In the ancient world, arenas hosted brutal spectacles where gladiators fought to the death. But not every heroic contest played out in stone stadiums. For history’s most momentous struggle, the arena was a quiet garden, and the champion a solitary, defenseless figure. As the scene unfolds, we see it’s sometimes victory rather than defeat that brings us to our knees.
To get the most out of this study, read Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-52, and Luke 22:39-46. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in these passages. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: Luke 22:39-46
By this point in the gospel narrative, Judas Iscariot has conspired with the chief priests and agreed to help them for 30 pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16). During the Passover celebration in the upper room, Jesus identifies His betrayer. Judas then leaves to set in motion the events that will eventually lead to Calvary.
After partaking of His last meal with the disciples, Jesus departs the relative comfort and security of the upper room for a familiar retreat—the Garden of Gethsemane.
Reread Matthew 26:36-39, and note how Jesus progressively separates Himself from the disciples. Why do you think He ultimately made sure He was alone when addressing the Father? What does this scene suggest about the interplay between corporate support and personal burden?
Pay close attention to verse 39, which says Jesus “fell on His face” before starting to pray. In what way does that image change how you perceive the extent of the Lord’s physical distress?
Now look at the words Jesus used in addressing the sleeping disciples in Matthew 26:41: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Consider how the statement could also apply to Jesus, who was Himself fully human—what does this illuminate for you about the Savior’s struggle?
Continuing the Story
No one would doubt that Jesus’ Gethsemane experience is painful, but His suffering is even deeper than we might imagine.
Jesus’ suffering is even deeper than we might imagine.
Mark 14:33 says that upon arrival, Jesus begins to feel “very distressed and troubled.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek for “distressed” is ekthambeō, which means “to alarm thoroughly, to terrify, to throw into terror or amazement.” Can you think of a moment in your life when you were terror-struck? Try to recall the physical sensations and emotions that accompanied that reaction. Now imagine Jesus experiencing the same thing. How does knowing that He personally relates to your human experience of overwhelming fear impact your relationship with Him?
One further word study on this verse fills out the picture even more: The Greek term for “troubled” is adēmoneō, which can also mean “depressed.” Strong’s Concordance specifically notes that of the words in the New Testament for depression, adēmoneō is the strongest. Is it strange for you to think of Jesus experiencing depression, however brief? Why or why not?
The prophet Isaiah, in describing God’s anointed one as a suffering servant, chose language that helps us better comprehend the intensity of Christ’s struggle in the Garden.
Isaiah 53:4, which is commonly recognized as a messianic prophecy speaking of Jesus, says that the suffering servant was “crushed for our iniquities” (emphasis added). With this in mind, consider that Gethsemane means “oil press.” We typically think of Christ’s crushing as a physical event taking place solely on the cross. But what if the “punishment that brought us peace” (Isa. 53:5) began the night before in the Garden? How does that change your perspective on sorrow?
Consider that Isaiah 61, another messianic passage, notes that one of the duties of God’s Anointed is ministering to the grief-stricken by “giving them [...] the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isa. 61:3). What connection do you see between Jesus being crushed at the Oil Press (Gethsemane) and His assignment to anoint the mourning with oil? How does His suffering translate into our gladness?
Being fully divine did not save Jesus from the deeply human experience of grief. That’s because suffering isn’t a divergence from God’s path—it is the path to triumph, healing, and beauty. And it’s a journey on which we must also embark, embracing Christ’s suffering so that we may also share in His joy (1 Peter 4:13).
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
The word agony describes supreme misery and conjures up images of tears, tension, and sobs. It’s an undignified, powerless state—and one Jesus is intimately familiar with. Hours before His arrest, He prays fervently, in agony so severe that droplets of blood are wrung from His skin. Though it appears to be the picture of defeat, this moment is more triumphant than anyone would suspect.
Agony is an undignified, powerless state—and one Jesus is intimately familiar with.
Reread Luke 22:39-44, noting an angel strengthens Jesus (v. 43). What does that imply about the draining effects of this moment on Him? How does this scene illuminate the verse “My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV, emphasis added)?
The other gospels tell us Jesus asked God three times to excuse Him from the torture of the cross. If the answer didn’t change, why do you think Jesus made the request repeatedly? If it were any other parent-child pair, how would you characterize such an exchange? Have you ever engaged in a similar tug-of-war with God?
Strong’s Concordance says that agōnia, the Greek word translated as “agony,” means “a struggle for victory” and originally referred to gymnastic exercises like wrestling. Thinking of your own life, how do you feel about struggling with God—do you see it as a sign of immaturity or, worse, an act of disobedience? Realizing Jesus was not disobeying or acting immaturely, how does knowing He struggled with His Father impact the way you view wrestling with God?
Human nature tries to avoid struggle—painful and exhausting, it seldom seems worth the effort. But unlike ancient Greek gymnastic exercises, the agony experienced wrestling with God ultimately strengthens us, aligning our heart, mind, and body with His will.
Illustration by Adam Cruft