(If you’re not familiar with what happened in Gethsemane, the story is chronicled in three places: Matthew 26:36-45, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. I will be referencing only bits and pieces at a time.)
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” -Matthew 26:38 / Mark 14:34 (NIV) (Alternative translations: “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow,” “My soul is crushed with grief,” “My heart is oppressed with anguish”)
“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” -Luke 22:44
Physical torture is one thing; psychological torture is wholly another—the worser of the two, in my bold opinion. The mental and emotional stress that Jesus underwent in the garden was so intense that his blood vessels ruptured, and he literally sweat blood. This medical condition is known as hematidrosis. (Fittingly, the physician Luke is the only Gospel writer who mentions this detail.) Although rare, it has been noted on a handful of occasions, most frequently in the case of soldiers before battle, or men before their execution.
The illustration I found that most compellingly captures the reality of the agonizing Christ in Gethsemane is by Fred Carter of Urban Ministries, Inc. Look at the strain in Jesus’ eyes, the tension in his face. Look at the swelling veins in his neck! Now this is a Jesus who’s suffering, who’s pleading for his life. And the twisted, contorted branches of the olive tree behind him remind us so, for they mimic the twisted expression of fear on his face.
Was it merely the prospect of a painful death that had Jesus under such extreme anxiety? No, though that was part of it. I believe that the deepest anxiety Jesus was feeling at this point was his anticipation of being cursed by the Father. If Jesus was to atone for the sins of the world, that meant that the sins of the world would have to be transferred to him. (This is how the Jewish sacrificial system worked.) So while he hung on the cross, Jesus became the worst of what we are collectively. He became a pervert, a drug addict, an arrogant jerk, and so on—the most disgusting, despicable offender (2 Corinthians 5:21). And because God’s eyes are too pure to look on evil (Habakkuk 1:13), he had to turn his face away from his one and only son, with whom he had enjoyed perfect fellowship for all eternity until this point. To be separated from one whom you love so dearly and are so much a part of, and moreover, to repulse that person, is an unbearable thing. And indeed I think it is this event—not the crucifixion itself, but his Father’s response to it—that Jesus struggled so much to accept.
What else might Jesus have been agonizing about in Gethsemane?
If you could transcribe his stream of consciousness, what would it read?