They crossed the Kidron brook, the light of a nearly full moon illuminating the way, and climbed the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place where they had often retreated together. This garden was actually an olive vineyard, its name Gethsemane meaning “place of the olive press,” and in this hour there would be inconceivable, heartrending pressing for the Lord.
Taking only Peter, James, and John beyond the garden entrance, He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy,” saying to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”
Then removing Himself about a stone’s throw, in the depths of anguish He “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” “Abba,” He called, using the intimate personal word for “Father” used particularly in family circles.
The intense agony Jesus faced in the garden was not from fear of death or the pain of crucifixion. As the Son of an eternal Father, no one could take His life from Him. But in these midnight hours He would face the ultimate contest with all the powers of darkness as He took upon Himself the pain, sin, infirmities, and anguish of a corrupted world.
In modern revelation, Jesus says of the event, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink.”
Some of the olive trees still standing in the traditional Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives are at least 1,800 years old and may have been silent witnesses to the Lord’s agony. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In complete anguish of body and spirit, Christ endured the unendurable, “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” “There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly.”
This obedient Son whose communication with His Father was so perfect that He could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” prayed yet more earnestly. What words He must have said in that impassioned prayer, as He in some way incomprehensible to mortal minds took upon Himself the punishment for all the sins of the world, however loathsome, paying the price, the incalculable debt for our weaknesses that we could not pay.
He paid the price, with an infinite atonement, for all who would repent in His name and be at one again with the Lord. Since all things past, present, and future are continually before the Lord, in some way we cannot understand, even the sins we will yet commit added to the agony Christ faced in Gethsemane.
Trunk of this ancient olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane seems to be twisted in pain in memory of what happened here. “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me. I tremble to know that for me he was crucified, That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died. Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me! Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!”
As all things were created to bear record of the Savior, so Gethsemane, the oil press, bears silent testimony of that grueling night. Olive oil was the very essence of life for Israel. Light came in a dark night because olive oil filled the lamps. Balm and healing came because olive oil was poured into wounds. Olive mash was fuel. But olive oil was obtained from the olives only by subjecting them to extraordinary pressure, crushing them under a stone press. Under this relentless weight, the olive, which is bitter, produced oil, which is sweet. So it is with the atonement. From the bitterness of that night came all that is precious and sweet about life, all that gives light in the the darkness. When we are anointed with consecrated oil, it is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are healed, given balm from the olive press He faced for our wounds.
He had asked His apostles Peter, James, and John to watch with Him, but twice when He arose from prayer He found them “sleeping for sorrow.” Jesus said, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Then He added in sympathy, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Finally, the third time He came and found them asleep, He said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; . . . behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Perhaps even at that minute He could already see the string of torchlights coming up the mount, a multitude of armed soldiers led by Judas. “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”
Approaching Jesus, Judas greeted Him and “not only kissed [him], but covered Him with kisses, kissed Him repeatedly, loudly, effusively.” Defending Jesus against the arrest, Peter raised his sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. Touching the ear, Jesus healed it, saying, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” But now was the time for divine restraint as He allowed Himself to be taken captive that the scriptures might be fulfilled. Judas had betrayed Christ for the price of 30 pieces of silver—the ½ shekel of Tyre (shown here).
As the soldiers took Jesus, “they saw before them nothing but a weary unarmed man, whom one of His own most intimate followers had betrayed, and whose arrest was simply watched in helpless agony by a few terrified Galileans” who finally fled in panic. This was the beginning of a long and terrible night of inquisition. First, He was led to degenerate Annas, the former High Priest for seven years, the money-hungry usurper of Jewish power. One of the abominable men of the earth, He appointed and controlled the High Priest, who would have slavishly followed his word.
Ancient stone steps dating back to the time of Christ. They lead to the possible site of Caiaphas’ palace. These are likely the stone steps Christ climbed on his way to a night of brutal interrogation. In reality, once Annas had decided that Christ should be murdered, the other trials were but a sham.
Next, in exhaustion, He was led bound to Caiaphas, the legal High Priest in whose palace at least a quorum of the Sanhedrin was gathered. They had before them a prisoner innocent of any crime. “Their dilemma was real, for they themselves were sharply divided on all major issues save one—that the man Jesus must die.” However, since they needed to find a charge, they sought false witnesses. Many were eager to bare false witness, but “their testimony was so false, so shadowy, so self-contradictory, that it all melted to nothing.” Christ may have been held in this very pit (angle is looking from the floor to the ceiling).
Through all their hopeless argument, Jesus listened in majestic silence, which only confounded them more until Caiaphas, enraged, hurled this question: “Answerest thou nothing? . . . I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered, for it had never been a secret, “Thou hast said.”
