The garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means “oil press,” is located on a slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A garden of ancient olive trees stands there to this day. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray (John 18:2). The most famous events at Gethsemane occurred on the night before His crucifixion when Jesus was betrayed. Each of the Gospel writers describes the events of that night with slight variations, so reading the four accounts (Matthew 26:36-56, Mark 14:32-52, Luke 22:40-53 and John 18:1-11) will give an accurate picture of that momentous night in its entirety.
As the evening began, after Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover, they came to the garden. At some point, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41), but they fell asleep. Twice, Jesus had to wake them and remind them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation. This was especially poignant because Peter did indeed fall into temptation later that very night when three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus moved a little way from the three men to pray, and twice He asked His Father to remove the cup of wrath He was about to drink, but each time He submitted to the Father’s will. He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death,” but God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).
After this, Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, arrived with a “multitude” of soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus. Judas identified Him by the prearranged signal of a kiss which he gave to Jesus. Trying to protect Jesus, Peter took a sword and attacked a man named Malchus, the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus rebuked Peter and miraculously healed the man’s ear. It’s surprising that witnessing this amazing miracle of healing had no effect on the multitude. Neither were they shaken by His awesome display of power as described in John 18:5-6, where either at the majesty of His looks, or at the power of His words, or both, they became like dead men, falling to the ground. Nevertheless, they arrested Him and took Him to Pontius Pilate, while the disciples scattered in fear for their lives.
The events that occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane have reverberated down through the centuries. The passion Jesus displayed on that momentous night has been depicted in music, books, and films for centuries. From the 16th century, when Bach wrote two magnificent oratorios based on the gospel accounts of Matthew and John, to the present day with the film The Passion of the Christ, the story of this extraordinary night has been told again and again. Even our language has been affected by these events, giving us such phrases as “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:52); “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38); and “sweating drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Of course, the most important impact of this night was the willingness of our Savior to die on the cross in our place in order to pay the penalty for our sins. God “made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.