Updated: May 6, 2021
When push comes to shove, will you follow God or back away?
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 22:41-53
Facing the most awful ordeal in human history, Jesus faced down the temptation to abandon God's plan for salvation through prayer and commitment to God. In contrast, the disciples were unable to handle the situation, especially when one of their own betrayed Jesus into arrest. How would we handle such temptation?
“Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.” Luke 22:46
This Week's Challenge (for me): Taking a Fresh Look
With all of our Synoptic (Matthew/Mark/Luke) passages, there is a strong chance of overlap. And indeed, we covered Matthew's version of this week's passage in 2017.
In there were these discussion ideas:
Staying awake. Talking about how you've coped with a time you had to stay away longer than your body wanted to, with an exercise of a repeated alarm to catch group members zoning.
Your prayer place. Talking about a place you like to go to pray and how that place makes you feel.
My "big idea" was about prayer. I put a summary of what the Bible says about prayer and used that to "evaluate" Jesus' own prayer. (I actually turned that into its own post:
The Luke passage we're studying this week continues the action all the way through the arrival of the mob to arrest Jesus, so I'm going to put most of my focus on that part of the passage. If you want to focus more on Jesus' prayer in the garden, please refer to my article from Matthew linked above.
Getting Started: Things to Think About
The Worst Time You've Ever Fallen Asleep
All of us have fallen asleep at a moment when we probably shouldn't have. This CNN article gives a little context for the fantastic pictures in this little gallery:
[I'm not even bothering to bring up falling asleep in church, something that has been so common for so long that even Mr. Bean did a whole routine about it. (But if you want to come up with a plan to keep one another from falling asleep in church, that wouldn't be a bad thing.)]
Have you fallen asleep during an important meeting? During a school program? During your grandkid's baseball game? During an important family discussion? Are you willing to admit it?
Because this is a Sunday morning discussion, I encourage keeping things on the lighter, less-consequential side of things. We all know that there are incredibly dangerous times to fall asleep. There's no coincidence that most accidents occur between midnight-2am and 4-6am! I zoned off behind the wheel while driving down the freeway as an 18-yr-old, and it's truly a miracle that I didn't kill anyone (or myself).
[Aside on handling tough contributions in group discussion. Let's say that you have this discussion, and someone acknowledges falling asleep at the wheel and hurting someone in an accident, or perhaps operating machinery at work while drowsy and hurting a coworker. At that point, there's no sense in sidestepping back to a less-serious situation. Instead, acknowledge how awful that is, pray for whatever healing still needs to happen as a result, and transition directly into the lesson. This passage is about Jesus' disciples falling asleep when He needed them the most; it's a very serious lesson.]
This Week's Big Idea: Sleep!
There are all sorts of myths and facts out there about sleep, but just about everyone agrees that too few people actually get enough sleep. There are two sides to this discussion topic:
What are the consequences of not getting enough sleep? and
What can you do to improve the quality of your sleep?
You can probably talk about both of those at length just from your personal experience! But just to be thorough, here is a summary of two applicable webpages:
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
If you have these symptoms: drowsiness, yawning, irritability, and fatigue, you may not get getting enough sleep. Here's a graphic from Healthline with the effects:
If you're reading this on a phone, here's a summary of what the graphic says:
Reduced coordination and balance
Mood swings, anxiety, depression
Hinders immune system
Increases risk for chronic conditions
Will make you want to eat more
Will make you think you're too tired to exercise
So, wow, that's awful. Prioritize getting a good night's sleep!
Quality of Sleep: Myths and Facts (from the Sleep Foundation)
Your body does not get used to sleeping less. Sleep deprivation has short-term and long-term effects.
Almost every adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep
It's not just about how long you sleep -- uninterrupted sleep is significantly more effective than fragmented sleep
It's okay if you move when you sleep, as long as you're not waking yourself (or your partner) up
Sleeping too much is also not healthy
Being able to sleep anywhere at any time is not usually good and is often a sign of a sleep disorder
Napping, while good, cannot make up for a lack of sleep
Turning up the radio, opening the windows, and drinking caffeine are not good strategies to stay awake while driving; at worst, they give a false sense of security
Tossing and turning is bed is bad; instead, get up, do something relaxing (that doesn't involve an electronic device) and then go back to bed
Drinking alcohol before bed actually reduces the quality of sleep
Exercising at night may help some people sleep better
Conclusion: But What About . . .
One reaction I hope you've had to this information (assuming you have the passage in mind) is this: but what about someone in the disciples' situation?
I'm sure we've all been there. Our body is telling us that we need sleep, but our circumstance is telling us that we can't. Moms with a sick infant. First responders at a string of significant emergencies. Doctors making a neverending round. A major crunch at work or a major project at school.
First, let's be honest. Those situations are rare. More likely -- we failed to take advantage of opportunities we had to get sleep, and when those times hit, we were already tired. Develop good sleep habits!
