Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 18:1 (Holman) After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it.
The Fiumicino is a small river that flows 20 miles through eastern Italy before emptying into the Adriatic Sea. This unimpressive stream has achieved legendary status in history because history was drastically altered by a decision made on its banks.
One night in 49 B.C., Julius Caesar and the large Roman army he commanded were camped on its shore. Having been successful in Gaul, he was becoming very popular with the people. The Roman Senate feared him, and sent him orders to disband his army and return to Rome alone.
He was camped on the border between Gaul and Italy at the Fiumicino River, which was then called the Rubicon. Julius had to decide whether to cross the river alone and face certain demotion, or take his army with him, and start a Civil War. He told his officers, “We can yet draw back; but if we cross this stream, all must be decided by the sword.”
After a night spent in anxious deliberation, Caesar had a vision at daybreak that made up his mind. Looking across the stream he saw an angel holding a trumpet. The majestic figure blew the signal for advance, and then plunged into the river.
Caesar immediately exclaimed, “The die is cast!” He brazenly crossed the stream followed by his army. This decisive act led to the end of the Roman Republic.
To this day, “to cross the Rubicon” means to take a daring step which entails no return. Caesar crossing the Rubicon, though, fades in importance when compared to Jesus crossing the Kidron.
By doing the latter, Christ headed for the very spot where He knew Judas would bring the Roman soldiers later that night. By crossing the Kidron, Jesus was voluntarily making His way to die for the sins of the world.
The die was cast! Jesus was determined to do it. Let’s take this walk of sorrow with the Master across Kidron, and try to recapture the atmosphere of that night.
John is the only New Testament writer to mention Kidron by name. He did so for a reason. He wanted everyone to remember this was not the first time God’s chosen King had been rejected by the Jews.
David walked this same way when fleeing his son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23). The people rejected David, though he was anointed of God. Now they were again rejecting God’s chosen leader.
It was a fateful night for David and his friends when they crossed the Kidron heartbroken and weeping (2 Samuel 15:30). David was never the same again. It was the ultimate crisis of his life.
There had been heartbreak before, but after this, every vestige of light-heartedness was difficult to muster. His heart never laughed again. The treachery of his beloved son sent him to his grave a broken sorrow-stricken man.
Jesus and His disciples were also engulfed in a pallor of death at the Kidron. Jesus had spoken of pending death. The Apostles knew something terrible was about to happen. Gloom was overcoming them.
David, on that night, was betrayed by his personal friend and advisor, Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:31). Jesus, on this night, had Judas. Not long after their treachery, Ahithophel and Judas both hanged themselves.
David stopped at the Mount of Olives to worship God (2 Samuel 15:32); Jesus also stopped there to pray. John wanted to call these many similarities to mind, but one stark contrast was worth noting.
David fled to escape treachery and violence; Jesus crossed over that He might endure these evils for the sake of sinners. David fled to life; Jesus to death.
While others were going to bed, Jesus was walking to prayer. The approaching circumstances compelled Him to pray. God was His only recourse.
He had nowhere else to turn, and out there on the hillside He had a private place where He prayed. Jesus needed the Father.
The fact He had to spend his evenings on the Mount of Olives showed no one in Jerusalem itself was willing to risk having Him as an overnight house-guest. It was Bethlehem repeated 33 years later – no room.
In the heart of Bethlehem, there had been no room for Jesus; in the heart of Jerusalem, no room; and in the hearts of most people today, there’s still no room for Him. Jesus’ only hope was God.
There were many gardens or orchards on the Mount of Olives. These plots of private property were enclosed by a fence to secure privacy and protection.
Wealthy people owned them and used them to grow plants because Jewish law forbade the use of manure as a fertilizer on the soil of the Holy City proper. The gardens also provided a quiet escape from the noise and bustle of overcrowded Jerusalem.
Some unidentified acquaintance of Jesus evidently allowed Him the use of Gethsemane Garden. Gethsemane means “oil-press.” It was probably a place where oil was extracted from olives which grew on the Mount of Olives. At night Jesus came here to rest and pray.
It is noteworthy Jesus chose His place of prayer as the place of His agony and betrayal. He wanted to meet the evening’s first onslaught behind an embankment of prayer.
Learn a lesson from our Master. The best preparation for a coming trial is wrestling in prayer with God.
Don’t venture into a day’s battles without first girding on your armor. Jesus prayed before He fought. If He needed it, how much more do we?
As Jesus descended the hillside toward Kidron, He was the great Teacher. Once He stepped over it and started up the hillside He was the great Sacrifice.
Jerusalem sits on the southern tip of a mountain range. A valley to its west and another to its east converge at its southern tip.
West of Jerusalem was the Valley of Gehenna, where carcasses and garbage were burned continually. It was the city dump, and gave its name, Gehenna, to Hell.
East of Jerusalem was the Kidron Valley. The name Kidron means dark, murky. It was probably named this due to its being the town’s sewage ditch. Its waters were always tainted from the mud and sewage it carried. Most of its drainage was from the Temple, which it flowed by.
During Passover week some 250,000 lambs were offered at the Temple. The blood of these lambs flowed from the altar down a channel to the brook Kidron. Inevitably, for that whole week, the Kidron was literally blood red.
Therefore, when Jesus approached it this night, the smell and color would remind Him of the blood of Passover lambs. It would vividly picture for Him His own fast-approaching death as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.
If Jesus were going to turn back, He would have done it at Kidron. Instead, He looked at the flowing blood and decided His own blood would also flow for our sins. He crossed over.
Soon He literally shed His blood to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus truly was the Lamb of God, which took away the sin of the world, including our sin.