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Come, Follow Me: Luke 22; John 18

This is a series eviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.

Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence in the church’s curriculum is being reviewed.)

June 12-18, 2023

Luke 22; John 18

There were only three mortal witnesses to Jesus Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane—and they slept through much of it. In that garden and later on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the sins, pains, and sufferings of every person who ever lived, although almost no one alive at that time knew what was happening.

LDS leaders disagree with Bible-believing Christians when it comes to the when the atonement took place. What is said in the lesson above is, sadly, entirely consistent with what the leadership has historically taught. For example:

13th President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him.”

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 14.

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

“The sectarian world falsely suppose that the climax of his torture and suffering was on the cross (Matt. 27:26-50; Mark 15:1-38; Luke 23:1-46; John 18; 19:1-18) — a view which they keep ever before them by the constant use of the cross as a religious symbol. The fact is that intense and severe as the suffering was on the cross, yet the great pains were endured in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1.) It was there that he trembled because of pain, bled at every pore, and suffered both in body and in spirit, and would that he ‘might not drink the bitter cup.’ (D. & C. 19:15-19; Mosiah 3:7.) It was there he underwent his greatest suffering for men, taking upon himself, as he did, their sins on conditions of repentance. (D. & C. 18:10-15.).”

Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 555.

And 17th President Russell M. Nelson explained:

“Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all mankind, even as many as will, shall be redeemed. The Savior began shedding His blood for all mankind, not on the cross but in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He took upon Himself the weight of the sins of all
who would ever live. Under that heavy load, He bled at every pore.”

“The Message: His Mission and Ministry,” New Era magazine, December 1999, 4, 6.. He repeated himself on page 51 of the Ensign (Conference edition), “Stand Strong in Holy Places,” May 2013, 51.

Many more quotes could be found. Yet what this teaching by LDS leaders is contradicted by the Bible. In our book Mormonism 101, Bill McKeever and I wrote the following section:

Christianity’s Definition of Atonement

The atonement is the act of bringing people together with God by means of a sacrifice. Since all men and women are inherently sinful by nature as well as action, Philippians 2:7 reports that Christ made Himself of no reputation by taking “the form of a servant.” He was made in human likeness and humbled Himself, becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (v. 8). Hebrews 2:17 says this was done in order that He might make “reconciliation for the sins of the people.”

Matthew 1:21 says that Jesus would come to “save his people from their sins.” No other conclusion can be made except that only God’s personal intervention would be able to overcome humanity’s sinful condition. If our personal merit could satisfy the penalty of sin, then no atonement would have even been necessary. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

In Old Testament times, redemption was demonstrated through the ceremonial sacrifice. God made it clear that forgiveness would be provided only through the death of an innocent substitute that represented the payment for the penalty of sin. Sacrifices were made in the Jerusalem temple on a regular basis for the sins of individuals; however, the people of Israel celebrated the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, once a year. On this sacred day, the Jewish high priest would offer sacrifice for Israel as a nation, which sought reconciliation with the God whom they had offended.

Still, the mere act itself of killing an animal for one’s sins did not appease God. Through many examples, the Bible states that redemption was based on an individual’s faith in what the sacrifice represented. This faith would lead to the obvious act of repentance, thereby making the sacrifice satisfactory. God had no pleasure in sacrifice without these two important elements.

This principle can be seen in the example of Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:3–5 says that both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord, “but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” The writer of Hebrews explained that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because, unlike Cain’s, it was offered in righteous faith (Heb. 11:4). Since the wages of sin is death (both physical and spiritual), the repentant sinner sees the sacrifice as a vicarious substitute. The animal was symbolically taking on itself the penalty due sinful people.

Christian theologian Leon Morris wrote:

“Nobody who came thoughtfully to God by the way of sacrifice could be in any doubt but that sin was a serious matter. It could not be put aside by a lighthearted wave of the hand but required the shedding of blood. . . . Noone who came to God by the way of offering the best in his flock would put a low value on the privilege of such an approach. He would realize, as many of us today do not, that the service of God must cost us something.”

The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, 1983, 50-51.

Unfortunately, as time went on, many Jews offered sacrifice out of mere protocol, not by faith. To many the significance of what the sacrifice represented was lost in legalistic attitudes. The New Testament book of Hebrews explains that the animal sacrificial system typified what Christ would do when He would voluntarily pay the price of sin through His own death. Morris adds on page 84:

The high priest could do no more than enter the Holy of Holies himself. He could not take anyone with him. And he could enter only on the one day in the year. The fullest exercise of his ministry with all the solemnity at his command obtained only a very limited access: access on one day for him only. The people must forever be content with access by proxy. But in Hebrews there is emphasis on two wonderful truths: Christ secured access into the very presence of God in heaven (as we have just seen, Heb. 9:11–12, 24) and access not for himself only but for all his people as well. . . . Because Christ’s blood was shed, all who believe in him have access into the very holiest of all.

Through the sacrifice of God’s Son, those who were once enemies of God can now know that the barrier that separated them from their Creator has been removed. So powerful is this sacrificial act that believers can be assured that all their sins—past, present, and future—are now forgiven. Colossians 2:13–14 reads: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. “(ESV)

Christians have long maintained that this glorious act of sacrifice took place on Golgotha, known as the Place of the Skull. This area outside the walls of Jerusalem was reserved for the execution of prisoners, both political and criminal. It was here that God Himself was subject to the humiliating death of a common criminal.

The Cross, Not the Garden

By emphasizing what took place in the Garden of Gethsemane, LDS leaders miss a significant point regarding the atonement. The expiation of sin (making amends for wrongdoing) was not based on the substitute’s perspiration; rather, it was based on his expiration. Christ’s atonement for the sins of the believer was accomplished in His death, not in the short time that He spent in the garden.

