Cup of Wrath

Matthew 20:20-28
20Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.
21And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
22Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
23He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,
28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The last few chapters (and perhaps even the whole) of Matthew have hammered on the idea of our lives as servants. We have read parables, seen examples, and heard teaching all pointing in one direction; the followers of Jesus are to be servants to all and the seeking of power and status simply isn’t a part of the mix for Christians. Now as Jesus draws closer and closer to the Passion and His ultimate suffering for us, two of His disciples are seeking seats of prominence when He comes into His Kingdom. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t roll His eyes at such a request – but I would have.

As always, Jesus re-frames the conversation in order to make a point and further the Disciples understanding of their vital role in God’s Kingdom. He asks them if they are able to “drink the cup” that He has to drink. In the midst of this obvious lesson about greatness in the Kingdom of God we have this incredible image brought forth by Jesus for us to consider. What does that “cup” represent?

The Old Testament would indicate that the cup refers to the wrath of God that is about to be poured out. I have been taught in the past that the “cup” refers to the suffering of Christ. And that is most certainly also true. But I would suggest that this cup has an even greater significance to Jesus and subsequently to us as well.

(I include here several references to this idea so that you can go and look them up, should you so choose. Isaiah 51:17–23; 63:6; Jeremiah 25:15–29; 48:26–27; 49:12; 51:7–8; 51:39, 57; Ezekiel 23:31–34; Obadiah 16; Habakkuk 2:15–16. Ps 60:3; 75:8; Job 21:19–20; Lamentations 4:21.)

I have put the text of Isaiah 51:17–23 in this post for you so that you can get a read on at least one of the passages listed above.

17Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne; there is none to take her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up.
19These two things have happened to you— who will console you?— devastation and destruction, famine and sword; who will comfort you?
20Your sons have fainted; they lie at the head of every street like an antelope in a net; they are full of the wrath of the Lord, the rebuke of your God.
21Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine:
22Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
23and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, ‘Bow down, that we may pass over’; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to pass over.”

God’s wrath is serious and it is that wrath that Jesus points to as He questions His disciples about their readiness to hold power in His Kingdom. Of course He knows that they cannot carry God’s wrath. Even Jesus died under the weight of it. And Jesus points out that they will indeed “drink from the cup” but not to the extent that He must. As mere humans, they cannot die for the sins of others although they will suffer for the Gospel.

Jesus takes this chance to again help them see that those who live as God’s people are servants first and foremost. This lesson will be repeated several more times before Jesus final breath and after the Ascension, they will finally get it. On a side note, and merely as an observation: the two who are on Jesus right and left as “He comes into His Kingdom” are the two thieves on who were crucified along with Him. Just something to ponder.