“Does John 12:27 conflict with Matthew 26:39 — the former suggesting that Jesus approached his impending death without hesitation, while the latter suggests just the opposite?”
Here are the texts under consideration:
“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour” (Jn. 12:27).
“And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
Do these two passage contradiction one another?
The “law of contradiction” asserts that a thing cannot both be and not be — if the same subject is under consideration, if the same time period is in view, and if the language is employed in the identical sense (i.e., literal or figurative) — in the statements that allegedly conflict.
First of all, in the circumstances at hand, note the time frame. The Lord’s initial utterance came on the occasion when some Greeks came to Phillip, desiring the see the Master (Jn. 12:20ff). Andrew and Phillip approached Jesus about the matter. This was a week before the ordeal of Gethsemane (cf. 12:1).
Second, Jesus was under intense emotional strain. “Now is my soul troubled,” he says. The grammar (perfect tense) reflects an abiding state of great agitation.
He then asks: “What shall I say?”
The issue now becomes — how is one to read the Savior’s reply to his rhetorical question? Is it a request? “Save me from this hour!” (KJV; ASV). Or, is it a question: “Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?” (NIV, ESV)? The translations vary on how to render the language.
The following statement: “But for this purpose I have come....” would seem to imply that the question should have a negative answer. Thus the NIV takes the liberty of rendering it: “No, it was for this very reason I came....” That very likely is the meaning. The sense thus would be: “Shall I ask the Father for deliverance? No, that would frustrate the very purpose for which I came. I will not ask.” This, then, would be a resolute affirmation of his determination to die on behalf of fallen man.
That, however, does not create a conflict between his later utterances in the garden, when he prays, “Let this cup pass from me” (Mt. 26:39).
One must remember that Jesus was human as well as divine, and he had terrible moments of anxiety as he approached the dread of dying for sin (cf. Heb. 5:7). Though the Savior had a temporary moment of aspiration — “if it be possible” — it was tempered with that “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That expresses the same rock-solid resolution reflected on the previous occasion.
These two moods, therefore, experienced at different times, reveal some variation, yet an underlying unity; they thus pose no inconsistency. It is but an act of desperation on the part of infidelity to so perceive the matter.