Jesus’ Cup

We see Jesus use an expression in the New Testament that is also present in the Old Testament regarding His death. He calls His death His cup. From the beginning of His ministry, He knows what lays ahead of Him, and, in Matthew 3, we see Jesus baptized. Upon this act, God declares, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased,” combining a resurrection Psalm (Psalms 2:7) and a passage of the suffering servant from Isaiah 42:1. This is a death sentence. In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His apostles who people say He is, and in verse 21, He begins to show His disciples the things He will suffer. This becomes a continual theme of His later ministry, and His death is reaffirmed by the events of the transfiguration.

Jesus knows He will suffer and die. However, He does not approach this impending fate casually. Consider Matthew 26:36 when Jesus prays in the garden. In Mark 14:32, He is in great distress. In Luke 22:46 describes the nature of His prayers to God, and Hebrews 5:7 reinforces the emotional tone of Jesus’ prayers. To Jesus, there was nothing matter-of-fact about His death. He discusses His death as a cup He must bear.

The Cup of God’s Wrath

In, Mark 10:35, James and John ask to sit by Jesus in His kingdom, and Jesus asks them if they are able to drink of the same cup as He. Matthew 26:39 records Jesus praying that His cup pass from Him. John 18:11, after His prayers are concluded and Peter has tried to defend Him from the soldiers, Jesus tells His apostle that He must drink of this cup. This cup is one’s lot in life, but, in the Old Testament, it is almost exclusively associated with God’s wrath.

  • Psalm 75:8 describes a foaming cup in describing God’s judgment against the proud and arrogant.
  • Isaiah 51:17 speaks of Jerusalem drinking from the cup of God’s wrath in their punishment.
  • Isaiah 51:22 promises the people that God will take His cup of judgment from their hands.
  • Jeremiah 25:15-26 tells of nations that will drink of God’s cup of wrath.

God’s cup is associated with God pouring out His righteous anger and judgment, and this is the imagery that Jesus invokes in speaking of His fate on the cross. The New Testament authors tell us Jesus became sin on the cross. Sin brings separation. Sin brings punishment. Sin brings the cup of God’s wrath. Can we better understand Jesus’ cry on the cross in this context? Can we understand more His pleadings to escape this fate? Yet in all this, He does not seek human sympathy. In Luke 23:28, Jesus tells the women mourning His fate to cry for themselves and their children rather than themselves. Furthermore, regardless of the cost, Jesus is obedient. Despite His pleads for an alternative, He continually repeats the refrain, “Thy will be done.”

Following in His Steps

Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink of His cup in Mark 10:35. Peter, in I Peter 2:21 calls on us to follow in His steps and suffer as He did. Jesus tells James and John that indeed they will endure what Jesus will in endure. In II Timothy 3:12, Paul says that all who live godly will face persecution. This does not mean we have to treat such trials stoically or casually. Our Lord was not stoic, but God expects us to be faithful in the face of difficulties.

Jesus was affected by His suffering, and He is affected by ours. Hebrews 4:15 and Hebrews 5:7, and Hebrews 2:18 tells us that Jesus knows and relates to what we go through. He does not treat our trials and sufferings casually. Likewise, we should not view His suffering as something common. Hebrews 6:4-6 warns us of crucifying Jesus through our actions and attitudes, making ourselves guilty of His death. We should instead humble ourselves before the cross, putting away the empty distractions that keep me from serving Him, and I should dedicate my life to His service.

lesson by Tim Smelser