Hebrews 5:7 (ESV):

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Do the "prayers and petitions" that Jesus prayed refer back to his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane? And in what sense were his prayers heard if he was praying that he be saved from death?

  • 2
    John 11:41-42 is interesting in this respect, where Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayer (presumably when there was no smell coming from Lazarus' tomb). It seems pretty submissive to wait around for a few days while he knows Lazarus is dying, again presumably because he knows that it is the Father's will that he should do so. – ed. Nov 5 '11 at 22:30
  • @ed. It's interesting you bring up John 11. I thought of the same verses when I was making my own attempt at understanding Hebrews 5:7. I thought also of verse 25 in the same chapter. – Soldarnal Nov 6 '11 at 4:00
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    John 11:25 (apart from being a wonderful verse in its own right) shows that Jesus is thinking about his own upcoming death at this point - and so links it in his thinking with Lazarus' death and restoration to life. So I agree :) Thinking about Gethsemane, it seems to me that because Jesus knows that his prayers are always heard, it is therefore a great example of submission not to just pray "Father let this cup pass from me" - but instead to add "yet not my will but yours". – ed. Nov 6 '11 at 8:36
  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2642/… – Mike Feb 23 '13 at 1:45

Beyond all possible doubt, the context is Christ as a High Priest. This is clear by a cursory review. Therefore, As we approach the High Priest's ministry we need to identify the prayers and supplications he performed -- then how they were answered.

The day of atonement brings the high point of this ministry into view. There were three beasts to be slaughtered by the High Priest:

“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:6-8, NIV)

According to Hebrews, Christ was the sacrifices all combined and was the Priest 'offering himself'. In this offering in the temple there was formalistic payers uttered. Alfred Edersheim the Jewish historian actually has claimed to know the exact prayers that were uttered at the time of Christ. When the ritual arrived at the third beast, the scape goat, this was the prayer that was offered by the High Priest:

Laying both his hands on the head of this goat, the high-priest now confessed and pleaded: ‘Ah, Jehovah! they have committed iniquity; they have transgressed; they have sinned—Thy people, the house of Israel. Oh, then, Jehovah! cover over (atone for), I intreat Thee, upon their iniquities, their transgressions, and their sins, which they have wickedly committed, transgressed, and sinned before Thee—Thy people, the house of Israel. As it is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant, saying: “For on that day shall it be covered over (atoned) for you, to make you clean from all your sins before Jehovah ye shall be cleansed.” ’ (The Temple - Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Christ by Alfred Edersheim, P317)

For the first sacrifice, for himself and his family the exact same formula was used but 'they' is replaced with 'I'.

Now regardless of the accuracy of this historical prayer it indicates the type of prayer that naturally the high priest would pray. The high priest was officiating for the sins of the people, and naturally offered a sacrifice with prayers.

When we approach the priesthood of Jesus and the prayers he offered, we must look at his whole life and the suffering he endured by humbling himself into human flesh. Then more particularly, of course as he prayed in the garden approaching the time of actually offering his soul and body for the infinite penalty of the sins of the world, he offered prayers with a deep cry and groaning. Then even more in line with the time of the actual event of his ministry, on the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2, ESV)

This was Christ's prayers in the garden and on the cross where they reached their highest pitch, but as a high priest they were the prayers also of his whole ministry while in the days of his flesh on this earth.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet — I can count all my bones —they stare and gloat over me; (Psalms 22:14-17, ESV)

Having considered the context of his prayers as a high priest a shortsighted glimpse might ask, 'but these were prayers for himself, not for us?' Of course, absolutely not, they were prayers for the success of his ministry, for himself -- for us. Which naturally leads to the next verse:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:8-10, ESV)

Now that we have understood the context, the answer to the question 'How his priestly prayers were heard' is obvious? His sacrifice was accepted and he became a priest forever. God was pleased with his work and rested in it, granting us access into his rest forever, as nothing more will ever be required to restore the fallen creation.

John Owen distinguishes between his payer which was hypothetical, 'Father if it be thy will' and 'absolute.' The prayer which was 'heard' was both hypothetical and absolute. For hypothetical, 'his mind was fortified against the dread and terror of nature'. More directly and importantly to the question Christ was heard absolutely:

The chief and principal supplications which he offered up to him who was able to save him from death were absolute; and in them he was absolutely heard and delivered. For upon the presentation of death unto him, as attended with the wrath and curse of God, he had deep and dreadful apprehensions of it; and how unable the human nature was to undergo it, and prevail against it, if not mightily supported and carried through by the power of God. In this condition it was part of his obedience, it was his duty, to pray that he might be delivered from the absolute prevalency of it, that he might not be cast in his trial, that he might not be confounded nor condemned. This he hoped, trusted, and believed; and therefore prayed absolutely for it, Isa. 50:7, 8. And herein he was heard absolutely. (Hebrews, John Owen, Vol 4, P509)

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  • Finally, somebody takes it back to the Torah! My thoughts exactly. And you did a better job of it than I could have. Well done. – Mike Bull Feb 22 '13 at 23:24

"Prayers and petitions" refers back to all his prayers and petitions, including the one at Gethsemane.

