The Fifth Cup

There are many debates that rage within our churches today; these are the “hot button topics” like homosexuality, women in leadership, and liturgical processes which divide Christianity into numerous groups, arguing about how the church should respond and what the Bible says about each topic. In the same way, there were many hot button issues in first century Judaism, which divided the Jewish people into sects which hotly debated each other over the best interpretation of the Scriptures. One of these topics centered around the process of the Passover meal.

It was custom that the story of the Israelites’ redemption from Egypt was told, in which four main parts were celebrated with the drinking of wine, based upon Exodus 6:2-8:

  1. Take you out from the yoke of slavery
  2. Set you free
  3. Redeem you
  4. Marry you/ protect you

The story began before the meal, in which the first cup of wine was drunk as they reach the portion where they were taken out from the yoke of slavery. After this cup, the meal began and the story continued. As each part of the story was told, another cup was poured and drunk in celebration and remembrance of God’s goodness and faithfulness. At the end of the meal, the fourth cup remembering God’s covenant and protection was drunk and the Passover meal finished. During the first century, after the meal, all the Jewish people would gather at the temple and sing Psalms 116-118 together before going home. Once home, they stood and watched for at least one hour in remembrance of when God told them to stand at the ready for their exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 12:11). After that, their Passover dinner was finished.

Repeatedly, however, there was debate about whether or not to have a fifth cup of wine poured and sitting on the table during the dinner because of this passage in Isaiah 51:22-23:

this is what your Lord ADONAI says,
your God, who defends his people:
“Here, I have removed from your hand
the cup of drunkenness,
the goblet of my fury.
You will never drink it again.
I will put it in the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you, ‘Bend down, so we can trample you,’
and you flattened your back on the ground
like a street for them to walk on.”

This fifth cup, the Jews argued, would sit on the table as a reminder of God’s promise to pour out this cup of wrath upon the Gentile nations for their sin.

With this passage in mind, I want you to think about a specific Passover celebration: Jesus’ last. During the last supper, Jesus drinks the first, sends Judas out to betray him without letting him drink the second (the cup of freedom), institutes the new covenant during the third cup (of redemption), and then Jesus himself refuses the fourth cup (of protection) (John 13). Jesus specifically chose the third cup to institute the new covenant with the cup of redemption, symbolically proclaiming redemption for the whole world. He specifically refused the fourth cup of protection because he knew God would not protect him from his death, which God had foreordained and confirmed through the prophets Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration. But then we come to this incredible, moving scene after he and the disciples left the temple and walked those few hundred feet to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:32-42):

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Even though Jesus prophesied many times about his death and resurrection, the time comes and he looses it. The Greek words Mark uses, “great distressed and troubled,” are two different words which mean:

  • Adēmoneō: so distraught at the edge of a nervous breakdown
  • Ekthambeō: suddenly, shockingly afraid

The thought of crucifixion is enough to bring anyone to the edge of a nervous breakdown. But why use the word ekthambeo, which denotes a sudden, shocking fear? What was so sudden and shocking to him?

Ray Vander Laan suggested on my trip to Israel in October 2018, that Jesus, having so used the four cups of wine to announce his mission and purpose, suddenly realized there was a cup left, sitting on the table waiting. A cup filled with God’s wrath for all the sin all the Gentiles had ever and will ever commit. And it had to be drunk.

Jesus was prepared to die. It’s possible he was not prepared to drink God’s wrath. The one thing he clung to through his entire life, was his relationship with his heavenly Father. Suddenly, he realized that in the moment he needed his heavenly Father the most, that same Father would be pouring an eternity’s worth of wrath upon him. And suddenly, shockingly, Jesus knew fear like no one else in the history of earth would ever know.

As I read Isaiah 51 today, I was struck anew by this. There is something worse than death. Jesus did not fear his death, because of the victory he knew was coming. But he did fear God’s wrath – so much so, that he nearly had a nervous breakdown upon this realization.

Yet, he willingly took that cup off the table. And he drank it. Every single drop was taken. He left nothing for us. God’s eternal wrath was poured into that cup, and Jesus took it upon himself. He left no wrath for God to pour upon us. Not even a drop.

Jesus gave his life for you. He took God’s wrath for your sin, and drank every drop of it. He loved you so much, that he would rather suffer a nervous breakdown, be betrayed by every person he every loved, tortured by whips designed to tear the body to pieces, and nailed to a cross, than let you drink one single drop of the wrath you deserve.

It overwhelms me. Praise His Holy Name!

As we continue this season of Lent, moving ever closer to the Passover celebration which finds victory in Jesus’ death and resurrection, I pray that we may be humbled and overwhelmed by the love and sacrifice of our Redeemer, Savior, and King, Jesus.

Amen. May you find shalom in His arms.

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