We now go with Jesus to the place where the Lord began his atoning sacrifice, Gethsemane. Why did he go to Gethsemane to pray? He was in the city of Jerusalem, with a million people in attendance for Passover. The place should have been crowded, perhaps with individuals camping out on the hillsides. Gethsemane was a garden, or better said, an olive tree orchard. In the orchard is found at least one olive press. Gethsemane means “olive press”. This press is within a cave located in the middle of the orchard. Outside of harvest time it would have been used, especially during the major festivals, as a place for travelers to stay. It is quite likely that Christ entered the cave, asked his disciples to remain nearby while he prayed privately inside. This poetically ties Jesus’ birth in a cave/manger to his atoning sacrifice in cave/Gethsemane and ultimately to the cave where his body laid interred until his resurrection.
The cave would also symbolize a Holy of Holies, where the greatest offerings by the high priest were offered to God. Being in a Garden, we see a tie with the Garden of Eden, where mankind began in innocence and lost that innocence, introducing death and sin into the world.
The Beginning of the Atonement
For Catholics and some other Christians, Jesus’ great work was done solely on the cross. However, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus’ atonement began in Gethsemane and culminated on the cross (to be discussed next lesson). Jesus had to overcome both physical and spiritual death. The physical death of the cross would be trumped by resurrection. The spiritual death, or mankind cast out from God’s presence, would be healed by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that began in Gethsemane and continues to this day for each of us.
In Gethsemane, we know that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11)
Or, as Nephi explained,
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21).
Of the connection between Adam and Christ, the apostle Paul noted, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). We will not only all resurrect, but we will all be made spiritually alive in Christ, brought back into the presence of God, upon the condition of faith and repentance.
We understand little of the spiritual atonement. We know that it was a dreadful experience, even for Jesus.
“41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22).
He had begun the process of taking upon himself all the sins of the world. So spiritually painful was this that it caused the blood vessels around his sweat glands to dilate and burst. Then, as he sweat, it mixed with the blood, coming out of his pores in drops.
As noted, we do not really know how the spiritual atonement works. There are various theories available, some are indirectly noted by modern apostles of the Church. The theories include, Ransom, Substitution, Satisfaction, Punitive theories of atonement (see below for links).
LDS Christians have also provided other theories of atonement. My two favorites are Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion Theory (again, see below), and Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory.
In Ostler’s theory, Christ is not punished nor ransomed directly for our sins. Instead, we have fallen from God’s presence and there is no way we can return by ourselves. When we exhibit faith and truly repent of our sins, the Savior embraces us in his love and forgiveness. As he accepts us into his compassionate embrace, we are filled with His love, compassion, and light. Yet, while he embraces us, Jesus takes into himself our pains and sorrows brought on not only by our sins, but by the hardships of life. In Gethsemane, he felt the pains and sorrows of all those who to that point had sinned or sorrowed, but then sought deliverance from God. Today, he continues feeling momentary pain as he embraces us in his love, engulfing our hurts within that love. So, in this theory, the atonement is ongoing. Every time a person reaches to Christ because of spiritual or physical pain, the person is healed through the atoning and loving embrace of our compassionate God and Savior.
As we ponder just how much pain each of us suffers, whether from sin, fear, mental anguish, or physical pain, we can truly “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.”
Odds and Ends
In an interesting twist in the story in Mark 14:51-52, a young man in a linen cloth is caught by the Roman guards. The young man is able to slip away naked. Why add such an odd story?
Some scholars believe Mark was speaking of himself. It is possible that he was literally asleep when these events occurred. However, for LDS members, it is also possible that the cave was being used by the Christian-Jewish sect to perform temple ordinances. The cave may have been used as a makeshift temporary location to perform ordinances, such as initiatory and endowments.
In the initiatory, the person is washed and anointed with water and oil, as a symbolic cleansing prior to receiving the other ordinances of the temple. It could be possible that the young man was receiving this ordinance when the soldiers showed up.
This concept is strengthened by the controversial Secret Book of Mark. Scholar Morton Smith claimed to have found an old letter attached to the back of a medieval book. The letter was supposedly from Clement of Alexandria, who described a portion of a Secret Book of Mark, wherein a young man (Mark?) receives a secret ordinance at night from Jesus, while wearing nothing but a linen cloth.
There is lots of scholarly controversy surrounding this letter. Some claim Morton Smith created it to fool the scholarly community. Others think it might be a medieval forgery. Still there are some who think it to be authentic.
Christ Does Not "Make up the difference."
In a recent discussion I had with a friend, he mentioned how wonderful the atonement is, and that Jesus "made up the difference" for our failures and sins. In thinking about that statement, one I've heard many Latter-day Saints use, I realize how wrong the concept it suggests is. For Christ to make up the difference, suggests we are doing the lion's share for our salvation.
But he is not the God of the gaps. Just like the resurrection provides immortality and resurrection for ALL people, regardless of their circumstances or choices, the atonement pays entirely for all of the events of mortality. He has already paid for all of the sins we do, and even the potential sins we could do. He isn't making up the difference. He IS the difference. My sins? Already paid for in full. Your sins? Already paid for in full. Salvation is free.
So what is our part in salvation, if salvation is free? It is to embrace Christ and the atonement. To the level and extent we embrace Jesus' act of love and grace, we receive that level of salvation. Why is it that even murderers (including Hitler) can obtain at least to the Telestial Kingdom (described in D&C 76 as a glorious place beyond description)? Because Hitler isn't paying for his sins. Christ has done it. Once Hitler begins to believe and repent, the atonement snatches him from spiritual death and plants him within the power of God's glory. As with Alma's conversion, while in a coma (Near Death Experience?), he was in complete darkness (Spirit Prison). There was nothing he could do to rescue himself. Only in thinking on Christ, and praying for salvation and forgiveness, was he rescued. And that in an instance. Note that he was in light and it was exceedingly joyful, and while in God's presence, he was afar off wishing he could be closer.
For Alma, he would get closer. Not because he was checking off check lists of commandments, but because he sought after Christ and became as Christ. He increased his ability to stand in God's presence, because he was more like God. He loved the light. He loved the commandments. He loved having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the ministering of angels. He loved to talk to God in prayer. He loved to meditate on the things of God. Alma was totally saved by Christ, not of any works he did. Alma just had to embrace that free gift of grace.
As Christ loves us and seeks to approach us,and as we lovingly and eagerly approach Him, we are totally saved from death and hell through the eternal event that occurred in the Meridian of Time: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The olive press cave of Gethsemane: https://www.bib-arch.org/online-exclusives/easter-03.asp
Sweating blood, or hematohidrosis: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t018.html
Ransom theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_%28Ransom_view%29
Satisfaction theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_theory_of_atonement
Substitutionary theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitutionary_atonement
Punitive theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_substitution
Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion theory of atonement: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2006/08/jacob-morgans-divine-infusion-theory.html
Secret Book of Mark: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2009/10/clement-of-alexandria-and-secret-book.html