Hebrews 5:7b—Did Christ shrink from death or face it courageously?

Problem: On the one hand, it would seem that Christ shrunk from death, since He prayed “with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). He said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39). On the other hand, we are led to believe that He faced death obediently and boldly, for He “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), calmly facing His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and repeatedly assuring His disciples He would rise again (Matt. 12:40–42; John 10:18).

Solution: Christ faced dath boldly but not eagerly. He met it willingly but not apathetically. Christ was “obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). He approached it boldly and bravely, declaring, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). He willingly submitted to the Father, saying, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).

Christ’s willingness and boldness notwithstanding, He nevertheless felt the full emotional and existential impact of His impending death. He did pray with “vehement cries and tears,” but the writer adds, He “was heard because of His godly fear” (Heb. 5:7). Jesus wished as a man that His cup (death) could pass from Him (Matt. 26:39), but He willed, as the Father willed, that it would take place for the salvation of the world. While His soul was “troubled” about death, He never prayed, “Father, save me from this hour.” He only asked, “shall I say” this? His answer was no, “for this purpose I came to this hour. `Father glorify Your name’ ” (John 12:27–28). He never feared death as such, but banishment from the Father (Matt. 27:46). In fact, by His death Jesus overcame the power and fear of death, defeating the devil (Heb. 2:14).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.