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The scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane has confused me for a time. How could Jesus be overcome with fear or anguish or what-have-you when his Spirit is one of power and self-control, not of fear?

Luke 22:42-44 ESV “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Could it be that Jesus was not actually afraid, but anguish means something else? Other translations, actually most, say he was in agony or "in agony of spirit". What is an overview of doctrinal opinions on this?

  • FYI there was a recent(ish) Q&A on Hermeneutics.SE about the meaning of the term translated “agony” in Luke 22:44. – Susan Sep 11 '15 at 9:40
  • I would post a (distinctive) Swedenborgian answer to this question, but it would likely get deleted as off-topic for not being an overview. However, I recently wrote on this general subject as part of a debate on an LDS site, here. The post starts and ends philosophically, but the middle part is directly relevant to your question. – Lee Woofenden Nov 20 '15 at 17:30
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More of the biblical basis side of things than an overview, but we've just been looking at an answer to this question tonight, as found in Hebrews 4:14-5:10 -

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

5 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

6 And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (NIV)

To summarize, the agony in the garden (5:7) was a key part of the necessary process of Jesus being tempted in every way (4:14) so that he could: a) empathize with our weaknesses (4:15); b) learn obedience (5:8); c) be made perfect (5:9) - all of the preceding as part of the necessary preparation he underwent to assume the role of high priest - ever ready to make intercession for his people.

The scriptures refer to fear in different senses - the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the most commonly repeated command in the bible is "don't be afraid". From this we can conclude that fear is not in itself sinful, but neither is it the perfect will of God for us. That Jesus was tempted in every way is suggestive that there isn't a strong theological reason to say that Jesus didn't experience fear (of death, pain, separation from God the Father etc.), as even though that wouldn't have been directly mediated by the Holy Spirit (as per 2 Tim 1:7), he also necessarily experienced other temptations that were not directly mediated by the Holy Spirit either (as per James 1:13). Of course it is a salient point that he overcame the temptation that fear brings (to shrink back in unbelief) and for the joy set before him, endured the cross.

8

We can identify several views regarding the suffering of Jesus. (1) That he did feel fear and grief, but did not sin. (2) That he did not feel fear, per se, but did feel grief. Within (2), there are differing understandings of why Jesus felt grief and agony. Those who (a) accept penal substitution will argue that he was suffering on behalf of his people, while others (b) say that his suffering was due to people's sin and their rejection of him.

He did feel fear

Some argue that Christ felt fear, but that he did not thereby sin. For example, John Calvin:

[W]hen Christ was distressed by grief and fear, he did not rise against God, but continued to be regulated by the true rule of moderation. [...] Let us, therefore, attend to this distinction, that Christ, amidst fear and sadness, was weak without any taint of sin; but that all our affections are sinful, because they rise to an extravagant height.

Calvin saw two reasons for Christ's fear: the wrath of God against sin, and the physical suffering and death of the cross. Quoting Cyril,

[Jesus] allows the flesh to feel what belongs to it, and, therefore, being truly a man, he trembles at death, when it is now at the door.

Regarding 2 Timothy 1:7, Calvin argues that the command there is against cowardice, not against the feeling of fear:

[H]ere he speaks particularly about ministers, and exhorts them, in the person of Timothy, to arouse themselves actively to deeds of valor; because God does not wish them to perform their office in a cold and lifeless manner, but to press forward powerfully, relying on the efficacy of the Spirit.

He felt only grief, not fear

In this camp we begin with (a) those who hold to penal substitution, like Adam Clarke, a Methodist (Arminian). He is more uncomfortable than Calvin with the idea of Jesus being "afraid" of death:

To say that all this was occasioned by the fear he had of the ignominious death which he was about to die confutes itself – for this would not only rob him of his divinity, for which purpose it is brought, but it deprives him of all excellency, and even of manhood itself.

Instead, he suffered agony and distress because it was necessary to bring mankind to God:

His agony and distress can receive no consistent explication but on this ground – He Suffered, the Just for the Unjust, that he might Bring us to God. O glorious truth! O infinitely meritorious suffering!

Like Calvin, Clarke understands this suffering in Gethsemane in the context of the doctrine of penal substitution, which holds that Christ suffered God's wrath on behalf of his people, as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism (Answer 37):

[D]uring his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.

Those who (b) reject penal substitution include Roman Catholics like Haydock. He holds that Jesus's grief here was not due to fear, but to the sin and rejection of men. He quotes Jerome's explanation:

The cause of our Lord's grief was not the fear of suffering; since he took upon himself human nature, to suffer and to die for us; but the cause of his grief was the unhappy state of Judas, the scandal his disciples would take at his passion, the reprobation of the Jewish nation, and the destruction of the miserable Jerusalem. Our Lord also suffered himself to be thus dejected, to convince the world of the truth and reality of his human nature.

Here, the grief is seen as a human response to sin, and as something necessary to show his human nature, but not an example of him bearing God's wrath against sin.


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Peace Comes After the Storm

Simply put, Jesus did not experience fear and a lack of power and self-control; rather, as you pointed out, he experienced anguish (or stress, trouble, or agony). The infinite load of sin he was to bear in a few short hours was the reason for his anguish in the garden. Sin, as we know, is the very antithesis of peace. Peace, both peace with God and the peace of God, may seem absent during times of intense suffering, trials, and temptations, but it is there nevertheless--and perhaps most poignantly--after we endure whatever trial our loving Heavenly Father in His infinite wisdom places on us.

Jesus' poignant and loud cry from the cross (his fourth "word" from the cross) was

"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (Aramaic for "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?")

