Agony in the Garden

And was Heard
Praying Flesh
Agony in Gethsemane, Heinrich Hoffmann
Not My Will
Sweat-drops of Blood

"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. 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. 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. 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. 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."
(Matthew 26:36-45).


"And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Luke 22:43).

What does 'agony' mean?

1) a struggle for victory
1a) gymnastic exercise, wrestling
2) of severe mental struggles and emotions, agony, anguish"
(Thayer's Greek Lexicon)

Jacob's wrestling contest prefigured Christ's struggle in the Garden:

"Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day...And He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'" (Genesis 32:24-28).
"Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us - that is, the LORD God of hosts. The LORD is His memorable name." (Hosea 12:4-5).

The contender who wrestled with Jacob was now struggling on His own account. This incident is a source of wonder and gratitude to Christian believers, but is taken as compelling proof by skeptics that He who here prays cannot have been God. Some 'Oneness' Pentecostals join other Unitarians in denying that He who prayed was God incarnate, others relegate His blood-spattered prayer to an insincere pantomime carried out for the instruction of watching spectators.

And was Heard

"As He also says in another place: 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'; who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." (Hebrews 5:6-8).

The Bible says that He "was heard." In what was He heard? Not in His first petition: "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me..." (Matthew 26:39), but in His second: "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." (Matthew 26:42). He was saved from death, which did not triumph over Him, in the face of the full force of the Father's wrath against sin poured out upon Him. Sin had brought death into the world, but did not gain the final victory.

Jacques Tissot, Bridge at the Brook Kidron


The Bible tells us that the Lord was without deceit: "And they made His grave with the wicked - But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth." (Isaiah 53:9, 1 Peter 2:22).  Could He who is "the Truth" be accused of subterfuge?: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6).

Jesus told us what He thought about play-acting. To say 'play-acting' in Greek, you say 'hupokrisis', which "primarily denotes 'a reply, an answer'...then, 'play-acting', as the actors spoke in dialogue..." (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary). He didn't think too highly of it: "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." (Matthew 6:5).

When pressed to explain Jesus' prayers, some 'Oneness' Pentecostals assert that He prayed for our benefit, for show not in earnest: to set an example. Those who heard Him, they say, were watching someone pretend to carry on a telephone conversation with the button pressed down. Hearing Him cry: "O my Father," they make the astonishing claim that God is a 'hypocrite', in other words a stage actor, who puts on various masks and disguises and pretends to carry on conversation. But would it not be hypocritical for God to condemn people for hypocrisy if He excels in that same character?


Praying Flesh

Finding it too shocking to repeat the claim that Jesus' prayers were make-believe, pretend prayers, not all 'Oneness' Pentecostals go there. Where, then? There is a 'Plan A' and a 'Plan B' with 'Oneness' Pentecostalism:

Plan A: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three titles, offices or manifestations.
Plan B: The Father is Christ's divine Spirit and the Son is His flesh.

Christ's agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is quite impossible for Plan A. How could one title or office cry out to another? At this, the 'Oneness' Pentecostals drop 'Plan A' and explain that it was 'the flesh' which prayed.  Certainly one cannot understand Christ's prayer in the Garden without realizing He had humbled Himself and taken on our nature.  It's not His native estate to approach the Father as a humble petitioner; there was a time when He "did not consider it robbery" to be "equal" to the Father:

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:5-8).

Carmen Christi 
Carmen Christi

It's in virtue of His incarnation that, "though He was a Son", "yet" He learned "obedience": "...who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." (Hebrews 5:7-8).  Yet who prayed with "vehement cries and tears": the One who humbled Himself in taking on flesh, or that very 'flesh' which He took on? Surely the One who humbled Himself, becoming a man, or else the incarnation is a word, not a reality!

