The Agony of Love
By Dr. Chuck Missler
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” — Isaiah 53:4–5
Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Scriptures.
The Scriptures were written as a shadow, a dim reflection of Jesus Christ himself — to explain in advance God’s whole plan for the salvation of the human race. The more I study God’s Word, the more I’m amazed by God’s precision. The Old Testament gives us the history of the Jewish people, and it gives us psalms and proverbs and warnings and messages of all kinds, but the more I study it, the more I find Jesus Christ written on every page.
We find this foreshadowing fulfilled with great power in the first feast of the Jewish religious year — the Passover. At the Passover, the people of Israel were instructed to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and strike its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes as a sign to the Lord. Wherever the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts and lintel, He would pass over and spare those inside from His last great plague against Egypt. The blood of the lamb protected all those within the house, no matter who they were. Any house without the blood of the lamb was doomed, and the firstborn sons of all those in Egypt were killed that night.
Jesus died at Passover as our unblemished Lamb. He is the One who covers us and protects us from death. When we receive Him as our Lord and Savior, He begins to lead us from the bondage of our spiritual Egypt on the journey to our ultimate rest.
Because of the great significance of the Passover, the Lord told the Israelites to commemorate it every year throughout all generations. God even changed the calendar at that time. The Lord told Moses in Exodus 12:2 to establish the first month of the year as the month of the Exodus from Egypt.
We’re going to explore a topic that is absolutely unfathomable; the death of the Most High God. The story is so familiar we sometimes lose perspective. We are going to explore some often overlooked aspects of the crucifixion of Christ, recognizing the person that was arrested, abused, and murdered was not just a mere man. He was the Creator of the universe. He was crucified on a cross of wood, yet He made the hill on which it stood.
The God Outside of Time
We recognize that the great work Jesus accomplished on the cross was not merely three-dimensional in nature. Most of us are familiar with three-dimensional space: length, width and height. We’re also familiar with time as the fourth dimension, which is why physicists now talk about the “fabric” of space-time. If you have read any of my technical books, you are likely familiar with the concept of hyperspaces — the reality that exists in greater dimensions. Mathematicians and theoretical physicists suggest there might be as many as 11 dimensions in the universe. I will not go into depth, but when we simply realize that time is a physical property, then all kinds of insights about the Bible start to become vivid to us.
We understand three dimensional reality, because we live in it. We are able to draw three-dimensional representations on two-dimensional sheets of paper. Even children learn to draw cubes and cylinders — or to sketch realistic noses on faces using shading. Drawing three dimensions is relatively easy. However, it’s still difficult for us to comprehend four spatial dimensions, and five dimensions are just beyond most of us. The closest we can get is a shadow of these things.
Let’s say we were trying to explain three dimensions to two-dimensional beings. We might draw a shaded cube on a 2D surface. Another approach might be to unfold the cube, with its six sides laid out flat. Even then, it would be difficult for the 2D people to comprehend a 3D object, since they have concepts of length and width, but not depth.
We are in a similar situation with reference to the “spiritual” realm. We comprehend length, width and depth, and we can even comprehend time, but we struggle to appreciate greater dimensions. A four-dimensional cube called a “tesseract” attempts to portray four dimensions in a three dimensional space. A tesseract can be “unfolded” into six cubes, just as a 3D cube can be unfolded into six 2D squares. An unfolded tesseract was employed by Salvador Dali in his painting of Corpus Hypercubus, expressing the multi-dimensional aspect of Christ’s death. It’s quite remarkable, honestly, that Salvador Dali recognized the multi-dimensionality of the work that Christ did on the cross.
We cannot fully conceive of it, but I do want to try to understand a little better what went on between Gethsemane on Passover and the tomb in the garden. It was a work that extended far beyond that day in time. The blood of Christ was shed to pay for the sins of those standing at the foot of the cross, but it also paid for the sins of those who lived from Adam until the end of this world. It was a sacrifice that transcended time and space.
We are going to explore those six hours that Christ spent on the cross. We realize that they involved not just six straight hours — but all of eternity. We’re going to explore the most cataclysmic event in the entire universe, one that still directly impacts you and me today.
