Jesus took the disciples, Peter, James and John with him into the gardens at Gethsemane to pray, knowing his betrayal was at hand. He was greatly distressed and deeply troubled as he knew the suffering that he was to suffer on our behalf. And in this section we see how deeply that pain was affecting Jesus.
One of the scriptures in this section has been badly translated in almost every bible I have seen. It is verse 38 which reads, “…Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” You will note I have made the word “you” bold. The original Greek text does not have this word “you” in it, and when it is removed it changes the whole context of what is being said here.
Typically when people read and explain this section of scripture they believe that the Lord is upbraiding the disciples because they fell asleep. It is generally explained as being that the disciples spirits are willing, but their flesh is weak and thus instead of watching with Jesus they nod off. But is this what the section is really talking about? I believe it is something altogether different from this normal view.
Consider for a moment what is going on and what is about to happen. Jesus is praying to the Father asking if it is possible, the hour, that is his impending death, might pass from him. He says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Verse 36) Jesus was about to suffer extreme humiliation, pain and great suffering and he is asking the Father if there is a way out.
So who is being tempted in this situation? The disciples? No. It is Jesus who was being tempted to escape the suffering that was to come. Were the disciples being tempted in any way? No, they were simply tired and unable to remain awake. Jesus knew that he had to go through this pain and suffering so that the New Covenant could be brought into effect and so that we could receive life. But he knew it would be painful and he was seeking whether there was any other way to do what had to be done.
Thus when he said, “…the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he was not talking about the disciples but his own spirit and flesh. In his spirit he was willing to go through what had to be done, but in his flesh he did not want to go through the suffering. It was Jesus speaking about himself when he was saying these things and he was looking for support from the disciples in his hour of need and trouble.
Three times he besought the Father over this, which shows how pained he must have been, but in the end the answer from the Father was “No.” And even though he would have liked an alternative way to achieve this result, Jesus was obedient to the Father and went through the deadly process which was to our advantage. At no time did he disobey but through his obedience he showed himself worthy of all praise as the Son of God.
Jesus was not worried about the disciples spirit being willing but the flesh weak and failing, he was concerned that his own flesh would cause him to fail. He was concerned that the weakness in his own flesh would cause him to run and to disobey God the Father in the very hour for which he came. That is why he prayed the way he did and that is why he sought the support of the others.
And we learn from this too that sometimes when we ask God for things, the answer will be “No.” Sometimes we will have to likewise go through difficulties and troubles for the purpose of strengthening us so we can learn to stand. But always let us remind ourselves of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ and the wondrous gift that he gave us through his suffering. For it was through this one act of obedience to the Father that he assured we would have access to the Father and to life, if we believe in him and live according to the will of God.
(Picture courced from Christians Unite.com http://clipart.christiansunite.com/)