The time of testing

Of course we all know that after the meal with his disciples that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Actually, no gospel says that.  Matthew and Mark wrote that he went to a garden. John says he went to Gethsemane. Fuse them all together and you get the “Garden of Gethsemane.”  What does Luke say? Luke only calls it “the place.”  There is no garden specifically mentioned nor is Gethsemane.  Is it important? Well, it is a reminder to be attentive to the text before you and not meld the familiar stories and scenes from other sacred writers.  Each sacred writer has something distinctive that can be missed if one fuses all the details from other accounts.

Part of the distinctiveness is the chiastic structure of the account – in other words, a sideways pyramid.  What is at the center is important and the structure draws attention to it. Without offering a full explanation, the center of vv.39-46 is v.42: Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  Throughout Luke, Jesus is portrayed as entering prayer before a key moment – and this holds true here also.

39 Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” 41 After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” 43 (And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. 44 He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.) 45 When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. 46 He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”

47 While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. 48 Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” 50 And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. 52 And Jesus said to the chief priests and temple guards and elders who had come for him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize me; but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”

After the Passover feast, Jesus and his disciples go “to the Mount of Olives” (22:39). Luke situates this dramatic prayer of Jesus on that mountain where Judaism expected the end of the world to take place.  Luke has streamlined and simplified Mark’s account of the agony in the garden. The scene is focused on Jesus and not the disciples (as Luke does not include Jesus’ repeated trips back to the apostles). Jesus does not select three disciples out of the group to accompany him; as a result, his admonition to pray so as not to be overcome by temptation is addressed to all the Twelve (and the readers) as a main theme (vv. 40, 46). Jesus himself is tested by his desire to avoid the cup, but he accepts the will of the Father. This is the climax of the struggle with Satan (see 4:1–13); an angel comes to his aid, so that he is able to pray with greater intensity. His sweat is not bloody but falls from him like drops of blood. Meanwhile the disciples, still unaware of the significance of what is going on in their midst, have fallen asleep. In the warning to them, we hear Jesus admonishing us to strengthen ourselves by fervent prayer for the persecution that will surely come to his followers.

Jesus asks his disciples to join him in prayer that they, too, “may not undergo the test” (22:40). The “test” here means that final struggle between good and evil that Judaism expected at the end of the world, a “test” experienced whenever a person of faith encounters the aggressive power of death and evil in the world. Jesus’ own prayer has that same fierce intensity: he is dedicated to doing his Father’s will but he also prays for deliverance from the power of death. The very act of prayer, of pouring out one’s anguish and fear before God, brings strength. So Jesus stands up and goes to find his disciples sleeping – “from grief” the evangelist notes, softening the impact of yet another sign of their weakness. Once again Jesus warns them of the approaching “test”; the community may not be ready for the fierce power of death but Jesus, the Son of God, is.

At that moment Judas, identified with tragic irony as one of the Twelve (v. 47), brings a crowd to arrest Jesus. In Luke’s account, his treacherous kiss never reaches Jesus because the Servant-Master already knows its purpose: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (22:48). The disciples, dazed by this onslaught and still not comprehending Jesus’ teaching, reach for their weapons: “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” (22:48). It is a question that Christians have often asked when confronted with evil. Without waiting for a reply, one disciple (unlike John, Luke does not identify him as Peter) slashes off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Characteristic of this gospel, Jesus’ response to the issue of violent reprisal is to reach out and heal the wounded man. The Jesus who taught his disciples to “love your enemy” and not to return evil for evil (6:27-36) lives by his own words.

Jesus upbraids the arresting party for seeking him in an out-of-the-way place under cover of darkness, indicating that their deed cannot bear the light of day. What they are doing is indeed a sign of the “power of darkness” (v. 53). Jesus refers to the time of his passion as the “hour”; but the tone is not positive as in John’s Gospel, where the hour is the time fulfilling the Father’s plan (John 13:1; 17:1); here it is “your hour” of darkness.


22: 39 Mount of Olives: Luke omits the place-name “Gethsemane.  It is a small ridge of three summits, about two miles long, the highest of which is not quite 3,000 feet above sea level, running N to S across from the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem. It is known for its abundance of olive trees.

22:40 Pray that you may not undergo the test: Luke’s gospel has two interesting differences from the other gospels: (a) Jesus tells the disciples to pray, rather than wait while he goes to pray and (b) he does not single our Peter, James and John.  His command here echoes the closing of the Lord’s Prayer (11:4) as well as Jesus’ words at the Last Supper about fidelity in testing (22:28-38)

22:41 he prayed: In Luke’s portrayal we do not see the grief and anguish displayed in the other gospels (Mk 14:33 and Mt 23:37).  Rather than throwing himself on the ground, here, Jesus simply kneels.

22:42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me: Luke (with Mark) shows that God Father’ will is being fulfilled and that for a new way to be accomplished, the Father must remove/take away the cup – it will not simply “pass” (Mt).  This idea is further accented in “not my will but yours be done.

22:43-44 And to strengthen him…sweat became like drops of blood: These verses, though very ancient, were probably not part of the original text of Luke. They are absent from the oldest papyrus manuscripts of Luke and from manuscripts of wide geographical distribution. It should be clearly noted that the text does not say that Jesus sweated blood, but simply makes a comparison to the profuseness of the sweat (in its huge drops).

22:45 sleeping from grief: the grief (lype) is associated with the apostles. In Greek it is a word with the connotation and connection to the results of fear or cowardice

22:46-50:  There are many small differences in the Lucan account: Judas leads the crowd, the crowd is more clearly designated as opponents of Jesus, Judas does not kiss Jesus (only attempts), Jesus is not addressed as Rabbi, Jesus states the reason for the crowd’s arrival, Jesus’ healing of the

22:51 and healed him: only Luke recounts this healing of the injured servant.

22:53 but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness: “hour” – Luke’s solemn proclamation of the “hour,” a recurring marker of importance in his gospel (cf. 1:10, 2:38, 7:21, 10:21, 12:12, 12;39, 12:40, 12:46, and 13;31). But this hour stands in contradistinction to Jesus’ hour.


  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 336-85.
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1994) 2 Volumes
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). 975-78.
  • Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus Christ, an unpublished booklet
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007).
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible

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