“He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a perfect model of perseverance in seeking God’s will.
By humbly and submissively raising the option, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” Jesus was not questioning the validity of God’s plan of redemption or the Son’s responsibility in it. The thought of His becoming sin for us was weighing heavier and heavier on Jesus, and He simply wondered aloud to God if there could be a way other than the cross to deliver men from sin. But as always, Jesus made it clear that the deciding factor in what was done would be the Father’s will, not the Son’s.
In contrast, while Jesus was wrestling earnestly in prayer before the Father, Peter, James, and John were oblivious to the struggle because they slept. The need for sleep was natural at such a late hour (after midnight), and their emotions—confused, frustrated, depressed—concerning Jesus’ death may have induced sleep as an escape (Luke 22:45 says they were “sleeping from sorrow”).
But even those “legitimate reasons” are inadequate to excuse the disciples’ lack of vigilance in prayer. As is often true of us, the disciples did not accept Jesus’ instructions and warnings at face value. His repeated predictions of His suffering and death, His forecast of the disciples’ desertion, and His anticipation of the anguish in Gethsemane should have been more than enough incentive for the three men to stay alert and support Christ. But the disciples failed to heed Jesus’ words or follow His prayerful example at a time of crisis.
For us today, the record of Scripture is the great motivation to follow the Lord’s example. We can meditate on the written narrative of Gethsemane and rejoice in something the disciples didn’t yet have before Jesus’ death—the presence of the Holy Spirit, who continually helps us pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26–27).
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Lord to grant you both sensitivity and perseverance as you seek His will during times of prayer.
For Further Study: Read Luke 11:5–10 and 18:1–8. What is the common theme of these two parables? ✧ What does Jesus’ teaching suggest about the challenging nature of prayer?
Again going a little beyond the three disciples, Jesus fell on His face and prayed to His Father. Except at the time when He quoted Psalm 22:1 as He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), Jesus always addressed God as Father. In so doing He expressed an intimacy with God that was foreign to the Judaism of His day and that was anathema to the religious leaders. They thought of God as Father in the sense of His being the progenitor of Israel, but not in the sense of His being a personal Father to any individual. For Jesus to address God as His Father was blasphemy to them, and “for this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Although Jesus consistently called God His Father, only on this occasion did He call Him My Father (cf. v. 42), intensifying the intimacy. The more Satan tried to divert Jesus from His Father’s will and purpose, the more closely Jesus drew into His Father’s presence. Mark adds that Jesus also addressed Him as “Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36), Abba being an Aramaic word of endearment roughly equivalent to “Daddy.” Such an address would have been unthinkably presumptuous and blasphemous to Jews.
Jesus implored the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” By asking, “If it is possible;” Jesus did not wonder if escaping the cross was within the realm of possibility. He knew He could have walked away from death at any time He chose. “I lay down My life that I may take it again,” He explained to the unbelieving Pharisees. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17–18). The Father sent the Son to the cross, but He did not force Him to go. Jesus was here asking if avoiding the cross were possible within the Father’s redemptive plan and purpose. The agony of becoming sin was becoming unendurable for the sinless Son of God, and He wondered aloud before His Father if there could be another way to deliver men from sin.
God’s wrath and judgment are often pictured in the Old Testament as a cup to be drunk (see, e.g., Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Jer. 49:12). This cup symbolized the suffering Jesus would endure on the cross, the cup of God’s fury vented against all the sins of mankind, which the Son would take upon Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
As always with Jesus, the determining consideration was God’s will. “I did not speak on My own initiative,” He declared, “but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. 14:31; 17:8). He therefore said submissively, “Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” This conflict between what I will and what Thou wilt reveals the reality of the amazing fact that Jesus was truly being tempted. Though sinless and unable to sin, He clearly could be brought into the real conflict of temptation (see Heb. 4:15).
