A Very Strange Way to Die

Gethsemane became a suffocating spiritual torture chamber that was far worse than even Christ Himself had anticipated. We are told, “Christ was amazed with the horror of darkness that enclosed Him.” I find the use of the word “amazed” here truly astonishing. How bad was it when even the Savior Himself found it shocking?

I’m sure the Lord thought about the upcoming Gethsemane experience a thousand times during His ministry. With His extraordinary spiritual insights and off-the-charts IQ, we might reasonably expect that He would be able to approximate what this momentous final visit to His favorite garden retreat would be like.

Yet the darkness He experienced there was much deeper than even His worst-case scenario. One of the major reasons was the fact that what happened in Gethsemane had never occurred before in the history of the universe. For the first time, Christ experienced the wrath of God against sin and endured awful separation from His heavenly Father.

The Lord became strangely silent as He entered Gethsemane. The gospel of Mark tells us, “Horror and dismay came over him” (Mark 14:33 NEB). His inner spiritual and mental battle quickly revealed itself outwardly in debilitating physical effects.

Jesus groaned out loud and stumbled. Suddenly hobbled by unseen forces, He didn’t simply walk forward, He had to consciously lift each leg and place it down again as if each limb weighed a hundred pounds.

Breathing heavily, He swayed, then collapsed in a heap onto the cold ground. As separation from God took firm hold, He dug His fingers into the dark soil as if to keep Himself from being separated further. Eventually, the internal stress forced blood out through His pores, sending bright red rivulets streaking down His face and beard.

I see Him holding His throbbing head and rocking back and forth. I see Him, at times, clutching His legs and curling up into a ball. I see bloodshot, tear-filled eyes open wide in terror with foamy spittle forming at the edges of His mouth. I see Him throwing up.

The book of Hebrews says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7 RSV, emphasis supplied). The New International Commentary observes, “Gethsemane seems to offer the most telling illustration of these words.” Ellen White adds, “Now His voice was heard on the still evening air, not in tones of triumph, but full of human anguish.” The intensity of Jesus’ cries in Gethsemane was akin to the shouts of someone trapped in a burning car or the desperate cries of a mother whose child has wandered onto a very busy highway.

Physically, mentally, and spiritually, Christ was pushed to the very edge of the precipice.

The gospel of Mark provides this startling quote, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:37 NKJV). Here was grief so intense it could actually cause His bodily functions to collapse and shut down under the strain.

We are also told that, “The temptations of Satan were almost overpowering.”

As the Lord wrestled with Satan that fateful night, He knew that the path forward called for Him to endure yet another Gethsemane, “Gethsemane #2,” on the cross. The separation in the Garden would take place again, but this time it would occur under far worse circumstances (Romans 3:25-26).

The Savior understood that after the arrest, He would be put on trial repeatedly, condemned, brutally beaten several times, scourged until He was covered with deep lacerations, and then crucified, all BEFORE the second separation began (See Matthew 17, 20, 26; Mark 10; Luke 18). If He failed, the entire universe would be thrown into complete chaos and mankind would be lost.

Reality and the Devil’s minions screamed at Christ in Gethsemane that it would be impossible for Him to go on and stay faithful to Heaven’s plan. Jesus prayed for some alternative not because He feared the cross, but because He feared that His physical, mental, and emotional capacities would be unable to endure the test when stressed in such unprecedented ways.

At some point, as time ticked slowly by, it became clear that Jesus was, in fact, dying.” If the angel had not come to revive Him, the Lord would have expired before the arrest.

After Gethsemane, the Savior should have been rushed by paramedics to a Trauma Center. Instead, out of infinite love for us, He somehow forced Himself to continue on. The courage and resolution Christ displayed that night are truly mind-boggling!

It would seem that the best plan would have been to have only one separation from God that took place on the cross. If Gethsemane had never happened, Christ would have been in far better shape to endure God’s wrath on Calvary. Why was the separation in Gethsemane necessary? Didn’t it create far too much of a risk?

I have come to believe that the separation in the Garden was required for Christ to make a fully informed decision about going to Calvary. Jesus had long before made up His mind to go to the cross. What He had not done was to reaffirm that decision after experiencing what separation was actually like. The separation in the Garden was necessary because there was no way to understand the nature of that final struggle on the cross without experiencing it first in a more controlled environment.