The question implies that his prayer to not die was not heard. The implication is only half true.

It was prophesied that His prayer would not be heard in the law of the leper. The leper is a prophesy of Christ bearing our sin (leprosy).

He shaves his head as a prophecy that Christ would lose his 'covering' when the father forsook him on the cross.

He covers his upper lip, and act done when a prayer is not heard, to prophesy that Jesus's prayer was not heard. He would die.

When the leper is covered fully with leprosy he is declared clean, just as Christ shed our burden of sin in resurrection.

Then he goes through a ceremony like a priest, to prophesy that Jesus became our high priest in resurrection.

But his prayer was also heard. This contradiction is not a contradiction but a riddle. If he prayed that he not die physically, how much more has the Father heard him, when death itself is conquered. Jesus understood that though his will was to not die physically, the Father had answered a much greater request.

Though he died, he is not dead.

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  • 2
    I'd still argue that Jesus' prayer was fully heard - because he wasn't praying that he be saved from death. The extra "Yet not what I will, but what you will." shows that his prayer (in Matt 26 and Mark 14) was ultimately an act of aligning himself and his feelings with God's will - even if he started off wanting to be saved from death. In this way it's a great model for prayer for us, we start praying for one thing but by the end we find ourselves praying for something else through having spent time in God's presence. – ed. Nov 12 '11 at 18:12
  • Since both are true, there is no argument. – Bob Jones Nov 12 '11 at 18:47

It appears that these prayers and petitions were in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was praying to be delivered after his death through resurrection. Of course he was heard, because we know that he was saved from death. As we later would learn, the death in view here was not just the restoration (or resurrection) of his body, but the restoration of his eternal life.

The key assumption we have to make is that the PERSON was born and had subsisted in two natures, which were shortly to be torn asunder through his death on the cross. The first time he was born, he became the eternal son “before the world was created” (John 17:5 and John 17:24). The second time he was born, he was born in Bethlehem with his human nature. When he died on the cross, his body was ripped from his his eternal life.

Please remember that up until this time, no one in human history had ever been saved permanently from death. Whether it was Lazarus or Jairus's daughter, or even the child resuscitated by Elijah, they all eventually died again. Thus the petition of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was that he would be the first person ever to be permanently saved from death, and of course he was. He is therefore termed in the last book of the Bible as “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev 1:5).

Now if we make the assumption that the PERSON of Jesus Christ subsisted in two natures (divine and human), then this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that the PERSON would be saved from death. His body would be broken, because his eternal life would be removed from him. That is, unless a resurrection ensued, his human nature would be broken off, or separated from his divine nature in perpetuity. As we know, when he died on the cross his human nature entered Sheol (Acts 2:27) and his “spirit” returned to the Father (Luke 23:46). The PERSON in two natures therefore had been "slain" (Rev 5:12), since it was not just his human nature with the separation of his material body in the grave and his immaterial soul in Sheol, but the separation of his divine nature (eternal life) because of sin. Not only did the man die, but the PERSON (God-man) died.

What happened was that on the cross his body became the sin of the world (2 Cor 5:21), but the PERSON still possessed “indestructible” eternal life (Heb 7:16, NASB) up until the very moment when he declared “it was finished” and physically died. Thus the “death” of his eternal life in his mortal body was the cost of the sin of the world. If we understand him as a PERSON subsisting in two natures, then the eternal life of the living God had indeed “died.”

It was not his sin, but our sin that precipitated this separation (2 Cor 5:21). It was not the nails in his hands and feet which caused his death, but instead it was the sin of the world (1 Jn 2:2).

His resurrection therefore reunited the PERSON.

When he cried and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to be saved from death, the PERSON pleaded that his PERSON would not exist in a perpetual state of eternal separation. In other words, Jesus’s prayer was not just about his visible body reuniting with his invisible soul, but his divine nature reuniting with his human nature (body and soul). What anguished him in the Garden of Gethsemane was the effect sin would have in separating him or breaking his humanity from his divinity. Unless his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane were answered, both natures would have remained separated forever.

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