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We see Jesus entering his Passion , in Lk 22: 41-43 (NRSVCE):

Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.

That implies that Jesus had an individual will of his own, which was distinct from the Will of the Father. But we do not see Jesus detailing it to His disciples after the resurrection. My question therefore, is: Are there apocryphal writings or messages received by the mystics explaining what Jesus, prior to the Passion, had in mind on how to accomplish his redemptive mission?

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    Why go to mysticism when the ecumenical creeds/councils answer this clearly?
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 4, 2022 at 5:05
  • @NigelJ There's a natural progression from the Nicene Creed, to the Chalcedonian Definition and then to the rejection of monothelitism. Dyothelitism is held to be an implication of Nicaea/Chalcedon, and not an additional doctrine.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 4, 2022 at 5:18
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    When speaking in manhood, Jesus speaks of a 'will' which he subjects to God, When speaking in Divinity he saith 'I and the Father are one'. But I think that we do not need to go outside of scripture for this.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 4, 2022 at 5:21
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    Clearly his will differed from God's. The passage does not imply anything on this matter - we are told this quite unequivocally here and other places also. It would seem however, you are not interested in a biblical answer?
    – steveowen
    Apr 4, 2022 at 7:50
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    As curiousdannii said, Chalcedonian definition answers it, and there are enough Biblical hints to support it, as @JohnDumancic's answer shows. Apr 4, 2022 at 17:25

5 Answers 5

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There's no need to appeal to apocryphal writings or mysticism; this very question was the subject of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople III. Note that "will" here is not "plan" but "the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action." The Fathers there write:

...we likewise declare that in him are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as he himself says: "I came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will but the will of the Father which sent me!" where he calls his own will the will of his flesh, inasmuch as his flesh was also his own. For as his most holy and immaculate animated flesh was not destroyed because it was deified but continued in its own state and nature ( orw te kai logw ), so also his human will, although deified, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved according to the saying of Gregory Theologus: "His will [i.e., the Saviour's] is not contrary to God but altogether deified..." The difference of nature which must be recognized in the same Person, for although joined together yet each nature wills and does the things proper to it and that indivisibly and inconfusedly. Wherefore we confess two wills and two operations, concurring most fitly in him for the salvation of the human race.

So, Christ has a human will (by assuming it, He saves it) and the Divine will. This will is willingly subject to the Divine will, and the Divine will is one (God has only one Divine will). What Jesus had in mind to accomplish His redemptive mission was whatever the Father had in mind (i.e. the Passion):

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise."
-John 5:19 (ESV)

"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me."
-John 5:30 (ESV) [emphasis mine]

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  • Also John 12:27 shows that Jesus knew full well what "the Father had in mind" and that he was in full accord +1. Apr 12, 2022 at 1:19
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    @john What biblical text would support your assertion that, 'Christ has ...a Divine will' Neither verse quoted supports it.
    – steveowen
    Apr 12, 2022 at 2:02
  • @steveowen Jesus is God, as the entire New Testament thunderingly proclaims. God has one will; see John 5:19, what I sent. The Son does only what the Father does, and this is so with the Spirit; this is the Divine will. The two wills sort out a contradiction; if the Son does only what the Father does, how can the Son say "yet not my will, but Yours be done"? This is answered by the two wills; God the Son maintains the Divine will He always had, but in the assumption of humanity, He has a human will as well. Apr 12, 2022 at 2:10
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    Thx, I thought so. John 5:19 doesn't really cut it does it? What it does say is the son (who allegedly is God) can do nothing of himself.
    – steveowen
    Apr 12, 2022 at 2:14
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    Precisely, but the text (Luke etc) clearly expresses Jesus had his own will which did differ and had to brought into line with God's through humble trusting obedience. So he does not have one will with the Father. We cannot confuse will with intent and purpose. The latter he did align with God - the 'Father and I are one'.
    – steveowen
    Apr 12, 2022 at 2:30
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In your description you say:

"That implies that Jesus had an individual will of his own, which was distinct from the Will of the Father."

