Each day Meridian has been highlighting the last days of Jesus’ life leading up the resurrection. See earlier articles here.
They crossed the Kidron brook, the light of a nearly full moon illuminating the way, and climbed the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place where they had often retreated together.
This garden was actually an olive vineyard, its name Gethsemanemeaning “place of the olive press,” and in this hour there would be inconceivable, heartrending pressing for the Lord. Taking only Peter, James, and John beyond the garden entrance, He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy,” saying to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”
Then removing Himself about a stone’s throw, in the depths of anguish He “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” “Abba,” He called, usingthe intimate personal word for “Father” used particularly in family circles The Agony in the Garden
The intense agony Jesus faced in the garden was not from fear of death or the pain of crucifixion. As the Son of an eternal Father, no one could take His life from Him. But in these midnight hours He would face the ultimate contest with all the powers of darkness as He took upon Himself the pain, sin, infirmities, and anguish of a corrupted world.
“It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and . . . produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish, Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict.”
In modern revelation, Jesus says of the event, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink.”
In complete anguish of body and spirit, Christ endured the unendurable, “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” “There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly.”
This obedient Son whose communication with His Father was so perfect that He could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” prayed yet more earnestly. What words He must have said in that impassioned prayer, as He in some way incomprehensible to mortal minds took upon Himself the punishment for all the sins of the world, however loathsome, paying the price, the incalculable debt for our weaknesses that we could not pay.
Paying the Price
He paid the price, with an infinite atonement, for all who would repent in His name and be at one again with the Lord. Since all things past, present, and future are continually before the Lord, 50 in some way we cannot understand, even the sins we will yet commit added to the agony Christ faced in Gethsemane.
Without this bitter cup, the drinking of whose dregs was the weightiest task in all the universe, we would be spiritually dead. Once having sinned, we would be unclean, unable to return to our Heavenly Father, debtors faced with an impossible debt. Without repentance, the day will come when with absolute clarity we will stand before the bar of God and “shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness.”
With repentance, made possible by a perfect Son, a sacrificial Lamb, paying a price that was not His, our staggering burdens of sin and guilt can be lifted, and we can be given new life. Who in this heart-breaking world of self-disappointment does not need this gift? When in the sorrow of our hearts we cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness,” there is One who hears with mercy because of this night in Gethsemane.
One who saw this scene in vision records, “I seemed to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as ever I have seen anyone. Standing behind a tree in the foreground, I beheld Jesus, with Peter, James and John, as they came through a little wicket gate at my right. . . . As He prayed the tears streamed down his face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I also wept, out of pure sympathy.
“My whole heart went out to him: I loved him with all my soul, and longed to be with him as I longed for nothing else. . . . The Savior, with the three Apostles, . . . were about to depart. . . . I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at his feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged him to take me with him. I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped, raised me up, and embraced me. . . .
“I felt the very warmth of his body, as he held me in his arms and said in tenderest tones: ‘No, my son, these have finished their work; they can go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.’ Still I clung to him. Gazing up into his face—for he was taller than I—I besought him fervently: ‘Well, promise me that I will come to you at the last.’ Smiling sweetly, He said, ‘That will depend entirely upon yourself.'”
The Place of the Olive Press
As all things were created to bear record of the Savior, so Gethsemane, the oil press, bears silent testimony of that grueling night. Olive oil was the very essence of life for Israel. Light came in a dark night because olive oil filled the lamps. Balm and healing came because olive oil was poured into wounds. Olive mash was fuel. But olive oil was obtained from the olives only by subjecting them to extraordinary pressure, crushing them under a stone press. Under this relentless weight, the olive, which is bitter, produced oil, which is sweet.
So it is with the atonement. From the bitterness of that night came all that is precious and sweet about life, all that gives light in the the darkness. When we are anointed with consecrated oil, it is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are healed, given balm from the olive press He faced for our wounds.
He had asked His apostles Peter, James, and John to watch with Him, but twice when He arose from prayer He found them “sleeping for sorrow.” 54 Jesus said, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Then He added in sympathy, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Finally, the third time He came and found them asleep, He said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; . . . behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Perhaps even at that minute He could already see the string of torchlights coming up the mount, a multitude of armed soldiers led by Judas. “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”
Approaching Jesus, Judas greeted Him and “not only kissed [him], but covered Him with kisses, kissed Him repeatedly, loudly, effusively.”
Defending Jesus against the arrest, Peter raised his sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. Touching the ear, Jesus healed it, saying, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” But now was the time for divine restraint as He allowed Himself to be taken captive that the scriptures might be fulfilled.
As the soldiers took Jesus, “they saw before them nothing but a weary unarmed man, whom one of His own most intimate followers had betrayed, and whose arrest was simply watched in helpless agony by a few terrified Galileans” 60 who finally fled in panic. This was the beginning of a long and terrible night of inquisition. First, He was led to degenerate Annas, the former High Priest for seven years, the money-hungry usurper of Jewish power. One of the abominable men of the earth, He appointed and controlled the High Priest, who would have slavishly followed his word.
At Caiaphus’ Palace
Next, in exhaustion, He was led bound to Caiaphas, the legal High Priest in whose palace at least a quorum of the Sanhedrin was gathered. They had before them a prisoner innocent of any crime. “Their dilemma was real, for they themselves were sharply divided on all major issues save one—that the man Jesus must die.” However, since they needed to find a charge, they sought false witnesses.
Many were eager to bare false witness, but “their testimony was so false, so shadowy, so self-contradictory, that it all melted to nothing.” Through all their hopeless argument, Jesus listened in majestic silence, which only confounded them more until Caiaphas, enraged, hurled this question: “Answerest thou nothing? . . . I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered, for it had never been a secret, “Thou hast said.”
Meanwhile, Peter waited in the courtyard below, mingling with the crowd and listening to malcontents tell stories of the arrest. The damsel who had admitted him to the palace said, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?” “I am not,” he said.
Later another maid said, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.” This time Peter, more threatened, denied with an oath, saying, “I do not know the man.” 65 Then later as Peter was warming himself by the fire, another said, “Surely thou art one of them,” and “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” 67
Peter cursed and swore with an oath, “Man, I know not what thou sayest.” Just then the cock crew, and the Lord, probably being led out a suffering prisoner, turned and looked upon Peter. Seeing that face of love, those suffering eyes, and knowing his own desperation, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
After the Savior’s interview with Caiaphas, Christ’s captors spit in His face and buffeted Him and made up a cruel game. Blindfolding Him, they slapped Him with the palms of their hands and then taunted, “Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?”
When, at last, the lingering hours of the night had passed, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin for the sham of a trial, which would be in flagrant violation of their own laws. The charge was blasphemy against the only one who could not commit blasphemy—the Lord Himself. “What need we any further witness?”
They were, however, bent on His death, and being subject to Roman overlords, they could not impose it themselves. So, followed by a riotous mob, they led Him bound to Herod’s magnificent palace, where Pilate, the Roman procurator, was keeping a wary watch over the Passover rabble.
This being a Gentile house with leavened bread, the fastidious Jewish leaders would not defile themselves and enter, though ironically they found no defilement in seeking to kill the innocent. Thus it was that Pilate came out to them, asking, “What accusation bring ye against this man?”
It was a hard question from a practical politician, and they had searched for and found the charge—not blasphemy, which would mean nothing to a Roman. No, this time they charged Him with sedition. He is a traitor to Caesar. He calls Himself the king of the Jews!
Of all those who examined Jesus, Pilate was the least guilty of malice toward Him. Something about the Lord touched the man, and after questioning Him he said frankly, “I find in him no fault at all.” 70 To this the chief priests responded in a clamor of accusations, among which a single word stood out: “Galilee.” Pilate thought he saw a way out. With relief, he sent the Savior on to Herod, whose jurisdiction included the green hills of Galilee.
Herod had killed John the Baptist, so before the cruel and insolent questioning of this despot, Jesus said not a word. For the weak, the sick, the child, the sinner, Christ had soothing, loving tones, but for the tyrant He had only silence, all the more infuriating to Herod, for he had longed to see a miracle performed.
The chief priests and rulers of the people were assembled, and the mocked, spat-upon, exhausted Jesus was once again brought before Pilate. Word of His arrest had spread through the streets of the city, and a mob of onlookers had gathered.
To these Pilate made his pronouncement: “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man.” This could have been enough; the Roman leader had spoken. But the pack of fanatics before him thirsted for blood.
Pilate’s pity for the Lord was crushed under his cowardice, for Pilate had that most inconvenient of burdens, a guilty past. Several times before, he had ignited Jewish fury against Him. One time, for instance, he had confiscated money from the sacred treasury to build an aqueduct and then had sent soldiers in Jewish costume among the people carrying hidden daggers to punish those who had opposed him. Now he was caught; for past sin, he would sin again, violating his own best instincts.
So he tried another kind of appeasement. It was the custom at Passover to release a criminal. Here were two men, perhaps even standing before the mob as Pilate spoke. One was Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, a murderer. The other was Jesus, the proclaimer of peace, who raised the dead. “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” 72 Some in that crowd had been healed by the Lord, some had heard His healing words, but the chief priests moved among the people stirring them up until they shouted, “Barabbas. Release Barabbas.”
Pilate would have released Jesus, and his feelings were even more stirred when his wife came to him pleading, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.”
“We Have No King but Caesar”
Whatever these flickerings of conscience, Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and jammed it on that tired head; they placed a purple robe on His shoulders and then, gloating and leering, they smote Him and spit upon Him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”74 Consider this humiliation, this stinging injustice, and know that He who has suffered all things can succor us in every hour.
Now Pilate brought the bleeding, wounded Jesus again before the crowd. “Behold the man!” he said. Was there even now no stirrings of pity for Him? Where was the man or woman who would speak up? Where were all those who were waving palms just five days before? Their hosannas had vanished on a fickle wind. No, there was only Pilate’s corrupt voice repeating, “I find no fault in Him.” It was still early morning when Pilate gave in: “Shall I crucify your King?” and the people answered, “Away with him, crucify him. . . . We have no king but Caesar.”
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” And the people shouted, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” 76 So Jesus, numbered with the transgressors, carried His cross to the place of the skull, Golgotha, until He collapsed under the weight and mounting misery. The men along the road were silent; some women wept. The cross was raised between two thieves, and at noon the earth turned dark in shame.
For capital punishment, the Jews stoned, burned, beheaded, or strangled, but the Romans chose the cruelest punishment of all—crucifixion. It was a lingering death for its tortured victims. “The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; . . . there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst,” dizziness, cramp, starvation, sleeplessness, and shame.
In Jerusalem, a charitable women’s group administered a mixture of wine and drugs to dull the pain as the victim was stretched on the ground and nailed to the crossbeam, but this Jesus refused.
Stripped, He was raised on the cross with a mocking sign over His head: “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” As the soldiers beneath Him cast lots for what was probably His only material possession, a coat without seam, He asked in their behalf, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
As He hung in anguish, the rulers and people gaped and cursed and condemned Him, taunting, “He saved others; let him save himself.” Through the anguish, He had only loving words. To His mother, Mary, who must have felt the pangs of near-death in her own body, it was concern that she be cared for. To the beloved John He said, “Behold thy mother,” and from that hour John took her into his own home. To the thief who would repent, He gave hope.
At noon the heavens grew black for three hours, as if the universe itself were weeping for the agony of the Creator. In that time all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane returned, and His Father’s spirit itself withdrew that the victory might be His. At the ninth hour, 3:00 P.M., “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, . . . My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In that eerie midafternoon darkness, someone ran and filled a sponge with vinegar. Having received the vinegar, Jesus said, “Father, it is finished, thy will is done.” 82 As He died, the veil of the temple was rent, and the earth quaked and rocks were rent as if to say with a nearby centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”83
While His body yet hung from the cross and then was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ immortal spirit performed a mission of utmost importance to the plan of salvation. An early Christian asked Peter, “Shall those be wholly deprived of the kingdom of heaven who died before Christ’s coming?” Or in any generation, shall those who died without knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ be cast out? It is a question that haunts Christian writing and was answered by Christ’s visiting the spirit world while His body was entombed.
In the world of spirits were gathered an innumerable host of those who had departed this life, “who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” and were awaiting His coming to open the gates that bound them. And “they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.”
While these spirits were waiting, “the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; and there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.”
All “bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell. Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them.” For those faithful, who had been for so long without their bodies, they would soon follow the Lord to resurrection as “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.”
But “the Lord went not in person among the wicked and disobedient” while among the spirits, “but behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.” 87 Since baptism was a necessary step to enter the kingdom, the early Christians had been taught to baptize for the dead by proxy. Paul understood this doctrine: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?”