Let’s turn first to the Garden of Gethsemane in the early morning hours of the day Christ was executed. We find important scriptural principles between Gethsemane and the cross, and I like to begin in Matthew 26:
“Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.” – Matthew 26:31–32
It’s interesting how often Jesus warned His disciples about His death in the Gospels. He repeatedly told them that He was going to die but would then rise again. They were expecting Jesus to come as the conquering King, the Messiah who would free Israel from Roman rule and take His position on the throne of David. That’s what they were expecting, and this whole business of sacrifice and death didn’t make sense to them. They didn’t hear Jesus, because they could only see the picture they had already formed in their heads. It was only after His death that they finally put it together and remembered that He said all these things in advance.
“Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.” — Matthew 26:33–35
It’s clear that Peter doesn’t appreciate the brutal truth, the seriousness, of what Jesus has just told them. We can tell that he doesn’t actually believe that his Shepherd is going to be smitten, because in just a few hours he will deny he even knows Jesus. He’s filled with braggadocio right now. “I’ll never be offended! I’ll never deny you!” Peter was a powerful, big fisherman. He was a man’s man, but he was not truly prepared to die for Christ. Not yet.
It’s interesting how we always fail. We are in the most danger in our areas of strength and not our weaknesses. It’s where we have the most self-confidence that we are most vulnerable to spiritual attack. Peter’s strongest characteristic was courage (not caution), but he depended on his courage, and it failed him. Jesus knew this was going to happen and warned Peter, but Peter wasn’t really listening. None of the disciples were listening. They echoed Peter’s self-confidence, yet that same night they all fled, just as Jesus knew they would.
The disciples didn’t yet know their promises were empty. With those empty promises still echoing in their ears, Jesus led the way to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. We think of Gethsemane as a garden of ancient olive trees, their green branches spreading overhead. The word Gethsemane means “oil press”, and it’s appropriate that olives were pressed and crushed there to produce their valuable oil, because the Son of God retreated there to pray in anticipation of His being crushed in like manner. Again, Jesus understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that lay before Him, and the disciples who were His best friends didn’t get it. They recognized that something was wrong, and they tried to stick with Him, but they didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the day. If they had, they would have stayed up with Jesus to grieve and pray with Him.
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” — Matthew 26:36–38
When the King James translators chose the term “exceedingly sorrowful” to describe Jesus’ heart, they did well. Matthew used the word perilupos here, and he could have hardly found a stronger, more intense word in the Greek to describe the depth of Christ’s emotional state. Jesus explains to His disciples that He’s suffering from an incredible grief and sadness. Mark uses the same term in his Gospel, but he also says that Jesus was astonished — ekthambeo. Jesus was astounded, even horrified, by the great emotion that had come upon Him. Luke uses the word agonia, which means “agony.”
It’s through Dr. Luke that we find that Jesus sweated blood. In Luke’s rendering of this passage, we find that Jesus’s emotional agony was so great that sweat as great drops of blood dripped off of Him. Luke was not an impressionable layman, and this is strange language for a doctor to use. These descriptions give us a small sense of the suffering Jesus is working through as He prepares for the solitary experience that had never before been required of any creature — one that would never be repeated.
Jesus pulls aside Peter, James, and John and asks them to wait and stay awake with Him. We can picture this grieving man, the very Son of God, falling down there under the olive branches and seeking His Father with all His soul.
“And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” — Matthew 26:39
We see here the divinity of Christ as much as in any miracle He ever performed. In the greatest of agony, He still placed His own desires aside and entrusted the whole of that terrible day into the hands of God the Father. “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Jesus, God made flesh, submitted Himself wholly to the Father. Some people regard submission as a form of self-devaluation, but that’s not what it is. Submission is an act of trust. With these words, Jesus demonstrates complete confidence and trust in the Father’s purposes despite His own personal distress.
“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” — Matthew 26:40–41
We have all been disappointed and hurt by friends who have failed to comprehend our pain. We have all been in situations where people minimized our struggle and difficulty. If ever a man needed faithful companions to stand with Him, it was here. However, notice that while Jesus is disappointed by Peter, James, and John, He recognizes that they are just tired. His concern is with the battles they themselves will face in the coming hours. He wants them to pray so they can avoid falling prey to the enemy’s devices.
