Home » Was it Really God Who Poured the “Cup of Wrath” on Jesus?

Was it Really God Who Poured the “Cup of Wrath” on Jesus?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
16 minutes read

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
(Matthew 26:39)

David Platt, in his late 20s, wrote a book released under the title “Radical.” The book quickly became a New York Times bestseller. By his 30s, Platt served as the IMB president. In his book, Platt explains that Jesus went to the cross to suffer an abuse by God. This, Platt based on the word “cup”:

Picture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he kneels before his Father, drops of sweat and blood fall together from his head. Why is he in such agony and pain? The answer is not because he is afraid of crucifixion…Listen to his words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” is not a reference to a wooden cross; it is a reference to divine judgment. It is the cup of God’s wrath. This is what Jesus is recoiling from in the garden. All God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him, and he is sweating blood at the thought of it. What happened at the Cross was not primarily about nails being thrust into Jesus’ hands and feet but about the wrath due to your sin and my sin being thrust upon his soul. In that holy moment, all the righteous wrath and justice of God due us came down rushing like a torrent on Christ himself. At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, “It is finished.” This is the gospel.[i]

David Platt

According to Platt, the Son sweated blood as he was terrified by his own Father. God the Son was scared by God the Father because he was about to pour his “holy wrath and hatred” on him. Like Platt, “It was God punishing God,”[ii] explained Dan Wallace, a DTS professor, to his Facebook followers.

Sounds confusing? Imagine you have several children. One is a wonderful and obedient son, while the others are rebellious troublemakers. Instead of dealing with the rebellious ones, you decided to take your “holy wrath” on your innocent son, killing him so you won’t have to kill the others. Standing in front of a jury, you pleaded that you killed your son because you love your other children so very much. Will the jury consider this an act of justice, grace, and love? Or as the very definition of what is wrong and unjust? Clearly, this cannot be the gospel.

Turn your Bibles to Matthew 26:39 (Luke 22:42; Mark 14:26), where Jesus is praying:

My Father, if it is possible,
may this cup be taken from me.

According to Platt, “this cup” is the Father’s divine wrath. A violent divine abuse by God that is about to come down on Jesus. Likewise, Paul Washer asks: “What was in the cup?” He then quotes Old Testament verses (Psalm 75:9 and Jeremiah 25:15) as his answer.[iii] In another sermon, Washer explains the “cup” to have been when Christ was:

Crushed under the wrath of His own father…all the wrath of all mighty God was going to be hurled upon Him and crush Him to pieces…His own father crushed Him.[iv]

I am puzzled by the idea that a father who “crushes to pieces” his innocent son is considered a loving father. But my intuition and emotions aside, let’s deal with it as a plain biblical argument and understand what “this cup,” on which Platt, Washer, and associates base their doctrine, is really all about.

Cups in the Hebrew Scriptures

The word “cup” in the Old Testament sometimes indicates punishment, wrath, and suffering. Psalm 75 and Jeremiah 25, which Washer pointed to, are good examples. Other times, however, the cup signifies the opposite- salvation![1] The cup is a metaphor for our lives, which can be filled with various things. Our “cup” can be filled with blessings and redemption (Ps. 23:5; 116:13), or it can be filled with wrath and horror (Isa. 51:17; Ezek. 23:33). We can’t just cherry-pick one or the other and paste it into the New Testament’s cups without the proper context.

Wrath in the Hebrew Scriptures

When you come across passages in the Old Testament that speak of the cup negatively as wrath,[2] remember it is wrath over Israel when they turn to worship other gods. However, the wrath is not being poured out straight from God himself in some direct manner, such as electrifying lightning or consuming lava raining from the skies on the people of Israel. The wrath is indirectly by God turning passive. Usually, it manifests in the image of angry pagans who rush over to crash, kill and destroy Israel while God is not interfering or protecting them. God stays passive, allowing the horror to happen.[3]

As a general rule, the wrath of God in the Old Testament is when God allows wicked pagans to overcome Israel without coming to their defense. This is in accordance with God’s promises of blessings and curses to Israel in the Law.[4] In fact, one of the main afflictions Israel suffered was the pagans, only allowing them to worship their gods.[5] So God’s “cup of wrath” in the Old Testament is not God himself actively beating up Israel. It is a punishment implemented through the wicked pagans (usually Babylonian), whom God allowed to attack, conquer, and exile Israel for their sins of idolatry. It is as if God was saying: “You don’t want me? Fine, Israel. Let’s see how well the other gods will treat, protect and care for you.”

So, the wrath of God is when he draws back, not protecting Israel but staying passive and allowing the pagans to discipline his people. There is always a connection between the wrath of God and Israel’s worship of foreign idols. These were gods who demanded their worshipers burn their own children in fire.

