Jesus’ Suffering Prior to Gethsemane

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Before predicting Peter’s denial, Jesus told his disciples, “. . . you are those who have continued with me in my trials,” (Luke 22:28). Clearly, Jesus’ trials were by no means confined to what he suffered later. What were they?

Gospel writer Luke was not big in detailing hardships. We know this from his second book, Acts in which Luke mentions only the tiniest fraction of the all beatings and other atrocities Paul suffered that are listed in 2 Corinthians 11:22-25 (Details). If Luke was typical of the Gospel writers – and there is nothing about his Gospel that seems especially different – it begs the question as to how many of Jesus’ hardships have been left unrecorded.

Jesus’ life on earth began with such a scandal that even Joseph was planning to terminate his betrothal to Mary (Matthew 1:19). We all know how near the end of her pregnancy, Mary was forced to struggle mile after mile after mile, exposed to the elements. When she finally arrived at their destination, she had to place the holy babe in a feeding trough (Luke 2:7). Have you stopped to think, however, how this came about? The Almighty timed Jesus’ miraculous conception to coincide with the census when the roads were heavy with people forced to travel to their family town (Luke 2:1-3). This was but the beginning of an earthly existence no one could call a life of ease.

Yes, Jesus was divinely spared from being murdered as an infant (Matthew 2:13), but who of us has been the target of such hatred from babyhood? And he was saved not by a thunderbolt from heaven but by his parents having to flee to a foreign country as political refugees – a long, hazardous trip with an infant to a destination so uninviting that his parents left again as soon as it was safe to do so (Matthew 2:19-22).

Everyday Hardship

As far as we can tell, Jesus never owned a luxury car. Maybe you are not too surprised by that but let’s not forget that neither did he have a hot shower, a flush toilet or closed-in shoes suitable for walking what were typically muddy or dusty roads fouled with animal muck. Nor did he have what we would call an adequate bed. There were no modern mattresses and there must have been many times on his travels when Jesus had to sleep rough. Some of the details would be quite an eye-opener to most of us. What we would call hardship was part of his everyday life. For Jesus, things were much worse than that, however.

Malicious Animosity

Right from the very beginning of his ministry, the people in his hometown – those who knew him best – were so incensed by Jesus that they dragged him out of town to the top of a cliff, intending to throw him over the edge (Luke 4:28-29). Pause long enough to consider the brutal physicality of being manhandled by an enraged, out-of-control mob intent on murdering you. Feel the horror of their hot breath and viselike grip. See their twisted faces and the hate in their eyes. Put yourself in Jesus’ sandals, escaping just inches from death at the very onset of your ministry, and not from people who despised your provincial accent (Luke 22:59) but from people you had grown up with and considered friends.

The hostility continued. Still early in his ministry but this time in Jerusalem, “the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18). Another time, “. . . they took up stones to throw at him . . .” (John 8:59).

The attacks kept coming. Yet another time we read, “Jews took up stones again to stone him,” (John 10:31). Soon they tried yet again to seize him but he slipped from their grasp (John 10:39). Still later, Jesus said:

    John 15:24-25 If I hadn’t done among them the works which no one else did, they wouldn’t have had sin. But now have they seen and also hated both me and my Father. But this happened so that the word may be fulfilled which was written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’

Spiritual Rape?

We know the holy Son of God was severely tempted but have we adequately explored the implications?

The same word used to describe the suffering of Jesus when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18) is applied to Jesus’ suffering on the cross and to Paul’s horrific suffering Examples.

I do not say it lightly: temptation is spiritual rape.

Rape victims maintain their innocence by not willingly participating in defiling acts, yet by this disgusting crime they have forced upon them the horror of exposure to evil they would have given their everything to avoid. Their senses are assaulted in appalling ways so that not only are their bodies invaded but their minds and, thereafter, their memories.

No matter how contrary to spiritual reality, for years afterwards they can be repeatedly overwhelmed by flashbacks and feelings of guilt, shame and defilement. Particularly confusing and devastating is that if the humiliating violation of their wills occurs in certain ways, they can suffer the involuntary bodily reaction of pleasure. For the morally upright, this is more torturous than the worse pain. It means that through absolutely no fault of theirs, evil is unwillingly tied to feelings of intense pleasure, thus implanting in them desires for things they despise, just as being forcibly injected with heroin would thereafter cause us to be haunted by unwanted cravings.

This is on par with what Jesus suffered spiritually and emotionally when he was “in all points tempted like we are” (Hebrews 4:15). Evil – whether it be punching someone in the face, breaking God’s heart, or whatever, was made to feel desirable.

See if this Scripture sends a chill through you:

    Matthew 4:5-6 Then the devil took him into the holy city. He set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him . . .

Who physically transported the all-powerful Lord, placing him precariously on the temple’s pinnacle? The devil! Moreover, the Evil One so messed with Jesus’ mind that our Lord suffered satanic visions:

    Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil took him to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory.

