Thursday, March 01, 2007

Heb 5.7 -- Did God the Father Actually say "Yes" to Jesus’ Gethsemane Prayer?

I discussed this question before, but it returns every year. The ordinary take is that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked to be spared the Cross, and God the Father either ignored Jesus’ prayer or said “no” to Jesus’ prayer.

There are several problems with this interpretation of what happened in Gethsemane. First, the author of Hebrews suggests that God granted Jesus’ prayer.

“In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety” (Heb 5.7, emphasis added).

The author here says that God the Father heard Jesus’ prayer, he did not reject it. How could this be, particularly since Jesus did in fact die, as Hebrews’ author knows very well. So the Father did not save Jesus from death; he did not hear his prayer.

Or did he?

It depends what Hebrews’ author means by “death.” If he means that Jesus asked to be spared physical death on a cross, then Hebrews 5.7 is flat-out wrong. But if “save him from death” means that Jesus asked to be saved from eternal death – that is, Jesus’ prayer to the father was that he would resurrect him and spare him from eternal judgment – then the resurrection is proof that God the father in fact heard Jesus and granted Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer.

(Although consider this: If all of us fallen humans deserved eternal judgment, and if Jesus took our judgment upon himself, then wouldn’t justice require that Jesus be eternally separated from the father? I’m spit-balling here, but is it possible that Jesus’ prayer that the cup pass away is a prayer for mercy from the father – that is, Jesus asked that he not be eternally condemned as our substitute deserved to be.)

In any event, Jesus’ prayer that the cup pass away is not necessarily a prayer that he not drink of the cup at all, but that he not drink of the cup of judgment eternally – i.e., that he would be resurrected.

The cup is the cup of judgment (compare Rev 14.10). Consistent with Heb 5.7, that Jesus was not asking to avoid the cup altogether seems obvious from Mt 26.42, when Jesus prays, “My father, if this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.”

Note here that Jesus contemplates that the cup “pass away” after he drinks it. Nonetheless, the “if” makes it sound as though Jesus is requesting that the cup pass away without his drinking it. But the Greek word “if” can also be translated as “since.” More consistently with Heb 5.7, perhaps Jesus is praying, “My father, since this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.” That is, Jesus is willing to endure eternal judgment if it is the Father’s will. (This is consistent with the fact that Jesus went to the cross “for the joy set before him” in redeeming humanity, Heb 12.2).

Jesus’ first prayer in the Gospel of Matthew can be similarly translated, “My Father, since it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mat 26.39).

Two additional considerations here suggest a preference for allowing Heb 5.7 to control our approach to Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane. First, is that when Peter wished “blessing” on Jesus instead of the Cross, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” It just seems stretching it to me then to put Peter’s wish into Jesus' mouth in Gethsemane. Further, Jesus emphasizes the accord between the Father’s will and his own. Again, it seems odd then to posit a divergence between Jesus’ preferences and the Father’s preferences in the Garden.

Consistent with Heb 5.7, Jesus in Gethsemane asks the Father to spare him from eternal judgment and instead to bring him back to life. The prayer is fully in accord with the will of the Father, and God the Father grants Jesus his prayer. Following Heb 5.7 seems to avoid a lot of difficulties invited by the “traditional” approach to Jesus’ prayers.


Blogger Mike said...

I would also add John 18:10-11 to the list of relevant verses:

10Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (ESV)

Again Peter is rebuked for trying to keep Christ from the cross, and Christ again embraces the suffering that awaits him.

April 21, 2007 7:49 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yes, thanks.

May 02, 2007 9:01 AM  

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