“Jesus Suffered, Died, and Rose Again for Us,” Liahona, April 2021
What comes to mind when you think about the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Some members of the Church think primarily about what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. But what about the Crucifixion? Was that part of the Savior’s Atonement? And what about the Resurrection?
Sister Wendy W. Nelson taught that there are three principal events in the Savior’s Atonement:
“First, … His incomprehensible suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. …
“Second, … His Crucifixion—during which time all the incomprehensible mental anguish, the immeasurable emotional grief, and the unimaginable physical pain of Gethsemane returned to Him. …
“Third, … His literal and glorious Resurrection from the garden tomb.”1
The Doctrine and Covenants offers precious teachings about each of these principal events in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because “any increase in our understanding of [Christ’s] atoning sacrifice draws us closer to Him,”2 we can significantly benefit from studying all of these aspects of the Savior’s Atonement.
The Savior Himself tells us what He experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. He shared His experience to urge us to repent and let Him suffer for us rather than having to suffer ourselves as He did for the consequences of our sins:
“I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Significantly, this suffering took place in a place called Gethsemane. President Russell M. Nelson explained:
“The word Gethsemane comes from two Hebrew roots: gath, meaning ‘press,’ and shemen, meaning ‘oil,’ especially that of the olive.
“There olives had been pressed under the weight of great stone wheels to squeeze precious oil from the olives. So the Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was literally pressed under the weight of the sins of the world. He sweated great drops of blood—his life’s ‘oil’—which issued from every pore.”3
Near the location known today as Gethsemane, archaeologists have discovered a first-century olive press, indicating it was a place of olive pressing in the time of Christ. They also found a Roman road just steps away from Gethsemane that led out of town. The Savior could have taken this road, walked away from Jerusalem and all those who plotted His death, and lived out His life in safety. As we reflect on Gethsemane, we can remember that He did not walk away from us on that night—and He is not walking away from us now. He continues to reach out to us; His “arm of mercy hath atoned for [our] sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:1).
The Savior was crucified just outside the walls of Jerusalem. One author in the first century AD explained, “When we crucify criminals the most frequented roads are chosen, where the greatest number of people can look and be seized by this fear.”4
While some people have supposed that Christ suffered for our sins only in Gethsemane, Gerald N. Lund, who later became a member of the Seventy, called this a “doctrinal error.”5 In fact, more than 50 passages of scripture teach that Jesus Christ died for our sins; at least 12 such passages are in the Doctrine and Covenants.6 Indeed, the first of the spiritual gifts listed in Doctrine and Covenants 46 is to be “given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:13; emphasis added). In addition to suffering for our sins in Gethsemane, the Savior died for them on the cross. Recognizing this can add new layers to our appreciation for Christ’s perfect Atonement.
For example, the Savior states:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10–11).
This passage becomes even more powerful when we remember that the word behold means “to fix the eyes upon; to see with attention.”7 Thus the Savior says:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, [look and pay attention], the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh.”
What is the evidence of our worth? Jesus died for us. As we deepen our understanding of Christ’s death, it increases our sense of worth and the worth of others.
In at least seven passages in the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ personally connects Himself with the Crucifixion to emphasize His role as our Savior.8 This repeated emphasis is an important indication of what Calvary means to Him. For example, when He visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery at the Kirtland Temple, the Savior said, “I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:4).
On another occasion, Christ again used His death as a key piece of advocacy to the Father on our behalf:
“Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
“Saying: Father, behold [look at] the sufferings and death of him who did no sin … ;
“Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:3–5; emphasis added).
Can you envision yourself standing next to Christ, who is personally pleading for you, saying, “Father, look at my sufferings and death—please forgive my beloved friend”?
Both Gethsemane and Calvary are vital parts of Christ’s atoning for our sins. President Russell M. Nelson highlighted this connection, teaching: “In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior took upon Himself every pain, every sin, and all of the anguish and suffering ever experienced by you and me and by everyone who has ever lived or will ever live. … All of this suffering was intensified as He was cruelly crucified on Calvary’s cross.”9
Through Christ’s experiences in Gethsemane and Calvary, “Jesus became a fully comprehending Christ and was enabled to be a fully succoring Savior”10 who understands our pains and sorrows. At times in our lives, each of us will need the Savior’s sustaining succoring.
A woman I’ll call Megan shared a poignant experience she had shortly after her husband announced his desire for a divorce. Recalling one Sunday when she was sitting in sacrament meeting, Megan said, “I hadn’t anticipated how awkward and painful it would be to sit there in church, pretending that everything was OK when inside my heart was breaking and my stomach was churning. The thoughts in my mind seemed to be on a continual loop of pleadings with the Lord: ‘What am I going to do? How can I be a single parent and provide the kind of life I want for my kids?’”
On that occasion Megan’s answer came in the closing hymn—“How Firm a Foundation.”11 As she heard the lyrics “As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be,” her heart felt peace. To succor means to “run to support; … to help or relieve when in difficulty, want or distress; to assist and deliver from suffering.”12 Megan realized that even in her circumstances, she could turn to Christ and He would come to her aid. When we go through excruciating trials, even to the point of feeling abandoned by God, Christ will empathize with and succor us because He has experienced that very feeling.
Although the events of Gethsemane and Golgotha are of supreme importance, they would be meaningless without the Resurrection. Every year, millions of pilgrims travel to Jerusalem to visit an empty tomb. Although the Jewish authorities sealed the stone in front of the tomb (see Matthew 27:66), an angel rolled it back and Jesus broke the bands of death (see Matthew 28:2; Mosiah 15:23).
As with the other two pillars of the Savior’s Atonement, the Doctrine and Covenants clearly teaches the reality and importance of Christ’s Resurrection. In a vision, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw the living Jesus Christ and declared:
“This is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22–23).
The Doctrine and Covenants helps us understand that when our spirits and bodies are separated, it will feel like “bondage” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:17) and we “cannot receive a fulness of joy” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:34). Because “the spirit and the body [together] are the soul of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15), we will not be truly redeemed when our spirits and bodies are separated. Thus, “the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:16).
We will, of course, feel sorrow at the passing of loved ones and may even fear the end of our own lives. However, we can replace our sorrow and fear with the sure knowledge that because of Christ, each of us will “rise from the dead and shall not die after” (Doctrine and Covenants 63:49). Moreover, those who die in Christ “shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:46).
Always, and especially at this time of year, we can focus our attention on Jesus Christ. On the Thursday before Easter, we can pause and reflect on His supreme sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane. On Good Friday (meaning “Holy Friday”)13 we can commemorate the “redemption … wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:35). And on Easter morning, we can rejoice in the empty tomb and “the Living Christ.”14 Because of the Savior’s perfect Atonement in Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb, each of us can find joy, peace, and assurance—today and every day.