The meaning behind Jesus’ reference to a cup in Matthew 20:22-23 isn’t hard to comprehend. He was clearly asking if James and John were willing to face the struggles and persecution that came with being His follower.
But why the use of the term “cup”? There were certainly more heinous metaphors Jesus could’ve used to get His point across, right?
We actually see several references to cups in the Bible. Some are extremely positive, such as Jesus giving His disciples a cup of wine during the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27-29). But there are many negative instances as well, and arguably the most memorable is Jesus’ desperate prayer on the Mount of Olives just before His arrest.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus said in Luke 22:42.
This verse, along with Jesus’ challenge to James and John, may trace its roots back to the Old Testament, where we find several examples of cups being used in less-than-rosy ways:
- “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; He pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very drags.” – Psalm 75:8
- “Awake, awake! Rise up, 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 people stagger.” – Isaiah 51:17
- “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.’”
Yikes. Who knew cups could be so dangerous?
In all seriousness, I think we can see an important theme here. When Jesus talked about cups, He wasn’t talking about death; He was more likely referring to judgement. Jesus didn’t fear death. But being judged by God and drinking the cup of His father’s fury? That’s something worth sweating blood over (Luke 22:44).
Jesus drank of that cup for us. We no longer face the judgement of God; His sacrifice drained that cup forever.
The cup that Jesus asked James and John – and now asks us – to drink from doesn’t hold the full brunt of God’s judgement as the one Jesus drank of on the cross. But, as we’ll examine more tomorrow, that doesn’t mean its contents taste great…