This time, ahead of any Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services, I offer a thought about a deeply ingrained fixture among evangelicals for a long, long time: the idea that Jesus sweated blood as He prayed in the garden.
The image is based on Luke 22:44 — "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
You may notice a marginal note that both verses 43 and 44 are missing from some manuscripts. Since v. 44 is the only verse that mentions this phenomenon, it may not be the greatest idea to lean on something that is textually questionable. However, that isn't my focus here. Let us suppose, for our discussion, that the verse is textually certain.
Does Dr. Luke assert that our Savior sweat blood as He prayed? Many choice servants of God have thought so. Hear Spurgeon from just one place of many:
The mental pressure arising from our Lord’s struggle with temptation, so forced his frame to an unnatural excitement, that his pores sent forth great drops of blood which fell down to the ground. This proves how tremendous must have been the weight of sin when it was able to crush the Saviour so that he distilled great drops of blood! ...This sets forth the voluntariness of Christ’s sufferings, since without a lance the blood flowed freely. No need to put on the leech, or apply the knife; it flows spontaneously. No need for the rulers to cry, “Spring up, O well;” of itself it flows in crimson torrents. (pm for 3/23)However, note what I have said, as contrasted with what Luke said. I said "sweated blood," "sweat blood." Luke, on the other hand, wrote, "his sweat became like [ὡσεὶ, hōsei] great drops of blood. Do you notice the difference? One is a declarative statement ("sweated blood"), the other is a simile ("like great drops of blood").
Now, it is just possible that hōsei means "just like"... but still, there's that "like." Consider some of Luke's other uses of hōsei. For instance, in Acts 2:3 — "And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them." Does anyone argue that the tongues were actual flames? I don't think so. They were like flames of fire. Or was Stephen's face the actual face of an angel, or was it like an angel's face (Acts 6:15)?
So I take this as a simile. What is a simile? It is a figure of speech where two different objects are compared, often because of a single point of correspondence.
Maybe I can illustrate by a little family joke. I forget how it started, but my mother used to say with great fondness that I was "like a son" to her. We'd chuckle.
Why was it funny? Well, because I wasn't "like" a son to her. I was her son. If I were "like" a son, I would not be her son. A thing is not "like" what it is; it is what it is.
So, when Luke says that Jesus' sweat was "like" great drops of blood, he is saying that Jesus' sweat was not great drops of blood. No need to search for medical parallels, or to speak of "hemohydrosis." Had Jesus sweat blood, it would have been great drops of blood — not "like" great drops of blood.
Luke and our Lord lived in a different land and time. Their days weren't spent in safety-engineered offices and air-conditioned buildings with rounded, edgeless corners. They didn't earn their living by sitting on cushions and tapping out words on ergonomic keyboards. No, they worked out of doors, among sharp stones and rough wood and jagged iron. They saw many cuts, and plenty of bleeding. Certainly Dr. Luke had also seen his share of blood pouring from cuts and wounds.
Luke is telling us that Jesus did not build up a mild sweat, a thin sheen of perspiration. So heavy was His burden that the Lord Jesus looked as if He had been deeply cut, and were bleeding profusely. Only it wasn't blood that was pouring off His body in a great flow of steady, swollen drops. It was sweat.
Probably the closest any of us have come would be a heavy nosebleed. We lean over the sink and watch in some fascination: drip, drip, drip, drip. Steady, large succession of drops. So it was with Jesus, but all over, and in sweat.
The picture loses none of its poignancy with the loss of sanguinity. There is no need nor place for sacrificial shedding of blood in the Garden. That would take place on the Cross.
Now our Lord is well-nigh crushed by the prospect of bearing our sins, and His Father's just wrath. The Lord Jesus was in such an agony as He confronted the horrors awaiting him, the torment and torture of body and spirit that He would endure, that as He wrestled in prayer, sweat poured off of Him. So great was the cost of our salvation.
So great was our Savior's love.
Hallelujah! What a Savior.