KJV Matthew 26:38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
MGNT Matthew 26:38 τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ
The phrase "ἕως θανάτου" only occurs in Matt 26:38 and Mark 14:38 in the NT. It might be an allusion (including the reference to "soul") to Isa 53:12, "poured out his soul unto death".
BDAG specifically lists Matt 26:38 and Mark 14:38 as their first meaning, "termination of physical life, death - (a) natural death". They then list their translation of these verses as, "sorrowful even to the point of death".
While this phrase, "ἕως θανάτου" only occurs twice, very similar phrases with very similar meanings also occur in the NT.
- Phil 2:8 - [Christ was] obedient unto death ("mechri thanatou")
- Phil 2:30 - [Epaphroditus came close] unto death ("mechri thanatou")
The opposite of this idea is also discussed in John 5:24 where Jesus talks about proceeding out of death to life as a result of His work and message, by faith. However, this is almost certainly talking about eternal death (Rom 1:32, 6:16 etc) as distinct from physical death.
This, our passage in Matt 26:38 and Mark 14:38 suggests that Jesus' was so crushed that he almost died in the Gethsemane before proceeding to Golgotha. This is discussed at some length in Isa 53 (which I take as a Messianic chapter) with statements like, "he … carried our sorrows" (v4); "he was crushed for our iniquities" (v5); "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v6); "he was oppressed and afflicted" (v7); "it was the LORD's will to crush him" (v10); etc.
From this I take the Gospel record to mean that Jesus bore all our sins and almost died in the garden. He was thus "despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows" (Isa 53:3). This was dramatically fulfilled in Gethsemane. As bad as Jesus suffering on Golgotha was we should not forget the struggle in the garden as he decided to drink the cup (Matt 26:36-43).
Haven’t you ever been in a situation so bad, so painful, so uncertain, so unpredictable, so heavy, so helpless, so lost and confused because you don’t understand why and it just doesn’t stop or go away? And you know God is there right before you and it seems like He don’t care when in your soul you know He does and can make it all right and perfect, what I’m saying is, He can fix it. and the hurt, pain and confusion can all go away and yes with just a simple smile. But He doesn’t at that moment your heart cry’s out and say just kill me, just take me out of here because it’s to much, to heavy remember Lord, I’m just a man, that’s it, just a man. Remember He was all human and all God. Experience is the only way one can truly say, I understand what your going through or what you truly mean. Could it be He was expressing a SINCERE moment not that it would have ever happened. His Father knew as well as Him He had a destiny THE CROSS. And I had mine, but glory be to God and that He is God and not I, and doesn’t always give us what we think we want. “SINCERE moments,” come and go but His great and awesome wonderful plan for His children are greater and more beautiful than a sincere moment. Thank You Jesus
I posted the original question a long time ago, and I have received some thoughtful answers. However, having looked at the issue since then I think that, like all of the translators and commentators, there seems to be a common error, possibly because because being "led into the ditch" by the KJV translation.
The key to understanding the passage appears to me to be the meaning of these two words:
περίλυπος, translated "crushed" in the KJV which is actually not a physical crushing at all but rather matter of being "deeply sad" or one might say "depressed". So to my mind the idea of any physical danger is off the table
ἕως, translated "to the point of" which again, I believe to be misleading. The word is actually a preposition that refers to time, as in "until"
If I'm correct in my understanding of these words then Jesus is saying that "my heart is depressed until [my] death". In other words, his grief will not go away until he dies.
It may be that we are to sense Jesus' excitement and gladness when he sees the crowd of men arriving with swords and clubs knowing that his prayer for a speedy death appears to be occurring:
Mat 26:44-50 NLT - So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, "Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look--the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let's be going. Look, my betrayer is here!" And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: "You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss." So Judas came straight to Jesus. "Greetings, Rabbi!" he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, "My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for." Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
Later, as his death lasted for hours, he prays again:
Psa 22:1 NKJV - To the Chief Musician. Set to "The Deer of the Dawn." A Psalm of David. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? [Why are You so] far from helping Me, [And from] the words of My groaning?
IE: "Why am I still not dead?"
But his prayer was almost immediately answered as his death came at a seemingly miraculous pace, despite his physical strength to breathe:
Mat 27:46-50 NKJV - And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Some of those who stood there, when they heard [that], said, "This Man is calling for Elijah!" Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled [it] with sour wine and put [it] on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him." And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit [IE: "breath" - he died].
Apparently some misheard him thinking the was calling for Elijah but he was actually calling for his God to save him, which he did, through death (and resurrection) without further delay:
Psa 22:1-31 NKJV - To the Chief Musician. Set to "The Deer of the Dawn." A Psalm of David. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? [Why are You so] far from helping Me, [And from] the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent. But You [are] holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. But I [am] a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, [saying], "He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!" But You [are] He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust [while] on My mother's breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother's womb You [have been] My God. Be not far from Me, For trouble [is] near; For [there is] none to help. Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong [bulls] of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me [with] their mouths, [Like] a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look [and] stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots. But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious [life] from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion's mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me. I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard. My praise [shall be] of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom [is] the LORD's, And He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive. A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the [next] generation, They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, That He has done [this].
Later, Pilate marveled that he was dead so quickly:
Mar 15:44 NKJV - Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time.
Jesus was victorious until this point of remaining without sin. Clearly, and understandably, it was getting more difficult to stay the path.
He wasn't worried as much about the cross (although that was very heavy on his heart) but about finishing without letting his will precede the Father's in ANY way due to the horrific moments just ahead.
Should he have let slip just once, he would not be raised from the dead and the whole mission would have been pointless!
He was struggling with sorrow, grief and a broken heart and all other manner of testing - needing God's help through the spirit more than ever to remain true to the cause and finish this! Victoriously! It's clear that this testing time is what Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) had in mind when he penned these words,
Heb 5:7 He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death
His advice to the disciples was to pray against temptation, Jesus was having the same issue - wanting that the cup not be given to him. He wanted them to pray with him, lest he succumb at this late stage of a life of trial and testing.