If no doubt or fear, then what did Jesus feel?

Under my last post, there has been some discussion about what emotions Jesus went through before going to the cross. If Jesus did not experience doubt or fear, then what was he feeling? The synoptic Gospels tell us something of Jesus’ emotional state as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus’ sweat became like great drops of blood, the darkness of His final hours seems to have reached a climax.

Matthew 26:37 “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.”
Mark 14:33 “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.”
Luke 22:44 “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

None of these underlined terms indicate anxiety, fear, or doubt. Instead, they emphasize Jesus’ anguish as He faced a cruel death under the wrath of His Father. The word translated as “troubled” in Matthew and Mark is the Greek term ad?mone?, and it means “to be sorely troubled” or “to be in anguish” (LSJ). It’s the term used of Epaphroditus as he was longing to let his home church know that he was still alive (Phil. 2:26). The word “sorrowful” in Matthew translates the Greek term lupe?, which indicates grief or sadness (BDAG). The word rendered as “distressed” probably doesn’t capture the intensity of the Greek term ekthambe?, which usually indicates something like amazement or astonishment (cf. Mark 9:15; 16:5). The term indicates that Jesus’ emotional anguish was as severe as it gets; the pain reached levels that He had never before experienced. That is why Luke describes it as “agony.”

What is remarkable, however, is Jesus’ subsequent prayer: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39; par. Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). Notice that Jesus’ anguish focused not on his tormenters but on a “cup.” It appears that the most painful part of Jesus’ anticipation was His consideration of this “cup” that He was soon to drink from. This is significant because the “cup” seems to be an allusion to Old Testament texts that associate God’s holy wrath with drinking from a cup.

Psalm 11:6 “Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.”
Psalm 75:8 “For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.”
Isaiah 51:17 “Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the LORD’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.”
Jeremiah 25:15 “For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, says to me, ‘Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it.'”
Jeremiah 51:6-7 “This is the LORD’s time of vengeance; He is going to render recompense to her. Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the LORD, Intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; Therefore the nations are going mad.”

As Jesus prayed, He anticipated His drink from this cup. It appears that the most painful aspect of His suffering was His experience of the wrath of God being poured out on Him. He walked into it willingly. He knew what was coming. He felt the anguish of it deeply in Gethsemane, and yet he faced it anyway so that sinners wouldn’t have to. In other words, He became our wrath-bearing substitute. What would have taken us an eternity in Hell to endure, Jesus experienced fully in the moment of the cross. I love how Spurgeon spoke of Jesus’ drink from the cup.

The whole of the tremendous debt was put upon his shoulders; the whole weight of the sins of all his people was placed upon him. Once he seemed to stagger under it: “Father, if it be possible.” But again he stood upright: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup; no mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip. When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter, he well nigh spurned it: “Let this cup pass from me.” But his love for his people was so strong, that he took the cup in both his hands, and

“At one tremendous draught of love
He drank damnation dry,”

for all his people. He drank it all, he endured all, he suffered all; so that now for ever there are no flames of hell for them, no racks of torment; they have no eternal woes; Christ hath suffered all they ought to have suffered, and they must, they shall go free. The work was completely done by himself, without a helper.

What pained Jesus in the garden is that He knew that very soon He would be saying, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46) It should evoke worship in us that Jesus faced this for us, that He never shrank back, that He never doubted God or feared man. It is difficult to imagine that anyone could endure this kind of misery without doubting God or fearing man, and yet that is precisely how the Bible says Jesus faced it. He was fearless and full of faith. And He was all of these things for us.

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”


  • Reg Schofield

    Well said . The anguish or pain was focused on the wrath to be poured out on him. As I was reading through the garden passages , I was over whelmed with emotion to see such grace and love shown to me and all who call on His name . Thanks for sharing this , I will use it in my home Good Friday devotion . Blessings to you and your family .

  • Don Johnson

    I agree that what Denny wrote above is one possible way to understand what the gospels are saying, but I do not think it is the only way to understand them.

    For example, I have read by people that acted courageously that courage is not the absence of fear, it is acting despite one’s fear.

    I agree that Jesus was faithful to God.

