How often in Holy Scripture the cup of wine is a symbol for the wrath of God.
The long suffering Job, speaking of man’s punishment for sin, says, “Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty” (Job 21:20). In Psalm 75 the language is very vivid: “But it is God who judges: he brings one down, and exalts another. 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 dregs” (verses 7-8). Writing of God’s rejection of his errant people the psalmist observes, “You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger” (Psalm 60:3). The prophet Isaiah is startlingly graphic: “Awake, awake! Rise up, O 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 men stagger” (Isaiah 51:17). Jeremiah is similarly dramatic in his enunciation of the Lord’s anger, “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, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them” (Jeremiah 25:15-16).
The cup of wrath is the baleful beverage the unrepentant wicked will be compelled to drink. It comes from the hand of the Lord. It is a full measure of wrath, for sinners must ingest God’s strong indignation. It is vintage long withheld in the vat of divine forbearance but when it is poured it foams with fury. It must be endured for as long as God determines, until the last dreg. Its effect will be destabilizing and perhaps even destructive. Divine wrath is a wine to be avoided. But how do helpless recalcitrant sinners avoid the goblet of death?
It was the resolve of the Lord Jesus to take from the hand of the Lord the cup that was meant from us. The drink of damnation was to be consumed by him. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sipped the wrath that he fully swallowed on the cross.
He anticipated its most bitter taste and recoiled from the lip of the cup. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22: 42). Jesus staggered at the prospect of receiving the wrath of God and sensing the Father’s desertion of him. Blood became the perspiration of unimaginable terror.
But in our stead the Saviour wills to quaff the wrath of God. His sacrifice is propitiatory. Through it he makes peace with God on our behalf: the Father and the Son collaborate in the appeasement of divine justice. The Father gives the Son who will take away the sins of the world – those sins that are confessed everywhere. Easter marks the great exchange. Jesus lifts the cup that is rightfully ours to his lips so that we may choose the cup of salvation, rejoicing with the poet, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13). And David exhorts us to emulate him in drinking this cup to the full, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). Truly, Paul calls the chalice of salvation “the cup of thanksgiving” (1 Corinthians 10:16) for in it the wine of fury is changed into the wine of gladness. And it is passed to us by Christ’s own hand.