Wrath in the New Testament

Likewise, was the wrath coming on Jesus. It was not by God (otherwise, the scriptures would have told us so) but from the spears and whips of the pagan Romans who crucified Christ, as clearly indicated in the scriptures. While this happened, God did not protect Jesus. He allowed it to happen.

For a Jew living in the second temple period, the cup of wrath symbolized the swords, spears, and staffs of the wicked pagans besieging Israel. They would abuse, torture, mutilate their bodies, and exile the rest. The cup of wrath was understood to be speaking of punishment coming from the hands of pagans, not from God, who simply hid his face. This is also what happened to Jesus, as he was tortured and put to death by the hands of pagans. This is what Jesus himself said, that he would be handed “over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” (Matthew 20:19). This happened while God stayed passive.

Cups in the New Testament

The idea promoted by preaches of Divine Abuse is that “the cup” represents God’s wrath in the sense of God himself brutalizing, crushing, punishing, torturing, and killing Jesus. This modern and erroneous interpretation of the scriptures should be rejected. Ulrich Luz, a Swiss theologian and professor emeritus at the University of Bern, explains:

Jesus asks that “this cup” might pass by. What does that mean? Because of the prophetic use of the metaphor “cup,” many interpreters think of God’s wrath, which Jesus must bear vicariously, or even of the messianic pangs. However, the readers of the Gospel of Matthew, influenced by the redactional “sons of Zebedee” in verse 37, will understand the term primarily on the basis of 20:20–23, where Jesus likewise confronted the “sons of Zebedee” by speaking of his death as the cup that he must drink—thus too following a Jewish usage. Thus I regard the interpretation of “cup” as God’s wrath as a soteriological overinterpretation that probably never would have arisen without the influence of the interpretation of our text in the Reformation.[v]

Bible hermeneutics demands prioritizing the immediate context of any term or verse in question. In other words, Paul Washer and David Platt should not have cherry-picked cups from the Old Testament but point to “cups” in the New Testament. That is the immediate context of the cup in question (Matthew 20:22; 26:27-28; 26:39). Evidently, the meaning of the “cup” in Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39) is no different than the “cup” Jesus spoke of just a little earlier (Matthew 20:22). You see, the “cup” of Matthew chapter 26 is the same “cup” of chapter 20. These cups clearly speak of wrath caused by other humans. It was the wrath that the sons of Zebedee would have to suffer later on as well:

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the law teachers. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.”

(Matthew 20:17-23)

In these verses, the sons of Zebedee (James and John, two disciples of Jesus) ask to drink the same cup Jesus was destined to drink. According to Jesus, the cup is “to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” However, if the cup allegedly represents wrath, torture, and punishment by God (which Jesus is to drink), then we face two problems. First, why would “chief priests” and “gentiles” be mentioned as torturing Jesus but not God? Second, why would Jesus tell James and John that they, too, would drink of that same cup (“You will indeed drink from my cup”)? According to preachers of Divine Abuse, Jesus supposedly drank the cup of the wrath of God instead of humanity, not in addition, as explained by Paul Washer:

…on the cross god himself he took our place, bore our sin and suffered the wrath of God that we deserve. He extinguished it, He put it away.[vi]

And also:

The Son of God was forsaken by His Father, then crushed under His own Father’s punishment… Christ took the wrath of God, that great cup, and drank it down. He turned it over and not one drop came out. He drank the wrath of God and satisfied justice and appeased wrath.[vii]

Suppose this cup is indeed wrath and violent punishment coming directly from God, one which Jesus already is to drink himself in substitution with mankind. In that case, it would not make sense for Jesus to agree to the two disciples’ request to be drinking from that cup. Otherwise, why would God “pour his wrath” on them too? Why would they, as Christ’s apostles, be punished by God’s wrath? This is a logical contradiction.

The Cup of the New Covenant

Then, there’s the third cup. The one Christ drank from during the last supper. Jesus explained that the cup, part of the traditional Passover feast in Judaism, was a symbol of entrance into the New Covenant:

He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20)

Drinking from that cup represented entering the New Covenant. This was something Jesus invited his disciples, then and now, to partake. It would not make sense for the cup to represent God’s wrath on Jesus. It would make sense, however, that Jesus would offer us all salvation. Drinking a cup of red wine symbolized drinking blood. Remember, blood represented life; therefore, Jesus said: “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:27-28) We enter the New Covenant by taking in the life (blood) of Christ.

Jesus indeed suffered but at the hands of wicked men, not God. Therefore, his disciples should expect to suffer persecution as well (John 15:20). And, if Jesus was resurrected by God, so can they expect to be resurrected one day.

We also know that much later, James, the brother of John, who also asked to drink the cup, died. However, he did not die because God poured his wrath on him, but by becoming a martyr, suffering a violent death at the hands of his persecutors (Acts 12:2).