Paul stressed that Christ’s death was of primary importance in the atonement. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 he wrote, “I delivered unto you first of all . . . that Christ died for our sins.” Throughout the New Testament, the death of Christ is emphasized. Referring to Christ’s reconciliation, Paul told the Christians in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In verse 10, he added, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”

Meanwhile, Hebrews 9:22 states that there is no remission of sins without the shedding (not sweating) of blood. According to verse 26, Christ came in order to do away with sin by His own sacrifice. Referring to this passage, Christian theologian Leon Morris wrote:

Animal sacrifice can never produce a purification valid in heaven. But Christ’s sacrifice can. . . . The sacrifice of himself means an infinitely better sacrifice than any that was possible under the Levitical system. . . . That is one point that this author emphasizes. Another is the finality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Repeatedly he tells us that Christ offered himself “once and for all” or the like. Believers have been made holy “through the sacrifice of the body of
Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10); he “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” (verse 12); “by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy” (verse 14). And he removes decisively the possibility of any further offering by saying that, when sins have been forgiven (as they have been through what Christ has done), “there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Heb. 10:18). The utter finality of Christ’s sacrifice is an important truth.

The Atonement, 64-65.

The sacrifice spoken of was the death that Jesus suffered. The cross—not the Garden of Gethsemane—is given preeminence, as the following texts attest:

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14, emphasis added).

And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Eph. 2:16, emphasis added).

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8, emphasis added).

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Col. 1:20, emphasis added).

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2, emphasis added).

Unlike LDS leaders, Paul gloried in the cross, not the garden, for it was on the cross that Jesus provided for the Christian’s future salvation.

Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Luke 22:31–34, 54–62; John 18:17–27

Luke 22:39–46

The Savior suffered for me in Gethsemane.

President Russell M. Nelson invited us to “invest time in learning about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice” (“Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2017, 40).

Consider what you will do to accept President Nelson’s invitation. You might start by prayerfully pondering the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane, as described in these verses, and writing impressions and questions that come to mind.

While Jesus’s death on the cross is not totally ignored by LDS leaders, the implication is that this method of execution was only a necessary evil so that the resurrection could take place. While I would never imply that it is required for a Christian church to have a cross on display, no Latter-day Saint chapel or other building has one. In fact, in the mind of many Latter-day Saints, the symbolism of the cross is not nearly as important as it is to the Christian. A reference
manual reports,

The cross is used in many Christian churches as a symbol of the Savior’s death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also remember with reverence the suffering of the Savior. But because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith.

True to the Faith, 45-46.

Misunderstanding the Christian symbol of the cross, such as one strategically placed in a church sanctuary, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

However, to bow down before a cross or to look upon it as an emblem to be revered because of the fact that our Savior died upon a cross is repugnant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . . To many, like the writer, such a custom is repugnant and contrary to the true worship of our Redeemer. Why should we bow down before a cross or use it as a symbol? Because our Savior died on the cross, the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste and inconsistent to our worship.
. . . We may be definitely sure that if our Lord had been killed with a dagger or with a sword, it would have been very strange indeed if religious people of this day would have graced such a weapon by wearing it and adoring it because it was by such a means that our Lord was put to death.

Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:17-18.

For those who hold that there is atonement available in the blood of Christ, an LDS Church tract proclaims:

Christians speak often of the blood of Christ and its cleansing power. Much that is believed and taught on this subject, however, is such utter nonsense and so palpably false that to believe it is to lose one’s salvation. For instance, many believe or pretend to believe that if we confess Christ with our lips and avow that we accept him as our personal Savior, we are thereby saved. They say that his blood, without any other act than mere belief, makes us clean

What the Mormons Think of Christ, 1976, 19-20. Romans 10:910 states that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” May we recommend chapter 17 (“Why do you emphasize the cross? Why highlight Christ’s suffering and death?” in our book Answering Mormons’ Questions.

Yet why is it that the Bible stresses the death of Jesus, not merely His sweat? I can’t find one place in the Bible that glorifies the Garden of Gethsemane. Credit is consistently give to the cross. As Hebrews 9 puts it:

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

It was the expiation of the sacrificial victim, not the perspiration, that was considered efficacious. The death on the cross is the defining moment for Christians and the forgiveness of their sins.

Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening

Luke 22:39–46.

Learning about the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane can be a sacred experience for your family. Consider what you can do to create a reverent and worshipful spirit as you study Luke 22:39–46. You might play or sing together some of your family’s favorite hymns or children’s songs about the Savior. You could look at related artwork or watch a video like “The Savior Suffers in Gethsemane” ( As you read the verses, family members could share passages that are especially meaningful to them—perhaps a passage that helps them feel the Savior’s love (see also Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42). You might also invite them to share their testimonies of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

My problem, again, is that the suffering that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane–indeed, there was suffering–has nothing to do with the atonement. This concept is contradicted in this lesson and will confuse the members who are doing this study.

John 18:38-39

How would we answer Pilate’s question “What is truth?” (verse 38).

Truth is describing reality the way it really is. Gethsemane is not where the atonement took place, regardless of what the leaders want to teach.


Obviously Mormonism misses the point of how atonement took place for the believer’s sins. It was at the cross of Christ that the death of God’s own Son was given in payment for the believer’s sins. For more than a century Christians have sung the hymn “At the Cross,” which portrays the importance of the atonement. Its chorus is:

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away (rolled away),
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.

As for me, I’m glad that Jesus died on the cross to forgive me of my sins. Although Romans 6:23a says that the wages of sin is death, the rest of the verse provides the eternal promise that “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is more to it than the severe torment that Christ endured at Gethsemane; rather, it was His death that is efficacious. I will cherish that old rugged cross.

For more on the Atonement, see Crash Course Mormonism’s take on this doctrine.

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