39 Jesus prays, prostrate in his intense anguish. He addresses God as “my Father” (see comments at 6:9); Mark preserves the Aramaic Abba. The “cup” (potērion, GK 4539) refers not only to suffering and death but, as often in the OT (Pss 11:6 [NIV, “lot”]; 75:7–8; Isa 51:19, 22; Jer 25:15–16, 27–29; 49:12; 51:57; La 4:21; Eze 23:31–34; Hab 2:16; Zec 12:2; cf. Job 21:20; Ps 60:3; Isa 63:6; Ob 16), also to God’s wrath (cf. C. E. B. Cranfield, “The Cup Metaphor in Mark xiv. 36 and Parallels,” ExpTim 59 [1947–48]: 137–38; TDNT, 6:153; Blaising, “Gethsemane,” 339–40; Brown, Death of the Messiah, 168–70). The frequent OT allusions in the passion narrative demand an OT meaning for potērion instead of “cup of death” in other Jewish literature. Thus the meaning here is fuller than in 20:22–23 and anticipates 27:46.
In one sense, all things are possible with God (cf. Mk 14:36; see comments at 19:26); in another, some things are impossible. The two passages (Mk 14:36 and Mt 26:39) complement each other: All things are possible with God, and so, if it is morally consistent with the Father’s redeeming purpose that this “cup” (Matthew) or “hour” (Mark) be taken from Jesus, that is what he deeply desires. But more deeply still, Jesus desires to do his Father’s will. Though the precise wording of the synoptic accounts varies somewhat, if the prayer was of some duration (“one hour,” v. 40), and if Jesus after his resurrection told his disciples its contents, or if the disciples were within earshot, some variation in the tradition is not surprising. Jesus’ deep commitment to his Father’s will cannot be doubted. But in this crisis, the worst since 4:1–11, Jesus is tempted to seek an alternative to sin-bearing suffering as the route by which to fulfill his Father’s redemptive purposes. As with his self-confessed ignorance in 24:36, Jesus may simply not have known whether any other way was possible. He prays in agony; and though he is supernaturally strengthened (Lk 22:43), he learns only that the cross is unavoidable if he is to obey his Father’s will.
Blaising (“Gethsemane,” 337) proposed an alternative exegesis. He observes that, whatever the wording in the Synoptics, the conditional clause is grammatically “first class,” a so-called real condition, which he interprets as follows: “This class of condition assumes the condition to be a reality, and the conclusion follows logically and naturally from that assumption” (cf. Grammar, 1007). From this, Blaising concludes that what Jesus is asking for is possible with the Father and that Jesus knows it; so he cannot be asking that the cup (i.e., his passion) not come to him, an impossibility, for Jesus has repeatedly spoken of it, but that the cup not remain with him. In other words, Jesus is tempted to fear that the “cup” of God’s wrath will not pass away from him after he has drunk it but that it will consume him forever, and there would be no resurrection. He prays with faith, because he knows it is the Father’s will: “Father, as you have promised in your Word, take the cup from me after I drink it; yet this is not my will alone; it is your will that this be done” (Blaising, p. 343).
This interpretation has certain attractions, yet along with several questionable details, it has two insuperable difficulties.
- Despite Blaising’s appeal to A. T. Robertson (i.e., Grammar, 1007), even under this slightly dated classification of conditionals, a first-class condition in Greek does not necessarily assume the reality of the protasis but only that the protasis is as real as the apodosis. The speaker assumes the reality of the protasis for the sake of argument but does not thereby indicate that the condition described in the protasis is, in fact, real. Were Blaising to apply his understanding of first-class conditional clauses to Matthew 12:26–27 and Mark 3:24–26, the result would be theologically incoherent, as Robertson himself recognizes (Grammar, 1008; cf. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, paras. 303ff.).
- Blaising introduces a novel interpretation, but only the traditional view continues the line of temptation Jesus has earlier found most difficult to confront—namely, the temptation to avoid the cross (see comments at 4:1–11; 16:21–23).
26:39 It is not surprising that He left the three and went a little farther into the garden. No one else could share His suffering or pray His prayer: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Lest we think this prayer expressed reluctance or a desire to turn back, we should remember His words in John 12:27, 28: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Therefore, in praying that the cup might pass from Him, He was not asking to be delivered from going to the cross. That was the very purpose of His coming into the world!
The prayer was rhetorical, that is, it was not intended to elicit an answer but to teach us a lesson. Jesus was saying in effect, “My Father, if there is any other way by which ungodly sinners can be saved than by My going to the cross, reveal that way now! But in all of this, I want it known that I desire nothing contrary to Your will.”
What was the answer? There was none; the heavens were silent. By this eloquent silence we know that there was no other way for God to justify guilty sinners than for Christ, the sinless Savior, to die as our Substitute.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:39). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 609–610). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1302–1303). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.