In the Garden of Gethsemane, we find Jesus like we’ve never seen Him before, “greatly distressed and troubled” and saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Then He prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus does not shrink back here from His impending physical suffering and death, but rather from the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance. And as He comes to His Father in the garden for a taste of Heaven instead is forced to face the horror of Hell and it was almost more than He could bear.
“This cup” which Jesus asks the Father to remove was a normal Old Testament metaphor for the wrath of God as a punishment for sin. God declares, “You will drink a cup large and deep, full of ruin and desolation and you will tear your breasts.” and “You will drink the cup of his fury and will stagger.” (Cf. Ezekiel 23:32-33; Isaiah 51:17,22) That’s what Jesus was going to experience in His death, the incomparable, unprecedented suffering of wrath and abandonment. What is this cup? It is Hell! In the cross, Jesus had a rendezvous with Hell.
The Bible, though not clear on the details, talks about Hell as a real condition of complete hopelessness and agony and is the suffering that arises both naturally and legally from sin. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death” and that death is the endless torment of Hell. This is precisely the payment which Christ pays. Jesus goes through Hell, the experience of complete separation from God and complete spiritual disintegration. From the time in the Garden through His burial, Jesus’ emotions are like a ship on a stormy sea seeking to stay on course. The cup from which He drinks contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against sin. It is intended for sinful humanity to drink. It’s my cup, your cup.
When Jesus saw the wrath of God exhibited to Him, as he stood before the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he could not avoid shrinking back in horror from the deep abyss of death. He was struck with horror at the divine curse and was so distressed at the scene that after seeing it the Father dispatched an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Jesus was victorious over sin, death and hell but it was not without a FIGHT. He fought for you, He endured hell for you and in the process Jesus was loosing the pangs of death (Acts 2:24).
Jesus descended into Hell for you and me. This is, what Calvin calls, “a useful and not-to-be-despised mystery of a most important matter.” The church fathers all spoke of it and it is a tenet of the Apostles’ creed which is a summary of our faith, full and complete in all details. “He descended into hell” is not a detail that we can leave out for if we do much of the benefit of Christ’s death will be lost. This is an expression of the spiritual torment that Christ underwent for us. If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. Instead He went through the severity of God’s vengeance to appease His wrath and satisfy His just judgment. So he had to wrestle with the very armies of hell, the dread of everlasting death and eternal punishment. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). His wounding, crushing, chastising and striping were more than the pains of His physical flogging, crucifixion and death. It was the FULL punishment due to us for sins entering into the condition of Hell for us.
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Jesus received a glimpse of the horror and terror of His death while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane that sent Him reeling. He was “greatly distressed and troubled” and even said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Later “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (cf. Mark 14:32ff). Jesus was deeply affected by grief and sorrow, seized with anguish, trembling, collapsing, sweating profusely and fainting half-dead with sorrow. The very anticipation and foretaste of what he was about to experience threw His soul into violent agony.
Based on this scene we can learn mostly through deductive reasoning that what Jesus faced in death was more than the sum of the emotional pain related to the abandonment of his friends and the physical pain of the torturing of his enemies. In His death, Jesus would enter into the spiritual reality of cosmic abandonment by the Father which He would experience in time and space.
We can’t imagine this kind of pain, sorrow and dread. As He faced His death, He knew that it had in store for Him something much more sad and dreadful than normal death. If death were merely a passage out of the world, he would have no horror or terror about it, but instead with the enormous load of our sin pressing down on Him, in the garden he gets a glimpse of as Calvin says, “the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance.” Is there then any wonder that the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented Him so grievously with fear and anguish? Jesus must face FULL JUDGMENT.
So, confronting the deepest agony of Calvary Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Lane wrote,
The dreadful sorrow and anxiety, then, out of which the prayer for the passing of the cup springs, is not an expression of fear before a dark destiny, nor a shrinking from the prospect of physical suffering and death. It is rather the horror of the one who lives wholly for the Father… Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.