Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 7 Page 19 July 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Stops on the Way to Calvary

Few of us know which of our days will be our last, but when one does, it changes the complexity of that day and those leading up to it.  To a man on death row, for instance, every event leading up to his last breath takes on new significance.  The last meal, the last visit with loved ones, the last change of clothes, the last words—are all more significant than they would be under any other circumstances.

Death did not sneak up on Jesus.  He laid down his life at the time appointed (John 10:18).  In light of this, it is interesting to note the stops he made as he walked toward a hill called Calvary.

Across the River.  “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron . . .” (John 18:1).  As Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and proceeded to the eastern gate, they doubtlessly had to negotiate their way through crowds of pilgrims who were preparing to celebrate the Passover the following day, according to the prevailing custom in Judah.  They went down the steep valley and crossed the channel of the brook Cedron (Kidron), which was located east of Jerusalem between the city wall and the Mount of Olives.  (Though it dries up at certain times of the year, it was still flowing at this season from the late winter rains.)

The name Kidron means “murky” or “dark” and refers to the type water that flowed in it.  The name is symbolic, too, as this was one of the darkest, murkiest nights in human history.  As they passed over Kidron, Barclay points out, Jesus must have been reminded of his coming sacrifice.  All the Passover lambs were killed in the Temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God.  The number of lambs slain for the Passover was immense.  On one occasion, only thirty years after this, a census was taken and the number was 256,000!  We may imagine what the Temple courts were like when the blood of all these lambs was dashed on to the altar.  From the altar there was a channel down to the brook Kidron, and through that channel the blood of the Passover lambs drained away (Barclay).  When Jesus crossed the brook, it must have still been red with the blood of sacrificial lambs.  This must have brought vividly to mind the thought of his own sacrifice, our “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

An interesting parallel comes from Old Testament history.  King David had to pass over Kidron when Absalom ran him out of his own palace (2 Samuel 15:23; cf. John 18:23).  There are some interesting similarities between these two trips over Kidron.

  • Both David and Jesus were throneless kings, accompanied by their closest friends and rejected by their own people (cf. John 1:3-4).
  • Both David and Jesus were betrayed by someone close to them (Psalms 41:9; Matthew 26:15-16).
  • David’s treacherous counselor hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23), and his betrayer Absalom was caught hanging in a tree and killed (2 Samuel 18:9-17).  Similarly, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-10).
On A Mountain (Matthew 26:30-35).  Jesus had just celebrated his last Passover with his disciples and had only a little while with his closest friends before he would turn himself over to the authorities.  To have stayed in the upper room would have been dangerous.  With the authorities on the watch for him, and with Judas bent on treachery, the Upper Room could be raided at any time.  So they moved locations to the Mount of Olives.

Here Jesus predicted Peter’s denial and Peter denied the denial.  During the night, though, Peter did fail the Master.  He denied association with him (Matthew 26:69-75).  How it must have hurt to have his closest friends forsake him in his darkest hour!  Interestingly, as he was being taken from one hall to another, or through an open window, Jesus looked at Peter, just after the third denial (Luke 22:61).  This caused Peter to remember Jesus’ prediction and to go out to weep bitterly.

In A Garden (Matthew 26:31-46; Luke 22:39-46).  From the Mount of Olives they stepped over to the private Garden called Gethsemane.  Here Jesus prayed as no man had ever prayed before (Luke 22:45).  Some wealthy friend had evidently given Jesus the privilege of using this garden, and it was there that Jesus went to fight his lonely battle.  It is encouraging to think of the nameless friends who rallied round Jesus in his last days.  There was the man who gave him the ass on which he rode into Jerusalem; there was the man who gave him the Upper Room wherein the Last Supper was eaten; and now there is the man who gave him use of this garden on the Mount of Olives.  In a desert of hatred, there were still oases of love.

The fact that Judas knew to look for him in Gethsemane shows that Jesus was in the habit of going there (cf. John 18:2).  In Jerusalem itself there were no gardens of any size, for a city set on the top of an hill has no room for open spaces; every inch is of value for building or streets.  Further, there was a strange law that the city’s sacred soil might not be polluted with manure for gardens (MacArthur).  So wealthy citizens bought property on the Mount of Olives and had private gardens on its slopes (Barclay).

Guides in modern Jerusalem can take visitors to four different sites that lay claim to being the ancient Garden of Gethsemane.  The Garden certainly lay on the western slope of Olivet.  Perhaps the most widely accepted site, and surely the most popular, is outside the east wall of Jerusalem near the “Church of All Nations.”  Most pilgrims visiting Jerusalem are shown this little garden on a hillside.  It is tended by Franciscan friars, and in it there are eight olive trees of such girth that they go back to a time before the Moslem conquest of Palestine. It is not possible that they go back to the time of Jesus, for the Romans destroyed all the trees in their invasion of Judea in A.D. 70, but certainly the little paths criss-crossing the Mount of Olives once welcome the feet of Jesus.

Why a garden?  Human history began in a Garden (Genesis 2:7-25) and so did sin (Genesis 3).  The first Adam rebelled in Eden and brought sin and death into the world, but the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), submitted in Gethsemane and brought life and salvation back.  For the redeemed, the whole story will climax in a “garden city” where there will be no sin (Revelation 21:1-22:7).  Between the Garden where man failed and the Garden where God reigns, is the Garden of Gethsemane.

Stop by and visit these places once in a while.  They have significance in our pilgrim journey as well.


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