*Warning – Theological post*
Ever since the whole atonement debate kicked off in evangelical circles, a few things about it have troubled me. Since reading Pierced for our Transgressions they’ve troubled me some more. One aspect of it is how people answer this question, ‘what was the cup Jesus was referring to in the garden of gethsemane?’ – Those who follow the penal substitution view see it as a reference to the cup of wrath that is mentioned a half dozen times in the OT. I’m not so sure but I was challenged by a friend to be a little more specific. So here are some tentative conclusions:
I agree that the majority of OT references to cup are connected with wrath, judgment, or of suffering - Rev 14/10 a clear reference back to Jeremiah 25:15 – although not all references are connected to wrath so Ps 16/5; Ps 23/5; Ps 116/13 (but these are admittedly a minority)
What is less clear to me is that it is clear exegetically that Jesus is referring to the cup of wrath at all, certainly none of the relevant cup of wrath passages link to Christ so is Christ linking to them - are we reading wrath into or out of the passage?
Here are my reasons for doubt: Jesus says James & John will also drink of the same cup so while it might be suffering or death that Jesus is referring to, it can’t mean they bore God’s wrath.
Secondly Paul in 1 Cor 10 makes the connection between the ‘cup of thanksgiving’ and Christ’s blood which is of course the direct context before
Gethsemane, Jesus instituting the cup of the new covenant in his blood. That cup while involving Christ’s death isn’t a cup of wrath (at least not primarily) but of redemption and reconciliation.
So I think the cup Jesus is referring to relates to the Passover (see the first half of this article by Scott Hahn although others also make the same case) and Jesus as the Passover lamb. If Jesus passed round the third cup as seems likely that is the cup linked with redemption or interestingly for NT Wright linked with exile. Anyway I think that is the more exegetically robust option.
This doesn’t or shouldn’t undermine the basis of penal substitution by the way.