Moreover, if Jesus believed his suffering came from God, why then did he pray: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)? Clearly, Jesus saw not God but men as responsible for this suffering and death. Otherwise, we would expect Jesus to plead with the Father to stop hurting him, praying something like: “Father, I can no longer endure your punishment. Please stop hurting me!”

So, “cup” can represent both salvation and wrath. But the wrath is not suffering and torture caused by God. Rather, the wrath of wicked men, just like it was in the Old Testament. If anyone deserved punishment at the hands of the pagans, it was us. But Jesus took our place.

If in the Old Testament the ‘cup of wrath’ came from the pagans due to Israel’s rejection of God, in the New Testament, the wrath of the Romans (who later conquered and exiled Israel) is a divine expression of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as our Messiah (Matt. 23:37-24:2). As one theologian explains, divine wrath and judgment are not an active torturing of sinners (or of Christ) by God himself, but rather a “withdrawal” of God’s protective presence.[viii] Jesus, as the “ultimate representative” of the nation of Israel, absorbed the cup of Roman wrath most tangibly; he experienced the nails piercing his body. Only in this way, we may say that Jesus absorbed the “wrath of God” for us. Jesus was the ultimate representative of Israel who stood in the gap and mediated for his people. He experienced the punishment Israel deserves. Tim Mackie summarized it briefly and eloquently:

The cup of God’s wrath represents domination by foreign armies, and Jesus sees himself as drinking this cup when he stands in Israel’s place before Rome.[ix]

Later, in Romans chapter one, Paul refers to the principle of the wrath of God again. But Paul also describes it not as God actively punishing but as God allowing people to experience the consequences of their own actions. So, for example, in Romans 1:18, while the wrath of God is “revealed from heaven,” practically speaking, it was expressed by God allowing people to suffer whatever evil they brought upon themselves due to their own actions and decisions: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (Romans 1:24). Instead of seeking after God’s heart, they’ve followed the desires of their own hearts. God simply allowed them to experience the consequences accordingly.

The cup of Gethsemane

Only a few verses back, Christ was praying:

    My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done. (Matthew 26:42)

Once Jesus was done praying (three times the same prayer[6]), he returned to his disciples only to find them asleep. Pressing on them, he said: “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:45). So, we already knew Jesus was anxious about “the cup.” We also know that the hour of that cup has finally come. Then, Jesus explains what ‘this cup’ meant: “the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.” See, the cup did not mean Jesus was delivered into the hands of an angry God to be tortured and killed by him. He was delivered into the hands of sinners (and God is no sinner). Jesus’s plea to the Father to take the cup away can be understood as if Jesus was saying: “God, if there is another way, please intervene and stop them from pouring out their wrath on me.” But there was no other way than this, and Jesus agreed to take it.

Context is crucial. Otherwise, by taking a verse out of context, we find ourselves with a Father murdering his own Son to appease his wrath. But let’s continue, two verses afterward, we also discover: “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matthew 26:47) Again it is clear that the cup Jesus was dreading was not at all the Father beating him up and ripping him up to pieces, but wicked people “armed with swords and clubs” coming to capture, torture and murder him.

Jesus was praying about the “cup,” and instantly after, indeed, people came with swords and clubs. The only one who could rescue Jesus from them was his Father in heaven. But the Father stayed passive, hid his face, kept silent, and forsook him, as evil men violently abused his Son. This was a corrupt alliance between Jews and Gentiles: “Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” (Acts 4:27). Mankind rejected, tortured and killed Jesus, not his Father.

Platt is correct in one thing: it wasn’t just about nails, but it also was not about the Father shredding Jesus to pieces. It was about complete isolation and desertion by all. The physical torture was terrible, but perhaps the feeling of rejection by those Christ came to serve (Matthew 20:17-19) was even more tormenting.

Biblically speaking, the world was divided into two people groups: “Gentiles and peoples of Israel.” (Acts 4:27). The Jews and Romans should be viewed as representing the human race. In other words, the cross is when mankind reached the peak of immorality. This also serves as a reminder to antisemites who claim that “the Jews murdered Christ!” Yes, we Jews killed him, but so did you and everyone else.

Suppose God’s lack of intervention for protection expressed his divine wrath on Israel. On the cross, the wrath of God was expressed by God not intervening to rescue, save and protect Jesus from evil. Instead, God forsook Jesus to die at the hands of sinners. The cup of wrath poured down on Jesus was by men.

The scene of wrath

You might have noticed that the scene in Matthew in which Jesus enters the suffering period of his life starts and ends with him praying (Gethsemane in chapter 26; and on the cross in chapter 27.) These prayers are like a frame that opens and closes the scene. In between, we read about “the cup” poured on Jesus. It was all by men, and as if God had withdrawn himself from the dark and cold scene, leaving Jesus to suffer alone at the hands of the evildoers who considered him an enemy. When later God finally did intervene, it was to bring light back into the scene by resurrecting Christ from the dead.

