Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.1, Act 1, scene 1 - #8. Prayer in Gethsemane, Part Five: Jesus Comes Back to His Disciples the Second and Third Times, pp 201-215

(detailed summary)

Prayer in Gethsemane, Part Five: Jesus Comes Back to His Disciples the Second and Third Times
(Mk 14: 39-42; Mt 26: 42-46)


According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus went away three times to pray and return to his disciples. But Matthew better structures Mark's account by presenting a content to Jesus' second prayer that goes further in his acceptance of God's will. Instead, Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus finds his disciples asleep, an echo of the parable of the householder who returns and finds his servants asleep, and an illustration of the weakness of the flesh.

Jesus' last challenge must be translated into a question: "Are you sleeping... and resting?" and not by an imperative that would contradict what Jesus has been asking his disciples so far. For Mark the hour has come, for the trial is already here, while for Matthew the hour has simply come near, waiting for the arrival of Judas. Jesus takes up the expression "Son of Man" which he previously used in announcing his passion.

The very expression "to be given over" can be categorized in three different ways: it is the act of bringing a criminal to justice, which is paradoxical with Jesus who is innocent; it is God giving over the wicked into the hands of the righteous to be judged, which is different for Jesus who is a righteous man, an echo of Isaiah's suffering servant; and finally there is the idea that Jesus gave himself over by the very fact of having accepted God's will.

Jesus' last words: "Get up! Let us go!" is an invitation to continue the mission, and expresses the idea that Jesus is not discouraged before the disciples, even if they have not been vigilant and will abandon him.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. The Place of This Episode in the Structure of the Scene
    2. Second Incidence of Departure, Prayer, and Return
    3. Third Incidence and Jesus' Words to His Disciples
      1. Challenge about Sleeping and Resting
      2. The Coming of the Hour
      3. The Son of Man Given Over
      4. Jesus' Last Words to His Disciples

  1. Traduction

    Parallel passages are underlined. Square brackets [] indicate parallels found in another sequence in the Gospels.

    Mark 14Matthew 26John 12
    39 And again having gone away, he prayed saying the same word.42 Again, a second time, having gone away, he prayed saying, “My Father, if it is not possible for this to pass if I do not drink it, let your will be done."
    40 And again having come, he found them sleeping; for their eyes were very burdened, and they did not know what they should answer him.43 And having come again, he found them sleeping, for their eyes were burdened.
    44 And having left them, again having gone away, he prayed a third time, saying the same word again.
    41 And he comes the third time and says to them, “Do you go on sleeping, then, and taking your rest? The money is paid; the hour has come; behold the son of Man is given over into the hands of the sinners.45 Then he comes to the disciples and says to them, “Do you go on sleeping, then, and taking your rest? Behold the hour has come near, and the Son of Man is given over into the hands of sinners.[23 “The hour has come in order that the Son of Man may be glorified.”
    42 Get up; let us go; behold the one who gives me over has come near."46 Get up; let us go; behold, there has come near the one who gives me over.”Jean 14, 30 ...For the Prince of the world is coming... 31 but as the Father has commanded me, so do I do. Get up; let us go from here.”]

  2. Comment

    1. The Place of This Episode in the Structure of the Scene

      1. According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus goes away three times to pray. This is implicit in Mark, since he does not mention this third prayer, but simply says that he returns a third time to his disciples. It is Matthew who makes explicit these three movements of Jesus going away to pray, making Jesus' decision about the cup/hour the centre of the scene. For him, the very fact that Jesus, on his return, finds the disciples asleep has only minor significance.

      2. Matthew is inspired by a Jewish tradition of praying three times. From this scene in Gethsemane his reader will have understood that Jesus was also a model of intense prayer. The Jesus who emerges from it is neither a stoic nor a fanatic, but someone who accepts to go to death only when God's will is clear.

      3. Mark counts the number of times Jesus returns to his disciples. For the emphasis is on the failure of the disciples to accompany Jesus in his struggle. The tradition he uses probably had a ternary sequence. This is suggested by some parables, like the parable of the master of the house who comes back at night, at midnight, at the crowing of the cock or in the morning and finds his servants asleep (Mark 13: 33-37). We have a similar case with 1 Samuel 3:2-8 where Samuel is called three times, but it is only on the third time that Elijah understands what is happening. This ternary rhythm echoes Peter's three denials, a clear warning to Mark's community.

