As Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives in the garden called Gethsemane, his Father sent an angel to him to strengthen him (see “Praying Through Gethsemane“). What could the angel possibly do for Jesus? How can an angel strengthen God who became a man? There is an interesting account of an angel strengthening Daniel in Daniel chapter ten. Here the prophet was praying and fasting for three weeks (Daniel 10:1-3), when he saw a vision (Daniel 10:5-6). Daniel lost all his strength, and he fell prostrate with his face toward the ground (Daniel 10:8-9). The angel had to strengthen him so he could stand (Daniel 10:10-11). The prophet was unable to speak, and with each command, the angel had to strengthen him more and more (Daniel 10:15-19). Daniel experienced a similar situation during another vision (Daniel 8:1, 17-18, 26) when the angel had to physically strengthen the fear stricken prophet.
It begins to make sense, at least to me, if Jesus had to be physically strengthened. He was under tremendous pressure, and his sweat became as drops of blood falling from his face and hands to the ground (Luke 22:44).
(This is a condition known as hematidrosis, and is) “associated with a high degree of psychological stress… causing the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result there is a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood.” [The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel; chapter 11; “The Medical Evidence”, page 195; parenthesis mine to condense the citation].
Nevertheless, if Jesus was not overwhelmed with sorrow because he was facing the cross, why was he experiencing this stress?
We need to look deeper into the word of God to see exactly what is going on in Gethsemane. John 18:1 says that Jesus crossed over the Kidron brook in the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. I believe something occurred there as Jesus crossed over that brook in the Kidron Valley. I cannot prove that whatever happened occurred exactly at this place, but something happened between Jesus eating and speaking with the disciples in the Upper Room and Jesus prayer here in the garden called Gethsemane.
Think back at some of Jesus’ words. “With desire (longing) I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (John 17:1). Jesus was looking for a future celebration, “I say unto you I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). “When they had sung a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). Was Jesus faking it as he sang the hymn? Does this sound like Jesus was depressed over dying? No! Something occurred that surprised Jesus between the time he spent in the upper room and his entering the garden of Gethsemane, where he claimed he was “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33). The Greek word here is ekthambeo (G1568) and means “to utterly astonish,” or “greatly amaze.” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament by Dr. Spiros Zodhiaties]. Jesus was certainly familiar with how the Romans crucified their victims. How could he have been surprised with anything concerning the manner in which he was about to die?
The Kidron Valley and the brook Jesus and his disciples crossed over have played an interesting role in Israel’s history. The actual bed of the valley is some 10 to 50 feet below its present level and some 70 feet closer to the Temple Mount. This is due to the accumulation of the rubbish thrown there. Asa, the King of Judah, took all the idols that his mother and father had made and destroyed them in the brook Kidron (1Kings 15:11-13). During King Hezekiah’s reforms, the Levites cleansed the Temple and discarded all the polluted things into the brook Kidron (2Chronicles 29:15-16, 18). The people who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover removed all the unlawful altars of sacrifice and altars of incense from the city and cast them into the brook Kidron (2Chronicles 30:13-14). Under the reforms of King Josiah, Hilkiah, the high priest, brought out of the House of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal etc. and burned them outside Jerusalem, casting them into the brook Kidron (2Kings 23:4). The grove was taken out of the House of God and burned at the brook Kidron and its ashes poured out on the graves in the Valley of Kidron (2Kings 23:6). All the remaining altars which Manasseh, Ahaz, and the other kings of Judah had made, Josiah cast out into the Kidron Valley, pounded them into dust and dumped the dust into the brook Kidron (2Kings 23:12).
