We are about to enter into the most challenging time in Jesus' life. He knew what was ahead of him. He must have been afraid.
I've been reading what various theologians, priests, and ministers have had to say. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of debate. Some bristle at the thought that Jesus would be so weak as to fear torture and death. He may have been a little anxious, but never afraid. One writer (Wayne Jackson in "Was Jesus Afraid?" ChristianCourier.com. Access date: February 28, 2017. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1409-was-jesus-afraid) says:
"Others allege that Jesus’ “fear” (i.e., trembling anxiety) was not under consideration in this text. Rather, they would assign to the text the sense of “reverential awe.” This is the thrust of the Greek expression in Hebrews 12:28; the Christian pleases God when submitting to him with “reverence and awe.” And so the same term is employed in both passages. Some would thus argue that Christ’s prayers were heard because of his “humble devotion” to his Father .... To us, the practical lesson would be that our prayers are enhanced greatly when undergirded with pious submission to the will of God."
Was Jesus afraid? Well, I wasn't there, but I would prefer to imagine that he was afraid. He was afraid, but he knew what needed to be done. He didn't run away and hide. He didn't give into the temptation to save himself during his trial. He showed true courage because he was afraid.
For further reading, here are some books from Plymouth Library and an extract from another writer:
At Jerusalem's gate: poems of Easter/Grimes, Nikki 232.96 GRI
The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die/Piper, John 232.96 PIP
The last week: the day by day account of Jesus's final week in Jerusalem/Crossan, John Dominic 232.96 BOR
(Accompanying photo is a detail from Christ Carrying the Cross by Simone Martini, about 1340, Louvre Museum.)
I came across a blog article by Andrew Perriman (www.postost.net) which I found interesting:
"In the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest, Jesus becomes “greatly distressed and troubled” and says to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” He moves some distance from them, falls to the ground, and prays “that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him”. Mark records his words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk. 14:32-36; cf. Matt. 26:36-39; Lk. 22:41-44).
It is sometimes argued—in fact, I heard the argument attributed to John Stott in a sermon this week—that this extreme distress and apparent reluctance to accept what lay ahead cannot have been motivated by the natural human fear of torture and a horribly painful death. It is pointed out that the scribe Eleazar, for example, welcomed “death with honor rather than life with pollution” when he spat out the sacrificed pig’s flesh that he had been forced to eat by the agents of Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Macc. 6:18-19). The equanimity of many other martyrs in the face of death could be cited in addition.
If Eleazar could embrace martyrdom without any expression of fear, surely we would expect no less from Jesus? So we must assume that Jesus feared something far more terrifying than mere physical torture and a horribly painful death. He must have feared—and even then we may not want to call it “fear” as such—the spiritual or metaphysical pain of having to take upon himself the immeasurable burden of human sin, of having to drink the cup of God’s righteous wrath against all people.
Is this a valid argument? Not really.
First, the analogy with Eleazar is not entirely fair. Eleazar was already in the hands of the men who sought to compel him to act contrary to the Jewish Law when he welcomed death. This is not his Gethesemane moment. The proper point of comparison would be with Jesus at his trial, when he is given the opportunity to save himself by renouncing his messianic calling. Once in the hands of his enemies Jesus shows no fear of death. We also have to reckon with the likelihood that the synoptic Gospels give us a far more realistic and truthful account than 2 Maccabees.
Secondly, it is arguably a good thing that Jesus was afraid of the coming physical suffering and sought another way. He had earlier taught his disciples to pray that they would be delivered from such times of extreme trial (cf. Matt. 6:13), and in a moment he will rouse Peter from sleep and tell him to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into testing” (Mk. 14:38). He expected them to take up their own crosses and follow him, and Paul at times seems determined to emulate Jesus in his suffering and death (cf. Phil. 3:10-11; Col. 1:24). But there is absolutely nothing appealing about martyrdom. It is not to be pursued as an end in itself, for whatever reason, and only if it is unmistakably the will of God is it to be welcomed."