After the Savior’s interview with Caiaphas, Christ’s captors spit in His face and buffeted Him and made up a cruel game. Blindfolding Him, they slapped Him with the palms of their hands and then taunted, “Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?” When, at last, the lingering hours of the night had passed, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin for the sham of a trial, which would be in flagrant violation of their own laws. The charge was blasphemy against the only one who could not commit blasphemy—the Lord Himself. “What need we any further witness?”
They were, however, bent on His death, and being subject to Roman overlords, they could not impose it themselves. So, followed by a riotous mob, they led Him bound to Herod’s magnificent palace, where Pilate, the Roman procurator, was keeping a wary watch over the Passover rabble. This being a Gentile house with leavened bread, the fastidious Jewish leaders would not defile themselves and enter, though ironically they found no defilement in seeking to kill the innocent.
Thus it was that Pilate came out to them, asking, “What accusation bring ye against this man?” It was a hard question from a practical politician, and they had searched for and found the charge—not blasphemy, which would mean nothing to a Roman. No, this time they charged Him with sedition.
He is a traitor to Caesar. He calls Himself the king of the Jews! Of all those who examined Jesus, Pilate was the least guilty of malice toward Him. Something about the Lord touched the man, and after questioning Him he said frankly, “I find in him no fault at all.” To this the chief priests responded in a clamor of accusations, among which a single word stood out: “Galilee.” Pilate thought he saw a way out. With relief, he sent the Savior on to Herod, whose jurisdiction included the green hills of Galilee.
Herod had killed John the Baptist, so before the cruel and insolent questioning of this despot, Jesus said not a word. For the weak, the sick, the child, the sinner, Christ had soothing, loving tones, but for the tyrant He had only silence, all the more infuriating to Herod, for he had longed to see a miracle performed.
A stone bearing an inscription of the names of Emperor Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. This is the only archaeological evidence ever found of Pilate’s existence. Though he normally lived in Caesarea, he came to Jerusalem to help control the political passions easily inflamed during Passover. It is said that his life ended in suicide.
It was the custom at Passover to release a criminal. Here were two men, perhaps even standing before the mob as Pilate spoke. One was Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, a murderer. The other was Jesus, the proclaimer of peace, who raised the dead. “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” Some in that crowd had been healed by the Lord, some had heard His healing words, but the chief priests moved among the people stirring them up until they shouted, “Barabbas. Release Barabbas.”
Pilate would have released Jesus, and his feelings were even more stirred when his wife came to him pleading, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” Whatever these flickerings of conscience, Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and jammed it on that tired head; they placed a purple robe on His shoulders and then, gloating and leering, they smote Him and spit upon Him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Consider this humiliation, this stinging injustice, and know that He who has suffered all things can succor us in every hour.
Now Pilate brought the bleeding, wounded Jesus again before the crowd. “Behold the man!” he said. Was there even now no stirrings of pity for Him? Where was the man or woman who would speak up? Where were all those who were waving palms just five days before? Their hosannas had vanished on a fickle wind. No, there was only Pilate’s corrupt voice repeating, “I find no fault in Him.” It was still early morning when Pilate gave in: “Shall I crucify your King?” and the people answered, “Away with him, crucify him. . . . We have no king but Caesar.”
“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” And the people shouted, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
So Jesus, numbered with the transgressors, carried His cross to the place of the skull, Golgotha, until He collapsed under the weight and mounting misery. The men along the road were silent; some women wept. The cross was raised between two thieves, and at noon the earth turned dark in shame.
The Lord was crucified outside the city wall at Golgotha, meaning “place of a skull.” This rock, with its curves and caves much resembling a skull, has been suggested as the possible site. Though Christ’s crucifixion has been painted as if it were on a hill, Roman tradition was to crucify along the road that all passersby might see, adding to the victim’s humiliation.
For capital punishment, the Jews stoned, burned, beheaded, or strangled, but the Romans chose the cruelest punishment of all—crucifixion. It was a lingering death for its tortured victims. “The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; . . . there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst,” dizziness, cramp, starvation, sleeplessness, and shame. In Jerusalem, a charitable women’s group administered a mixture of wine and drugs to dull the pain as the victim was stretched on the ground and nailed to the crossbeam, but this Jesus refused. Shown here is archaeological evidence of crucifixion, a nail through a heel bone.
Stripped, He was raised on the cross with a mocking sign over His head: “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 78 As the soldiers beneath Him cast lots for what was probably His only material possession, a coat without seam, He asked in their behalf, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” As He hung in anguish, the rulers and people gaped and cursed and condemned Him, taunting, “He saved others; let him save himself.” Through the anguish, He had only loving words. To His mother, Mary, who must have felt the pangs of near-death in her own body, it was concern that she be cared for. To the beloved John He said, “Behold thy mother,” and from that hour John took her into his own home. To the thief who would repent, He gave hope.
