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The Basilica of the Agony

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Pray at the Rock of Agony

Location – Jerusalem

Map Coordinates - 31.779278, 35.239731

Merged Gospels story - 265

On our Octagon Tours we let our visitors see, and possibly even touch the place where Jesus prayed in the Gethsemane Garden.

This is the place where it is believed that He prayed on the night that He was arrested. At the very center of this church is a patch of exposed limestone bedrock, presumed to be the rock upon which Jesus prayed during His agony.

2000 years ago this entire mountain was covered by olive trees. It was night, and Jesus had just left many of His disciples in a cave that today we call the Gethsemane Grotto. He then selected His three inner-circle apostles, Peter, John, and James, to pray just south of the cave, in a place that we call the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went a little farther to the south, to this place, to pray alone.

The Façade of the Church.

Here you can see the façade of the Basilica of the Agony. The story of Jesus’ passion in this garden is told in all four Gospels, and so below this mosaic facade of this church are the statues of the four Gospel evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The two bronze deer on the top of the roof are a reference to Psalm 42:1, which says, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for You, Oh God.”

While the mosaic on the façade of this church is beautiful, very few people know that it conveys an important message.

Jesus is shown as the mediator between God and mankind, on whose behalf he gives His very heart, and an angel is shown above receiving the heart of Christ into his hands.

On Jesus’ left side (above) are the lowly people of the world, mourning as they look upon Him. Among them is a woman weeping over her dead child – a metaphor for the heart-wrenching trials of life.

On His right (above) is a group of the powerful and wise, who are all acknowledging the shortcomings of their worldly accomplishments. In this group are a king laying down his crown, a warrior, and a philosopher.

On this mosaic there is a musician holding a yellow broken harp, and hiding his face in shame.

Written on the harp is the name Apollo, who was the pagan Roman god of music.

On this mosaic there is a scientist (above), who is holding a book that says “Ignoratio” which in Latin means ignorance.

The Ceiling.

When you enter the church, the priests here generally discourage visitors from talking, in order to maintain the ambiance that was experienced by Christ on the night that He prayed here. When travelers are here the church keeps the lights off to replicate the darkness of the somber night when Jesus prayed.

The ceiling is painted a deep blue to simulate a night sky, with the stars being surrounded by olive branches, reminiscent of the Gethsemane garden. The nickname for this church is The Church of All Nations because it was constructed in 1924 using funds that were donated by twelve different countries. The national seals of each donor country that provided the funds to build the church are on the crest of each of the church’s twelve ceiling domes.

The Original Floor Under Glass.

During the construction of this modern church, parts of the mosaic floor of the original Byzantine church were discovered. Several sections of this ancient mosaic are preserved under glass and may be seen on the floor of the south aisle. The modern builders decided to copy this 4th-century mosaic design on the floor of the current church, and so this entire church is covered with the same mosaic pattern as the ancient church

The Exposed Limestone Bedrock.

How do we know that Jesus prayed on this particular spot? The fact that a fourth-century Byzantine church was built here as soon as Christianity was legal tells us that there was an earlier belief that Jesus did pray here. Luke 21:41 describes the place where Jesus prayed as being “a stone’s throw” from where the three apostles were sleeping. The distance between the Gethsemane garden and the rock at the center of this church is consistent with Luke’s “stone’s throw” geographic narrative.

There are several symbols here of Christ’s imminent passion. The cups on three sides of the rock symbolize the cup of Christ’s sacrificial blood that He was about to shed – a cup that He prayed about on this rock (see The Merged Gospels, story 265).

The cups and two young pigeons.

Notice that the cups are on each side of this rock where visitors pray, recalling the moment when, in Matthew 20:23, Jesus said to His disciples, “Indeed you will drink from my cup”.

Two doves are at the corners resting on a crown of thorns.

The pair of silver doves, and the two young pigeons are birds that are mentioned in Luke 2:24, as the ritual sacrifice that Mary and Joseph were required to give after Jesus was born. This Jewish ritual was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ Himself would ultimately become. Visitors who arrive here each day leave scraps of paper on this rock inscribed with their prayer requests.

The rock is surrounded by a webbing of thorns, reminiscent of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore as He was being mocked by the Roman soldiers (see The Merged Gospels, story 276).

The Mosaic in the Right (South) Apse.

This mosaic on the right shows Jesus being arrested by the Jewish Temple guards. These guards were led to this spot by Judas Iscariot, and because of Jesus’ frequent visits here, Judas was very familiar with this location.

The Mosaic in the Left (North) Apse.

The mosaic on the left shows Judas kissing Jesus, which was his way of identifying the Son of God to the mob that came out to arrest Him. Judas greeted Jesus by saying, “Hail Rabbi,” which means teacher. Luke 22:3 tells us that Satan had already entered into Judas, and so kissing Jesus appears to be less about the hypocrisy of Judas, and more about the deception by Satan, who motivated Judas to honor Jesus as a great teacher, and yet betray Him. It is apparent that Judas didn’t know Who Jesus really was, nor did he understand Jesus’ true mission. This act of betrayal in the garden was a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9, which says, “Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

The Mosaic in the Central Apse.

The middle mosaic shows Jesus praying on the rock of Agony. He knew that He was about to experience an extremely painful death, and the Gospel of Luke tells us that His anguish was so intense that His perspiration was like great drops of blood.

Think about this - after Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness, and after He resisted Satan’s temptations by the determination of His will, angels came to minister to Him (Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:13). Immediately after this fast, Luke tells us that Satan departed from Jesus until an opportune time (Luke 4:13). That opportune time came on the night that Jesus prayed on this rock. It was here that He said, “Father if You are willing, remove this cup from me. Yet not my will, but Yours be done.”

Just as it occurred in the wilderness, an angel immediately came to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Jesus demonstrated that if the Father’s perfect will is our only desire, our resolve to obey Him will be quickly reinforced with the strength to do it. 

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