Forsaken, But Not Abandoned

Was Jesus truly forsaken on the cross? Some Bible interpreters make the mistake (in my opinion) of insisting that Jesus, while on the cross, was literally forsaken by His Father for an unspecified amount of time. They call it "God turning His back on His one and only Son." I disagree. Jesus did, however, feel truly forsaken by His Father.

After all, Jesus was not only the divine Son of God, but he was also the Son of Man: fully divine and fully human . Where the one nature left off and the other began, we will likely never know. Scripture tells us, however, that he willingly subjected himself to his Father's will, whose will included not only the humiliation and self-emptying Paul addresses in Philippians chapter 2, but also his being tempted in all points as we Christians are, yet apart from sin (Hebrews 4:15).

I suggest the preternatural darkness which enveloped the land surrounding the cross for three hours starting at noon, bore silent but eloquent witness to the darkness which enveloped Jesus' spirit, soul, and body while he was bearing away the sin of the world (John 1:29 and 36).

Paradox

Your question simply underscores one of many paradoxes in Scripture which are not easily--if ever--answered fully. The hypostatic union of divine and human is one of them. Another one is how the sinless, spotless Lamb of God could become sin for us; how the Just One could die for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18).

Moreover, the "power, love, and self-control" with which the Holy Spirit substitutes for our fear, were fully evidenced in Jesus,

  • while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (and Gethsemane is poignantly apropos, since it means "olive press"),

  • while he was whipped mercilessly by Roman soldiers, and

  • while he was "lifted up" on a cruel cross so he could "draw all men to himself" (John 12:32).

Who but the Son of God in power could endure such intense suffering? Who but King Jesus could evidence such love (John 3:16)? Who but the Son of Man could exercise such self-control that he chose not to summon 12 legions of angels to rescue him from a painful death, but chose rather to earn his given name, Yeshua, meaning "God saves" or "God is salvation"? (Luke 1:31).

Jesus' Eyes Were on the Prize

In conclusion, Jesus' agony in the garden was not evidence of his being abandoned by the Holy Spirit; quite the opposite in fact. During the time that Jesus "was deeply grieved, to the point of death" (John 38), he was not only ministered to by an angel of God (Luke 22:43), but when he rose from his prostrate position, and with great resolve, he said to his dozing disciples,

"'Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation'" (Luke 22:46),

and

"'Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand'" (Mark 14:42; Matthew 26:46).

Additionally, when Jesus finished his prayer in the garden with the words,

"'. . . yet not My will, but Yours be done'" (Luke 22:42; Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:39),

he was filled with peace, for as the writer to the Hebrews says in his description of Jesus' anguish,

". . . Jesus [is] the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

4

The most important figure in the history of the Church for this passage is St Maximus the Confessor, who considered it in the context of the Monothelite heresy. (Monothelitism is the belief that there is only one "will" in Jesus Christ; Maximus and the orthodox tradition have held that there are two wills in Christ as there are two natures: the human will and the divine will.)

Let's turn to the word "agony" or, as it is in Greek, ἀγωνία. This does indeed mean "agony" in the conventional sense, when applied to a person's mental state. In general, however, ἀγωνία refers to a struggle or a contest. This is the double meaning that Maximus picks up.

He says that this passage, the Agony in the Garden, is the time when Christ struggled in order to keep the human will in him aligned to the divine will. The human will knew fear and doubt. As he writes:

When he says, "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass" ... "nevertheless not my will be done, but yours. For the spirit is eager but the flesh is weak," we understand "that two wills are manifest here: the human which belongs to the flesh and the divine. For the human will, because of the weakness of the flesh, seeks to avoid the passion; the divine will is eager." (source)

So he was afraid because he was human. No human being could face what Jesus faced and not be afraid. The agony was the painful, terrible, final alignment of the human will to the divine will.

I think you're also misunderstanding the Pauline passage: it does not mean that a human being who has the Holy Spirit will know no fear. It's saying that the Holy Spirit is not about forcing compliance by fear, in contrast, as Paul would say, to the old Law.

3

We often think of Jesus as Deity and ascribe those type of emotions and etc. to him. We need to remember that Jesus was also a human being and as such he knew all of those feelings which we encounter. He knew hunger:

Matthew 21:17 through 19 KJV And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. 18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. 19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

Those Scriptures may even indicate anger, but if not these do:

Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

In light of these it isn't much of a step to believing that he also felt pain, and sorrow, and a myriad of other unpleasant sensations. It is also not so hard to believe that he would desire not to feel those pains on the cross; and through these Scriptures we know that he was keenly aware of his future death on the cross:

Luke 18:31 through 33 KJV Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. 32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: 33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.

Jesus was most assuredly aware of what scourging meant, and would not desire to go through that if at all possible, that being the reason for his asking:

Luke 22:42 KJV Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

There is much that can be gleaned from that request!

  1. We can wonder if Jesus was actually asking Father God Please consider whether your love for these retched people is really worth my sacrifice?

  2. and if not please don't make me go through all that pain.

  3. However; if you still feel that they are worth all of this; then let's go ahead, and I am willing to do your bidding despite how painful it will be for me.

We are often forgetful of just how horrible it was for Jesus to propitiate for us, and the fact that he took all of the pain associated with all Christians, and was even willing to do that for even those who reject him.

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Why is it that we assume he was agonizing over himself and what he was about to go through? Maybe because we put it into our perspective and that’s what we would have been doing in that scenario.

I believe he was agonizing over the fact that his followers would be divided. We must stop his agony in the garden and learn to be one in Christ.

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    While your point of view is interesting, his answer would be improved if you support it with Christian teaching and/or scripture. Please review how to write a good answer; this is not a discussion forum. – KorvinStarmast Jul 24 '18 at 13:42

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