Garden of Gethsemane

Yardenit Via Dolorosa

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane, Israel

The Garden of Gethsemane is located just east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. To walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, simply exit Old Jerusalem eastward, then walk down to and across the Kidron Valley. If going by taxi and visiting the Mount of Olives as well, walking down from the top of the Mount to the Garden of Gethsemane will be easier than getting off at the bottom and hiking up.

The name of the garden, "Gethsemane," is derived from the Hebrew words "gat," which means "a place for pressing," and "shemanim," which means "oils." The Garden of Gethsemane is where the olives from the Mount of Olives were pressed into oil (first century gardens served an economic purpose).

Two thousand years ago, the Garden of Gethsemane was where Jesus sweated blood, where Judas Iscariot betrayed innocent blood, and where Peter drew Malchus' blood.

Today, the Garden of Gethsemane is a Catholic monastery with a garden of eight olive trees (above), including a few that are said to be 2,000 years old and still bear olives. (Olive trees are resilient. After a couple of centuries, they stop bearing olives and wither. But if the withered branches are broken off or cut away, new branches sprout and the tree starts to bear olives again. One olive tree in Magliano in Italy's Tuscany region is claimed to be 3,500 years old.)

More dubious was the claim that Jesus prayed on the large flat rock (below) over which the towering chapel (below) of the Garden of Gethsemane monastery was built.

Garden of Gethsemane Monastery
Garden of Gethsemane Rock

When pressed for Biblical evidence of Jesus having prayed on the rock above or any other rock in the Garden of Gethsemane, the friar in charge of the monastery conceded that that detail had been added by his tradition.

Jesus praying in the Garden of GethsemaneThis small rock relief, also found in the Garden of Gethsemane, depicts Jesus praying in agony the night He was betrayed by Judas: And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

Did Jesus really sweat blood?

Arteries can rupture when a person is in great distress. Examples include strokes and heart attacks but also "hematohidrosis," in which the arterioles surrounding the sweat glands rupture, leaking blood into the sweat glands. When the resulting mixture of blood and sweat is excreted through the sweat pores, the appearance is red, "like great drops of blood."

Why was Jesus so distressed?

The typical answer is that Jesus knew and agonized over the physical pain of flogging and crucifixion that awaited Him the next day. Thirty-nine lashes with the Roman flagellum, a whip imbedded with metal and bone fragments will shred His back. A crown of thorns will dig into His scalp. Large nails will puncture His wrists, crushing the ulnar nerve, and His feet. When the cross is uprighted, both of His shoulders will dislocate from the weight of His body, and He will push up and down on His legs to lower and raise His diaphragm in order to breath, rubbing his shredded back against the rough wood of the cross for six hours until his death (see Golgotha, Jesus' Tomb and Why Was Jesus Crucified?).

During the Inquisition, Roman Catholics often roasted Christians over fire for longer than six hours for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Pope. Many of those Christians died praising Jesus and even singing hymns to Him. Dying on the cross is painful, but being slow roasted over fire is arguably even more painful. If Jesus sweated blood over the physical pain of dying on the cross, He may have some explaining to do to His followers who sang hymns to Him through even more painful physical deaths.

Then why was Jesus so distressed?

The Bible says that there was a cup that He didn't want to drink: And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." (Luke 22:41-42)

What was in the cup?

Instead of a tea cup, imagine a giant trophy cup, the type awarded to winners of Formula One car races. Walk up to it spit and puke into it all of the gross things you have done in your life. Then have millions of other people do likewise until the cup is brimming and frothing with revolting filth.

Jesus, who is sinless, was being asked to drink all of this liquid filth so that He becomes not just "full of sin," but sin itself: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) It would have been strange if Jesus hadn't been utterly revolted, to the point of sweating blood, at this prospect. But there's something else.

Since the beginning of eternity, God the Son - Jesus - had always been in union with God the Father. That union needed to be interrupted when Jesus drinks the cup, lest the Father also becomes sin. Jesus' abhorrence of being separated from the Father is attested to by His bloody sweat, as well as His heartbroken cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

If you are Christian, do you abhor being apart from God and are you as revolted by your sins as Jesus was?

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