In, light of this statement, it should be mentioned that neither the Bible nor Mormon scriptures specifically state that the atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. To have the atonement occur in the garden would be contrary to the narrative of the entire Word of God. In Old Testament times, redemption was demonstrated through the ceremonial sacrifice of an animal. 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. Never did an animal sit somewhere alone in a pasture and suffer as a substitute sacrifice for sin. This LDS addition of the garden has absolutely no biblical connection to the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant, which were a picture of the shedding of the Lord’s blood which occurred, on the cross.
The New Testament explains that the animal sacrificial system typified what Christ would do when He would voluntarily pay the price for sin through His own death. Hebrews 9:1-10:18 emphasizes wonderful truths concerning this event. Christ, Himself secured access into the very presence of God in heaven not just for Himself only, but for all who believed on Him. Because Christ’s blood was shed through His death, all who believe in Him now have access into the presence of the Holy One.
The garden is where He suffered great agony in His humanity over the impending pain and suffering that would culminate with His death on the cross. His will was to do the Father’s will, but His flesh was shrinking at the thought of being beaten and crucified. The agony He suffered in the garden was so intense for Him that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:44. The way it is written may suggest that His sweat was so profuse that the drops of sweat were heavy like what great drops of blood would look like. The fact that only Dr. Luke records it makes it more likely that he was using a figure of speech.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus prays in the garden three times to the Father that if it be possible, “this cup” – meaning His taking on our sin – would pass from Him, but that God’s will would be done. Once Jesus was outside the garden facing the temple soldiers, Peter acts rashly by cutting off Malchus’ ear. Jesus says to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Jesus is implying to Peter, ‘I just overcame the temptation to follow My own will. And now you are stepping in to impede what I was sent to do, which is to drink the cup my Father gave me to drink! Put away your sword and let me precede to the cross, to drink this cup.’
While Jesus was in the garden, God sent “an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43). However, once Jesus was on the cross, the Father abandoned Him, leaving Him to His own, and sending no angel to help. Why? Because while Jesus was on the cross, God was delivering the full wrath for the punishment for our sins. The imputted sins of the world caused Jesus for the first time in eternity to be separated from the Holy God. And how did He respond? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34). It is illogical to think that if God poured out His wrath upon His Son for our sin in the garden that He would at the same time send an angel to strengthen Him. Which is, by the way, the reason no angel was sent to strengthen Him on the cross.
What did occur in the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was preparing to face the most extreme and ultimate suffering imaginable: being separated from His Father on high. Satan was not about to leave our Lord alone when He was about to embark on the only act that would overcome the devil and his powers, once and for all. THIS was the trial of the garden: Jesus overcoming the very natural temptation or desire to let this cup pass. He prayed for Himself (Matthew 26:39, 42-44) to have the human strength to endure the pain and torture of the cross. The moment Jesus relinquishes Himself into the hands of sinful men, the atonement began – the binding, the slapping, the spitting, the mockery, and the scourging “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities…with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Therefore the beatings, the torture, the fatigue, and humiliation, all culminating in His crucifixion and death on the cross were all part of His atonement for our sins. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that for our sins Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” Before Jesus was put upon that horrible tree of terror, only the most vile, heinous, condemned men who were hated by society were hung there. Anyone who was crucified was, seen as the lowest of low, a perfect picture of our state in sin.
It should disturb us when religious leaders, who call themselves prophets and apostles, distract our attention from Christ’s suffering atonement on the cross, causing people to focus on things that are not right or true. Statements like the President Nelson’s cause people to miss the cross, to see another Jesus, to discount the meaning of His suffering, and revise the truth of Jesus’ atoning work. It is a twisting of the Scripture. If Satan can get people to take their eyes off the truth of the gospel and redirect them to something that is a lie, he was won a victory. The Bible stands on its own, testifying of exactly what His suffering and death on the cross accomplished: Psalm 22:1, 6-8, 15-16; Luke 9:23; Romans 5:6-11; Romans 6:6; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18; Colossians 1:20-22 Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 9:13-16; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 2:24; Revelation 13:8.