In the Garden

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal he went out to a garden on the slope of the Mount of Olives, a few hundred yards east of Jerusalem. John mentions the garden setting twice as the place of Jesus’ prayers and arrest (John 18:1, 26), a place where Jesus had met with his disciples many times (John 18:2). Matthew and Mark give the local name for the place as Gethsemane (which means the olive “oil press,” Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32), suggesting there was an olive orchard there. John also wrote that the  crucifixion was in a place with a garden (John 19:41) and Jesus was buried in a new tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, in that garden (John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61). So, Jesus prayed in a garden, was arrested and fettered in a garden, died and was buried in a garden. That means he also rose from the dead in a garden, since that’s where the tomb was located (John 20:1ff).

In two of his letters, Paul specifically pointed to Jesus as the new or second Adam, the “man from heaven” (see 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45 and Romans 5:12-14). Other scriptures also allude to Jesus as fulfilling God’s purpose for man (e.g. Hebrews 2:5-15). The Hebrew word “Adam” in Genesis 2:20 and elsewhere  inthe Old Testament is also the Hebrew word for “man” or “mankind” or “a human being.” The human race is given the name of the first man God created. In Genesis 2:7 where most English Bibles say that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground,” the Hebrew word for “man” is “adam.” When we read of the first Adam, Genesis describes the place God put the man he created as “a garden in Eden” (Genesis 2:8-17) with abundant fruit trees, all but one available to the man for food, and also to his partner, the woman Eve. These two people were to take care of the garden. The garden in Eden was “planted by God” and is elsewhere referred to as the “garden of God” (see Ezekiel 28:13, 31:8-9 and Genesis 13:10). The garden by God belonged to God. The man and woman were to care for it and eat its fruit freely, except for one tree God reserved. The garden, of course, became the scene of treachery and rebellion against God, the place where sin and death entered the world and became driving forces in human destiny (Genesis 3). God had interacted with the man and woman in the garden, until sin blighted Adam and Eve and their relationships. Adam’s sin forced mankind to leave the garden, but God has always wanted and intended to have that kind of unencumbered interaction with people he created, to be with them/us in the garden he planted, to share the abundance of the garden with trustworthy human caretakers. Human sin did not cause God to abandon his purposes to share his garden with mankind.

In one of Isaiah’s kingdom prophecies he wrote of God’s promise to make Zion like the garden of Eden:  

For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song (Isaiah 51:3; see also Jeremiah 31:10-18).

The New Testament asserts that the Lord’s church inhabits that Zion which the prophets foresaw,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel… (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Considering that God started humanity is his own garden, where sin tragically began, and that God promised a flourishing garden as the future location of divine fellowship and abundance, it is fitting that Jesus came to a garden that night on the Mount of Olives, that his suffering began in a garden and climaxed with his death on the cross in a garden, and that he was buried and resurrected in a garden. Given that the first Adam was a gardener in the garden of God, it is fitting that Mary Magdalene on that morning of the first day of the week, when Jesus rose from the dead in the garden, mistook him at first glance to be “the gardener” (John 20:14-16). To borrow a phrase from N. T. Wright, “of course she thought he was the gardener!” 

When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek in the centuries before Jesus was born, the word for garden used in many of the passages referring to Eden is “paradise.” The word paradise refers to an orderly enclosed garden or orchard. In Genesis 2:8, the Greek text could be rendered “God planted a paradise in Eden.” When Jesus in Luke’s gospel said to the penitent thief on another cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), that man’s context for Jesus’ words was Genesis 2-3, and other references to the garden God had provided for the original sinless human pair, with the promises of the prophets that such a place would be the future dwelling of God’s people in his presence. Using the word “paradise,” Jesus connected the garden of God with his own imminent kingdom (Luke 23:42), and he promises life in the garden of God to all who share his victory.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise [garden] of God (Revelation 2:7).