In Matthew 20:20-23, the mother of two disciples came to Yeshua and asked whether her two sons could sit on Yeshua’s left and right. In verse 23, Yeshua asked the two disciples if they could drink from the “cup” He was about to drink. The sons answered they were able to drink and Yeshua assures them that they will drink from His “cup” even though they will not sit next to Him. Nowhere in this narrative does Yeshua describe or tell us what “cup” He is referencing. Here is another classic example of Yeshua referring to a cluster of texts from the Hebrew Scripture and expecting His audience to know His point of reference.
We move to the time of Yeshua’s death in Matthew 26:36-42. In this narrative, Yeshua goes to Get-Shemen (Oil Press) and takes three disciples with Him to keep watch while He prays. In this prayer, Yeshua asks that “this cup would pass” and repeats this same prayer in verse 42. Nowhere is the meaning of the “cup” discussed by Yeshua nor does Matthew give his audience a narrative aside to explain the meaning of this “cup.”
Because Yeshua’s death is closing in, the perceptive reader who has continued reading knows that the “cup” has something to do with Yeshua’s death but doesn’t know why the metaphor of “drinking from a cup” is being used.
In order to understand this metaphor of a “cup,” we will need to look at several texts from the Hebrew Scripture. Our first text is Isaiah 51:17, which reads, “Awake, Awake! Stand up O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord, the cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out.”
Later in the same chapter (verse 22), we hear once again of the “cup of trembling” and the “dregs of the cup of My fury.” In Jeremiah 25:15, we read, “take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it ...”! For further prophetic references to a “cup,” see Jeremiah 49:12, Ezekiel 23:28-35, and Habakkuk 2:15,16. From the prophets we learn that the “cup” is a container that holds the wrath and fury of G-d against sin and rebellion. Unless Israel and the nations repent for their rebellion, G-d will tip the cup and pour out His judgment on the rebellious ones.
Lest we think that only the prophets spoke of this “cup,” let’s look at Psalm 75:8. This verse reads, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” Here again we see that the cup is a metaphor for the wrath of G-d that is stored up to be poured upon those who are wicked. Thankfully, this cup is not in the hands of men but is securely placed in the hand of G-d.
Now that we have surveyed the Hebrew Scripture, we are able to understand the two earlier texts from Matthew in which Yeshua mentions a cup. When Yeshua asks the sons of Zebedee if they are able to drink from His cup and they answer in the affirmative.
The truth is, they will only sip from the cup of G-d’s wrath. Both of the sons of Zebedee die horrific deaths as martyrs for the cause of Christ, according to church history. Yeshua knows that the full cup of G-d’s wrath and fury are going to be poured out on Him in the day He is crucified. Yeshua, in His humanity, asks if there is any other way to atone for mankind apart from drinking the cup of G-d’s wrath and the answer is no.
You and I have much to be thankful for as the wrath and fury we deserve for our rebellion against the commands of G-d was poured on our Saviour Yeshua the Messiah.
The cup of wrath in the hand of G-d was drained to the dregs by Yeshua our Messiah and it’s no wonder He cried, “My G-d, My G-d, why have You abandoned me”? (Psalm 22:1). The punishment and death that every sinner deserved was laid on Yeshua as He drank the cup of wrath in our place. Only as we understand the “cup” that is mentioned multiple times in the Hebrew Scripture will we begin to grasp the work of Messiah on our behalf.On Faith columnist Brent Emery can be reached by email at email@example.com.