But second, let's also acknowledge that sometimes we ask our bodies to do more than physically possible for reasons that are beyond our control (like when your baby is really sick). That's where Jesus and the disciples were. Luke points out that they were exhausted from grief, and I'm sure you can remember times when very strong emotions were sapping what little energy you had. With those memories in mind, what could you say to the disciples? And how do you think they would respond? "Being well-rested sounds great, but that's not very helpful advice right now!"
Sometimes there's nothing we can do. I don't want to steal the thunder of the lesson too much, but if you read the Matthew article above, you know that what the disciples had failed to do was pray. Sometimes, all we can do is pray for God to give us the energy and focus to make it just long enough until we can safely sleep. God knows your situation (better than you do), and relying on His help is definitely a better option than anything else we could try.
Our Context in the Gospels
We are very familiar with where this event takes place in the timeline of Holy Week. After the Last Supper (which we studied last week), Jesus and His disciples went out to the Mount of Olives to one of Jesus' favorite places, the Garden of Gethsemane.
Note that Judas Iscariot had left the supper to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin. He knew that Jesus would later be going to Gethsemane, and that's the information he sold to the Jewish leaders. But rather than leave it at that, Judas would personally lead the mob to Gethsemane and personally identify Jesus. (More about Gethsemane below.)
So, let's talk about the differences between Matthew's and Luke's versions of these events. Matthew includes many more details:
He identifies the garden as Gethsemane
Taking Peter, James and John with Him deeper into the Garden
Asking them to stay awake and vigilant with Him
Praying three times, and finding them asleep three times
"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
Luke also includes some unique details:
The angel strengthening Jesus
The disciples being exhausted due to grief
Jesus being so anguished as to sweat blood
The mob included chief priests, officers, and elders
Why do you think the authors keyed in on the different details? (Note: I hope you realize by now that I don't think these differences are a problem, so I'm not going to address those random accusations that the authors were making this up.) When we get to heaven, we can ask them for ourselves, but for now all we can do is speculate.
In Matthew, the "three times" bookends the three temptations of Satan at the beginning of the Gospel, something Luke did not include, which might explain why Luke didn't worry about the repetition of the prayer. Luke, as a physician and someone who cared a great deal about the suffering of people, might have included the details of the angel and the grief specifically to humanize the event -- make our hearts go out to these men.
Some of the differences will also be the result of the included context. For example, Matthew went from the Last Supper to the prediction of Peter's denial to Gethsemane. Luke included the additional exchange about how things were about to become very dangerous for the disciples. Perhaps he wanted to get immediately to the arrest of Jesus and subsequent failure of the disciples. Also, Luke has spent much of his Gospel promising an upside-down world to come -- these details demonstrate the need (the abuse of power).
Part 1: In Prayer (Luke 22:41-46)
41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. 44 Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he got up from prayer and came to the disciples, he found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.”
As I said above, I addressed these equivalent verses in Matthew in depth in that article, so I'd prefer to save space here by referring you there.
If you refuse to click on that link, here are some highlights (but not all!!):
Jesus was truly terrified about what was about to happen. He was about to suffer the punishment for every sin that had ever been or would ever be committed ("the cup" [of God's wrath; see Psalm 75 and Isaiah 51]). He uniquely understood what that meant and wanted there to be another way. Matthew intended this to echo Jesus' temptation by Satan -- Satan offered Jesus "another way" to do His mission that didn't involve sacrificing Himself; all Jesus has to do was worship Satan. (Note that Satan made the not-so-subtle shift of Jesus' mission from saving humanity to ruling humanity.) Jesus resisted that temptation.
Here, Jesus' own weakness and fear as a human is the source of this temptation. And just like He did to Satan, He resisted this temptation. The point that I emphasized is that being tempted and being afraid is not a sin. Letting those fears and temptations knock you off of God's path is a sin.
I think you should actually start this lesson with verse 40, when Jesus tells all of the disciples that they should "Pray that you may not fall into temptation", something He repeats in verse 46, indicating just how important prayer is in moments like these. This is a direct reference to the verses before that (31-34), in which Jesus acknowledges that Satan is after the disciples, and they need to pray for God's help to resist Satan's temptations. Not only would Satan be after them the rest of their lives, but he would especially come after them in this moment of extreme vulnerability. Can we resist the devil in our own power? Certainly not! Even Jesus appealed to the Word of God and the Spirit of God to resist the devil in Matthew 4 (see below).
In this situation, the way Jesus conquered temptation was by declaring His trust in God's plan and submitting Himself to God's plan. We can all do that.
[Aside: when Jesus tells Peter that "Satan has demanded to have you", He uses the plural pronoun, which means that Satan is coming after all of the disciples.]