What the Lord dreaded was, not death, the separation of soul and spirit from body, but the disruption in His eternal fellowship with the Father that would be ensue upon His becoming sin:

  • "Entering Gethsemane with three of His apostles, the Lord Jesus bade them pray, and was Himself withdrawn from them about a stone's cast (Luke 22:41). This latter phrase, used nowhere else in Scripture, portrayed vividly the distance from men at which the One found Himself who met death under the sentence of the law given through Moses. The Lord knelt at this distance from the disciples, the very spot where He bowed in anguish, bearing a silent witness to the place which He would know in His death. There He gazed on that which was to be His experience on the morrow, when He, the only Man to  keep the law of God in its entirety, and the only One upon whom it could have no claim, would bear its curse.
  • "The prayer of agony, so dread in its intensity that 'His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground' (Luke 22:44), witnessed both to His holiness and to His obedience. The cup of which He spoke was the cup of judgment which He would drain upon the Cross, a cup from which His redeemed people will never drink. It was not the prospect of the suffering to be meted out to Him by His creatures, but that which He would experience in the darkness at Calvary — that and that alone brought from His lips the words: 'Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done' (Luke 22:42).
  • "Let it not be thought that there was even the semblance of a difference between the will of the Father and the will of the perfect Man. Here was holiness indeed, and anguish beyond all creature understanding as His holy soul contemplated what it would mean for Him to be made sin. Here, too, was obedience, such as God could receive from no other. Throughout His path He had walked in constant obedience to the Father. At its beginning He had said: 'Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God' (Hebrews 10:9). Here in the Garden the same obedience was manifested, as He gazed into the depths of the cup."
  • (H. C. Hewlett, The Glories of Our Lord, pp. 90-91).

When Jesus said, "Not My will, but Yours," He employed two personal pronouns. To whom do these personal pronouns belong? To whom, in general, do personal pronouns belong: to persons, or to natures? The "My" and "Your" of Christ's agonized prayer cannot belong to 'two natures,' because 'natures' do not address one another as 'Me' and 'You.' 'Flesh' did not pray to 'Spirit,' rather, the Son prayed to the Father, one person beseeching another.

Not My will but Yours

To will is a function of human nature.  To will also belongs, pre-eminently, to God:

"But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases." (Psalm 115:3);
"Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places." (Psalm 135:6).

When Jesus Christ took on our nature to save us from our plight, He took on, not just a human body, but a human soul.  If He had taken on only a human body but not a human soul, He could have saved our bodies, but not our souls!  He became in fact just like us, our brother, sin only excepted: "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebrews 2:17).  Thus Jesus Christ, being both man and God, inherits two faculties of will, human and Divine.  Since what was not assumed was not healed, we are left comfortless indeed if the human will was not healed, because our will above all is diseased and in need of healing: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Yet these two wills cannot diverge and wander off onto different tracks, as they are endlessly doing in 'Oneness'-land, so that 'humanity' decides to stay at home while 'Deity' goes for a walk, because there is only one person who wills, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Word Made Flesh 
The Incarnation

To will is ascribed in scripture to Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

"I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me." (John 5:30);
"But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11)
"Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed.'  Immediately his leprosy was cleansed." (Matthew 8:3).

That there cannot be three divergent wills in God is made clear by passages like John 6:38, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."

"Then Jesus answered and said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.'" (John 5:19).
"For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak." (John 12:49).
"As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me." (John 6:57).
"For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'" (Romans 15:3; Psalm 69:9) ('Oneness' Revised Psalms read, 'The reproaches of those who reproached Me fell on Me.').
"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come." (John 16:13).

There is one divine will. Another will enters into the equation here, but 'wills' don't pray, persons do. Faced with Gethsemane, some 'Oneness' Pentecostals drop any pretense of believing that Jesus Christ is God, alleging that it was a mere man that cried out in the Garden, not God incarnate, trotting out in defense of this thesis every shop-worn atheist argument against the incarnation. So it's instructive to ask 'Oneness' Pentecostals this question: Do they believe He who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, shedding agonized sweat-drops of blood, was God incarnate? Get them on record saying 'No.' The classic Unitarians and skeptics will already have hastened to say 'no,' but some people want to have it both ways.

Nikolai Ge, Christ and the Disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane

Sweat-drops of Blood

"I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.

For me it was in the garden
He prayed, 'Not My will, but Thine;'
He had no tears for His own griefs
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.

