Hey I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 133 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes we’ve been looking at the Gospels’ record of Jesus’ journey from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest and crucifixion in April of 29AD. Judas had left, the Passover meal came to a conclusion, and Jesus and the eleven proceeded through the winding streets of Jerusalem likely to the Temple where He spoke the words of John chapters 15 and 16 to them. Today I want to take a brief look at what some have called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” from John 17. This is the very last prayer He would pray with His eleven disciples before being crucified, and it has enormous significance and was undoubtedly deeply meaningful for the eleven. So let’s jump right in and read from John 17:
"When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do."
(John 17:1–4 ESV)
So I think we can still picture Jesus in the Temple, secluded with the eleven under one of the roofed colonnades surrounding the outer court. There might have been some activity going on in the Temple as the rest of the city was filled with festive pilgrims for the Passover feast. And there Jesus is, the promised Messiah from David’s line, the promised prophet like Moses, the very God of Israel in the flesh, in the Temple with a small remnant of Jewish followers who actually hear His words and have faith in God because of Him. Jesus knows exactly what’s about to happen to Him. He knew what Judas was conspiring and what he was doing at that very moment. And what does Jesus do? He isn’t the least bit concerned about His own safety or well-being - in fact, in this whole prayer in John 17 He prays for His disciples and for those who would believe in Him through their word. How crazy is that? He talks to His Father about other people in the very moments that His betrayer is conspiring against Him. Perhaps it had been over an hour at this point that Judas had gone out to meet the leadership of Israel and lead them to capture Jesus. The series of events that would lead to His crucifixion had been set in motion, and in just a few hours Jesus would find Himself secretly before some of the most powerful men in the land of Israel. Now look at the next verse in John 17. Jesus says:
"And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."
(John 17:5 ESV)
Just think about that for a second. How absurd would it have been for someone who is not God to say this? Jesus was about to die, and He says: “glorify me…… with the glory…. that I had with you before the world existed”. Just imagine what was going through His mind. He knew who He was, He knew why He had come and where this was going and what it was all unto at the end of the story - a glorious new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness. Using some of the apostle Paul’s language, the affliction of the cross was momentary and light compared to the eternal joy that awaits us all in the restoration of all things. Let’s read a few more verses from John 17:
"I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."
(John 17:23–24 ESV)
What a prayer. Jesus prays for those whom God had given Him to be with Him and to see His glory. Is there truly anything we can have that’s greater than that? Jesus has their joy in mind here. We intrinsically know from our experiences in life that the most beautiful things are so captivating to us and bring us so much joy. We dwell on them, we take photos of them, we share them with our friends. Think about a sunrise or sunset on the beach or a beautiful mountain range or a flower. Or even an experience or a moment. The joy that is found in beholding something, or in this case, someone, so glorious, is what Jesus is praying for here. And again, this is what’s going through Jesus’ mind as the Sanhedrin begins to gather and as Judas was telling them where Jesus was so they could send soldiers to arrest him. Not only that, Jesus knows that every single one of the eleven who is hearing his words and His prayer in the Temple that night will all flee and betray Him. And He still speaks these words:
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."
(John 15:9–11 ESV)
Wow. Imagine what this meant to the disciples. We tend to just read this verse out of its context, but we can’t forget everything that would transpire that night. It makes it way more impactful. Now remember that back at the end of John 14, Jesus and the eleven got up from the table and left the upper room. I believe that part of the reason why Jesus got up and left with them was to avoid Judas and the ones coming to capture Him. We can’t be sure, but Judas may have led the soldiers to the upper room first, but Jesus had left. This whole time, I think He was in the Temple pouring out His heart to the eleven and tenderly praying over them. This is just incredible. Well, let’s continue reading from John:
"When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples."
(John 18:1–2 ESV)
John continues by telling us that Jesus now proceeds over the Brook Kidron, which is to the east of Jerusalem at the base of the slope of the Mount of Olives. Let’s take a look at a map. Jesus goes out of the Temple, perhaps through the North or the East gate, and He and the eleven descend the sloping path down to the place where they would cross the brook and then head slightly upward to the Garden of Gethsemane. This garden, as you can see, is typically thought to be located here toward the base of the Mount of Olives as it rises up out of the Valley of Kidron.
Let’s talk about gardens in the first century for a moment. When we typically think of a garden, at least for those of us here in the West, we picture a plot of vegetables in our back yard, or perhaps a bed of various kinds of flowers in front of our house. But the Garden of Gethsemane was not that. From what we can tell, it was likely an area that was surrounded by a wall that contained olive trees, fruit trees, and shrubs. There would have been a formal entrance to the garden, and likely a small building that contained an olive press. With these details in mind, it makes far more sense for the scene that follows. Now the Garden of Gethsemane was one of the places where Jesus spent time with His disciples when He was in Jerusalem, as both Luke 22:39 and John 18:2 make clear. This is why Judas probably knew where to find Jesus, especially after having already gone to the upper room and not finding him there. It’s here that Jesus begins to pray privately. Matthew 26 says:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
(Matthew 26:36–46 ESV)
Just as Jesus had done so often, He took His three closest companions with Him deeper into the garden while the rest of the 8 remained perhaps near the entrance. Yet as He goes away to pray on His own, He returns a total of three times to find Peter, James, and John sleeping. And at some point, perhaps after finding them a second time and then returning to prayer, Luke 22:43 and 44 says that an angel came to strengthen Him in the agony of His intercession.
Now there is so much more that could be said about both the High Priestly Prayer as well as this scene in the garden of Gethsemane. As I close this episode today, I want you to consider something that might be new to you regarding Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. This is such a precious scene, so I want to tread lightly here. I don’t think Jesus is primarily asking God to deliver Him from the pain and agony of the cross, though that surely was part of it. But just think for a second how much Jesus has not been concerned about Himself and His own comfort not just during His ministry but even during this very night. Think about what moved Jesus to loud lamentation and sobbing as He rode on a donkey just a few days before these moments here in the garden. It was the fate of the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel, it was the fact that the covenantal curses would be brought upon them because they did not know the hour of their visitation. It was because they refused to repent, and thus continued to profane the name of their God among the nations. This is such a powerful and vivid scene from the Gospels, and I don’t think it’s out of character from the other moments we’ve seen where Jesus has been emotive. I believe He’s weeping once again for Jerusalem, standing as a weeping watchman, as the Old Testament prophets have done. He wants the hour to pass from Him not primarily because of what it means for Him, but because of what it means for Jerusalem and God’s people Israel.
Well, in the next episode we’ll look at Jesus’ arrest and capture in Gethsemane, and we’ll start to sort out all of the details of the final night before His crucifixion in the morning. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.