Note that Jesus is under so much pressure and grief that He actually sweats blood. It's worth saying that some early manuscripts don't have verses 43 or 44, leading critics to say that they didn't actually happen and that some scribes added them later as folk traditions. This was partially because people didn't believe it was possible to sweat blood. Well, it is. (Here's another Healthline article that is surprisingly unbiased about it.)
I had two main takeaways from this: (1) Being under extreme stress is not a sin. Harboring intense grief is not a sin. The sin is when we don't take it to God. (2) Whatever stress or grief you face right now, Jesus has faced it with you. You can trust Jesus and take your grief to Him because He has been there -- in fact, He went there for you.
Main lesson for this section: when you are under temptation, when you are exhausted, when you are drowning in grief, take it to God in prayer. Let Him help you.
In fact, share situations like that (if you're comfortable doing so). What are the circumstances of a time like that when God helped you? Or, if you don't have a clear story like that, think of a time you were hesitant to do what you knew you were supposed to do -- how did you get through it? How did God help you?
And by all means, take a field trip to the sanctuary to really study that stained glass window.
Aside: Resisting Temptation
We covered the temptations of Jesus back in 2015:
If you want to learn more about specifically how Satan tempted Jesus, that will answer some questions. I also include a section explaining the limits of Satan's power on earth. Here's the nitty gritty:
Satan issued three primary temptations, not coincidentally lining up with the same type of temptations he gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:
"The lust of the flesh" ("good for food")
"The lust of the eyes" ("pleasing to the eye")
"The pride of life" ("desirable for gaining wisdom")
Satan tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread. Satan tempted Jesus to create the spectacle that would generate attention for Himself by jumping off the temple. Satan tempted Jesus with all the power of the earth by worshiping him.
In the Garden, Jesus was again under temptation. I believe that temptation functioned exactly like how Satan successfully tempted Adam and Eve:
4 “No! You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan has an easy spiel: You can get what you want without listening to God or obeying His plan. Of course, Jesus wasn't falling for that, but we still have the very human question of "is there another way?". Asking that question is not a sin. But when you know the answer and you still resist doing God's will -- that's a sin.
Part 2: In Betrayal (Luke 22:47-50)
47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a mob came, and one of the Twelve named Judas was leading them. He came near Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When those around him saw what was going to happen, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.
Luke doesn't include Matthew's breathtaking transition, "Look, the time is near." He just jumps right into the mob.
Look, nobody knows why Judas betrayed Jesus. Movies like Jesus of Nazareth try to make him to be a sympathetic, misguided figure. Others like The Passion of the Christ (and guys like Dante) make him to be the tool of Satan himself. We just don't have a lot of information -- there are only 23 references to Judas in all of the Gospels combined!
Let's just do an aside right now about Judas:
Matthew 26:14 says that Judas went on his own to the Sanhedrin, well before the Last Supper, offering to betray Jesus at the right opportunity (the "30 pieces of silver" verse).
Luke 22:2-6 says that Satan entered Judas, prompting Judas to go to the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for money.
John 13:27 says that Satan entered Judas after eating the bread that Jesus gave him at the Last Supper (though John 13:2 says that Satan had given Judas the idea of betraying Jesus).
John 18:2 says that Judas knew where Jesus would be going after supper. It's worth noting that Jesus did not change His habits (intentionally).
All of the Gospels (Matt 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:47, John 18:3) say that Judas personally led the soldiers and officials to the Garden.
Only Matthew 27:3 mentions that Judas hanged himself out of remorse.
Do we think that Satan only tempted Judas with being the one to betray Jesus? In my mind, especially considering that Jesus had just said in Luke 22:31 that Satan wanted all of them, it's obvious that each of them was tempted. But Judas was the only one to give into that temptation. That makes Judas personally and fully accountable for his choices. However, it seems that Satan himself entered Judas there at the end, either to make sure that Judas didn't chicken out (he seemed to be a very self-serving guy) or perhaps just so Satan could experience the direct reaction to being the one to betray Jesus.
Does that make sense? Satan wanted Jesus to know that is was him who beat Him. (Set aside the fact that Satan simply played his role in God's plan to a T. Whatever that means.)
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. This image is so powerful, visceral, and unthinkable that it has been copied in countless books and movies since as the ultimate act of betrayal.
Why would Judas do that? Why couldn't he have just stood at the entrance to the Garden and pointed Jesus out? I've often wondered that. You might say that it was so dark that Judas wanted to make sure that they got Jesus and not somebody else. But at that, why not just arrest everybody? They were all wanted anyway. Perhaps there was (unwarranted) fear that Jesus would slip away in the confusion. People have also wondered if this was Satan acting through Judas -- really trying to "twist the knife" in Jesus. I do think that's likely. But here's one thing I want to say about that -- if you push Satan's involvement too hard, you might start to think that it wasn't Judas's fault. But Judas was fully responsible for his actions. Judas made his decision, then Satan took advantage of it.
