Monday, January 16, 2012

Gethsemane: Slow, Careful Steps

In the first posting of this series on Jesus' suffering in Gethsemane, we saw that, ekthambeo — "sore amazed" in King James English — is an amazement of thorough terror.

For Jesus in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33), the cause of the terror "must be sought, not in what might be passing in his soul, but in appearances from without which forced themselves upon him; something approached Him which threatened to rend His nerves, and the sight of it to freeze the blood in His veins."[1]

There was something outside himself that he saw. It appeared suddenly. It approached him. It already was approaching him when first he saw it. It got the drop on him. It forced itself upon him. It was a menacing horror. Jesus saw a living nightmare.

What did He see?

A Natural Question

That question does come popping naturally into our minds. It is natural to want that answer immediately.

If we jump too hastily, though, the conclusion we draw could be wrong. Gethsemane is a deep garden, and Jesus suffered there in the night. Less than a handful of nights ever were darker. Our steps should be slow and careful, taking full advantage of each beam of light the Word shines into that darkness.

Two Sorts of Faulty Interpretations

There are two sorts of common, faulty interpretations of Jesus' suffering in Gethsemane.

One sort is interpretations by Jesus' critics. It is easy for them to criticize Jesus' behavior in Gethsemane because they never face up to what Jesus suffered there.

The other sort is the too-pat answers often given in the Church. Those answers are too pat because they do not get at what suffers in his suffering. Those answers do not appreciate as well as they should Jesus as suffering in our place. How far does that go? The typical answers do convey truth in the light of Jesus as Surety, but they take practically no account of Jesus as Mediator. While I don't want to neglect Jesus as Surety, neither should we neglect him as Mediator, and the lengths to which He went to be that for us.

Jesus, the One Suffering

The key to Gethsemane is that it was Jesus, not someone else, suffering there.

Take a look again at the observations we've made so far and see how Jesus himself becomes the key to the mysteries of Gethsemane:
  • The cause was not from within Jesus.
  • The cause was from outside Jesus.
  • He saw something — a terror, a horror, a nightmare — forcing itself upon him.
  • Whatever He saw caused him to be "sore amazed."
What, to Jesus, is alien, not from within himself? The critics never think of that.

What, to Jesus, is a terror, a horror, a nightmare? The Church thinks of this, but too little.

Both the critics and the Church rush to conclude that the forthcoming floggings and crucifixion are what put Jesus, by looking forward to them, into a state of being "sore amazed."

But the forthcoming floggings and crucifixion would be, in Gethsemane, thoughts passing through Jesus' soul, contemplations of physical suffering and death ahead. We have already observed that such is not the cause of Jesus' ekthambeo. The cause of the terror "must be sought, not in what might be passing in his soul, but in appearances from without which forced themselves upon him."[2]  The forthcoming floggings and crucifixion would be things future, not the immediate, assaulting menace of ekthambeo. In Gethsemane, something was presently approaching Jesus, so that is was not future, and it was not a contemplation, but an occurring fact.

Light, and More Light

The few beams of light from the Word that we have observed so far already are helping us to avoid misinterpretation. Are there more such beams? Is there more help in the Word?

Before deciding what Jesus saw, in the next posting we will make another helpful observation. We will observe what Jesus was referring to when He said his soul was sorrowful unto death.

What death? Where?


1.  Frederick W. Krummacher, The Suffering Saviour: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 printing of 1855 English translation from the 1854 German original, pp. 106-107.
2. Ibid.

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