And that is exactly what the text says. What extra-biblical sources have said about this is exactly that - man's uninspired words about God's inspired revelation of Himself about Himself.

It is up to you to decide who is telling the truth here. The Bible does say that God cannot be tempted:

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:" James 1:13.

The following words have helped me better understand this:

"As God He could not be tempted: but as a man He could be tempted, and that strongly, and could yield to the temptations. His human nature must pass through the same test and trial Adam and Eve passed through. His human nature was created; it did not even possess the angelic powers. It was human, identical with our own. He was passing over the ground where Adam fell. He was now where, if He endured the test and trial in behalf of the fallen race, He would redeem Adam's disgraceful failure and fall, in our own humanity." Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 129. Ellen G. White

In light of all this it seems quite logical that Christ had an individual will that differed from His Father.

The following also makes it very clear that it could not be otherwise:

"Many claim that it was impossible for Christ to be overcome by temptation. Then He could not have been placed in Adam's position; He could not have gained the victory that Adam failed to gain. If we have in any sense a more trying conflict than had Christ, then He would not be able to succor us. But our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing to bear which He has not endured." The Desire of Ages, p. 117,118.

To have a will differing from that of our Creator is a very human experience indeed. To be our Saviour, Jesus had to experience what this means to the fullest extent and this He did for you and I. His humanity was complete.

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It's quite perplexing that Jesus can be a God/man and somehow not tempted but also fully tempted to sin - yet of course, we are told he did not submit to the evil power about him and remained sinless. How did he do that?

Scripture informs that Jesus was a man - and nothing else. No biblical text says Jesus was also God as an equal to the Creator (Yahweh) or actually the Creator.

What we are told is that Jesus was 'made like us in every respect' and was required to obey and keep the commands as we are.

Therefore it behooved him to be made like the brothers in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, in order to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17)

Having a distinct will that could and did differ from God is the precise matter that makes him not God. 'A house divided cannot stand' Mark 3:24

Being not God enabled him to learn obedience from his sufferings. The sufferings of his whole life that resulted in his inescapable journey to the cross.

Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. John 12:27

When he says, "yet, not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42) he is stating plainly that he is not God. "your will", not my other will. Not the 'God will' that is really mine but the God will of his Father and God. Oh yes, Jesus has the same God we all do from the days of his flesh to the present day as expressed in Rev 3. post, resurrection, ascension and his being given immortality for the first time.

I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. John 20:17

Jesus had to face bitter temptation not by being God, because that would be a complete farce, but by being a man who had to submit to his God in obedience by choice - a choice made in trusting love and humility. The devil's temptations didn't stop after the 40 day fast - they continued until his final breath - 'it is finished'. The whole point of this life of submitting was as a man like us, who would defeat evil and death. God could have done this another way - He could have banished evil to another dimension or galaxy! He did not, He wanted mankind to experience the horror of sin and decidedly turn away from it by choice. We could not do that as the first Adam failed.

For since death came by a man, so also by a man has come the resurrection of the dead. 1Cor 15:21

Jesus, as the last Adam, succeeded by being the true human who would obey - until death! The final test of his obedience was submitting to the cross - to put aside his own will and abide by and in the Father's will for him. Defeating death and evil by any means other than a man only would make the whole obedience thing a mockery of Godly justice. Jesus obeyed by submitting - not by an internal will that was really God all along! The only God will was the one he obeyed by the power and provision of God's spirit - not by anything of his own power or will apart from God.

not my will but yours be done.

Jesus will was just like ours. It was subject to temptation by evil and deception. It was desiring the best for himself - 'take this cup from me'. Jesus was so subjected that he despaired of his life during his days on earth.

During the days of Jesus’ earthly life, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. 9And having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him Heb 5:7-

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.