[Note: Judas committing suicide doesn't make him more sympathetic. He willingly allowed himself to be a tool of the devil's plans. Judas's suicide proves to us that everything Satan promises is a lie. He will use you and then discard you, leaving you completely broken.]
Anyway, back to the passage.
Some disciples immediately reacted with thoughts of violence. They had two swords (verse 38), which I guess they thought was going to help? (Really -- what were they thinking? Were they just going to go down in a blaze of glory and that be it for the movement?)
John 18:10 clarifies that it was Simon Peter (of course) who swung a sword. He didn't swing it very well (of course) and just cut off an ear. (John also gives us the man's name who lost an ear -- Malchus.) Jesus immediately took charge of the situation and stopped everything.
Matthew 26:53 says that Jesus revealed His access to legions of angels.
John 18:6 points out that the intruders fell to the ground in fear when Jesus spoke.
The point: Jesus wasn't being captured -- He was surrendering -- not to the Jews, but to God's will. None of this would have happened had not God willed it.
If that doesn't encourage us, I don't know what will. Nothing can overpower God.
Aside: The Garden of Gethsemane
The location of the Garden adds to the tension of this passage. According to the traditional location (see the map above), the Garden was on the Jerusalem side of the Mount of Olives, in full view of the city. (There are four competing claims, but all of them are in the same general vicinity.)
Here's the view -- with fewer tombs, more trees, and no golden dome. You can see everything happening between the city and the Garden. Jesus would have been able to track the progress of the torches as they made their way from the city (about half a mile). To me, that makes His prayer all the more amazing, imagining what an incredible distraction that much have been!
Have you ever been distracted in a prayer? Multiply that distraction by a trillion, and that might be approaching what Jesus was facing. Lesson: we have no excuses.
The Garden of Gethsemane was probably a private, walled garden. The word means "olive press", making it likely a working garden. It was large enough for Jesus to be sufficiently distant from Peter, James and John, and them from the rest of the disciples. Any actual evidence of the Garden would have been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Romans cut down every tree around Jerusalem to be part of their battlements.
Part 3: In Action (Luke 22:51-53)
51 But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, he healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a criminal? 53 Every day while I was with you in the temple, you never laid a hand on me. But this is your hour —and the dominion of darkness.”
Again, the insinuation is clear: Jesus was actually the one in charge.
Here's how the Jesus Film tried to capture this event:
They had to walk the line between things being chaotic and Jesus having things under control. I think they made it too sterile, and they also made Judas too reluctant.
I can't find just this scene from the Gospel Of John on YouTube, but here's the whole movie, and our scene in question starts at about 2:17:30.
It's appropriately darker in tone, but still very controlled. I'm not sure we can rightly imagine what things must have been like when the mob entered the Garden.
As in everything, Jesus was thinking of the good of His disciples in these actions. In Matthew 26:52, He even takes a teaching moment (!) (the famous "those who live by the sword die by the sword"). By quelling the violence and keeping the focus on Himself, Jesus enabled the disciples to go free without any fuss. The peaceful solution is always to be preferred to violence.
Note: this was also true of the Jews. Choosing to act in secrecy and threat of violence simply proved how far from God they had drifted. And don't let anyone try to say that God preferred violence in the Old Testament! That's as far from true as a statement can get. Remember -- God preferred to send His chosen people into slavery for 400 years to give the Canaanites a chance to repent.
Jesus makes this clear with His harrowing "this is your hour -- the dominion of darkness". How could the Jews argue with Him? They were caught dead to rights. I think the Gospel of John develops the imagery of darkness a little robustly than Luke does, but you can decide for yourself. Look up the word "darkness" in the Gospels. (I almost always use Biblegateway.com for these searches. Here's my exact search, if you have trouble figuring out what to do.) Darkness is not just "night" -- it's the shadow of death, the dominion of all forces that oppose God. The Jews could not deny what they were doing.
This lesson is about Jesus. It's about what Jesus went through on the way to the cross. It's about how much Jesus loves you and me.
It can also be about the model that Jesus has set for us. Responding to stress and temptation in prayer. Consistently submitting ourselves to God. Rejecting violence for peace. Being willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others.
What other lessons have you gleaned from this passage?
Closing Thoughts: Traitors
In Dante's Inferno, Satan is chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius in the deepest pit of hell. That lets you know what he thinks of traitors.
What is it about a traitor that makes just about everyone cringe?
Here's a short list of famous traitors that you probably learned about somewhere along the line:
Vidkung Quisling (he aided the German takeover of Norway)
Wang Kingwei (he aided the Japanese takeover of China)
Mir Jafar (he aided the British takeover of India and the surrounding regions)
You can ask Google for countless more.
I'll just say this: Jesus wants us to love traitors too and share the gospel with them if given the chance. Would you do it?