After Jesus had eaten his last meal, He retired to the garden of Gethsemane with eleven of His apostles. "And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:41-43).

Shortly after this event, Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers and a little more than twelve hours later He hung from a cross where His body was literally nailed to it. As Christians we believe that it was through the blood He shed upon the cross that our sins have been washed away. Indeed, we believe that He was the Lamb of God who was sacrificed and slain for the sins of the world.

Putting someone to death by hanging on a cross was not something the Romans had invented. However, they did perfect the practice into one of the cruelest and most inhuman methods ever devised for putting someone to death. It was designed to cause the maximum amount of pain and suffering over the longest period of time. As such, it was a slow and excruciatingly painful experience, even when strapped to the cross with rope.

Dr. Terasaka explained, "When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. (Metherall) The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed end inspiratory position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. The victim would only be able to take very shallow breaths.(This may explain why Jesus made very short statements while on the cross). As time passed, the muscles, from the loss of blood, lack of oxygen and the fixed position of the body, would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions" (Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Compiled by David Terasaka, M.D. 1996

We know what happened to Jesus on Calvary, but what happened to Him in Gethsemane? Why did Jesus pray so earnestly that His sweat "was as it were great drops of blood"?

Because of the extremely painful ordeal of crucifixion, most Christians believe that Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray for strength and comfort to endure what He knew awaited Him on the cross. However, Latter-days Saints believe that it was in Gethsemane that Jesus actually suffered the most because that is where he took upon Himself and truly paid the penalty for the sins of the world. Yet, in order for that sacrifice to be complete, His blood had to be shed. Therefore, it was further necessary for Him to be crucified as well. But the physical torture of the cross paled in comparison to what He endure in Gethsemane.

To most Christians this sounds like an unbiblical doctrine because the Bible doesn't specifically state why Jesus was in such agony in the garden. But to say that Jesus was merely praying for strength to withstand the horrible pain He was about to encounter is even more unbiblical.

When Jesus entered the garden, He left nine of His apostles by the front gate and went in a little further "And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners" (Mark 14:33-41).

There are several significant things we learn from this passage. One is that Jesus prayed three different times and in between each He went back to check on Peter, James, and John. It was after the third time that He finally was through praying (vs 41). However, after the first time He visited them, He asked, "couldest not thou watch one hour?" Apparently Jesus had just spent an hour in prayer. We can only assume from the way the apostles continued to fight sleep that His prayers were equally as long the other two times. That means Jesus probably spent three hours in prayer!

Another significant fact we learn from these verses is that He "began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy." We might imagine that His heart was very heavy because of what He was about to go through on the cross, but why was he "sore amazed" by this? After all, He knew for three years this was coming and there is no doubt He fully realized what was involved with being crucified. Then, before He even began to pray, He said to His apostles, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death." All of this indicates that Jesus was already in great distress before He ever began His prayer.

Next He earnestly prayed that somehow He might be spared having to go through what was required of him, yet He willingly agreed to do whatever His Father asked. In Luke's account, we learn that an angel even appeared with the purpose of giving Him strength (22:43). Yet, in the very next verse, Luke tells us that Jesus was in agony. In fact, He was in such agony that He sweat blood! What's even more interesting is that this is the only place in the entire Bible where the word "agony" appears. Although not one of the four gospels states that Jesus was in "agony" while He was on the cross, yet He was in agony in the garden of Gethsemane!

Dr. Terasaka explains the sweating of blood thusly: "The medical term for this, `hemohidrosis' or `hematidrosis' has been seen in patients who have experienced, extreme stress or shock to their systems. (Edwards) The capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile and leak blood into the sweat. A case history is recorded in which a young girl who had a fear of air raids in WW1 developed the condition after a gas explosion occurred in the house next door.(Scott) Another report mentions a nun who, as she was threatened with death by the swords of the enemy soldiers, `was so terrified that she bled from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her assailants.'(Grafenberg)" ( Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Compiled by David Terasaka, M.D. 1996 Also see A Physician Testifies about the Crucifixion )

The question we need to ask ourselves is, Why was Jesus in so much agony at this point that He would sweat blood? Why would He be experiencing such "extreme stress or shock to His system" in Gethsemane but not on the cross?

We need to remember who we're talking about. Jesus was not just some mere mortal man. Jesus was not someone who was easily scared or frightened. As Christians we believe that Jesus is God! Can we truly imagine God being so scared of being crucified that He would sweat blood because of the stress created by the mere thought of Him dying such a horrible death? To accept such a concept is not consistent with being a Christian.

Let's look at it another way. Jesus wasn't the only person to be nailed to the cross. This was a common practice both before and after Christ's death. If such torture could scared the blood out of God, then surely it must be even more terrifying to mortal men. Yet there is no record that other men had the same or worse reactions when they learned they faced a similar fate. It is reported that Peter himself was crucified, but rather than needing three hours of agonizing prayer to plead not to die in such a manner, his only request was that he be crucified upside down so that his followers would not equate his death with that of Jesus. Would God Himself be any less fearless?