For example, it is one thing to decide to be an astronaut while visiting NASA. It is quite another to reaffirm that decision after being put through severe tests that expose you to the extraordinary stresses and strains that astronauts actually face.

Gethsemane not only allowed Christ to make an informed decision, it also allowed Him to adequately ready Himself mentally and spiritually for the darkness of Calvary, and, as a result, to be victorious.

Mercifully, between Gethsemane #1 and #2, Christ’s sense of unity with His Father was temporarily restored.

Moving ahead to Calvary and “Gethsemane #2,” it is vital to understand that Christ died ON the cross, not FROM the cross. It was unheard of for anyone to die from crucifixion in six hours. It was the repetition of Gethsemane that took His life. Crucifixion itself is so gory and gruesome it can easily grab our full attention, but we have to examine all that happened in order to understand.

Our salvation depends not only on the fact that Jesus died, but HOW He died. Physical death alone on a cross would not save us. He had to endure our penalty for sin, which is separation from God. We have to look beyond the nails to understand the connection between Gethsemane #1 and #2. It is these that were lethal. Everything else was part of the sequence of physical tortures, including the cross.

At one point on Calvary, the Savior was so oppressed by the Devil that He could not envision His own resurrection. The all too real possibility of being separated from God forever called forth the desperate cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” That is the centerpiece of Golgotha (Matthew 27:46 NKJV). His death therefore cannot be equated with that of any Martyr who had the assurance of God’s presence throughout.

The following graphic depicts the relationship between the various events that occurred from Gethsemane to Jesus’ death on the cross:

Around 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, Christ’s heart literally burst from the strain of His supreme battle with the forces of evil and the horror of suffering God’s judgment on sin. For the first and only time, the future is brought into the present and we see what the ultimate penalty for sin will be like. No one else has lost their life from such a cause before or since. It was, indeed, a very strange, yet life-giving, way to die.

Notes & References:

For more on Jesus’ sufferings and death, read Kim Allan Johnson’s book The Gift.

1. Ellen G. White, The Sufferings of Christ (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association) 16, emphasis supplied

2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940) 686, 687

3. White, The Desire of Ages, 686

4. F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary On the New Testament, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964) 98

5. White, The Desire of Ages, 690

6. White, The Desire of Ages, 690

7. White, The Sufferings of Christ, 16, emphasis supplied.

8. Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, (Washington, D.C., Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988) 111

9. Kim Allan Johnson, The Gift (Nampa, Idaho, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2000) 49-52

10. White, The Desire of Ages, 686

11. White, The Sufferings of Christ, 25, emphasis supplied.

12. White, The Sufferings of Christ, 35

13. White, The Desire of Ages, 753

Kim Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com. He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Image: Garden of Gethsemane. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9428
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A powerful insight into The cost of our redemption. Grace is free but not without cost. Praise God from Whom all blessing flow.

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Those approximately 24 hours brought the END to SIN And DEATH.
Death swallowed up in Victory for the Universe, not just for the Human Race
when after sundown sometime on the 1st day of the week the Angels rushed
to announce – Your Father Calls You!
But still at Sunup he WAITED! Waited for Mary. Mary to be His ambassador
of Good News to His disciples still hiding in fear. Fear that the Women had
no personal knowledge of, because they came to the tomb when others
would not.
Then He ascended to His Father, and returned in time to walk, talk, break
bread with 2 disciples.

Thank you for a thought-provoking reminder of the Savior’s sacrifice.

I would express it this way: ‘Christ experienced the wrath of God against sin which is the eternal separation from God.’ The result of that separation (wrath) is Eternal Death for the wicked who cling to sin. In contrast, in this case, that experience (expose’) of separation produced the Eternal Triumph of Christ over sin.

YES! God has a RIGHT to be Angry!
Sin with its ultimate separation from The Father, The Trinity, has deprived
Them from the fellowship of Billions of Their Children for Eternity!
YES! God “so Loved” since the time our 2 parents had to be removed
from their garden home into an Unknown World at that time.

