So Much to Say, So Little Time

The Walk to Gethsemane
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After singing a hymn, they went out.—Matthew 26:30{NOTE: All Scripture citations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated.}

Jeff Mezera

After the last supper Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn and started walking ..toward the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus often spent his evenings when near Jerusalem (Luke 22:39). Even though the pace was probably quick and silent for fear of the Sanhedrin who were searching for him, it still would have taken some time because of the distance and hilly conditions. While the location of the upper room is unknown, the distance from the wall of Jerusalem to Gethsemane is about a half mile, which gave Jesus time for his friends. He used the time wisely.

As they walked through Jerusalem, the city would have been illuminated by the radiance of a full moon. In the cool evening air, perhaps Jesus pointed to things along the way, using illustrations as he did in many of his parables, making important lessons as simple as possible.

The road to the Mount of Olives, where the garden was located, would have passed through the Gate of the Essenes. After all other gates in Jerusalem were closed at night, this gate was still open and could be used to control traffic. This smaller gate forced camel drivers to unload their bundles and guide their animals through on bended knee. This smaller gate was known as the “needle’s eye” and was what Jesus had in mind when he told the rich young ruler that it “is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25).

“If they desired to escape the guards of the city who were on the lookout to arrest Jesus, they would have skirted the southern wall which overlooks the valley of Hinnom, the garbage dump of the city where the fires were constantly burning the refuse from the populace of the urban area. Here was another symbol … Gehenna in their language, was a recognized figure of speech for death—the second death from which there would be no release. Jesus personally knew the jeopardy in which he walked. Because he was perfect, absolute perfection was required of him. If he failed, the death of Gehenna awaited him. The same would be true for his followers.”—The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, March/April, 1998.

Even though the disciples told Jesus that they “understood” (John 16:29,30), he knew their faith was not as strong as they thought. A little earlier Jesus prophesied that Judas would betray him (John 13:21,26-27). Now he warned them that “if anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

Jesus told them they would all fall away because of him that night. Then he quoted the Zechariah 13:7 prophecy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). They were shocked. Peter replied, “’Even though all may fall away because of you, I will never fall away … Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you. All the disciples said the same thing too” (Matthew 26:33,35). It was then that Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster would crow (Matthew 26:34).

Similar words describing fleshly Israel came from the prophet Ezekiel: “They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; and my flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth” (Ezekiel 34:5,6).

Without a shepherd sheep will scatter because there is no leader. Sheep also become agitated at the smell of blood and Jesus’ own blood was soon to be shed. The chief priest Caiaphas prophesied similarly that Jesus would die, “not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:52, KJV).

The walking group might have next seen the house of Caiaphas, north and through a rich residential area. After Lazarus had been raised from the dead, we learn that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin “from that day on planned together to kill him” (John 11:45-53). Caiaphas was the one who prophesied that it was “expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not ... he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation” (John 11:49,50). If God could use a donkey in the Old Testament to express profound prophetic truths (Numbers 22:20-35; 2 Peter 2:15,16), he could use Caiaphas just as easily to benefit others.

Further north was the pool of Siloam, where a blind man washed and received his sight (John 9:1-7). Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus emphasized, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (John 9:39, KJV). In Israel’s case it was true that God had purposely blinded their eyes, “lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them” (John 12:39,40). In the kingdom this will change when the literally blind and deaf will be cured: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5). And it will be spiritually true as well, for he will open the graves “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:7, KJV).

The final leg of the journey brought them past the highest point of the temple, the “pinnacle of the temple,” reminding Jesus of Satan’s suggestion that he throw himself from the temple to prove to everyone he was indeed the Messiah and son of God. Later he would be mocked on the cross with a similar challenge: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:39,40, KJV).

Vine and Branches

In the upper room they all drank together from the cup containing the fruit of the vine. Along the way there were gardens and grapevines in the valley. This route would have led them past the sculpted vines on the Huldah Gate, the most used gate leading to the temple. There was also a large vine forged in gold on the door of the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus said the trunk of this vine had the circumference of a man.

Any of these could have served as the inspiration for Jesus’ illustration about the vine and branches. Several times in the Old Testament Israel is described as a vineyard, or a vine (Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15; Ezekiel 19:10-14), upon whom God lavished love, care, and attention. Other passages pronounced judgment on this vine, Israel, for its unfaithfulness (Hosea 10:1-11). Jesus knew the Scriptures perfectly and he told the disciples that he was the true vine (John 15:1).

Israel was an imperfect vine, but Jesus was where perfection and life could be found. It was as if he were explaining a type and anti-type relationship. The analogy of a vine and its branches is reminiscent of a body and its members (1 Corinthians 12:12). A branch separated from its vine dies because it gets its life from the trunk. Likewise, we get our life from Christ.

We all need constant cleansing and pruning. As a pruning process, the Father uses discipline to correct us and to bring forth more fruit in his service (Hebrews 12:4-11). Jesus’ teachings cleanse or prune so we can continue to bear fruit, assuming we continue to “abide in me [him]” (John 15:2-4.) Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote: “He has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach —if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:22,23).

Not only does Jesus command us to remain in him because apart from him we can do nothing, but he also desires that his words stay in us and become a part of us (John 15:4,7).

No vine produces fruit instantly. Through the loving care of a gardener each vine can be cultivated and nurtured to produce the fruitage desired.