  • Diane Woerner

    If I may, I’d like to offer my thoughts on what went on in Gethsemane. I have written this as part of another essay, and what follows is the relevant portion:

    We often misunderstand what it means to “take up our cross daily.” A man might think his cross is his work, or perhaps his nagging wife. Those aren’t crosses–those are part of the curse. A woman might think her cross is having to live with a lazy husband, or perhaps some kind of physical pain. But these are also the result of the curses placed on Adam and Eve. Life is filled with hardships and suffering.

    I believe we take up our daily cross when we deliberately choose to deny ourselves those good things which we could in fact have, things our culture would even tell us we have a right to have. Consider Jesus’ example in the wilderness, where He denied Himself the bread, the glory, and the demonstration of His Father’s loyalty. Those were all things He had a right to receive, but which He deliberately refused to take. In a very real sense, that situation was training for the far more difficult cross He was to face at the other end of His ministry.

    This time He wasn’t in a wilderness, but rather in a garden, the garden of Gethsemane. According to the account given by Matthew (26:36-46), Jesus prayed the same prayer three times. “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

    Why did it require three prayers? We cannot of course know the answer with certainty, but it is very possible that these agonizing decisions of relinquishment represented Jesus’ willingness to once again lay down the three things He personally most longed to preserve. When Jesus “took up His cross,” it began not on the road to Golgotha, but in those garden moments when He said yes to His Father.

    The first thing Jesus knew He was being asked to endure was physical pain–the merging of every kind of suffering humanly possible. It included fatigue, hunger, thirst, cold, the stabbing wounds of the thorns, the torn flesh from the scourging, the searing pain from the nails, and of course the slow, torturous death from suffocation or heart failure. Every source of refreshment was removed from His human body in those last unspeakable hours.

    Then there was a second price He was being asked to pay, that of His reputation. He would be put on trial and accused mercilessly of crime and fraud. He would be mocked and spit upon. He would be nailed to the cross naked before the world. But even deeper than these humiliations, the pure Son of God would somehow have imputed into His being the vileness of all of humanity’s sin. In that hour, the holiness which was His very nature would be completely defiled.

    But the third price He was facing may well have been the hardest. Jesus knew that in the final moments of His suffering, there would come a point where His Father would turn away from Him. We can never comprehend this severing of the most powerful bond which ever existed, the actual separation of the Eternal Father from the Eternal Son. It was a pain so deep that it caused Jesus to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

    These three relinquishments, dear friend, were the cross of Christ. He endured them willingly, because He had chosen to submit to His Father in all things. We must realize, however, that had Jesus not accepted the will of His Father, laying aside His own deep human desires, we would all in fact end up bearing the cross of Jesus. We would all one day suffer eternal physical torment in hell; we would all one day live in an existence of complete humiliation; and we would all be separated not only from our earthly loved ones, but from God Himself.

    As the result of His obedience, our crosses are now much, much lighter. Still, as Christ so clearly explained, there is a daily cross which each of us who would be His disciple must pick up and carry. How can we know the nature of this cross? We find it in those occasions where our human nature would demand its own wellbeing and where it must be deliberately, even forcefully, denied.

    [If anyone wishes to read the essay (called “Follow Me”) in its entirety, it’s on my website at, under “Shorter Writings.]

    • Don Johnson

      There were no curses on the people in the garden, that is a human tradition that is not taught by Scripture. The serpent and the ground were cursed.

  • Chuck Dikson

    I think the elephant in the room, if you will, is how much was Jesus’ humanity a factor in his every day life. This is the real question behind Denny’s question. It seems to be fine to assume that in his human-ness Jesus felt deeply troubled or sorrowful, yet not so if he actually experienced the emotions of fear and doubt.

    Hebrews 2:17 states that “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God”

    Hebrews 2:18 goes on to say that “he himself suffered when he was tempted” Later in Hebrews 4:15 we read that “we have one [a high priest] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin.”

    Is the take-away here that Jesus was like us in every way except for experiencing doubt or fear? Why must he be made exempt from those emotions?

    Again, the larger – more significant – question behind whether Jesus experienced doubt or fear is the question, just how human was he?

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