I found this article full of wonderful insights. What concerns me however is the repeated presumption that the Father separated Himself from Jesus - twice. Yet Scripture does not support this and it lends itself to views of the Father unlike the revelation of the Son, an angry deity needing to unload pent up fury and punishment against sin before forgiveness could be released. This is the essence of penal substitution theory which I have come to see is one of the worst curses plaguing Christianity.
Both Paul and the Psalms make it clear that the Father did not separate from the Son but was with Him the entire way through this ordeal. Having said that, I would fully agree that absorbing the effects of the sins of all of humanity created the sensation in Christ that there was a separation. But I believe it is crucial to not allow our explanation to further the lies of the enemy in this way, for to do so opens the door for many people to fall in discouragement believing that God will abandon them too when things get too bad. Feelings and sensations may feel ever so real and were necessary for Jesus to fully identify with us. But reality must not be eclipsed by by feelings, and Psalm 22 makes it very clear that what Jesus felt and what was really true were very different realities.
The wrath of God is not inflicted punishment for sin, either on Christ or on lost sinners. Rather the wrath of God according to Scripture, is God releasing people to the natural effects of what they have chosen themselves. In the case of Christ, He and the Father had covenanted for Christ to experience in full what sin does to humans, and He did so with all the horrors you so well describe here. That included the feelings of total abandonment. But the gospel that must not be lost is that God NEVER left Christ alone even though it seemed that way from the underside of the darkness caused by sin. God rather was in Christ the entire time feeling fully everything Christ felt. Otherwise Jesus was lying when He emphatically stated that if we have seen Him we have also seen the Father. They are identical and united in every way. This is vital for correcting dark inferences about God that poison the truth from all sorts of directions.

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Floyd – many times in the OT God’s “wrath” is just leaving disobedient
humans to their own devices and letting them take their toll on their mental,
emotional, physical selves. Removing His protective care.

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So who was responsible for the plagues of Egypt and Sodom and Gommarah? Natural phenomenon?

A little confusing - God is life; and separation is death. The only thing separating mankind from God is sin - can’t occupy the same space. In essence, God took upon himself our punishment. The only way God could do that is to become “son of man”. As such, God accepted the burden of sin.

It’s true, it is the separation, caused by sin, is what killed Jesus - BUT, no matter how he died. The cross was a cultural demonstration of utter separation from God - “he who is hanged is accursed of God” - Deut. 21:23 repeated in Gal. 3:13 - Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. The cross is a symbol, for the Jews, of utter rejection by God. The death on the tree (cross) was symbolically necessary for Jesus as a Jew to utterly remove him from any hope of any kind of salvation. This, of course, made the resurrection all the more miraculous. The tree (cross) was a prop that demonstrated the separation.

Maybe a fine point, but it does remove all the crosses that are adored. The cross does draw attention to the entire process Jesus had to endure, if we can keep it there; but Christians have also endured great torture without submitting. Its not the amount of pain that killed Jesus, but the separation. Mankind, even if hanging on a tree, can never be separated from God because Jesus was.

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Exactly where in the Bible does it use the exact term penal substitution? Penal is added by man. But the idea of substitution means that Christ took our place. 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This is a truth without which I and millions of others would not be Christians. It is the heart of Christianity. The idea of representation adds to this and glorifies the impact. Not only was Christ our substitute, he was our representative. Which means, what he did, we did. In Him, we died, were resurrected, and are seated in heavenly places. That is how God sees us positionally when we accept Christ’s work on our behalf. Attached to this mistake, is to see God and Jesus as separate beings. The Trinity sees three personae in the godhead, not three separate persons, but having three different tasks. God oversees; Jesus is the link with humanity; the Spirit brings Christ to us when he is away. Where one is, they all are present. There is no God punishing Christ. As someone has said, the godhead was united in their mission.

2 Corinthians 5:19 New Living Translation (NLT) 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. The work is done; we are to tell people about it. No straw man doctrines please.

5 Likes

This is a great article, Kim Allan Johnson !

I just read most of “Behold the Man” – written before the Jewish Holocaust, by the SDA author, Taylor Bunch – to my wife 2 Sabbaths ago, and this fits right in with it.

Very timely and useful and to the point of the ‘plan of salvation’. A point which can settle all current SDA partisan debates if it is approached from all the perspectives of such truth in which religion and science can now agree. Perspectives that are now available to minds and hearts open enough to embrace them.

That is my ‘Reply’. I’m hoping to attach further explanations in a word document, later, in order to save space. Thanks for giving such needed attention to this topic !

Your way of describing this event, if I understand you (Sirje) correctly, would also remove much of the perceived necessity of ‘glorified violence’.

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