“The union between the branch of a vine and the main stem, is the closest that can be conceived. It is the whole secret of the branch’s life, strength, vigor, beauty, and fertility. Separate from the parent stem, it has no life of its own. The sap and juice that flow from the stem are the origin and maintaining power of all its leaves, buds, blossoms, and fruit. Cut off from the stem, it must soon wither and die.”—John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.

It is the same with us. We bring forth fruit only if we abide in him and in his love, and continue in the faith living a life of prayer and obedience, and keeping his commandments which is the touchstone of Christian faith (John 15:7-9,17).

Jesus’ comforting words—“Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3, KJV)—did not take away the disciples’ concern that Jesus was leaving them. Jesus told them clearly: “Abide in me ... as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me ... without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4,5, KJV). We must be united to Christ to have the gift of the spirit and a spiritual life. By being thus spiritually minded, and keeping his commandments, we will be “pleasing to the Father” (John 15:10). The Father is the source of a Christian’s true joy, for “these things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11, KJV).

Jesus’ commandment was that we should “love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12, KJV). But there was one who did not love this way. Earlier the apostles had seen Jesus send Judas away. Continuing with the vine analogy, Jesus said: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6, KJV). A branch burned in this way loses more than just a reward; it loses its life.

Jesus told the disciples that he had chosen them so “that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16, KJV). He had chosen them so that “my joy may be in you” (John 15:11); he had chosen them for love (John 15:12,13). He had chosen them to be ambassadors, to send them out (John 20:21), and he had chosen them to be members of God’s family. The promise of a comforter, and what the spirit would give them, would assist them to grow more like their master.

Dying for One’s Friends

Earlier Jesus had called his friends “little children” (John 13:33). Although this is the only time in the Bible where he used this phrase, he was reminding them about the Father’s nurturing love (John 16:27). Jesus tried to tell the disciples that he was going to die for them, for “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:13,14). He was going to die for them, and for the world also, as he told them that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men unto him (John 12:32).

The disciples did not understand this when he said it. He tried to encourage them to do the same for each other: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). At the same time the disciples were warned that if “they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).

Jesus then stated it plainly: “He who hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated me and my Father as well. But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, they hated me without a cause” (John 15:23-25).

The world did persecute Jesus’ disciples: Peter and John were thrown into prison, Stephen was stoned to death, Paul was imprisoned and eventually executed, and millions would be persecuted down through the Gospel age. But Jesus also promised that the spirit would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The next verse gives the reason: “Because they do not believe me.” This spirit was to testify about Christ (John 15:26,27).

The message of good news concerning the kingdom was first given to the Jews, but they still have not been convinced of its truth, nor of its righteousness, nor of its judgment concerning sin. They misunderstood righteousness and strove to follow the letter of the law and the works it demanded. The Jews and the world continue to not believe in Christ and his mission, because they do not have “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see him or know him” (John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 2:11).

The spirit first came to the disciples beginning at Pentecost. In the next age it will come to the Jews and the world when they recognize Jesus as their Messiah, their deliverer, and “they will look on me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

The word “convict” or “convince” in John 16:8 “involves the conceptions of authoritative examination, of unquestionable proof, of decisive judgment, and of punitive power. He who ‘convicts’ another places the truth in a clear light before him, so that it must be seen and acknowledged as truth ... He who then rejects ... rejects it with his eyes open and at his peril.” (Wescott’s Commentary).

This describes the work of the millennium and, while conviction is not the same as conversion, it is a necessary prerequisite. This “places the world in the position which it will occupy at the last judgment ... It has been urged that the word carries the connotation of educative discipline; . . . it means to convict or convince someone about something” (J. N. Sanders, The Gospel According to St. John, p. 351).

The permission of evil today and the effect of the spirit touching hearts and minds in the future day of judgment will help convince the world of righteousness and judgment concerning sin, “for when the earth experiences thy judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Jesus said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John, 16:12,13, KJV). These things included the truth about who Jesus was, and what he would do for his followers and the world when he died on the cross. This spirit would also help them when they needed help, especially when persecution came upon them (John 16:2,4). “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or me” (John 16:3). This promise of the spirit is for all believers. It helps the believer to become an overcomer and gain the victory, for “all who are being led by the spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

Previously Jesus had called his disciples “servants.” On the walk to Gethsemane, he called them “little children,” but now he called them friends. Jesus had come for the world’s salvation, and it would be his friends who would help him carry it out in a future day of judgment: “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15, KJV).

Finally, their walk took them to the outskirts of the city where they would have seen the temple in the glow of the moon before descending into the Kidron valley. The path they might have taken skirted tombs, gardens, and trees and could have reminded Jesus that his death was imminent. As they continued their journey Jesus spoke with his disciples and tried to encourage them. Jesus said what he did “so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus understood his disciples better than they did themselves, so upon arriving at the garden, “He said to them, Pray that you may not enter into temptation. And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:40,41).

The disciples were concerned about Jesus’ revelations and the prospect of his suffering and death. He had been less open about his fate previously, but now he said specifically what would happen.

Other than his words during the last supper and on the way to Gethsemane, Jesus would later only be able to communicate before his death by a look to Peter (Luke 22:61), and a few words spoken from the cross. He may have suspected that this was his last message to his disciples before his death, so he selected his words carefully to leave a lasting impression.

May we assimilate these lessons as we emulate his life, and meditate upon his last words.