Perhaps this seems like a silly question. Jesus had been telling His disciples for months not only when, but how, He would die (see, for example, Mark 8:31). It was no mystery to Jesus how He would be mistreated, scorned, tortured, and crucified. He also knew that He would rise from the dead three days later. “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31).
Yet when Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane, it was as if a supernatural cloud of discouragement and fear enveloped the Savior. Three times He prayed to God, “remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:41). So great was His agony and stress that His sweat turned into blood (vs. 44), a rare medical condition known as hematidrosis that usually occurs “under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress.”1 Why was Jesus so afraid to die?
The answer lies in the “cup” that three times Jesus prayed He would not have to drink. When Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane, a seismic change took place in His relationship with God the Father as the guilt of every sin ever committed was placed upon His head. In one 24-hour period Jesus received the guilt of sin and died as the penalty for those sins, fulfilling God’s warning to Adam and Eve that “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). (For more on this see the study and video “Did God Lie?” on our website.)
The “cup” that Jesus feared represented the divine death penalty for sin that every guilty, unrepentant sinner must one day drink. The third angel of Revelation 14 warns about this cup:
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb (Revelation 14:10).
The death of this cup is not the first death that we all face as a result of living in a sinful world, the death Jesus referred to as a “sleep” (John 11:11). No, this death is the final, irreversible “second death” suffered by all whose cling to sin and whose names are not in the book of life (Revelation 20:14, 15).
It was this death that Jesus was staring into as He entered Gethsemane. It was this death that made Him afraid to die. It was this death that, under the burden of sin’s guilt, He believed He would never rise from. And it was this death—eternal separation from His heavenly Father, that He chose to suffer because of His love for you. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection is not that He rose from the “sleep” of the first death—others had risen back to life before Jesus died. The miracle of the resurrection is that Jesus rose from the second death. He paid the ultimate price of sin’s guilt so that you will never have to, if you surrender your life to Him.
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