“And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’”
A Christian brother, Paul, brought this verse to my attention one day. His brother is a Mormon, a non-Christian. Their denial of the truth of the Trinity is tragic but continuous.
The point was made by the Mormon that there were two wills in this passage, apparently contradictory wills. The first was Jesus’ will – He willed that the cup pass Him. The second was God the Father’s will – He willed that Jesus drink the cup.
I reviewed this argument several times. I also looked through several Mormon apologetic books. The only thing I found was that Muslims use this same verse with the same point.
Their reading is incorrect. To understand we must again joyfully turn to Jesus Christ. When Jesus was incarnated He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant [or bondservant], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). This incomprehensible humbling brings God into human flesh. With this in mind we remember Matthew 24:36 (Mark 13:32), where Jesus shows that in His incarnation He does not have complete access to His omniscience (His ability to know all things). This fits perfectly with Jesus’ admission in John 5:19, “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’”. Since the Son can do nothing of His own accord, He must depend on the Father for everything, even His knowledge (Luke 2:52). This was the key to understanding Matthew 26:39.
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it be possible”. At this point, in His incarnation, Jesus does not know whether or not it is possible for the Father to take the cup from Him. Jesus acknowledges that His will is separated from the will of the Father by knowledge, not because of differing or opposing wills in the godhead. That is our answer to the Mormon and the Muslim.
For our own benefit, the rest of the verse is very insightful as well. Understanding the above, Jesus continues by showing His submission to the Father, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will”. Jesus knows His will is not completely informed in His humanity and therefore He submits to the Father. In the same manner we should submit ourselves to God because of our complete dependance on Him for all things.