At noon the heavens grew black for three hours, as if the universe itself were weeping for the agony of the Creator. In that time all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane returned, and His Father’s spirit itself withdrew that the victory might be His. At the ninth hour, 3:00 P.M., “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, . . . My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In that eerie midafternoon darkness, someone ran and filled a sponge with vinegar. Having received the vinegar, Jesus said, “Father, it is finished, thy will is done.” As He died, the veil of the temple was rent, and the earth quaked and rocks were rent as if to say with a nearby centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Darkening sky backdrops trees at Golgotha. After Christ had died, the soldiers pierced his side with a sword, and water gushed forth. “And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the cross my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art! How great thou art!”
While His body yet hung from the cross and then was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ immortal spirit performed a mission of utmost importance to the plan of salvation. An early Christian asked Peter, “Shall those be wholly deprived of the kingdom of heaven who died before Christ’s coming?” Or in any generation, shall those who died without knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ be cast out? It is a question that haunts Christian writing and was answered by Christ’s visiting the spirit world while His body was entombed.
Through an arched tree like a gate, steps ascend toward the light at Banias near the headwaters of the Jordan. Christ’s visit to the spirit world opened the gate for those who died in their sins without a knowledge of the truth or rejected the prophets. In one early source Christ tells the Twelve, “I have received all authority from my Father, so that I might lead out into light those who sit in darkness. You shall become fellow-heirs with me.”
In the world of spirits were gathered an innumerable host of those who had departed this life, “who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” and were awaiting His coming to open the gates that bound them. And “they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.” While these spirits were waiting, “the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; and there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.” All “bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell. Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them.”
Just before first light of morning touches the edge of the sepulchre in the Garden Tomb and the track where the large stone was rolled to seal it. On Friday, Christ’s body had been hastily taken from the cross and placed in the tomb because Jewish Sabbath began at sundown. The entrance was sealed and guards watched until an angel “with a countenance . . . like lightning” rolled back the stone, “and for fear of him the keepers . . . became as dead men.” Later these guards would be bribed to say Christ’s disciples had stolen the body.
While it was yet dark on the morning of Sunday after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and other women arrived at the tomb of Jesus to mourn and anoint with spices the hastily entombed body. To their utter surprise and sadness, when they looked in the tomb Jesus’ body was not there. Mary immediately ran to tell Peter and John of their findings: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” This news caused the disciples to run speedily to the tomb to see for themselves, “for as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.”
As they looked in the tomb, something in John leaped with joy, and he “believed.” Yet he and Peter returned to their residences. As Mary and other women lingered by the tomb, “behold, two men stood by them in shining garments,” and “they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?” “Fear not ye; for we know that ye seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
Golden interior of the empty Garden Tomb, symbol of all the graves that will one day be empty because of the Lord’s free gift of resurrection. “I know that my Redeemer lives. What comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, he lives, who once was dead. He lives, my everliving Head. He lives to bless me with his love. He lives to plead for me above.”
As yet, Mary Magdalene did not understand the words of the angels, for her sorrow at the loss of her beloved Lord was so stinging. Mary turned herself away from the tomb and saw someone in the garden whom she did not recognize. He asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she boldly said, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Mary’s love for the Lord was so powerful that she offered to physically take the body by herself and see to its proper burial.
Now came one of the greatest moments in all of history, for this man was not the gardener—it was Jesus Christ with a resurrected body of flesh and bone. And He made Himself known by simply calling her by name in tones so familiar: “Mary.” Now she saw, becoming the first witness of the risen Lord. Her tears of sorrow turned to joy as she exclaimed, “Rabboni,” which means “My beloved master.” Though the Garden Tomb has not been verified as the actual site of the Lord’s burial, it meets all of the scriptural qualifications. The site must be outside of the city wall; it must have anciently been near a garden; it must have had a large, heavy stone to seal the entrance with a track to roll in; it must be large enough to walk into; it must be near a place of execution. The Garden Tomb meets all these qualifications.
What joy to this woman and to all of humanity! “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. . . . For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” 93 Mary Magdalene reached forward to worship and love the Lord. Jesus said to her, “Hold me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” 94 Whether this meant for her not to keep Him long or whether she was not to physically touch the Lord is unknown. Perhaps the Lord was reserving His first embrace as a glorified and perfected being for His own Father in Heaven, also a glorified and perfected being.
It may have been somewhere near this place that Jesus and Mary met. So great and wondrous was the coming forth of the Lord from the tomb that the day was marked and overshadowed the celebration of creation’s rest. After the resurrection, the holy Sabbath was changed from the seventh day of the week, Saturday, to the first day of the week, Sunday, and was specifically called the Lord’s Day.
When Mary told the apostles that she had seen the living Lord, her “words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Later Jesus appeared to Peter, His chief apostle, who perhaps may have wondered that the Master would ever again call him His servant. This was a day never to be forgotten.
Ancient witnesses declare its truth in the holy records, and witnesses today have it borne to their souls by the power of the Holy Ghost: “He is risen! He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. He has burst his three days’ prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice. Death is conquered, man is free. Christ has won the victory.”