Yes, clearly Jesus' will was different to the Father's. There is no other sensible way to understand that Jesus' will needed to be brought into subjection to a master - the god of this world or the Almighty God. He always had to make a choice and the choices were increasingly demanding due to his 'learning obedience through suffering'. Obedience is simply a descriptor for the voluntary alignment of his will with God's.

But we do not see Jesus detailing it to His disciples after the resurrection.

Before his resurrection, Jesus expressed the reality of the state he was in

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.

But after the resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand, after he is made immortal with new spirit life (1Pet 3:18, Acts 2:33) his will is not of the flesh anymore - but perfectly aligned with God's for eternity.

This is just as it will be for all humanity who accept Jesus as their means to salvation. They will not sin anymore - their will to choose good will be set because God fills them in every way.

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 1John 3:9

Addendum

We cannot confuse will with intent and purpose. Jesus' intent and purpose did align with God - the 'Father and I are one', but this is not concerning his will which was not always in accord with God's as we plainly read. Jesus told the disciples that they would be one with him, as he is with the Father, but he is not taking away their will, which when subject to temptation, could still choose sin.

Addendum #2

There is some confusion about Jesus being 'made like us in all things'.

The focus here is 'made'. It is not about behaviour, or function - these things are not part of our makeup, but results of choices we make. Jesus was not made a sinner like us - comparing these attributes is folly. The comment by Mike, unless of course Jesus was conceived in sin, is part of that misunderstanding. He wasn't 'made' like God - immortal, omnipotent, omnipresent, all-knowing, spirit, etc. He was made like we are - human, mortal, flesh and bone, etc but without sin from his conception by the power of Holy Spirit. This is the plain and intended meaning of the text and is not a complex matter unless dogma presumes certain other parameters which the NT text does not supply.

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    Was he made like us in every respect? I was born with a fallen human nature. How about you? Perhaps "every respect" does not mean quite what you would like to make of it; unless of course Jesus was conceived in sin...or we are not? Apr 11, 2022 at 13:56
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    ""your will", not my other will" Good point. Why is Jesus referring to the Father's will as someone else's, if Jesus in fact shares that will through His divine nature? Seems odd, doesn't it? Apr 12, 2022 at 16:58
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    That logic/rationale is dogma and conflicts with the scriptures. He said he was a man, died in the flesh (as God cannot do) and was then granted spirit life. He was born of Mary - flesh. God didn't provide the sperm(!), He made the pregnancy possible without it. The rest of what you can surmise is conjecture and unrequired to grasp the simple truth. 'God sent His son, born of a woman'. No other eternal, co-equal Son mentioned from Gen to Rev.
    – steveowen
    Apr 14, 2022 at 2:54
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    @MikeBorden "He does not beget flesh." Luke 1:35. "“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God." He is called the Son of God because He was conceived by God. This is a fleshly conception, not only a spiritual one. Apr 14, 2022 at 16:03
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    @OneGodtheFather I've yet to see Scripture that clarifies such a thing. The depth of the kenosis is such that there are things the Father knows that Jesus did not know. Perhaps the kenosis was deep enough, perhaps he emptied Himself to the point where He only experienced the Divine will through the Spirit. John 5:19 is present tense. The Son can only do what he sees (present tense) the Father doing. Jesus had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath. When did He see (present tense) the Father doing that? Perhaps it is simultaneous. Apr 21, 2022 at 12:19
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If the OP is interested in answers beyond the scope of the traditional Christian understanding of redemption, then the answer is definitely yes.

Jesus as the Jewish Messiah

One approach to the question would be to look at Jesus' mission from the standpoint of Judaism. The Jewish Messiah did not come to redeem people from sin by dying on the Cross, he came to redeem Israel by ridding it of Roman oppression and re-establishing the throne of David. We get a hint of this in the story of Jesus meeting two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

[Jesus] was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and ...our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:19-21)

Here the disciples express disillusionment that Jesus had been put to death precisely because this fact was at odds with their hope in Jesus as Israel's redeemer. If Jesus' human side shared this hope, then it is possible that, at Gethsemane, he begged God to allow him to live and fulfill it. However, there are no known examples of this outlook in surviving writings from the early Christian centuries.