“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” — Matthew 26:42–44
Three times Jesus prays that if there is any other way, if there is anything else that can be done, He desires the Father to find it. Three times He prays this under great duress, and three times He places Himself wholly under the will of the Father. This passage is important to all of us, because it shows us that there were no other options. If there is any other path to Heaven but through the blood of Jesus, then Jesus died in vain. This was it. This was the way it had to be.
All of the Law and the Prophets had been leading up to this Passover, this day of the crucifixion. Christ’s sacrifice had been intended since the foundation of the world, and Jesus repeatedly let the disciples know that He was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Hebrews chapter 10 explains that the whole of the sacrificial system was put together to present a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ as the pure sacrifice who came to take away the sins of the world.
The writer of Hebrews explains this in great detail, but he sums up the situation in one verse, saying in Hebrews 9:22, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” That was the whole point of it. John the Baptist understood this when he introduced Jesus in John 1:29, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Jesus had to die. He had to take all the world’s sins on Himself. There was no other way for us to be saved from our dire predicament.
We suspect that Jesus prayed for several hours that night, but after a time He stopped rousing the disciples and let them sleep. It’s interesting that the disciples could not stay awake for an hour, but Christ’s enemies were able to watch all night. The disciples slumbered until Jesus woke them — when He could hear the soldiers approaching with Judas.
“Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” — Matthew 26:45–46
It Started in a Garden
It’s interesting that Jesus began that fateful day in a garden, since it was in another garden that humanity’s trouble first started. We are all very familiar with the Garden of Eden and the events that transpired there, but it’s interesting to compare those events with the ones that took place in Gethsemane that early morning.
In Eden, all was beautiful and perfect and full of light. In Gethsemane, there was darkness, terror and pain. Adam and Eve submitted to the will of Satan in Eden, and in Gethsemane the Last Adam submitted to the will of His Father. In Eden, Adam sinned, and in Gethsemane his Savior suffered. In Eden, Adam and Eve failed to trust God, and in Gethsemane, Christ trusted God implicitly. Adam failed in Eden, but in Gethsemane the Redeemer conquered. Adam fell before Satan, but soldiers fell before Christ. Adam condemned the whole human race, and Jesus won us back. Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand, but Christ received the cup from His Father’s hand. Adam hid himself, but Christ boldly showed Himself. God sought out the first Adam, but the last Adam sought God. Adam was driven from the garden, but Christ went willingly.
However, there is yet another garden in this picture. Adam fell in Genesis 3, and Christ suffered in Gethsemane, but we find Christ mistaken for a groundskeeper just a few days later in the garden where He rose victorious from the grave!
Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him. He knew it at the Passover meal, the Last Supper. What is especially notable is that Jesus told Judas to go — to go right then. We find that Judas had already met with the chief priests in Matthew 26:14–16 and asked them what they would give him for Jesus. They agreed to thirty pieces of silver, and from that point Judas was constantly looking for a time to hand over Jesus to them. Jesus knew Judas had done this, but He chose that Passover evening to send Judas on his way. Judas had betrayal in his heart, and John tells us that Satan entered into him at that Passover meal.
“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” — John 13:27
Jesus tells him, “Go do it. You’re going to do it, so do it now.”
The irony of this is that the chief priests and scribes and leaders had met about Jesus and discussed how they might kill Him, but they had specifically chosen to not take Jesus on a feast day. There was too great a crowd in Jerusalem during the feast and too much possible commotion.
“And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.” — Matthew 26:4
They purposely wanted to avoid troubling Jesus on a feast day, but Jesus forced their hand by telling Judas to hurry up and go. Judas went off to collect a group of men to arrest Jesus that day. He had to leave the dinner, because the jig was up. It was now or never. The Lord is always the master of ceremonies, and it was important for the fulfillment of Scripture for Jesus to die on Passover as the ultimate Passover Lamb, whose blood protects us from death. Jesus is the sacrifice, but He is still in control. As we watch all of this, it’s interesting to discover that every detail is nudged along by the Lord, because He has a destiny to fulfill in a particular way at a particular time.
John 18:2 tells us that Judas knew that spot in Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray. It was a spot Jesus apparently often retreated to with His disciples. Judas met with the arresting party and led them to that quiet place.
