Gethsemane Updated


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  • John MacDonald

    I think another important aspect of recent Jesus research is the emphasizing of Jesus’ humanity over him being a God. For instance, In Mark Jesus shows himself to be a fallible human prophet, not a God, when he is unable to do miracles in his home town: “Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.’ So He could not perform any miracles there, except to lay His hands on a few of the sick and heal them (Mark 6:5).” This “humanity of Jesus” is no where more evident than in Jesus’ atoning death in Mark, where Jesus is a human in agony and terror before God. Mark’s portrayal of the death of Jesus was one of reconciling humanity to God through atonement. Upon Jesus’ death, the tearing of the veil of the temple symbolized the removing of the barrier between people and God. The words of the Roman soldier that “Jesus was truly the son of God” symbolized the reconciling of the differences between Jews and Gentiles. The women being the witnesses to the empty tomb reflected the eroding of the inferior place of women and the unreliability of the testimony of women in the eyes of God. Hence, on this point, Paul also said “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).” How Jesus got to his atoning death reveals his humanity. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shows him to be a person in agony and terror about his fate, terrified of his place in God’s plan, and petitioning God to change His plan! You would need to go through complicated mental gymnastics to explain the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane from a Trinitarian point of view. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to see Jesus as any kind of God here, since it seems silly that a God would be terrified of his atoning death, because that is the only reason he would be on earth in the first place. Does it make sense that in a story about a God who came to earth to die to wipe out the sin debt of mankind, that this God would beg to abandon his post? After all, Jesus knows he has nothing to fear because he will just suffer for a few hours and eventually be resurrected: Jesus says “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise (Mark 9:31).” Jesus is not portrayed by Mark as a God, but just a terrified human. Probably what we see in Jesus’ prayer in The Garden of Gethsemane is the intrusion of doubts in Jesus’ mind about whether God will resurrect him or not (something that wouldn’t have happened if Jesus was a God, since as a God Jesus could have been in direct communication with God The Father). Or maybe Jesus had originally “discovered” that he was to be raised on the third day because he interpreted the story of Jonah in such a way that he believed it was to be fulfilled by him (by Jesus). We see this in the gospel of Matthew when Matthew writes “38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ 39But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:38-40).” Maybe Jesus was losing faith in this hermeneutic (that maybe this prophesy wasn’t to be fulfilled by him), and so was afraid his atoning death wouldn’t end in resurrection. In any case, whatever Jesus thought God said in response to his desperate prayer in Gesthemane, Jesus comes out of it with renewed vigor and purpose: spouting blasphemy to the Jewish high council and telling Pilate he was the king of the Jews. So what had happened? Maybe Jesus thought God told him he would now be a traditional messiah, and that God would intervene in human history and help Jesus to defeat his enemies (The Romans and the Jewish Elite). When this doesn’t come to pass and Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus can’t understand it and Cries out for God to intervene in history and send a divine being to come and help him escape and bring him victory: Mark records that: “At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?’ which is translated, ‘MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, ‘Behold, He is calling for Elijah.’ 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down’ (Mark 15:34-36).” And so maybe Jesus’ fear and wanting to opt out of God’s plan was, in fact, all a part of God’s plan. Maybe Jesus as a “willing sacrifice” could not pay the sin debt for the world, but maybe Jesus as an “unwilling sacrifice” could. If it would have been meaningful to God if Jesus wanted to offer up himself willingly, imagine how much more it would have meant to God if Jesus was sacrificed unwillingly and in terror! Luke evidently had a problem with the portrayal of Jesus’ death and last words in Mark, so Luke changed Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ last words from a terrified ” “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? (Mark 15:34-36),” to the resolute “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).”