly will|'' (Mk. 14:35); (but Luke uses both desirously will'' and determinedly will'': Father, if (and it is true) You desirously will, bring this cup from alongside away from Me! Nevertheless, not My determined will, but on the contrary the one belonging to You is to come to pass!'' (Lk. 22:42). Thereupon He sets the Example for us to follow when we pray. Whatever you request, ask in accord with God's will. And ask again, and again.

    Then on the second and third times, He clearly exhibits resignation to The Father's will. Since He did not receive relief from the sore trouble and disturbance and conflict, He reflected it might not be His will, so He reflected resignation and prayed O My Father! if (and assuming it is true) it is not possible for this cup to pass from alongside Me, unless I drink it, Your determined will is to come to pass!'' (Mt. 26:42). At that time an angel came to strengthen Him as the agony in conflict became greater while wrestling, not with flesh and blood, not with principalities and powers, but with Satan himself. He prayed more earnestly and His perspiration became as thick clots of blood before the relief came.

    When the hour of conflict is gone, He returns to the sleeping disciples and after arousing them, He says, It is far distant away. The hour is gone. Lo! The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of the sinners'' (Mk. 14:41). Here the verb form ape,cei is an impersonal form of a word that literally means to have away'' but is often translated to fully receive'' in connection with a reward. It is also translated distant away' (far, AV) in Mark 7:6, quoting Isaiah 29:13. Matthew uses it in the same way (15:8). Luke uses it three times (7:6; 15:20; 24:13) to express distance away. The verb form,~/hlqen, meaning to come'' or to go' which describes the action of the hour is culminative aorist, expressing completed action. It is gone or it went. Therefore the prayer was answered. The cup or the hour has been taken a distance away from alongside the Lord.

    It is time to enter the next hour, the betrayal into the hands of sinners. Note the change in the Savior's attitude and demeanor. It's time to go on. Get up and let's go. The betrayer has come.'' The sorrow is gone and the sweating of thick blood clots has ceased. The agony in conflict is over. The prayer has been answered as stated in Hebrews 5:7. The cup has been taken away from alongside Him or from His presence. Now He faces the betrayal with the same calmness and matter-of-fact utterance as stated in the upper room.

Conclusion
    We have looked at seven views. Six (a-f) have been shown to be defective and lack or overlook some vital points, leaving the last one (g), which has been substantiated to be acceptable. So what is this cup'' about which Jesus prayed? It is the trial or testing of nearly overwhelming sorrow, sore trouble, and distress caused by extreme agony in conflict most likely with Satan in anticipation of the ordeal of suffering the darkness of the holy wrath of God for the sins of the world and shedding His blood on Calvary's cross. This conclusion is born out by the following list of evidence.

Eight Reasons for Such Conclusion

1. The Scripture indicated that Satan would return to test Him at an appointed     time. Scripture does not record or specify such occasion. The only other     recorded most likely event is this cup.''
2. This cup''contrasted with the hour'' in both Matthew and Mark indicates     they refer to the same thing.
3. Jesus' emphasis on one hour'' indicates the length of time until the cup     passed.
4. The use of the first class conditional clause indicates the possibility that the     request could be granted. Jesus knew that there was no possibility to avoid     the cross.
5. The wording of the prayer in Koiné Greek, This cup is to go from alongside     Me!'' indicates that the ordeal is in His presence and not before or up ahead     of Him.
6. The only occasion other than Matthew 4:11 that (an) angel(s) ministered to     or strengthened Him is recorded of Gethsemane in Luke 22:43.
7. The Savior's statements, It is far distant away. The hour is gone,''     substantiate that the prayer was heard.
8. The thick blood clots of perspiration ceased indicating that the ordeal is     ended.
Dr. Fred Wittman
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Last modified: April 5, 2010