After entering the garden, He instructed His apostles - "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40). While they were doing such, He would go elsewhere in the garden to speak with the Heavenly Father. Jesus and His apostles were entering into a period of extreme trial and temptation. Jesus intended to fortify Himself against it by prayer, and He exhorted them to do likewise. He knew that the temptation to forsake Him would overcome most of them at His arrest (cf. Matt. 26:31).
Matthew 26:37-39 reads - "And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.' He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.'"
Jesus, in addition to seeking heavenly aid in this difficult hour, also desires human sympathy. Of all the apostles, Peter, James, and John shared the strongest bond with Jesus and were thus best qualified to comfort Him (cf. Matt. 17:1ff). After Jesus separated Himself from His apostles (i.e., the eight) "about a stone's throw" (i.e., 150 to 200 feet; Luke 22:41), He then told Peter, James, and John of His deep sorrow--even to the point of death--and His desire for them to stay and watch with Him. In America, people will sometimes say they have been scared "half-to-death." That is a figure of speech, but Jesus is not employing such on this occasion. His internal suffering is almost to the point of death, yet the crucifixion is still hours away. He feels as if He will not survive the pressure bearing down upon Him. It was as a weight that grew heavier by the minute. Jesus yearns for their comfort, perhaps even fearing that He may collapse physically and need their assistance. He who had been their comforter in every hour of trouble and danger, now calls on them for the help which their wakeful sympathy would give Him in the hour of His agony. Jesus, in His time of weakness, longs to lean on the arm of human friendship.
"He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed" - Jesus separated Himself from Peter, James, and John, evidently so they could not view His prostrated body upon the ground or hear His words to the Father. Had they been able to see or hear Him during His prayers, it seems doubtful that they would have fallen asleep.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.