Walking to Gethsemane
Arise, let us go hence.—John 14:31
AS JESUS and his disciples walked together along the moon-lit path from the room of the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane, there was much silent contemplation. It had been a disturbing meal. First, Jesus had played the servant’s part and washed their feet. Then, he talked of one of them betraying him; and then there was the strange departure of Judas, who never returned from his errand. Lastly, after their paschal supper, Jesus introduced a new ceremony with bread and wine, likening them to the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. It had been a strange night, indeed!
One can retrace those footsteps today. There is really only one set of roads which would bring Jesus to his destination. As he walked along the way the sights were familiar ones. Each of them brought to memory various phases of his ministry during the past three and a half years.
The room that is celebrated today as the place of the Last Supper owes its location more to tradition than research. However, it would be in the same general area of the genuine room. The large arched hall within the domed structure is certainly too large for the purposes of that evening. More likely, the room was more modest and in the home of one of his more affluent sympathizers. Yet, the solemn spirit of today’s “room” leaves a hallowed feeling in the heart of the Christian.
The Needle’s Eye
Not far from this room is a fork in the road. One street makes a sharp turn to the south, while the other fork proceeds directly through a large gateway into the city. This gate still today has a smaller gate cut into it, called the “needle’s eye.” This gate could be opened for essential travel when the city was closed for the Sabbath. If a laden camel, however, were to enter by this gate he,would not only have to kneel down, but, also, be divested of all his baggage.
Jesus had used this very gate as an illustration to the rich young ruler who was sorrowful because, as a result of his wealth, he could not make the sacrifice Jesus required of him. Jesus drew a lesson from that experience: “For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Jesus was not asking the young man to do something that the Master himself had not done. For Jesus had divested himself of far greater riches—a home in heaven and daily fellowship with his Father. As Paul says, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond servant and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7 NAS). As he began his last lonely mile, he saw this gate and the full import of complete sacrifice directly before him.
The Valley of Hinnom
That night the small band would have taken the road less traveled, walking to the edge of the Western Mount (today known as Mount Zion). A hard left turn would prevent them from going over the brink of the hill into the dark valley below. The road goes right to the rim of this valley—the noted Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, a picture of the direst punishment. In this valley that the bodies of criminals were tossed along with the refuse of the city and burned with fires that were never quenched, and rotting flesh invited a multitude of maggots that seemed, by their very number, to be impervious to death (Isa. 66:24). What a dire reminder that any slip in the way which the Father laid out for him would bring on the punishment pictured in that valley, a death from which there would be no awakening.
The House of Caiaphas
Today the church of St. Peter Gallicantu stands over the supposed site of the house of the High Priest, Caiaphas. The road led onward, turning east and northward, directly passing this house. In a few hours Jesus would return to this very spot, be ushered into the spacious central hall, and sit under the judgment of the scribes, priests, and Sanhedrin. These men, who were supposedly representing God in the Jewish religion, had become corrupt, seeking to maintain their offices, income, and a measure of favor from the Roman government, to which they owed their appointments. The contrast was marked between him who was “holy, harmless, and undefiled” (Heb. 7:26), and the “blind guides” whom he had termed a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 23:33).
The Pool of Siloam
Proceeding onward, again the way turns to the east, down the steep slope to a lower level of the Tyropean valley, again, turns back north toward the walled city. The ancient steps which he would have undoubtedly trod are still in evidence. Directly across the valley was another of his familiar haunts in Jerusalem—the Pool of Siloam. Here he had healed many infirmities. It was here he told the blind man to wash the poultice of mud and spittle from his eyes so that his sight would be fully restored (John 9:1-7). It would have reminded him of the joys of his ministry as he performed countless miracles. As he told the disciples of John the Baptist, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5). Soon these privileges would be gone. They must end, but he knew a time would come when he would perform far greater miracles on a far more permanent basis, in the kingdom for which he had come to die as a martyr (Isa. 35:5, 6).
The Temple Mount
But, now he must continue on. He soon would arrive at another point of decision, another fork in the road. He could proceed straight through the gate into the city and go directly in front of the magnificent Temple of Herod, or skirt the walls and descend into the valley of Kidron. Knowing there was still a short while before his “due time” to be captured, he probably chose the latter course to avoid immediate capture by those who stood guard in the Temple area.
The Temple was the focus of the religious life of the nation, as God designed it. On its place, in years past, had stood the mighty Temple of Solomon. Nearly a century after its destruction, the more modest Temple of Zerubbabel was erected here. When that, too, declined Herod the Great sought to win the hearts of the people by building a magnificent structure. Huge blocks of stone were designed to make it permanent, yet it was due to be destroyed before the century was out.