    2. Second Incidence of Departure, Prayer, and Return

      1. "And again (kai palin)... saying the same word (logon)" (Mark 14: 39). This is a very Marcan style. Mark is responsible for the fifth use of palin (again) throughout the New Testament, and very often he uses it with kai (and). Likewise, he uses the word logon (word) extensively to introduce the fact that Jesus is speaking. Finally, in Peter's denial, he will use the same construction: after presenting a first statement of Peter, he will simply say for the second denial: "And again he denied" (14:70).

      2. Matthew takes Mark back in his own way. He places here the expression "for the second time" that Mark had in the description of the second crowing of the cock (Mark 14:72). Above all he gives content to the second prayer of Jesus. The expression "if it is not possible" in Jesus' mouth goes further than the first prayer, because Jesus has now interpreted God's silence as a sign that he must drink the cup. His prayer ends with "Let your will be done", which is identical to what is found in the "Our Father" (Matthew 6:10).

      3. "...he found them sleeping". Since Mark does not present the content of Jesus' prayer, there are no words to the disciples. The fact that the disciples are asleep shows that they are not ready for the trial.

      4. "...for their eyes were very burdened". For Mark, this is an excuse to explain that the disciples are not praying, but also an illustration of the weakness of the flesh (see LXX Genesis 48:10: "Jacob's eyes were weakened with age, and he could no longer see well").

      5. "...and they did not know what they should answer him". Mark intends to point out the fragility and incomprehension of the disciples, just as he had done in his account of the transfiguration (Mark 9:6: "He did not know how to answer, for they were afraid").

    3. Third Incidence and Jesus' Words to His Disciples

      Matthew gives better structure to the story that Mark gives him, because Mark tells us that Jesus returns to his disciples for the third time, without having told us that he had left again to pray: for Matthew, Jesus clearly prays a third time. Moreover, he continues to use the word "disciple", thus affirming that those who accompany him have not lost their identity, which is not the case with Mark, who emphasizes that he finds them asleep for the third time.

      1. Challenge about Sleeping and Resting (Mark 14: 41)

        1. The Greek text: "katheudete (you sleep) to loipon kai anapauesthe (you rest) apechei", has an obscure construction and expressions. It can take on three different meanings.
          • Indicative: "You are sleeping... and resting!"
          • Interrogative: "Are you sleeping... and resting?"
          • Imperative: "Sleep... and rest"

          A sentence with an imperative would contradict Jesus' call to watch. The most likely meaning of the text is that of an interrogation, as Luke understood it well (22:46: "Why do you sleep?").

        2. What does to loipon mean (literally: from now on, henceforth, in addition)? Some people translate it as "still" (Are you still sleeping?). Others translate as "for the rest of the time". But then the question arises: until when exactly? The rest of the night? But the disciples will not sleep any more. Until the arrest? But Jesus is arrested in the next verse. Like many biblical scholars, it is best translated as: so then, therefore (Do you therefore continue to sleep?).

        3. Finally, the biggest problem comes from apechei (literally: to have, to receive, to abstain, to suffice). The detailed analysis will be given in Appendix III. Our interpretation must take into account the following sentence: "the hour has come; behold the son of Man is given over into the hands of the sinners". We are in an emergency situation. Mark has already mentioned the financial transaction with Judas in v. 11. And the phrase "The money is paid" preserves the meaning of the word in daily life.

      2. The Coming of the Hour

        1. "behold the son of Man is given over" (Mark 14:41); "Behold the hour has come near" (Matthew 26:45). The two evangelists use "behold" twice, here and in the next verse. But the emphasis is different: in Mark it is on the one who hands him over, in Matthew it is on the hour.

        2. "the hour has come (erchomai)" (Mark 14:41); "the hour has come near (engizō)" (Matthew 26:45). Do the two expressions say the same thing? No. For Mark, let us remember, Jesus prayed that the hour would pass away from him, and since this prayer was not answered, he can now say that the hour is here, it has arrived. For Matthew, the hour will come only when Judas is present, and therefore it is simply near.

      3. The Son of Man Given Over

        1. John combines the two motives of the hour and the Son of man to affirm: "The hour has come in order that the Son of Man may be glorified" inspired by Daniel 7:13-14: "I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him".

        2. This is the first mention of "Son of Man" since the Last Supper. Note that the expression is used at the moment when Jesus prays to God as Father. There is no opposition between the two terms.

        3. The expression was used previously when Jesus announced his passion, so it is normal that when Jesus knows that he cannot avoid this fate, it comes back into his mouth. Let us note the parallelism:
          • 9: 31: "is given over into the hands of men (anthrōpoi)"
          • 10: 33 "will be given over to the chief priests and the scribes"
          • 14: 41: "is given over into the hands of the sinners (hamartōloi)"

          The expression "the hand(s) of," meaning "in the power of" is well known in the Old Testament (see 2 Samuel 14:16).

        4. We must now analyse "to be given over" (paradidonai). This verb can be divided into three categories, depending on whether it is God who gives over, a human beings or Jesus himself.

          • When it comes to the men who betray Jesus, the term has a technical meaning in the Greek legal procedure where a criminal is handed over to the law. But because Jesus was handed over by a friend whom he trusted and because he was innocent, the chain of men who handed him over must assume a sense of guilt: Judas, the chief priests, Pilate. But who is the real culprit? It could be the Prince of this world, just like Caiaphas.

          • God is also the one who betrays Jesus. This idea is present in Paul (Romans 8:32: "He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us"). By the very fact that God does not answer Jesus' prayer to avoid the cup, he hands him over into the hands of sinners. In Jewish literature the verb paradidonai is well known in the Septuagint to describe the delivery of the wicked into the hands of those who are called to judge them. Likewise, in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QPHab 9:10; 4QPPs 37 IV 9-10), God hands over the ungodly to judgment. But what is remarkable about Mark is that Jesus is a righteous man who is handed over by God into the hands of his enemies. The biblical background is to be found in the figure of the suffering servant of Isaiah (LXX 53:6: "And the Lord handed him over (paradidonai) for our sins"). We must also consider the book of Wisdom (ch. 2 and 3) where the fact that the righteous suffer at the hands of the wicked comes from God who puts his own people to the test while assuring them that they will come out victorious.

          • Finally, Jesus gives himself over, a theme especially present in John (10:17-18). We have something similar in the figure of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:10: "The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed"). The very fact that Jesus accepted God's will has given rise to a theological movement from a statement on God handing over his son to one where Jesus hands himself over.

      4. Jesus' Last Words to His Disciples (Mark 14: 42; Matthew 26: 46)

        1. Mark and Matthew present an identical verse ("Get up; let us go; behold the one who gives me over has come near"), except for the order of "has come near" in the sentence. John 14:31 echoes this context in several ways.

          • First, Jesus' request to get up and leave is preceded by : "as the Father has commanded me, so do I do" as in Mark 14:36 ("not what I will, but what you will").

          • Second, John's saying, "For the Prince of this world is coming," is comparable to Mark's saying, "the one who gives me over has come near"; all the more so since John tells us that Satan has entered into Judas (13:2.27).

          • Thirdly, John 14: 31 ("Get up; let us go from here") was originally followed by 18: 1 ("Having said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley"), before the editorial insertion of ch. 15-17. The original sequence thus leads us to the arrival of Judas.

        2. What is remarkable about Mark's phrase ("Get up, let us go!") is that Jesus expresses the desire to have his disciples with him as he confronts Judas, even though the disciples were unable to respond to his request to watch and pray, and therefore will not be able to face the trial; he is not discouraged about them.

        3. At the very beginning of Mark's Gospel (1:38) Jesus says to his disciples, "Let us go elsewhere, into the villages nearby, that I may preach there also". Now that we know that the Kingdom is through passion, Jesus invites his disciples again with : Let us go. Even though they will abandon him, Mark insists that, after understanding the meaning of suffering and death, they will obey the call. Through this scene, Mark appeals to his listeners.

        4. In Gethsemane, the four evangelists leave us four very different portraits.

          • The Jesus of Mark experiences the weakness of the flesh, in his anguish he asks to avoid the trial, he fails to have his disciples at his side to watch and pray, and finds himself living his final battle alone, without the support of his disciples and without the visible help of God.

          • The Jesus of Matthew is somewhat similar, but the evangelist softens the harsh features, reduces the length of the prayer and the anguished tone, keeps his disciples at his side, even though they will eventually abandon him.

          • Luke's Jesus does not experience anguish and weakness. In his prayer, he expresses with reference his obedience to the Father, and the Father answers him with the support of an angel. He is therefore ready to face the power of darkness with confidence. Finally, there is no mention of the abandonment of the disciples.

          • John, Jesus goes before Judas. At no time does he hesitate to face the hour. His prayer reflects his loving unity with the Father. In the only hint of the battle that awaits him, Jesus says triumphantly: "Have courage: I have conquered the world" (16:33).

Next chapter: Analysis Covering All Five Parts of Jesus' Prayer in Gethsemane

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