Did Jesus Sweat Blood in the Garden of Gethsemane?
In the gospel accounts, only a short time before he was betrayed by Judas and handed over to the authorities, Jesus is alone praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Gospel of Luke we are given a picture that is unique to this particular gospel writer:
“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Was Jesus actually sweating blood? Is this even medically possible? What has our Lord in such agony? We’ll find that this actually is a medical condition—though rare—and his agony here is important for our understanding of what took place on the cross. The agony of Gethsemane leads to the victory at Golgotha.
Did Jesus Sweat Blood?
It is interesting that Luke, a physician, would be the one who mentioned this rare medical condition. It’s a rare disorder called Hematidrosis. Some doctors have doubted whether it ever existed, but there are cases where people under extreme duress will experience this phenomenon. The understanding, though limited, is that when someone is under great stress, tiny capillaries within sweat glands rupture and blood begins to mingle with sweat. As explained by Dr. Frederick Zugibe:
“’Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form.’ Under the pressure of great stress the vessels constrict. Then as the anxiety passes ‘the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture. The blood goes into the sweat glands.’ As the sweat glands are producing a lot of sweat, it pushes the blood to the surface - coming out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.”
I also found an interesting book on dermatology from 1917 where the author, William Allen Pusey, explains hematidrosis:
“Hematidrosis is excretion of blood or blood pigment through the sweat glands. It is, as a rule, one of the manifestations of purpura and is analogous to the hemorrhages that occur from purpura in other structures. It is sometimes a manifestation of highly emotional disturbances, and is associated at times with the bleeding stigmata of hysterical subjects.”
So it is an actual, though rare, medical condition which can afflict someone in great distress. This certainly describes Jesus’ situation in the Garden. But there is one tricky word in the Greek which should give us a bit of pause. The text itself says that his “sweat became ὡσεί (hosei) great drops of blood…” That word means “like.” It is used to denote a comparison. So it is possible that what Luke is saying is not that Jesus was sweating actual drops of blood, but that his sweat was pouring out of him as one would expect blood to pour out.
So, it’s not definitive that it was hematidrosis which was happening to Jesus. But the actual ingredients of the sweat are beside the point; Jesus in Gethsemane and his agony is the main point of the narrative.
Why Was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?
It would not have been unusual for Jesus to be praying in the garden. Luke tells us “as was his custom.” What was different, though, is the vigor with which Jesus is praying. He is asking for a cup to be removed from him. What is this cup?
In the Old Testament we can see that this “cup” is the pouring out of God’s wrath. Isaiah 51:17, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.” Again in Psalm 75:8, “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs. This is the same figure of speech that is used in Revelation of the pouring out the seven bowls of God’s wrath.
What is this cup that is causing Jesus to stagger? It is none other than the wrath of God poured out against the sinfulness of mankind.
This is why he is in so much agony. Jesus’ full humanity is on display in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is not the physical assault which he is dreading so much. It is this cup. And he knows that his hour is approaching, so he goes to the Garden to plead with the father to remove the cup—as well as to be strengthened by the Father.
Why Was Jesus Anxious about the Cross if He Knew He'd Be Resurrected?
There is such a dramatic shift in the context of these verses. You can actually see it more clearly in the gospel of Mark. He’s eating the Passover meal with the disciples, they are singing a hymn, there is resolve but we do not see distress. Then once Jesus arrives at the Garden, Jesus tells his disciples that he is greatly distressed and troubled. He is sorrowful to the point of death. Luke captures this by the mention of sweating as it were drops of blood.
Why is he overcome in this moment? I think Jonathan Edwards captures it well:
“Christ was going to be cast into a dreadful furnace of wrath, and it was not proper that he should plunge himself into it blindfold, as not knowing how dreadful the furnace was. Therefore that he might not do so, God first brought him and set him at the mouth of the furnace, that he might look in, and stand and view its fierce and raging flames, and might see where he was going, and might voluntarily enter into it and bear it for sinners, as knowing what it was. This view Christ had in his agony. Then God brought the cup that he was to drink, and set it down before him, that he might have a full view of it, and see what it was before he took it and drank it.”