For Jesus it was not the magnificence of the structure, but the role it played in the nation’s worship. Here the blood sacrifices were offered. He knew those ancient rituals all pictured the sacrifice he was to make, not only for Israel, but for the entire world, that very night. He would have to die, and that as a blasphemer, and fulfill all the Temple types. While he naturally desired, as he prayed later, that “this cup pass from me,” he steeled himself to full conformity and trusted in his Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
The Vine and Branches
However, the small band turned away from the Temple and passed along the outside of the wall, past the Huldah gate into Solomon’s stables, with its brazen lintel bearing a beautiful carving of a vine and branches. This sight became the text for his last sermon to his apostles, recorded in John 15 and 16. He used the grapevine as an illustration of their life in him, “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:5). The care of his followers weighed heavily on him. He knew their faith was weak. He had heard their petty bickering concerning who would be greatest. He realized they had not yet fully grasped the thought that he would actually die. He had knowledge of the temptations that would lie in their pathway for the centuries to come before he returned. His final admonition was, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
The Eastern Wall
Soon the road would turn to the north, sharply rounding the walls of the city immediately below the Temple mount. Here the wall reached its highest point. It was called “the pinnacle of the Temple” and would have reminded the Master of the temptations which started his ministry as he meditated in the wilderness about his future work. How vividly he would have remembered, “Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:5, 6). It was still a temptation. Was there another way? As resolutely as at the first his mind came back with solid resistance, “It is written again, thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (v. 7).
The way now clung close to the eastern wall, past the fabled Eastern, or “Golden Gate.” From here the prophet Ezekiel (47:1-12) had predicted that a river of living water would flow bringing life to the desert, even sweetening the brackish waters of the Dead Sea. Later, John used this as a picture of the waters and “healing the nations” (Rev. 22:1-4). This must have thrilled the Master, as he prepared himself for the ordeal ahead. He would be that “living water” of which he told the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10, 11).
The entire scene before him was then, as now, one huge cemetery. Today Moslem tombs can be seen near the Golden Gate, for Muslims think that the Deliverer will come through that gate and resurrection will begin at that spot. Thus they want to be buried close to it. In the valley below is a Christian cemetery, and opposite the Mount of Olives is the graveyard of Jewry.
As the moonlight played upon the hillside slopes, Jesus’ mind may have gone back only a few days previous when he had descended the facing mount to shouts of acclamation, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” as the crowds threw their garments and strewed palm branches in the way. He would have remembered how the Pharisees rebuked him and asked him to stop the uproar, His enigmatic reply was: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).
The entire mountain had been full of stones. It is a stony mount. But particular stones were there, not scattered haphazardly, but carefully placed. Even today when a deceased person is remembered in prayer, it is customary for a Jew to place a stone on the tomb. This custom has been beautifully illustrated in modern times by the closing scene of the movie, “Schindler’s List.” These are the stones that will cry out. All the prayers for all the dead will be answered. And Jesus will be the one to accomplish it. That thought must have given him the necessary courage for the trials that lay ahead.
The Garden of Gethsemane And so he entered the valley with the funereal atmosphere of surrounding tombs, a veritable “valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). After he prayed with them (John 17), the record is, “he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples” (John 18:1).
There he drew apart, as was oft his custom, and agonized in prayer. Knowing that he would be captured there and yet desiring that last bit of communion with his Father, he asked his three closest followers—Peter, James, and John—to “watch with him.” However, the night had been too much for them and thrice they slipped into slumber. At last the Master told them, “sleep on . . . the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt. 26:45).
Soon noises were heard. An army of the priest’s soldiers rushed into the garden. Then Judas stepped forward, a fateful kiss, and the preparation for the final hours was over. The time was at hand. The next few hours went swiftly: to the judgment of the Sanhedrin at Caiaphas’ house, imprisonment in a dry cistern, and, in the early morning light to Pilate, from thence to the Citadel of David to stand before Herod, returning to the court of Pilate—the scourging and the fierce cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Finally, a death sentence and the carrying of the cross up the Via Dolorosa. When he stumbled beneath its weight the Romans drafted Simon the Cyrenian to help. Then on to Calvary, “the place of the skull.” In a few torturous hours death ended his earthly torment, and he cried victoriously, “It is finished!” The body was removed from the cross and placed in the nearby garden tomb where the rigors of the day were well symbolized by an ancient olive press. As the prophet wrote, he “trod the winepress alone, of the people there were none with him” (Isa. 63:3).
Where would we have been? If such loyal followers as Peter and the other apostles deserted him, would we have done differently? With such examples, let us resolve never to desert his cause.