"Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.' He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." - Luke 22:39-44
This passage records the events preceding Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. As anyone would be the night before facing a death sentence in which one is executed via long, drawn out torture, Jesus was experiencing severe anxiety. The second person of The Trinity spent fervent prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane talking to the first person (i.e The Father). He asks if it be possible to remove the cup from Him, but that he doesn't want His will to be done, but The Father's.
Whatchu Talkin about Yeshu?
This one sentence out of the whole narrative raises questions in the minds of anyone who reads The Bible; Christian and non-Christian alike. Why did Jesus say "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done?" The usual explanation from apologists and preachers is that Jesus was asking for The Father to not allow Him to be crucified. Basically, Jesus was saying "Look, this is going to be extremely unpleasant. I don't want to go through with this. If there's any other way to save humanity from their sins, let's do that thing instead. Yet, I want to what you want to do, not what I want to do." Additionally, it is argued that this is an instance of Jesus' human nature taking over. God cannot get hungry, thirsty, tired, or scared in His divine nature, but given that He took on human nature (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8), He can experience these things in His human nature. Jesus was willing to go to the cross, no doubt, but in this passage, He was just checking with The Father to see if there was a slightly more pleasant alternative to saving mankind.
These explanations never really set right with me, but I didn't really know of any alternatives on the table. Why is the above explanation untenable
Why Are The Above Explanations Not Tenable?
There are three problems with the usual interpretation of the "Take This Cup From Me" passage.
First of all, if Jesus was actually asking for The Father to not allow Him to be crucified, it would mean that Jesus' will is in contradiction to The Father's will. If Jesus and The Father are both members of The Godhead, we would have God contradicting God. Moreover, it is a sin, by definition, to desire the opposite of what God desires. If Jesus desired the opposite of what The Father desired, then Jesus would be in sin. Yet, The Bible tells us "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin." (Hebrews 4:15). Secondly, Jesus said that anything He asks The Father to do, The Father will do it (John 11:41-42). If Jesus was asking The Father to not let Him be crucified, there would be no atonement. Thirdly, Jesus knew all along that He was going to die and He knew why. In fact, He predicted it many times (e.g Matthew 17:22). Fourthly, Jesus said that He lays His life down of His own accord, that He has the authority to lay it down and take it up again (John 10:18), so Jesus wasn't forced to die against His will by anyone. He didn't have to ask anyone "Don't let this happen", not even the Father.
So, What Did Jesus Actually Mean?
Recently, as you know, I attended The National Conference On Christian Apologetics in Charlotte North Carolina, staying at Jorge Gil's house during the duration of the conference. After the second and final day of the conference, we went to an Applebees for dinner with some of Jorge's friends. One of his friends who was pursuing a doctorate of divinity and currently held a masters brought up this question at the table and asked what we all thought about it. I had no clue. This part of The Bible had been a giant question mark for me for a long time.
After explaining the problems with the usual explanation of this passage, he then gave his own commentary on the issue, which I found much more intellectually satisfying. First, keep in mind that the specific account we're examining is written by a doctor: Luke. Jorge's friend pointed out that in the context of Luke's account in which Jesus prays this prayer, he sweats drops of blood. This is a condition known in the medical literature as Hematidrosis. Hematidrosis occurs when someone is under such extreme stress and anxiety that their capillaries rupture and blood gets into the sweat glands. I knew about hematidrosis, but what I didn't know is that it can be much more serious than a little bit of blood getting into the sweat. If the rupturing of the capillaries is severe enough, it can result in death by internal bleeding.
So, "This cup" that Jesus was asking The Father to take from Him could very well have been the death-by-internal-bleeding resulting from Jesus' hematidrosis. When something is going on inside of your body, and its about to cause you to die, we sometimes know about it advance. Not always, but a great deal of the time (e.g heart attacks). Jesus probably knew He might die right there in the Garden of Gethsemane and not even make it to the cross, and therefore there'd be no atonement. He was asking The Father not to let that happen. Jesus was essentially saying "Father, don't let me die right here in this garden. I need to die on the cross. Yet, I know that whatever your plan is, it's right, and it's my desire to do that."
This interpretation is strengthened by the verse that says that an angel came and ministered to Him. In the Greek, this is a medical term. Its used in contexts of when doctors administer first aid or surgery to heal a sick or injured patient. So, basically what this implies is that the angel cured Jesus from the condition that would have lead to His premature death.
Jesus trusted that The Father could bring Him back from the dead even if it was His will that he experience a pre-crucifixion death, much like how Abraham trusted that God would bring Isaac back if it was His will that he sacrifice Isaac on the alter (see Hebrew 11:19). This is an important lesson for us to: trust in God and submit to His will. He knows what He's doing.
The explanation I just gave you is the one he gave. When I heard it, I was blown away! Now, Jesus' prayer made perfect sense! When I got back to Jorge's house, I jotted it down on 2 pages of notebook paper so that it wouldn't leave my memory. I just had to blog about this. I never expected to learn something new post-conference. I thought it would be at the conference itself.