Friday, July 4, 2014

Why Gethsemane is as Important as Calvary



Q:  Do you really think Jesus bled from every pore, or do you think it’s symbolic?

A:  I believe that Christ DID, in fact, literally bleed from every pore. The reality of this event has been confirmed by the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day scriptures, and modern prophets have also borne witness to the truth of Christ’s bleeding from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mosiah 3:7  And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.

Even Christ himself is recorded bearing witness to the reality of His suffering in the garden:

D&C 19:17-19  For behold, 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—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

It has also been demonstrated scientifically that the human body can indeed bleed from the pores when subjected to enough stress, as evidenced by these medical references:

"Those who assert that it is impossible for a body to sweat blood are not acquainted with the facts. The possibility of this phenomenon was known to the ancients...And if one will take the trouble to consult a modern medical dictionary under hemathidrosis or hematidrosis, reference will be found to the phenomenon. Thus in The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary (1947, Phila.) we find this entry:  'Hematidrosis—The sweating of blood or of fluid mixed with blood. In Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (1955, Phila.) occurs this reference:  Hemathidrosis, hematidrosis—Condition of sweating blood.'  In a much older medical work we find this interesting note: 'Haematidrosis is a functional disturbance of the sweat apparatus whereby blood, through diapedesis into the coils and ducts from their surrounding vascular plexus, becomes mingled with the sweat and appears with it upon the normal skin, producing the phenomenon of so-called "bloody sweat." It is an exceedingly rare occurrence, ....' (C. T. Dade in Reference Handbook of the Medical Sciences, IV, 466. 1902.)  Thus it is clear that the sweating of blood can occur, even if rarely" (Dr. Sydney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 139-140).

However, physical suffering was only part of what the Savior experienced during His sojourn in Gethsemane.

“It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, [producing] unconsciousness and welcome oblivion. In that hour of anguish Christ met and overcame all the horrors that Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ could inflict…In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 613).

Interestingly enough, the account of Christ’s bleeding from every pore has only survived in one of the four gospel accounts (Luke Ch. 22). The fact that this episode is unique to Luke (in the Bible record) has led some to speculate that he made it up (in order to reinforce the divine nature of Christ in the gentile mind), or that Luke did not record that particular detail at all.  Those that hold this last view typically maintain that the verses describing the Lord’s suffering in the garden were added later by designing scribes, or that that they may have been the result of mistranslation, because the verses describing Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane do not appear in all of the oldest Greek copies of the gospel of Luke.

“Some modern Bibles do not include verses 43–44 of Luke 22 because they do not appear in all ancient Greek manuscripts of Luke. Historical evidence suggests that some scribes in the centuries following the Apostles’ deaths may have removed these verses. The scribes felt embarrassed at the description of Christ’s agony, which contradicted popular Hellenistic ideals of emotionless suffering. Such tampering with the biblical text verifies the testimony of the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi: “They have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Nephi 13:26). Latter-day scriptures and prophets affirm the authenticity of what is recorded in Luke 22:43–44 (see Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18)” (New Testament Student Manual, 2014).

Q:  If he did bleed from every pore don’t you think there would be accounts of people seeing his clothes covered in blood?

A:  It's possible that Luke felt that it was implied and therefore not worth mentioning, but there is another account in scripture that refers to him wearing clothes soaked in blood.  In Revelation 19:11-16, when describing Christ’s second coming John mentions that “he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.”  Lest one is inclined to write this off as merely figurative, or (as you mentioned before) entirely symbolic, there is an additional reference to Christ’s appearance at His second coming in D&C section 133:46-48, 50-51:

And it shall be said: Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength?  And he shall say: I am he who spake in righteousness, mighty to save.  And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat.  And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me; And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart.

It is in reference to scriptural prophecies like these that Julia Ward Howe composed these evocative lyrics from her seminal work, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"  (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 60).

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;"

It is my opinion that the references to Christ’s blood-soaked garments at His second coming are directly related to the blood that He shed while praying in Gethsemane, and my opinion is supported by a statement made by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

“Having bled at every pore, how red His raiment must have been in Gethsemane, how crimson that cloak!

No wonder, when Christ comes in power and glory, that He will come in reminding red attire (see D&C 133:48), signifying not only the winepress of wrath, but also to bring to our remembrance how He suffered for each of us in Gethsemane and on Calvary!” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Overcome … Even As I Also Overcame,” Ensign, May 1987).

There is added significance regarding the symbolism of the press as it relates to Christ’s suffering in the garden.  In the prophecies about the Lord’s second coming it is common for them to refer to the image of a winepress, wherein Christ’s garments are stained by our blood, which Christ declares He has “sprinkled upon [His] garments.”

The Garden of Gethsemane itself has its own notable connection to another, similar kind of press.

“Gethsemane.—The name means ‘oil-press’ and probably has reference to a mill maintained at the place for the extraction of oil from the olives there cultivated” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 620).

In an ancient oil-press, the olives would be crushed between two heavy stones, and when they are first crushed the olives often emit a liquid which first appears red like blood, before it eventually clears and becomes more like the olive oil that you or I might see in the store.

Surely, the imagery of crushing grapes and olives, with the associated crimson release which stains the garments of He who works to press or crush them is evocative of the unbearable pressure which Christ chose to undergo that He might take upon himself the sins and stains of the world, with their associated suffering and misery.  If Christ did not shed blood in Gethsemane in the manner which Luke describes, then these important scriptural symbols do not make sense.

