Similarly, Jesus had chosen a favoured place of rendezvous for intimate occasions of instruction and conversation with his disciples (John 18:2). With some frequency the Lord and his apostles gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus must have imparted much to them which, although mysterious at the times on which he spoke to them, became clear and immensely powerful in their own ministries beyond his resurrection. But these seasons of conversation and prayer together must have united the disciples as brothers and bonded them to Jesus in such a way as supported him. Among them he could confide as deeply and as freely as possible. No doubt the times were precious and joyful for his followers and yet always bitter-sweet for the Saviour. The same awareness of his eventual suffering pervaded the air of the garden just as the perfume at his anointing at Bethany portended his passion. Jesus could not spend a moment of consciousness without the prospect of the cross looming before him. His friendships were a consolation even though his friends, despite warnings, were oblivious to his destiny. Human companionship would have been soothing, allied to the thought that his death was procuring their salvation.
Gethsemane was a place of solace for Jesus just as Bethany happened to be. The men who knew him best and cared for him most surrounded him there in the shade of the olive trees. His chosen ones were a source of joy as well as frustration. Their spiritual dimness was a disappointment but they had been selected with deliberation and love. Their company would have been appreciated. Jesus regarded them as friends in the fullest sense – confidants with whom he shared the secrets of his mission and the coming kingdom (John 15: 14-16). He knew that the day would come when the conversations in Gethsemane would bear fruit. Gethsemane would be cherished in each loyal heart..
When the full and overwhelming agony of his death and separation from his Father began to descend upon him with all the crushing force of an olive press bruising and pulverizing his heart Jesus resorted to the groves of Gethsemane to give vent to his anguish in prayer. It must have been a private venue from time to time for his appointments with the Father where he wrestled and wailed in his grapplings of soul. The disciples could never have imagined the strivings of their Master or the issues over which he pondered, but as the climax approached he sought their companionship in his darkest hour. They were to sit in the familiar place and wait until prayer had resolved his unutterable grief. Did they grasp anything of the intensity of his sorrow and the significance of the moment? Their baffled minds must have been stilled and bent in meditation and prayer as he took leave of them, summoning Peter, James, and John to go further into the gloom with him.
Were these three men marshalled to be near him for the comfort of their presence? Were they to watch in earnest concern as his soul within him sunk almost to the point of death? Or were they there to alert him to the arrival of the crew that would enforce his arrest and seal the reality of the agony of his abandonment by God? The moment was grim and unutterably torturous.
Twice in the midst of his appeals to heaven Jesus returned to his disciples to find them sleeping. Three times Jesus fell before the throne of the Father seeking the endurance of his willing obedience through the horrors of his fearful ordeal. With his heart astir with intolerable distress he finds his bosom friends “sleeping for their eyes were heavy”. It cannot be that these disciples were indifferent to Jesus’ state of mind and consequent behaviour. Somehow the situation drained them of energy through a sense of anxiety at the Lord’s words to them at the Last Supper and his mien on the way and into the garden. “He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow” (Luke 22:45). The darkness of Gethsemane was more than the absence of daylight. There was something unusually oppressive on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. Satan’s servant, Judas the traitor, was negotiating the downfall of Jesus and disclosing his whereabouts to the police. The atmosphere was ominous. The friendliness of the garden had dissipated. One of the brethren who knew where Jesus and the disciples used to sequester themselves in close communion was now violating the setting of holy fellowship as a tool of evil. The urge, “Go to dark Gethsemane”, for Jesus was an impulse in his toil of salvation for the lost. For the disciples it was a response to their Lord resolute in bearing the pain of their deserts on their behalf. For Judas it was in fulfilment of his wicked designs.
So gruelling was the test inflicted upon the Saviour that he counselled his men, “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was reversing the fatal failure of mankind in the Garden of Eden where temptation had succeeded in ruining our race through the weakness of our nature. No one but Jesus can withstand and repel the wiles and sinister purposes of the devil. Jesus defeated Satan’s craftiness in the wilderness, now in Gethsemane he made amends for Adam’s disobedience and revealed his determination to drink the cup of wrath and expulsion from the favour of God that mankind had merited. He bore the severity of the test that man could not bear and he pledged himself to the protection of the ones he represented on the cross: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. . . .Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name” (John 17:9, 11). The great test that would destroy us (the judgment) has been met and endured by the One who substituted himself for believers. The disciples did not have the strength to watch and pray with Jesus but now they must watch and pray for the ordeals and trials that they will experience because they are his in a world that is hostile and manipulated by the evil one. Jesus confirmed the eternal agreement of the Father and the Son to spare us through the passion and costly sacrifice of his One and Only who sealed his suffering and our salvation with the great commitment, “yet not My will, but Thine be done”, the greatest ever words spoken in the garden (Luke 2242). The Saviour entered dark Gethsemane, “Knowing all the things that were coming upon him” (John 18:4).