Gnostic myiticism

Examples are found in Gnostic literature where Jesus' mission is that of a Teacher of the Truth. In Gnostic mysticism, human beings are basically spirits trapped in the material world. We do not need to be saved from physical death, we need to recognize that our bodies are part of the world of illusion. Jesus' death and Resurrection thus play no part in salvation.

Although Gnostics, like other Christians, find salvation through the messages of Jesus, Gnostics seek salvation not from sin but from "the ignorance of which sin is a consequence." The gnostics believe that the evil creator God and his angels cause this ignorance. (Gnosticism, Christianity, and Sophia)

A typical example of this type of early semi-Christian mysticism is found in the first verse of the Gospel of Thomas:

These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, ‘Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.'”

Some Gnostics went so far as deny that Jesus actually died on the Cross at all, as his physical body was an illusion. As far as I known they do not address the issue of Gethsemane. In the First Apocalypse of James, Jesus says, “Never have I suffered in any way, nor have I been distressed. And this people has done me no harm.” In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Jesus says, “I did not die in reality, but in appearance.”

However, among those Gnostics who did not deny that the crucifixion actually happened, they may have believed that Jesus hoped to remain on earth longer to continue his mission as a Teacher of Truth.

Church Fathers

As far as I know, the Church Fathers did not preserve quotations from those who addressed the question of what Jesus had in mind about his mission, apart from redemption through his sacrifice on the cross. Nor have any such writings been preserved apart from quotations by the Fathers.

From the above we can only speculate about what Jewish Christians may have believed prior to triumph of Pauline soteriology, in terms of their hope that Jesus would "redeem Israel" though other means than the cross. Gnostic mysticism suggests that Jesus may have hoped to survive and continue teaching, but it does not deal with his agony in Gethsemane per se.

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Frame challenge: if we don't like what God has revealed to (or hidden from) us in Scripture, we can find any answer we want elsewhere, but should we?

We can find any answer we want outside the Scriptures, but will that answer be correct? Will extra-biblical writings be reliable witnesses on matters that aren't revealed in Scripture? Maybe. Maybe not. If God did not see fit to reveal this to us, then the best we can do is speculate (e.g. I personally think it's reasonable to assume that the humanity of Jesus didn't want to die, nor to endure the Father's wrath, and that this assumption is supported by the verse in question, but nonetheless I'm speculating), and the worst we can do is go to unreliable sources that go beyond what is written in the Scriptures, and then take them as truth.

Any commentary or creed, while not without value, is still the interpretations of people about the Scriptures, and doesn't rise to the level of Scripture itself. At the end of the day we know what God has revealed in Scripture to us by the Spirit, and He doesn't choose to reveal everything to us.

So I think fundamentally we have to decide whether we're ok with not knowing some things for certain.

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  • Thanks, Job. There had been five attempts on the life of Jesus before he was crucified. They included the attempt to push him down the hill, and to stone him to death. But crucifixion, the final attempt was the most painful and ignominious. And Jesus lamented : "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me " implying that he had been given a truly bitter cup to drink. The physical pain and mental agony would last even after his resurrection, given the way he shows his wounds to Thomas. Wouldn't the human nature of Jesus opt for a lesser painful and lesser ignominious death ? Apr 8, 2022 at 5:15
  • Not sure why I didn’t reply. Definitely a human (and Jesus was both fully God and fully man) would never willfully sign up for death on a cross and generally would not sign up for death at all. And of course we really have no idea the pain Jesus suffered taking on our sin, in light of his complete holiness, being without sin. So I personally have little doubt that his humanity had zero desire to drink that cup. But we see that he submitted willfully anyway both in prayer and in action. It makes it all the more wonderful.
    – bob
    Jan 16 at 14:34

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