Then what would cause God, the greatest of all, to tremble and bleed from every pore and shrink from the task that was assigned Him? It couldn't be death by crucifixion because many other men had faced that experience with far less fear than Jesus supposedly had in Gethsemane. If that is so, then what is the one thing that no man could possibly endure and that would be difficult even for God to withstand? The answer is: Taking upon Himself the sins of all the world and paying their penalty.

Peter wrote, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). The apostle John wrote, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). The word "propitiation" means "an atoning sacrifice" (Miriam Webster Dictionary). The Revise Standard Version translates this as, "he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." The word "expiation" means "to make amends for" (American Heritage Dictionary). In other words, Jesus atoned, or made amends for not only the sins of those that believed on Him, but for the sins of the whole world. And those sins He bore "in his own body".

If that is so, then we need to ask ourselves, When did Jesus take upon Himself our sins? Did He take it after, during, or before He bled from being whipped, crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross? The Bible doesn't specifically say. However, one Christian Biblical scholar has stated, "Wherein is the atoning efficacy lay is not certain. Some have found it in the idea of substitution. The offerer feels that his life is forfeited by his sins, but believes that he is graciously permitted to substitute a victim, to which his sins are in some way transferred, and which dies in his stead.... In the Levitical system the idea of expiation and atonement is specially emphasized in the sin offering and guilt offerings." (The One Volume Bible Commentary, by the Rev. J. R. Dummelow, p87)

All Christians are familiar with the symbology represented in the ancient biblical sacrificing of a animal. From the time of Abel the Bible speaks of this practice as symbolizing the Messiah who would someday be sacrificed for our sins. Since Jesus was perfect and there was no sin in Him, the offered animal likewise had to be without spot or blemishes. In fact everything about the sacrifice had a relationship to what would happen to Jesus. For example, no bones could be broken and the blood had to be spilled on the ground.

Under the Law of Moses, there were several kinds of offerings. These included trespass offerings, guilt offerings, peace offerings, burnt offerings, and one known as a sin offering. A sin offering was broken down into several categories. There was one kind of animal used for sins committed in ignorance, another kind for sins deliberately committed, another kind for sins committed by the priests and another kind committed by Israel as a whole.

The Bibles states, "And thou shalt offer every day a bullock for a sin offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it" (Exodus 29:36). "And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering" (Leviticus 4:24). "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send [him] away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21-22).

Concerning the sin offering, one Christian commentator explained, "The hand of the offerer must be laid upon the head of the offering (v. 4), with a solemn penitent confession of the sin he had committed, putting it upon the head of the sin-offering, (Lev. 16:21).... The blood of his sacrifice is put upon the altar of his incense and sprinkled before the Lord. When this was done the remainder of the blood was poured at the foot of the brazen altar. By this rite, the sinner acknowledged that he deserved to have his blood thus poured out like water. It likewise signified the pouring out of the soul before God in true repentance, and typified our Saviour's pouring out his soul unto death. The fat of the inwards was to be burnt upon the altar of burnt-offering, (v. 8-10). By this the intention of the offering and of the atonement made by it was directed to the glory of God, who, having been dishonoured by the sin, was thus honoured by the sacrifice. It signified the sharp sufferings of our Lord Jesus, when he was made sin (that is, a sin-offering) for us, especially the sorrows of his soul and his inward agonies. It likewise teaches us, in conformity to the death of Christ, to crucify the flesh. The head and body of the beast, skin and all, were to be carried without the camp, to a certain place appointed for that purpose, and there burnt to ashes, (v. 11, 12). This was very significant, of the duty of repentance, which is the putting away of sin as a detestable thing." (Matthew Henry commentary on Leviticus, chapter 4)

"The high priest having presented unto the Lord the expiatory sacrifices, by the sprinkling of their blood, the remainder of which, it is probable, he poured out at the foot of the brazen altar. He is next to confess the sins of Israel, with both his hands upon the head of the scape-goat (v. 20, 21); and whenever hands were imposed upon the head of any sacrifice it was always done with confession, according as the nature of the sacrifice was; and, this being a sin-offering, it must be a confession of sin.... The confession must be as particular as he could make it, not only of all the iniquities of the children of Israel, but all their transgressions in all their sins. In one sin there may be many transgressions, from the several aggravating circumstances of it; and in our confessions we should take notice of them, and not only say, I have sinned, but, with Achan, `Thus and thus have I done.' By this confession he must put the sins of Israel upon the head of the goat; that is, exercising faith upon the divine appointment which constituted such a translation, he must transfer the punishment incurred from the sinners to the sacrifice... The goat was then to be sent away immediately by the hand of a fit person pitched upon for the purpose, into a wilderness, a land not inhabited; and God allowed them to make this construction of it, that the sending away of the goat was the sending away of their sins, by a free and full remission: He shall bear upon him all their iniquities, (v. 22). The losing of the goat was a sign to them that the sins of Israel should be sought for, and not found, (Jer. 50:20)" (Matthew Henry Commentary on Leviticus 16:20-28)

First, it should be noted how everything in this sacrificial rite had a spiritual significance and that every aspect of it related to the atoning sacrifice which Jesus made for us. As such, even the order and manner of the sacrifices reveals information about how Christ atoned for our sins.