“And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.” — John 18:2–3
The word “band” in the Greek is a term which means a tenth of a legion — a cohort of 400–600 men. It’s interesting that about 600 soldiers were stationed at Herod’s Antonia Fortress, so that group might have been sent out, but it’s clear the Temple police are also present. This is no small group sent out to arrest Jesus. Yet, the only reason they are able to arrest Jesus is because He intends to go with them. If it had not been part of God’s plan, this oversized party of soldiers would have lost their prey. The next few verses put this in perspective even more than is initially apparent.
“Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” — John 18:4–6
That’s amazing. Jesus says, “I am He,” and they all fall backward to the ground. We miss something in the English, because the translators have added the implied “He” for the benefit of our English sentence structure. In the Greek, Jesus merely says, “I AM,” and the soldiers all fall backwards. This reminds us of John 8:58 when Jesus told the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” We miss the significance of little scenes like this, but the Jewish leaders always come to our aid by grabbing rocks to attack Jesus. They wanted to stone Jesus in John 8 because He was calling Himself by the name of the God of Israel — “I AM.” He was connecting Himself with the voice of the Burning Bush in Exodus 3:14:
“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” — Exodus 3:14
John begins his gospel by stating that Jesus was in the beginning, and all things were created by Him. Paul affirms this in Colossians 1:16–17, stating that Jesus is the Creator, that He is before all things, and He holds everything together — “by Him all things consist.” Here in John 18, Jesus merely says, “I AM,” and the power in that statement blows down the enemy. In John 8, He walked out of the Temple through the crowd and left the angry Pharisees behind. However, now the Lord’s time has come, and He waits for the soldiers to get back up and do their jobs. Yet, even now He is filled with divine power and authority.
“Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.” — John 18:7–9
Jesus tells the soldiers to let His disciples go, and they do. Jesus is still in charge. Notice that usually when people fell down before Him, Jesus spoke comforting words to them. In Luke 5:8–10 after Peter, James, and John caught a great number of fish, Peter fell at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus told him not to be afraid. On the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:5–7, the disciples fell when they heard the Father’s voice, but Jesus told them to not be afraid. Here in Gethsemane, Jesus does not say, “Be not afraid,” to the soldiers. This is their time to be afraid and to pay attention. Judas had led a whole cohort of 400–600 men to the garden to collect Jesus, which suggests they had intended to grab the disciples along with their leader. Six hundred men are not necessary for one lowly carpenter. They certainly had intentions of seizing the disciples as well, but Jesus tells them, “Look, I’m the one you want. Let these others go.” Jesus is still the Shepherd protecting His sheep. Jesus offers Himself freely to the band of men, but He commands them to let His disciples go, and the soldiers do so — even after Peter pulls out a sword and starts swinging.
By the way, it’s interesting that John says Jesus spoke in fulfillment of the saying, “Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.” It sounds as though it’s a fulfillment of the Old Testament, but it’s actually a fulfillment of something Jesus had said earlier that night in John 17:12. John recognizes Jesus’ own words as prophecy.
“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” — John 18:10–11
Here is Peter again, always doing things upside down and backwards. Here he is courageous when he should be calm and still, but later he’s cowardly when he should have been courageous. We know from Luke 22:38 that there were two swords between the disciples when they went out to the garden. Both Luke and John use the word machaira for these swords, and the machaira was a short sword or a large thick dagger about 18 inches long. It was thick, not sharp, designed for splitting helmeted skulls. Obviously Peter was not highly skilled in battle, and he missed by about three inches. I don’t think he was going for the ear of Malchus.
Jesus puts a stop to Peter’s rowdy effort to fight, and He reminds Peter of what He had told them earlier that night. He has a mission from His Father to accomplish here. Again, Jesus was saving Peter’s life, because he could have been killed in any ensuing scuffle. John doesn’t tell us so, but we read in Luke 22:51 that Jesus healed Malchus’ ear before they took Him away.
Have you noticed that nobody ever dies in Jesus’ presence? The woman caught in adultery was not stoned. Nobody perished in the boat in the storms. Peter didn’t drown when he tried to walk on water. Instead, those who had died were raised from the dead, like Lazarus in John 11 and the little girl in Mark 5:41. Nobody ever dies when Jesus is there — until Jesus Himself is put to death of His own volition.
“Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” — John 18:12–14
We find here the beginning of a series of unlawful acts taken against Jesus that day. He did not resist arrest, but they bound Him anyway. It was unlawful to bind a prisoner before condemnation, but they did. This was just the beginning of the injustices…