How marvelous! how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! how wonderful!
Is my Savior's love for me!
(Charles H. Gabriel)

It was during His second, high-priestly prayer that Jesus' blood fell onto the ground. For whom was He suffering? Not for Himself, but for us:

"These earnest prayers and strong cries of Christ to the Father in his agony, show the greatness of his love to sinners. For, as has been shown, these strong cries of Jesus Christ were what he offered up to God as a public person, in the capacity of high priest, and in the behalf of those whose priest he was. When he offered up his sacrifice for sinners whom he had loved from eternity, he withal offered up earnest prayers. His strong cries, his tears, and his blood, were all offered up together to God, and they were all offered up for the same end, for the glory of God in the salvation of the elect. They were all offered up for the same persons, viz. for his people. For them he shed his blood and that bloody sweat, when it fell down in clotted lumps to the ground; and for them he so earnestly cried to God at the same time. It was that the will of God might be done in the success of his sufferings, in the success of that blood, in the salvation of those for whom that blood was shed, and therefore this strong crying shows his strong love; it shows how greatly he desired the salvation of sinners. He cried to God that he might not sink and fail in that great undertaking, because if he did so, sinners could not be saved, but all must perish. He prayed that he might get the victory over death, because if he did not get the victory, his people could never obtain that victory, and they can conquer no otherwise than by his conquest. If the Captain of our salvation had not conquered in this sore conflict, none of us could have conquered, but we must have all sunk with him. He cried to God that he might be saved from death, and if he had not been saved from death in his resurrection, none of us could ever have been saved from death. It was a great sight to see Christ in that great conflict that he was in his agony, but every thing in it was from love, that strong love that was in his heart. His tears that flowed from his eyes were from love; his great sweat was from love; his blood, his prostrating himself on the ground before the Father, was from love; his earnest crying to God was from the strength and ardency of his love. It is looked upon as one principal way wherein true love and good will is shown in Christian friends one towards another, heartily to pray one for another; and it is one way wherein Christ directs us to show our love to our enemies, even praying for them. Matthew 5:44. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” But was there ever any prayer that manifested love to enemies to such a degree, as those strong cries and tears of the Son of God for the success of his blood in the salvation of his enemies; the strife and conflict of whose soul in prayer was such as to produce his agony and his bloody sweat?" (Christ's Agony, Jonathan Edwards).

How is it possible for God to cry out to God, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' All enemies of the gospel, including Islam, have taken their stand upon this circumstance:

"This exclamation, with the mental state from which it proceeded, like the agony in Gethsemane, constitutes in the opinion of the church a part of the vicarious suffering of Christ. As however in this instance also it was impossible to be blind to the difficulties of the supposition, that the mere corporeal suffering, united with the external depression of his cause, overwhelmed Jesus to such a degree that he felt himself forsaken by God, while there have been both before and after him persons who, under sufferings equally severe, have yet preserved composure and fortitude: the opinion of the church has here also, in addition to the natural corporeal and spiritual affliction, supposed as the true cause of that state of mind in Jesus, a withdrawal of God from his soul, a consciousness of the divine wrath, which it was decreed that he should bear in the stead of mankind, by whom it was deserved as a punishment. How, presupposing the dogma of the church concerning the person of Christ, a withdrawal of God from his soul is conceivable, it is the part of the defenders of this opinion themselves, to decide. Was it the human nature in him which felt so forsaken? Then would its unity with the divine have been interrupted, and thus the very basis of the personality of Christ, according to the above system, removed. Or the divine? In that case the second person in the Godhead would have been separated from the first. As little can it have been the God-man, consisting of both natures, that felt forsaken by God, since the very essence of this is the unity and inseparableness of the divine and the human."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George. The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 19953-19964).)

Jesus bore on the cross the weight of all the world's sins, at the inevitable cost of estrangement from His Father. How is it possible for God to be estranged from God? Far from being a proof of the falsity of Christianity, this is proof only of His great love. Certainly in Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane the believer encounters perplexity and amazement, but I want to be sure to point out that several of the 'easy' resolutions to this difficulty, i.e., that Christ did not really pray but was putting on a show, are dead ends that lead nowhere. The idea that His human nature prayed to His divine nature, an idea whose popularity extends beyond 'Oneness' Pentecostalism, is not really adequate either, although it was because He had become man that He found Himself praying. For further discussion:

Return to Answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

Darkness Too Pure
Psalm 22 Suffering Servant
Say It and Mean It Quest for the Historical Jesus
Ends of the Earth

My God, My God 
My God, My God