As we enter the season of Passover and the celebration of the Resurrection, I want to share a series of three devotionals on the symbolism of the cup in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, the cup was often used to refer to God’s wrath being poured out in judgment. For instance, in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet says,
“Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.”Isaiah 51:17, NIV
In the New Testament, we also see the wrath of God against the sin of the world.
“But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”Romans 2:8
We don’t like to talk much about the wrath of God; we prefer to sing of His mercy and love. But we can’t have one without the other. Without His wrath toward sin, we would have no justice. Without His love, we couldn’t bear His wrath.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”Hebrews 12:5b-6
The Cup of God’s Wrath
God allowed calamity to come upon His nation in judgment for their sin of idolatry. The Israelites faced suffering many times throughout history at the hand of the Lord. Yet He declared in verse 21 that they would one day never drink from the cup again, because He would redeem them. Isaiah promised of a coming Messiah, or Anointed One, who will deliver them from the wrath to come.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says, your God who defends his people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.”Isaiah 51:21
Fast forward now to the coming of the Messiah and hear His own words in Matthew 20:22,
“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them, ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?””Matthew 20:22
Jesus spoke these words in response to the request of a mother who wanted her two sons to sit at His right and left when He reigned over Jerusalem. She and her sons failed to understand that the Messiah’s reign would not be political or geographical, but spiritual and everlasting.
So, what was the cup that Jesus said He was going to drink? It, too, would be a cup of wrath and suffering. The reason that God’s people would one day not drink of that cup, according to Isaiah, was that God would send a Redeemer who would drink of the cup instead. Sadly, the very ones–the Jews–to whom that promise was made, didn’t receive Him.
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”John 1:11
Jesus drank of the cup of suffering, not only in His trial and execution, but also in bearing the wrath of His Father on the cross.
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'”Matthew 26:39
The pain and suffering of the cross could not compare to the weight of judgment and wrath God poured out on His Son as He bore the sins of the world.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”2 Corinthians 5:21
The cup Jesus referred to was, not only the physical suffering of the cross, but also the pain of rejection by His Father as God turned His head away from His own Son. God is holy. He cannot look on sin; therefore, Jesus cried as He hung on the wooden beams:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Matthew 27:46
I hope you really felt the weight of that question as you read it. I hope it put a big lump in your throat to think of the sinless Lamb of God bearing the rejection of His Father and the weight of His wrath.
Because that was my sin and your sin that left Jesus forsaken on that cross. It was our sin that filled the cup of God’s wrath.
The Cup of Redemption
But wait. There’s another cup.
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’
And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'”Luke 22:14-20
Jewish tradition signifies four cups that are used during the Passover, or Night of Remembrance, as the Jews remember the night that God led them out of bondage in Egypt.
The first cup begins the seder meal and is called the cup of kiddush or sanctification. The second cup is the cup of deliverance. The third cup is the cup of redemption, and the fourth cup is the hallel, which means praise.
The cup Jesus gave thanks for in verse 17 could have been the first or second cup of the meal. The cup taken after the supper is traditionally the third cup. Luke tells us in verse 20 that this cup came “after the supper.”
Jesus proclaimed the new covenant using the cup of redemption–the cup that represented His very own blood being spilled for you and me.
You see, long ago, God had declared through the prophet Jeremiah that
“…the time is coming…when I will make a new covenant.”Jeremiah 31:31
He goes on to say that He would put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts, that He would be our God and we would be His people. God declared in verse 34 that we would be able to know Him and that He would forgive our sins.
On the night of the Passover with His disciples, Jesus declared that His blood would seal that covenant. In other words, the cup of God’s wrath for the judgment of sin would be poured out literally through His own blood. The cup of God’s wrath becomes the cup of God’s redemption for those who believe. The cup of judgment becomes the cup of salvation.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”John 1:12
And still, not all receive Him. Not all are willing to drink the cup of the new covenant, because with the cup comes the cross.
“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.'”Luke 9:23-24
“‘And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.'”Luke 14:27
Are we willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for our sins, and laying down our own lives for His glory?
This season, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, may we never forget the judgment, wrath, and suffering of Jesus that the cup represents. May we live our lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1), not walking in sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1), but walking in the Spirit that we might live (Romans 8:13).
Lord, let us come to the table humble and holy. Let us remember Your wrath for our sin poured out on the Lamb of God. And when we put the cup to our lips, let us drink deeply of the mercy that comes when we accept Your Son as the King of our hearts, for only in Him does mercy triumph over judgment.