He not only took Jesus to a high mountain, there is no place on earth from which anyone can be shown “all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory” and yet the Evil One violated the holy Son of God’s mind with this vision.

This record of temptations at the onset of Jesus’ ministry does not end with the devil leaving Jesus forever but merely, as most versions put it, “until another time” or “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). No doubt these other attacks involved further spiritual violations. I think it unlikely that all of them are recorded but we know that one was particularly underhand. Satan used the disciple who was perhaps closest to him to try to entice Jesus to avoid the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). We know from Gethsemane that this was a particularly bitter battle without it coming from someone dear to him whom he had just praised for his spiritual discernment (Matthew 16:17-19).

Sickening Slander

We all know that Jesus was accused of being demon possessed. When we stop to see just how many different times this accusation is recorded in the Gospel as being hurled at Jesus, it is truly astonishing, and even more so when we consider that this is surely just a represented list and by no means exhaustive:

    Matthew 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “By the prince of the demons, he casts out demons.”

    Matthew 10:25  . . . If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul . . .

    Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man does not cast out demons, except by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons.”

    John 7:20 The multitude answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

    John 8:52 Then the Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets; and you say, ‘If a man keeps my word, he will never taste of death.’”

    John 10:20-21 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane! Why do you listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the sayings of one possessed by a demon. It isn’t possible for a demon to open the eyes of the blind, is it?”

Note how the second half of the last quote seems to indicate that some genuinely believed Jesus was “demon-possessed and is insane”. This next reference is noteworthy.

    John 8:48 Then the Jews answered him, “Don’t we say well that you are a Samaritan, and have a demon?”

Samaritans originally belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel that had refused to be ruled by King David’s descendants, rejected God’s chosen temple and set up their own heretical religion. When all but the poorest of the land were originally exiled because of their continued rebellion against the Lord, they were replaced by pagans who then intermarried with the remaining Israelites, thus further paganizing their religion. As a consequence, Jews despised Samaritans as heretics, apostates and half-breeds. By calling Jesus a “Samaritan” they were trying their hardest to insult him. Moreover, the wording in the Greek suggests that they usually gossiped about him in this way.

Family Troubles

We know not when Joseph, the beloved breadwinner of Jesus’ family, died but we find no mention of him since his childhood (despite references to Mary and Jesus’ brothers), and the fact that on the cross Jesus asked one of his disciples to take responsibility for Mary’s welfare (John 19:26-27) makes it pretty certain that at some time Jesus had endured that bereavement and family crisis.

“For not even his brothers believed in him,” says John 7:5. One would have to have a heart of stone (and that most certainly was not Jesus) for that not to hurt.

    Mark 3:20-21 The multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. When his friends [or family] heard it, they went out to seize him: for they said, “He is insane.”

With the Greek word being imprecise, Bible versions are divided as to whether friends or family are referred to. The context, however, (Mark 3:31-35) suggests it was his family. Either way, it would be upsetting.

In our era, education takes so much longer than in Jesus’ day that there is almost no comparison. Even we, however, consider someone in their thirties to be mature. Jesus was the eldest son and had been the most responsible male in the family for who knows how long. Can you imagine the humiliation of having not just many strangers believing he is insane but having his family so convinced that he has literally lost his mind that they had come to take charge of him?

Other Forms of Suffering

There is no denying the brutality of repeated confrontations with individuals or even mobs boiling with hate and so I commenced by mentioning it. Beyond this, however, lurked other hair-pulling sources of distress. Consider these anguished cries:

    Mark 9:19 He answered him, “Unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? . . .”

    Mark 8:11-12 The Pharisees came out and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, and testing him. He sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Most certainly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

    Matthew 12:39  . . . A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [Jesus faced this so often that this pained lament is repeated word for word later in the same Gospel (Matthew 16:4).]

    Matthew 11:20-24 Then he began to denounce the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they didn’t repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.”

    John 10:32  . . . “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of those works do you stone me?”

Many cries wrenched out of Jesus were not in response to his enemies or the untaught but from his own followers:

    John 6:60-62, 66 many of his disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?” But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? Then what if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? . . . At this, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

Moreover, disappointing and frustrating responses came not just from his one-time supporters but from those who understood him better than anyone else:

    Mark 4:40  . . . “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

    Mark 4:13  . . . “Don’t you understand this parable? How will you understand all of the parables?

    Mark 7:18  . . . “Are you also without understanding? . . .

    Mark 8:17-18  . . . “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Don’t you perceive yet, neither understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, don’t you see? Having ears, don’t you hear? Don’t you remember?

    Matthew 14:31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, took hold of him [Peter], and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

    Matthew 17:20 He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

    Luke 24:25  . . . “Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! . . .”

    Mark 16:14  . . . he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they didn’t believe those who had seen him after he had risen.



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