It is often authoritatively claimed that the cup that Jesus drank was the cup of God’s wrath. In support, verses are quoted from the OT which refer to the cup of God’s wrath (e.g. Jer 25:15). Whilst it is true that the OT often refers to a cup of wrath, this is not the only kind of cup. We cannot ignore the broader definition of cup and its multiple use.
Throughout the Bible, the word “cup” refers both to a drinking vessel, and also as a symbol of our “lot” or “portion” which can be both good and bad. So it is that in the OT we find that cup may refer not just to wrath (Is 51:17) or horror and desolation (Ex 23:33) but to the Lord himself (Psalm 16:5,); to salvation (Psalm 116:13); an overflow of blessing (Psalm 23:5) or consolation (Jeremiah 16:7). In other words, there is no single “cup”, it is symbolic of whatsoever may fall in our way. We cannot simply extract one particular cup and apply it uniformly across every instance of the word.
So what of Jesus’ cup?
In the NT we see that Jesus is troubled as the time of his glory approaches. About to enter Jerusalem he again tells his disciples of his impending death at the hands of the chief priests and the scribes, how they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him (Mark 10:33-34).
Even while he is explaining this, James and John make an outstandingly arrogant request – to sit on his right and left when Jesus comes into his kingdom! (Mark 10:37). Mindful clearly of what he is about to endure, Jesus asks whether they can drink the cup he is about to drink. They assure him they can (Matt 20:22, Mark 10:38). And then, in response, Jesus confirms that they would indeed end up drinking the same cup as he (Matt 20:23, Mark 10:39).
Given Jesus’ direct testimony that James and John will also drink the cup he is about to drink, we have to conclude that Jesus is talking of the cup of suffering / rejection / persecution / death. What it cannot be is the cup of God’s wrath.
So as the hour approaches for his betrayal into the hands of sinners (Matt 26:45), Jesus prays for this cup to pass from him (Matt 26:39). Jesus has not already drunk the cup of suffering so we cannot claim that the narrative might be presenting us with a new or different cup. This cup has to be one and the same that Jesus talked of earlier as the cup he was about to drink.
We have no option then other than to conclude that Jesus is referring to the cup of suffering, and that James and John would one day also share in it.
There is no doubt that God demands justice. But exactly what is “justice”? What does it look like?
The understanding that springs immediately to our minds is derived from Criminal Law. When a crime has been committed against an individual, the injured party “demands” justice: the perpetrator must be punished and the punishment must fit the crime (e.g. an eye for an eye). If the perpetrator is let off we would be quick to declare that justice has not been served. Yet even if the injured party were to choose to forgive, the law of the land would still require a sentence to be administered in order to satisfy justice. There must be punishment. Justice, then, operates under the “law of retribution” and as such has little room for mercy. Indeed, to show leniency would be to thwart justice. Justice and mercy stand directly opposed. Continue reading “Lies we believe #3: God’s justice demands that sin be punished”
Examining (honestly) the problem with multiple texts
Firstly, before we can answer the question, we must distinguish between the Bible as written in its original language and its translation into another tongue.
Firstly, is there a perfect English translation?
Given the plethora of English translations over the years, with constant revisions and updates, no single particular version (not even the King James’ Bible) can be declared to be the “authentic, error-free” translation. In many ways this is because Hebrew and Greek thought is so different to the Anglo-Saxon world of English. Extensive judgement calls have to be made by the translators, and these tend to be made within an existing theological framework. Where no direct English equivalent exists, a substitute word has to be found, which will never have exactly the same scope nor subtleties of the original. By definition, since it is flawed human beings making the judgement call, there can be no wholly accurate translation. Which version would that be anyway?! Continue reading “Is the Bible without error?”
How can a merciful God command genocide?
“..in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them… as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut 20:16-17)
“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (1 Samuel 15:3)
There can be no disputing that this violent portrayal of God is incompatible with the merciful God revealed in Christ who commands us to love our enemies: Continue reading “Is God the Father Mad, Bad or Good?”
Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God is ‘at hand’ i.e. that it is close to us. The Apostle Paul declares that God is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). Psalm 139 attests that there is nowhere we can go to that God is not (Psalm 139:7-8), that he hems us in (Psalm 139:5).
Why then do we think that God is far off, that there is a gulf between us? This idea has come from the erroneous idea that because God is “holy” he cannot allow himself to be in the company of sin (and therefore sinners). There are two passages which are often called upon in support of this notion:
1) Isaiah declares that our sins have made a separation between us and God. Therefore, it is said, there must be a real physical separation.
2) Habakkuk, in wrestling with God, argues that God is “too holy to look on sin”. Since we are sinners it thus follows that God cannot even look on us, and therefore must have separated himself from us.
But let us read these texts carefully. Continue reading “Lies we believe #2: There is a gulf between God and Man”
Before God gave Israel the sacrificial system, he invited them to be a kingdom of priests.
From the moment man left the garden of Eden, after the fear of God had entered man’s soul, he began to offer sacrifices to God. The practice exploded so that ritualistic offering of sacrifices eventually dominated pagan culture. Egypt had a highly sophisticated, well-established sacrificial system with elaborate temples and extensive public rituals. The Ancient Near East cultures worshiped Molech, sacrificing their children in the process. It was common in ancient pagan culture to believe that by sacrificing their firstborn they would ensure further fertility. Continue reading “Molech, Moses and Mercy”
I guess I should have already known all about this (binding the strong man) but I didn’t. Fascinating.
Was Jesus’ self-sacrifice a payment?
The concept of price has many connotations, but it is not always related to a payment.
For example, when a soldier pays “the ultimate price” we do not make the illogical leap that somehow his life was a payment to someone. Actions have consequences, and we often refer to a negative consequence as “the price that has to be paid” e.g. if you decide to have offspring, then you will need to nurture and care for them for at least 18 years. That is the “price you pay” for having children. But there is no transaction, no payment to anyone.
So when something (freedom, peace etc) has been “bought at a price” it does not mean literally that some type of exchange or transaction took place. Continue reading “Price, Payment and the Transactional Trap”
If we turn from the source of all Life we get death by default.
There seem to be the opinion that Death originated with God i.e. he decreed it as “punishment” for sin. The following are reasons why we can biblically reject this hypothesis.
- God is Life and the source of Life.
We see from scripture that Jesus is the “The Life” (John 11:25, 14:6) and “the Author of Life” (Acts 3:15). We also see that God has life “in himself” (John 5:26) as also do Jesus (John 1:4, 5:26) and the Spirit (John 6:63) Continue reading “Lies we believe #1: Death is God’s punishment for sin”
Reading the New Testament I am struck by just how many times it records the hostility of the Jewish leaders towards Jesus. There was already enmity between the Pharisees and John the Baptist (Jn 1:24-25) with the questioning of John’s right to preach repentance. They were so intent on protecting their own authority that the Jewish leaders were thus also riled from the moment Jesus’ ministry began, at first just hostile (Mk 2:6-7, Mk 3:2, Jn 2:18) and then, very early on, bringing the knives out (Jn 5:18, Luke 4:28-29).
The Gospel record of this murderous intent of the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law is extensive: