The Sweat of Jesus


Our journey with Jesus down the path of pain starts in a garden. Picture an orchard of well-cared-for olive trees, where birds take nest and ground squirrels thrive. What would culminate 15 hours after the start of Jesus’ walk, in arguably the most inhumane act of injustice in human history, began in this innocuous and tranquil place, only a thousand meters from the site of His Crucifixion.

This quiet getaway that Jesus loved is located at the base of the Mount of Olives. He often went to this secluded, peaceful place to clear His head, center Himself, and get His bearings before major decision-making moments. After celebrating an eventful Passover meal with His disciples, He left the Upper Room, walked a half-mile through the Kidron Valley, and entered this quiet, lovely garden known as Gethsemane.

The name “Gethsemane” literally means “olive press” and is derived from the Hebrew word gatshamanim. This garden served as an agricultural refinery for olive oil. First-century farmers harvested their olive trees and then carried their bags of fruit down the hillside to be processed in an olive press. Their fruit would then be crushed into useful oil—some as fluid for lamps and some as anointing oil. The ancient olive press was made of a very few but significant moving parts. There was the huge, solid stone base—the round crushing stone, weighing anywhere from several hundred to a thousand pounds—and the wood beam inserted in the center of the crushing stone that gave leverage to the person or animal moving the stone around the circumference of the base stone to crush the olives.

On Jesus’ last night in the garden, however, the olive press of Gethsemane was not crushing olives. The heavy cylindrical crushing stone sat motionless. On this night, it was the will and resolve of Jesus that was being crushed. This process was not refining oil but refining His human spirit.

Christ’s Surrender

Every wound of Christ corresponds to an act of surrender of Christ’s will. After all, Jesus explicitly said to His disciples, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18, ESV).

Jesus would later say specifically to His enemies who inflicted His wounds, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above,” (John 19:11) and, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). With this first wound, Jesus submitted His will to be crushed, like a ripe, plump olive between a rock and a hard place.

It is significant that the crushing of Jesus’ will took place in prayer: “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Matt. 26:42).

Jesus’ Battle

Notice how often in this short prayer Jesus referred to the will—no less than four times! The will was the issue. Like an athlete or warrior, He did not want to miss His moment. Jesus had spent every day of His 33 years on earth intentionally yielding to the will of His Father, God. Now He wanted to finish the race and fulfill His life’s purpose. The historic account provides us with a graphic description of the intensity of Jesus’ battle: “Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:42).

Notice the blood. This is the first mention of drops of blood from Jesus’ body. The battle Jesus fought in the garden was to subjugate His own will to the will of His Father, and this struggle caused the first of His seven wounds as He sweat drops of blood.

Some skeptics have argued against the accuracy or even the possibility of this account. They argue that the early Gospel writers were trying too hard to dramatize the intensity of Christ’s struggle. In their effort to be scientifically objective, however, they overlooked the scientific explanation of what we now know to be hematidrosis*.

Anointing Oil

The larger question that must be raised is: Why was Jesus under such intense stress in the first place? Why were His sweat glands exploding and His perspiration full of blood pigmentation? The anticipation of the physical torment He would endure over the next 15 hours certainly accounts for part of His extreme anxiety, but that is only a partial answer.

The weightier reason for His anguish is that, against all odds, He chose to surrender His will to the unthinkable: to take all the wounds of all humanity throughout all history into His own body. The thought of all disease, dysfunction, self-hatred, anxiety, addiction, pride, lust, arrogance, violence, and injustice being injected into His system was so horrific that He understandably bled from virtually every pore in His body.

Just as Jesus surrendered His will, He would also surrender, in each of His successive wounds, His personal identity, His physical health, His dignity, His productivity, and His authority. Most excruciating of all, He would surrender His intimacy and relational heart union with God. This first wound of Jesus’ was not inflicted by a person—it was exacted upon Him by His realization of all He would face by noon the next day. This wound set in motion all the other wounds. In the final hours of His life, Jesus would bleed from seven different places, and His journey started with hematidrosis.

Here in the olive press of Gethsemane, the will of Jesus was crushed into oil—much like the anointing oil. The distinct name “Christ” means “Messiah” or “anointed one.” The ancient Jewish Scriptures promised that an anointed one would yet come and would one day announce, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1).

This same Jesus who prayed His prayer of surrender in the garden of Gethsemane had three years earlier taken the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and read these identical words. Then, after reading the passage, He sat down on Moses’ seat in the synagogue in Nazareth and announced, much to the shock and awe of His Jewish audience, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

It is impossible to miss the fact that Jesus, who claimed to be the promised Anointed One, was being crushed like olives in the olive press of Gethsemane as anointing oil.

Redeemed Will

The battle against good and evil is won or lost in the will. If Jesus is going to do anything of substance for us today, He must begin the process by affecting our wills. If He can change our wills, He can change us. The first step toward our redemption is to recognize that our wills are in trouble. If we can embrace the reality of our own twisted wills and motivations, we become candidates for Christ’s healing.

The incredibly exciting news is this: Because Christ surrendered His will, He is able to redeem ours. . . . Christ endured excruciating testing in Gethsemane to win our healing and our redemption. For this reason, the Bible makes an audacious promise to us: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Do yourself a favor and read these hopeful words again. God promises that He is able to change our wills so that we are now able to will God’s will. He not only changes our wills, but He also changes our ability to do His will, because He works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

This is the story of redemption, and it started in a garden. This is the miracle of the wound to Jesus’ sweat glands. He surrendered His will in order to transform our wills and release them from bondage to the power of evil, making it possible for us to now obey God.

Excerpt from Fred A. Hartley III, The Seven Wounds of Christ: Where Skeptics, Cynics and Seekers Find Unexpected Healing (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2017) 37-43, 48-49. Used by permission of CLC Publications. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

* Hematidrosis is a medical term used to describe the explosion of capillaries surrounding the sweat glands. While this physiological phenomenon is not common, neither is it unknown. It happens under times of extreme stress and anxiety when the human body tries to sweat faster than it normally does, which causes the blood vessels around the sweat glands to burst, creating a reddish-pink color in every drop of perspiration. The microscopic skin tissue then explodes and excretes both blood and pigment. . . .

While the extent of blood loss with hematidrosis is normally minimal, its occurrence results in the skin being excessively tender, fragile, and sensitive to touch or abrasions. This is likely what happened to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

3 responses to The Sweat of Jesus

  1. To answer the question of whether or not Jesus sweat blood or not, we must go to the Bible and read what it actually says, and this is what it reads in Luke 22:44 from the NKJV: Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

    The actual Greek original looks like this: καὶ γενόμενος ἐν ἀγωνίᾳ ἐκτενέστερον προσηύχετο· ἐγένετο δὲ ὁ ἱδρὼς αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ θρόμβοι αἵματος καταβαίνοντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

    The main part of the above Greek text we are concerned about is the second half of the sentence, which reads, ἐγένετο δὲ ὁ ἱδρὼς αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ θρόμβοι αἵματος καταβαίνοντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν. This literally translates to, “And became the sweat of him like great drops of blood falling upon the ground.”

    What is important to see here is that the text does NOT say that His sweat became blood. The passage actually says it became LIKE (Greek adverb “hosei”) great drops of blood. What this means is that we have simile language, which is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things (i.e., sweat with blood) using the word “like.”

    We see this same kind of thing all over the Bible, and we know not to take them literally because we would make nonsense out of the text. For example, in Revelation 1:14 Jesus’ head and hair are said to be “white like wool.” So is this text saying Jesus’ head and hair were literally made of wool? No, not at all. This is simile language, and therefore we must interpret it as such and come to a proper interpretation based on how language works and how similes work. We cannot just arbitrarily decide in this one text that the sweat had to become literal blood or became bloody because we want to make some nice sounding theology out of it, or because we want to “prove” the scientific validity of the Bible by referencing the hematidrosis condition.

    No, we must properly exegete the passage and come to the hermeneutically sound conclusion that Jesus in Luke 22:44 was not sweating literal blood but that His sweat came down profusely and so heavily that it looked LIKE great drops of blood. If we are going to argue that the simile language in Luke 22:44 must be literalized so that the sweat turned into literal blood, then we must also do the same thing with other clear simile language in other passages. But if we do that, we will create a nonsensical world of vast Bible distortion that would make even the cults blush with embarrassment.

    We must be careful to exeget and interpret properly or we will make grave errors that could have been avoided with careful research and study.

  2. Jesus struggled in the garden because He knew that for the first time in eternity He would be separated from fellowship from the Father. He died spiritually, so we could live spiritually. He dreaded that spiritual death, but out of love for His spiritually dead creatures, He endured the cross.

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