Under the Mosaic Law, if a person committed a sin, he was required to bring "a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering. And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head and kill the bullock before the Lord." Then the priest who was appointed and anointed to perform the sin offering "shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation" (Leviticus 4:4-5).

In other words, when a person had sinned, he first had to find a young bullock that was perfect and without any blemishes. Then he would bring the sacrificial animal to the temple (God's house) and present both himself and the animal to the Lord. Once there he would place his hands upon the head of the beast and, with true confession, naming the specific sins he had committed, transfer his sins to the animal. After that had been accomplished, then he would kill the animal in such a way that it's blood was spilled. Next, the priest who had been set apart and anointed to perform the ceremony would take the blood and bring it into God's holy house where he would then sprinkle it "seven times before the Lord before the vail of the sanctuary" (v. 6).

What we see in this ceremony is that the sins were transferred from the sinner and placed upon the sacrificial animal before its blood was spilled. If this is truly symbolic of Christ's atonement for our sins, then there can be no doubt that Jesus took upon Him the sins of the world before any of His blood was shed. That means He had to have "bare our sins in his own body" before the cruel scourging took place at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

But when did the transfer of our sins take place? Just prior to the whipping, Jesus was in court with Pilate and before then he was questioned by Herod, and before that he was interrogated by the Sanhedrin. There is no biblical indication that the transfer of our sins took place during any of these trials. Yet, just before He was arrested, Jesus was in great agony as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, so much so that even He was "sore amazed" and was "exceedingly sorrowful unto death" and pleaded for relief as He underwent such "extreme stress" that He sweated blood.

If we accept the fact that Jesus had lived a sinless life, then we also have to accept as fact that He had never experienced sin, nor the heavy, dark consequences that comes from sinning. Having never done anything worthy of repenting, He would have never experienced any painful remorse. But, when He did take upon Himself the sins of the world while in Gethsemane, then, for the first time in His life, He would have felt the effects of sin. Was this why he was "sore amazed?" Is this why His soul became "exceedingly sorrowful unto death" as He finally experienced the heavy weight of sin? There is no other explanation of why Jesus would have been in such great agony in the garden of Gethsemane except for Him taking upon Himself our sins.

After what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane, the physical pain He endured on the cross was mild by comparison. By the biblical account itself, there is no doubt that Jesus suffered more in Gethsemane than He did on the cross. While on the cross, Jesus didn't sweat great drops of blood, nor did He need an angel to help strengthen Him, nor did He say His soul was exceedingly sorrowful unto death, nor was He in as much agony as He suffered in Gethsemane.

In fact, quite the contrary seems to have happened. Although physically exhausted and in great pain, Jesus hung on the cross in dignity and without fear. Rather than cry out that this cup be taken away from Him, He refused the mixture of water and vinegar that was meant to help ease His pain. Rather than an angel coming to strengthen Him, even God the Father left Him alone to suffer. Rather than being consumed by the stress and agony of his ordeal, He administered love and peace to those around Him. He asked His Father to forgive the people for what they had done. He told the thief on the cross that he would be in paradise with Jesus that same day. He asked his beloved disciple to watch over His mother.

It was necessary and important that Jesus shed His blood on the cross, because without doing so the sacrifice for our sins would have been incomplete. But the real suffering came in Gethsemane where Jesus took upon Himself our sins and suffered for them so that we might not have to pay the penalty that rightly belongs to us. So great was this suffering that only God Himself could endure it. It was only after the agony of Gethsemane that Christ's shed blood had any power to wash away our sins because without first bearing our sins in His body, Christ's crucifixion would have been meaningless. Without Gethsemane there could have been no salvation through the cross.

NOTE: Additional information concerning the sacrificing of animals: "Under the Mosaic Law, offerings made to God must be the offerer's own property, properly acquired (Dt 23:18). The sacrificial act represented the personal surrender of the worshipper to Jehovah. The sacrifice was his substitute and representative. Animals best represented man personally because nearest him in the scale of life. Those chosen were domesticated animals, reared by man, his food and so the supporter of his life. Wild animals were excluded, as not being the product of his care and cultivation.... Atonement could be made for (1) unconscious, unintentional sins (Lev 4:2,22,27; 5:15, 17); (2) non-capital crimes (e.g. theft), after punishment had been endured (Lev. 6:2,6; 19:20-22); (3) crimes which a man voluntarily confessed and for which he made (if possible) compensation (Lev 5:5)" (The Concise Bible Dictionary).

Return to main menu

If you like this article, tell a friend, or Click here to email a friend!