John 18:1—“A Garden, into the which He Entered”

John’s description of the events in the garden is only one sentence and tells us almost nothing at all about what happened there.

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples (John 18:1).

John chooses not to write about Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is one of three very sacred experiences about he says little or nothing. The other two are the Mount of Transfiguration when he and Peter were with Jesus, and the administration of the sacrament at the last supper. John tells about the supper but not the sacrament. It is curious that he did not write about them even though he was present for each (Mark 14:33, Matthew 17:1, John 13:23)

Matthew and Mark each wrote that while Jesus was on the cross he recited at least the first words of the 22nd psalm, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.” While John does not say Jesus quoted it, he does show how the Roman soldiers fulfilled the psalm’s prophecy about the Savior’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:35).

Perhaps he felt that they were too sacred to talk about, or perhaps he did not discuss them because his purpose was to focus the high points of his gospel: Jesus’s teaching his apostles in chapters 13-16 and Jesus’s prayer to his Heavenly Father in chapter 17. Or perhaps he did not mention them because he wanted to follow the outline of the ancient Israelite temple drama.

Even though Jesus’s coronation on the Mount of Transfiguration, his administering and teaching about the sacrament, and finally his atoning sacrifice in Gethsemane, were all in their necessary sequence in Jesus’s biography, they would have disrupted the sequence of the temple drama as John laid it out. The plot of the pre-exilic temple drama was also a representation of the Savior’s eternal biography. It is that story John was very interested in telling.{1}

Like First Nephi, the entire Book of Mormon, the Hymn of the Pearl, and many other sacred writings, the Gospel of John follows the pattern of a chiasmus, which is also the pattern of Israelite temple drama. Some scholars call it the outline of the cosmic myth, others call it the hero cycle. It looks like this:{2}

A The hero is required to leave home.
B He is given a seemingly impossible task.
C He confronts overwhelming odds and certain failure
b He succeeds in accomplishing the task.
a He returns home, triumphantly.

A way of writing that so it is more meaningful to Latter-day Saints is to show it as an outline of the plan of salvation.

A The hero is required to leave his premortal home.
B Before leaving, he is given a difficult task.
C On earth he confronts daunting odds.
b Notwithstanding the difficulties, he succeeds.
a He returns triumphant to his celestial home.

By following the pattern of the ancient temple drama in the Gospel of John, John’s early Christian readers would have been able to recognize it as symbolic of their own eternal quest.

A      Chapters 1-3 establish Jesus’s identity as Jehovah, the Light and Life of the world, the creator God, the Father’s Only Begotten Son, his Beloved Son, and the Messiah. John uses Jesus’s association with his Father and conversations with his friends to establish Jesus’s identity.

B       Chapters 4-16 tell of Jesus’s difficulty with the unbelieving Jews, but they mostly focus on his devotion and loving relationships with his true friends.

C      Chapters 17-19 are his final report to his Father, then his trial, death, and burial. As John tells the story these events are interlaced with recollections of the unwavering devotion of Jesus’s friends: Peter and John as witnesses, his mother Mary and John at the cross, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa at his burial.

b      Chapters 20-21 are the evidences of Jesus’s absolute success: his resurrection, appearances to Mary, Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles, concluding with his giving Peter and John their final assignments at the Sea of Tiberius.

a      John concludes with his own testimony, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” It will be in First John that he tells that Jesus’s relationship with the Saints is his eternal triumph.

It is appropriate that John the Beloved ended his history with his personal testimony of the resurrected Christ. The whole of John’s gospel is woven around the love and loyalty, hesed, established among Jesus and his friends, and the conclusion that those friendships transcend death.


{1}The first half of Baker and Ricks, Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, uses the psalms to reconstruct the Israelite temple drama enacted each year while Solomon’s Temple was in use.

{2}John W. Welch, ed. Chiasmus in Antiquity (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1981)


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