“What weight is thrown on the scales of pain when calculating the hurt of innumerable patients in countless hospitals? Now, add to that the loneliness of the elderly who are forgotten in the rest homes of society, desperately yearning for a card, a visit, a call—just some recognition from the outside world. Keep on adding the hurt of hungry children, the suffering caused by famine, drought, and pestilence. Pile on the heartache of parents who tearfully plead on a daily basis for a wayward son or daughter to come back home. Factor in the trauma of every divorce and the tragedy of every abortion. Add the remorse that comes with each child lost in the dawn of life, each spouse taken in the prime of marriage. Compound that with the misery of overflowing prisons, bulging halfway houses and institutions for the mentally disadvantaged. Multiply all this by century after century of history, and creation after creation without end. Such is but an awful glimpse of the Savior’s load. Who can bear such a burden or scale such a mountain as this? No one, absolutely no one, save Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of us all” (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement [2000], 105).

Note:  On this same subject, you may also be interested in reading my article Christ and the Healing Power of the Atonement.

Q:  Is the Mormon focus on the events in Gethsemane (as a central part of Christ’s atonement) contrary to Biblical teachings?

A:  When recounting the events of Christ’s atonement many Christian religions tend to downplay (or overlook) the importance of Gethsemane and the events that took place there, instead choosing to focus on the agony of the cross and the joy of the resurrection.  While these are important aspects of the atonement which cannot be neglected, it would be as great an error to neglect the account of what transpired in the garden of Gethsemane.

“We speak of the passion of Jesus Christ. A great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and nails were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed from the pores of his body: ‘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’ [D&C 19:18]” (Joseph Fielding Smith, (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:130).

It irritates me when other Christians criticize members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for expanding our focus to include Gethsemane, because the atonement as a whole doesn’t make sense, and the events in Gethsemane make even less sense, unless one comprehends that the events in Gethsemane constitute the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law.

Of particular note is the remarkable account of Christ sweating great drops of blood as he prayed in anguish in the garden.  Many do nothing more than marvel at the greatness of Christ’s suffering before setting this strange occurrence aside to focus on other aspects of the atonement.

Christ’s shedding his blood in Gethsemane was not just a religious oddity, but rather it was a crucial part of the performance of the crowning ordinance and fulfillment of the Law of Moses.  Paul taught that “almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22) “Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.  For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry” (Hebrews 9:18-21).

In accordance with the Law of Moses, the high priest would enter the holy of holies once a year with the blood of the pure sacrificial lamb to sprinkle upon/before the mercy seat, which represented the throne and presence of God.  The blood was intended to atone for the sins of the people, including the high priest.  Unfortunately, it was an imperfect offering, made by imperfect mortal men, and it couldn’t last; moreover the atonement offering was not intended to have far reaching power, as it was only added as a type in order to point the minds of the people forward to the time when Christ would come as the great immortal High Priest to perform the atonement “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

Hebrews 9:7  But into the second (the Holy of Holies) went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:

Hebrews 7:23  And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:

Hebrews 7:24  But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.  Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

Christ, the great High priest, was the only one capable of giving his life (or shedding his blood) that would atone for the sins of the people, because only his sacrifice was sufficiently perfect because he was perfect, and only his sacrifice would last forever because he was everlasting.

Hebrews 7:26-28  For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;  Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.  For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

Therefore, when Christ shed his blood in Gethsemane it was a sign of the fulfillment of the old (oath and) covenant and law, as well of the ushering in of a new and better covenant.

Hebrews 9:11-15  But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

What so many fail to understand is that the atonement was a priesthood ordinance, and it was in the garden that Christ began that great and last atonement offering, wherein he gave his own blood and life to cleanse and sanctify the people, and to “save them to the uttermost.”

Alma 34:10-16  For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.  Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.  But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.  Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.  And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.  And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.  And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.

This, the crowning priesthood ordinance of sanctification, is absolutely crucial to the meaning and import of Christ’s atonement.  Without the shedding of Christ’s blood we cannot be cleansed of our sins, and without that we cannot hope to be saved.  In fact, Christ’s whole purpose in giving Himself for us was to purify and to cleanse us so that He might bring about the salvation of His people.

3 Nephi 27:22  And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Titus 2:11-14  For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

The atonement is a thing of incredible complexity and terrible majesty, and the accounts of Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane contain some of the most harrowing and yet also the most striking glimpses into the nature and process of the atonement.  I believe that if more people understood the importance and significance of what took place there they might be more likely to understand their worth in the sight of God.  If we will undertake to make a careful examination, accompanied by thoughtful meditation, of the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane, each of us can gain a deeper understanding of the price which Christ paid to ransom each one of us from sin and death, and a witness of our own that He did indeed shed his blood for us in Gethsemane.

“We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive, the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane.

“We know he sweat great gouts of blood from every pore as he drained the dregs of that bitter cup his Father had given him.

“We know he suffered, both body and spirit, more than it is possible for man to suffer, except it be unto death.

“We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, May 1985, 9).

“With what agony of soul He took upon Him now and there the sins of the world, and in taking expiated them, we may learn from the account of what passed, when, ‘with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death,’ He ‘offered up prayers and supplications’ (Heb. 5:7).  And—we anticipate it already—with these results: that he was heard; that He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; that He was made perfect; and that He became: to us the Author of Eternal Salvation, and before God, a High-Priest after the order of Melchizedek…Was there, then, any thought or view of ‘a possibility,’ that Christ’s work could be accomplished without that hour and Cup?  Or did it only mark the utmost limit of His endurance and submission?  We dare not answer; we only reverently follow what is recorded” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 846).


This article is the first in a series.  Follow these links for more on the atonement of Jesus Christ:









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