Remember Barabbas? He is a great symbolic representation of every one of us.[7] His name, ‘Jesus Barabbas,’ is not by accident so similar to that of the other Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Barabbas was described in the New Testament as a Jewish criminal imprisoned by the Romans due to causing a riot, murder, and other crimes, and he was sentenced to be crucified. However, like in a good thriller, at the very last moment, Jesus of Nazareth took the place of Jesus Barabbas – enduring the suffering and execution by the Romans in his place (Matt. 27:15-23). On the cross, Jesus of Nazareth endured “the cup of wrath” that Jesus Barabbas was supposed to endure. Jesus Barabbas deserved to be executed on a tree outside the camp because of his sins (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), yet Jesus Christ took his place.

Darkness vs. Light

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

(1st John 1:5)

Moments before Jesus “gave up his spirit,” Matthew recorded something very peculiar happening. In verse 45, we read: “Darkness came over all the land.” Darkness (taking over) is a significant metaphor in the Bible. We know Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 1:4; 8:12). We also know “God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.” (1st John 1:5). Just like darkness, light is of great significance as a metaphor.[8] The Bible uses light to speak figuratively about goodness, truth, positivity, warmth, and life. We know God himself is the ultimate source of light and life. Therefore, so is Jesus: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4). Practically speaking, darkness is not a thing in itself. Darkness is the absence of light (just like coldness is the absence of warmth). Yet darkness represents injustice, evil, corruption, grief, death, etc.[9] Perhaps Matthew was trying to paint us a picture through the description of darkness taking over during the crucifixion as if saying that light, truth, and life are no longer present. God took himself out of the scene. The Son of God was rejected, tortured, and killed, and God wanted no part in this evil. Evidently, we rejected the source of light.

We break, God fixes

But light is not only truth; it is also forgiveness, grace, and compassion. Our God is known in the Bible for how he “turns darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28). And he did so by resurrecting back the one who we killed. We were in the dark, and we lost the source of life, “but God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death because it was impossible for Him to be held in its clutches.” (Acts 2:24)  Once when I was a small child, I received a disassembled wooden dinosaur as a gift from my father. As I was trying to build it, something went wrong. At some point, I became so frustrated I threw the dinosaur on the floor. The poor dinosaur shattered into pieces. What was initially frustration became grief, pain, and remorse accompanied by bitter tears as not only could I not finish building the dinosaur, but now it is broken too. And why? The repercussion of my immaturity and stupidity. In the evening, when my dad returned home from work, there was no wrath. He was not angry at me (although he had the right to be upset as I broke his gift). Instead, he decided to give up his evening plans and sit down with me to glue the broken dinosaur pieces back together. What I destroyed, my dad managed to “resurrect” back to life again. He did so at his own expense (time and energy). I think that me breaking my dad’s gift and the fact that he took the time and energy to mend it is an excellent analogy for the gospel, at least for me.

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
A free sample is available here.

[1] For example, Psalm 116:13; (also in the New Testament: 1st Corinthians 11:25).

[2] Ezek. 23; Isa. 51, 52; Ps 75:8; Jer 25, 49, 51; Hab. 2; Lam. 4; etc.

[3] It is in this sense that we can say that God “sent” the pagans to punish Israel.

[4] For a list of Israel’s curses for disobedience see Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

[5] “There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.” (Deuteronomy 28:36-37)

[6] Verse 44: “So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.”

[7] In Hebrew, his name is “Bar Aba”. My last name is “Bar”, and my son calls me “Aba” (father in Hebrew). So I get a frequent humbling reminder that I’m a Barabbas too.

[8] See also: Psalm 27:1, John 12:35-37, Ephesians 5:14, Luke 11:34-35, Psalm 119:130, John 12:36-37, James 1:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 21:23, Ecclesiastes 2:13.

[9] See also: Psalm 82:5; Proverbs 2:13; Romans 3:12.

[i] David Platt, Radical, pg. 34-36.

[ii] Dan Wallace, Professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary. Facebook post on April 3rd, 2022.

[iii] Paul Washer, What was in THE CUP at the CROSS

[iv] Paul Washer – Gethsemane

[v] Luz, U. (2005). Matthew 21–28: a commentary. (H. Koester, Ed.) (p. 396). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.

[vi] Paul Washer, “The American Gospel” movie.

[vii] Paul Washer, “God Crushed Jesus Christ to Save Wretched Sinners“.

[viii] Gregory A. Boyd, “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volume 2”, pages 768-781.

[ix] Tim Mackie in “Two Men Named Jesus” (Oct 19, 2020, Podcast).

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist