There is a big difference in how the rest of the Christian world sees what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how the Latter-day Saints see it. This piece points out some of the most important differences.
In general, Christians believe, or at least are taught that the suffering Jesus experienced in Gethsemane was the human experience of anticipating what he would have to go through on the cross within the next day. I take issue with this view for several reasons. Many thousands of people died by crucifixion. This was not something that made Jesus special. I’m not saying that being crucified was not painful. It was, in fact, one of the worst forms of death ever invented. I am just saying that the cross is the soul focus of most Christians, because Jesus was crucified. But Jesus was not unique in that he died that way.
Many people were tied to the cross, while their feet were nailed. Others were nailed both hands and feet. What is there in this form of death that sets Jesus apart from many thousands of others who died the same death? I agree that Jesus suffered more on the cross than the average person, but I think it was but the final stage of his suffering, not the totality of his suffering.
What made the sacrifice Jesus shouldered different from all others was his payment for the sins of the whole human race. We believe he suffered all the shame, guilt, sense of loss, betrayal – in short everything that any human has ever suffered or will suffer in their life. He knows us in a way no other can know us. He has felt our pain and knows how much it hurts. It doesn’t matter what has happened to us, or how badly we have behaved.
Jesus’ suffering included the eternal payment for every sin and wicked act done by the human race in every period of time from the beginning of the world to the end of it. The eternal price for all those laws broken was paid for by him in his time of suffering. This is what made his suffering so unique. It was far beyond anything a mortal could possibly experience and live through. This is why we cannot save ourselves. Only someone who is able to pay the eternal price for our sins could possibly absolve us of the sins we commit, removing us from the equation altogether. And whether we believe in him or honor and obey him, or spit upon him, he paid the price of our sins willingly and with love.
Jesus needed time, and a place where he could work out his sacrifice by himself. I believe the bulk of his sacrifice was done in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he was betrayed, scourged, and ultimately crucified. His death culminated his sacrifice for us, but much of his sacrifice came before the cross. In Matthew 26:36-39 we are told that his suffering began gradually, but built quickly. See verses 37-38.
36 ¶ Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called , and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and yonder.
37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is , even unto death: tarry ye here, and with me.
39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and , saying, O my , if it be possible, let this pass from me: nevertheless not as I , but as .
Christians and Gethsemane
Look up Gethsemane and its importance on the Internet. You will find references that say Jesus often went there to be alone, that he went through the garden multiple times during his ministry. Any mention of his suffering there is explained only that he was anxious and fretting about the crucifixion to come. Christianity as a whole has no doctrine about Gethsemane being a large part of where the Savior’s atoning sacrifice was paid for. They see him as just being afraid of what was to come.
Does it make sense to you that Jesus would sweat great drops of blood out of fear of what was to come on the cross? Thousands had and would die in this same way. Jesus was no coward, so that makes no sense to me. Does it make sense to you that his worry about his upcoming scourging and humiliation would require that God send an angel to minister to him to help him have the strength to carry on?
These extraordinary measures of laying prostrate on the ground, of sweating blood, and having an angel comfort him make more sense if you look at his time in the garden as the time he was paying for the sins of the world. His betrayal, humiliation, scourging, and the final crucifixion was the final proof of his love, that he could experience all that makes us human then suffer all that humans do to each other in complete humility and submission to God. The scriptures promised that he would die this way, so he had to see the process through.
At the very end even the Father withdrew from him so that he could finish on his own. Since no one could kill him, he had to wait until he was sure that he had suffered all that his Father required of him before releasing his spirit from his tortured body. He knew that the purpose of his life was to pay for our sins then die for us. Without his death he could not be resurrected, and we were all promised a resurrected body for the eternities. That is a free gift from Jesus himself. That is how much he loves us all.
Words of the prophets
Following are just three quotes from some of the Apostles Jesus has called to witness to the world of his life and calling as the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. There are many talks I could have used for this, but these were at the top of the list, so I used them. They speak the truth, and it is oh so comforting.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Now I speak very carefully, even reverently, of what may have been the most difficult moment in all of this solitary journey to Atonement. I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The loss of mortal support He had anticipated, but apparently He had not comprehended this. Had He not said to His disciples, “Behold, the hour … is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” and “The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”?
With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.
But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that He never flees nor fails us. When the uttermost farthing had then been paid, when Christ’s determination to be faithful was as obvious as it was utterly invincible, finally and mercifully, it was “finished.” Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair. With faith in the God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Brothers and sisters, one of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said: “I will not leave you comfortless: [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you].”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
I turn now to the conclusion of Jesus’ mortal Messiahship. Luke reported Jesus’ sweating in Gethsemane “as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). This fact is fully validated in the “other books” of restoration scripture (1 Ne. 13:39–40): “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, … to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18).
The necessary but awesome shedding of Jesus’ blood thus occurred not only in the severe scourging, but earlier in Gethsemane. A recent and thoughtful article by several physicians on the physical death of Jesus Christ indicates that “the severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a preshock state.” (We all recall, of course, that a dramatically weakened Jesus needed help to carry the cross.) “Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical. … Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure” (Journal of the American Medical Association, 21 Mar. 1986, pp. 1458, 1461).
In addition to the consequences of scourging, how Christ’s lifeblood had already flowed in Gethsemane! Remember, he suffered “both body and spirit” (D&C 19:18). Declared King Benjamin, Christ would suffer “even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish” (Mosiah 3:7).
Having bled at every pore, how red His raiment must have been in Gethsemane, how crimson that cloak!
No wonder, when Christ comes in power and glory, that He will come in reminding red attire (see D&C 133:48), signifying not only the winepress of wrath, but also to bring to our remembrance how He suffered for each of us in Gethsemane and on Calvary!
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The ordeal of the Atonement centered about the city of Jerusalem. There the greatest single act of love of all recorded history took place. Leaving the upper room, Jesus and His friends crossed the deep ravine east of the city and came to a garden of olive trees on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. There in the garden bearing the Hebrew name of Gethsemane—meaning “oil-press”—olives had been beaten and pressed to provide oil and food. There at Gethsemane, the Lord “suffered the pain of all men, that all … might repent and come unto him.” He took upon Himself the weight of the sins of all mankind, bearing its massive load that caused Him to bleed from every pore.
Later He was beaten and scourged. A crown of sharp thorns was thrust upon His head as an additional form of torture. He was mocked and jeered. He suffered every indignity at the hands of His own people. “I came unto my own,” He said, “and my own received me not.” Instead of their warm embrace, He received their cruel rejection. Then He was required to carry His own cross to the hill of Calvary, where He was nailed to that cross and made to suffer excruciating pain.
These three quotes are but a taste of all the talks given on Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane. His atoning sacrifice began in the garden and ended on the cross. The greatest suffering, that which he suffered to pay for our sins, a payment that was eternal in scope and nature, happened before his betrayal. As bad as his suffering on the cross was, the garden was worse. Yet the scriptures are almost silent as to the nature of his lonely vigil in the garden as he redeemed our souls from the grasp of death and hell. We should be so grateful for the witnesses we receive from Christ’s chosen servants.
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