Why would this be important to Jesus’ disposition, as he walked from the upper room to the Mount of Olives? The Kidron is a kind of symbol of the heart of man without God. Its darkness and pollution reflect the rebellious history of God’s people. It is a valley of uncleanness, which witnesses to the sins of God’s people. When Jesus passed over this brook, I believe the sins of mankind were suddenly and forthrightly laid upon him. Jesus knew no sin. He had no prior experience of knowing experientially what sin was like. I don’t mean to imply that he didn’t know that sin is evil, or that sin separates us from God, but knowing this and experiencing this are two different things. I can know that being drunk makes one act silly or violent, but unless I am drunk, I really don’t know the experience subjectively. I can know that the aftermath of inebriation often brings a hangover, but unless I experience the hangover, I can know only mentally or objectively that it is not a good feeling. Jesus always knew that sin was evil, but to become sin, was totally foreign to him. How could he know what it would be like not to have open and clear fellowship with his Father?
Imagine a loved one torn from you through a sudden death. Suddenly, Jesus was saddled with the burden of my sin and the sins of all mankind, and just as suddenly, he experienced an apparent separation from his Father. This was not experienced only on the cross. Jesus began to feel that separation at this point in time. I see the Kidron as a border. Once it was crossed (John 18:1), it was like Jesus became a new creature, not really, but it certainly seemed that way without open and clear fellowship with his Father (Isaiah 59:2). This is why Jesus was suddenly “…sore amazed and to be very heavy” (Matthew 26:36-38; Mark 14:32-34). He was depressed with the loss of a loved one, which in this case was his Father.
In the Garden of Eden it was God calling out to Adam, “Adam where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). In the Garden of Olives Jesus’ heart cry was for fellowship with his Father—“Father, where are you?” Up until this moment, Jesus, as the last Adam (1Corinthians 15:45), was perfectly aligned with his Father, just as it was intended to be with our first Adam. Adam was created to rule the world, but God ruled Adam. Jesus lived his life and performed many wonderful deeds, but it was his Father who empowered him to do the works (John 5:19-20; 14:10). At this time, however, that fellowship and close companionship was hidden by my sins and the sins of the entire world (Isaiah 59:2).
It is important that I mention here, that there was never a time when this fellowship between Jesus and his Father was broken. There was never a moment when the Father turned his back on Jesus because of the sin laid upon him. To believe this is to believe a lie. Neither did Jesus believe that his fellowship with his Father would ever be broken (John 16:32). Let the one who doubts this search the Scriptures and prove the doctrine that says our Father deserted Jesus. I have heard some say it is true, but I have never seen anyone prove this lie with Scripture. It cannot be done! How can I say this in the face of what is commonly believed? In the first place, if doctrine causes Scripture to contradict Scripture, the doctrine, and not the Scripture, is wrong. If my doctrine denies Scripture, then I do not understand God’s word properly, no matter how well my doctrine is written, or how good it sounds, or how many people are willing to believe it. It is plainly stated in Scripture that, while Jesus was on the cross, his Father was in him reconciling the world to himself (2Corinthians 5:14, 19), neither is it possible for God to deny himself (2Timothy 2:13). If God cannot deny himself, how could our heavenly Father deny or turn his back on Christ? If this is impossible, then there was never a moment that Father and Son were not in complete, intimate fellowship. Secondly, think about the logic of such a belief. If we believe in ONE God, wouldn’t a break in intimate fellowship or an abandonment of Jesus by the Father be schizophrenic? We are speaking of ONE God expressed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Godhead abandon Itself or not have unified communication with Itself?
Having said this, however, this fellowship was not apparent to Jesus, because my sin had concealed that fellowship from his point of view (Isaiah 59:2). This was the cup that Jesus desired his Father to remove. I don’t mean to imply that Jesus doubted the presence of his Father (John 16:32), but only that he could no longer sense his Father’s presence. He was made to feel just as alone as we are when we sin. I believe the pain of the cross was secondary compared to this apparent interruption of Christ’s fellowship with the Father he loved. It was this cup our Savior wished he would not have to endure, but to become a perfect High Priest, it was necessary for him to feel what we, as sinners, feel (Hebrews 2:17), living as we do, separated from God because of our sins.