He is viewing the sin of all humanity. Again, words are going to escape us. As one commentator put it, “the agony that Jesus endured was multifaceted. The blows that encompassed His soul came from every corner. His suffering was not simple but complex. We can only begin to understand this suffering by noting that He had to suffer the penalty that sin deserved for millions and millions of people. Hence it is part of His calling to [recoil] in anguish before our God…. One would need to have been in hell for some time in order to understand what it is that is tearing Jesus apart in the garden.”
His anxiety about the cross was connected to what the cross means. It means that “he made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf.” Jesus’ humanity is fully seen here in the Garden. We see Jesus in his, dare I say, weakest moment. He remains sinless, yet he is now experiencing the fullness of what it truly means to be human. It is here that he will experience our grief. It is here that he will experience stronger temptation than any of us, so that it is fitting to say that He was tempted in every way. And it is the view into the cup that causes Christ to pray, “if it is possible take this cup from me.” Can you hear Jesus’ prayer? Papa, you can do anything. Can you take this cup from me? Is it possible that we can redeem sinners and yet me not suffer estrangement from you? Is it possible to redeem them in any way other than me being the sin-bearer?
He appeals. Silence. He appeals a second time. Silence. He appeals a third time. Silence. Why silence? Because there is no other way.
Now certainly, it would have been possible for God to have not poured out the cup of His wrath on Jesus. He would not have contradicted his nature had he chosen not to send his Son and left sinners to their just reward. But because God had purposed before the foundation of the world to save sinners, this then was not possible. As John Stott has said, “God’s purpose of love was to save sinners, and to save them righteously; but this would be impossible without the sin-bearing death of the Savior.”
Why Is This Verse Important for Us to Understand?
It is important for us to understand the aloneness and the anguish of Gethsemane because it helps us to understand the accomplishment of Gethsemane. Some have seen here a connection between the sweat (the bloody sweat) on the brow of Jesus with the curse of Adam—who would toil by the sweat of his brow.
Adam failed the test of the Garden. The forbidden fruit was a cup too great for him to bear. He staggered. And humanity from this point forward was born as children of wrath. But Christ, the Greater Adam, withstood in the Garden where Adam failed. The blood of Christ mixes with the sweat of Adam. He took upon himself the curse. That is why we are to see the anguish of Christ in the Garden. Because the cup could not pass from him. He drank it to the last drop.
Do you know what means for you and I? It means that there is no more wrath to be poured upon those who are united to Christ. He drank it in our place. If he drank it all then there is none left for us. Yes, this was accomplished at Golgotha—but the obedience which took place in Gethsemane is also part of removing the curse from us. His perfect obedience in this moment is now transferred to our account.
This also help us to know that Jesus understands aloneness. He understands agony. He understands anguish. We can go to him with our pain. He understands. He has felt stronger temptation than any of us would ever face. He has looked into the cup and he willingly and knowingly drank it to the last drop. We can trust him with our suffering.
God’s Great Love on Display
Have you ever questioned God’s love for you? Look no further than the Garden of Gethsemane. See there the Son of God sweating profusely—like drops of blood (or perhaps sweat mixed with blood) and there you see His determination to not only obey the Father but to obey the Father in redeeming humanity. He drank the cup for you. Look no further than the silence of the Father. As his wrath would be poured out upon His Son—there was no other way to redeem humanity.
Let the logic of Romans 8:32 drive you to confidence. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If God was not dedicated to your redemption, then he would have allowed that cup to pass from Jesus in the Garden and he would have transferred it to us instead—he would have allowed humanity to be swallowed up by His wrath and preserve His Son. But he didn’t. Not only because of his love for us—but because that is who God is. It is His very nature to be self-giving – to give of Himself so that others can have life. Take confidence in this. If God is for you, who can be against you?
Photo credit: Unsplash/Mads Schmidt Rasmussen