I believe the cup referred to in these verses is the cup of God's wrath (Psalm 75:8, Jeremiah 25:15, Revelation 16:19), as well as the cup of God's salvation (Psalm 116:13). Jesus alone could drink such a cup (on our behalf) and survive.
There are some who believe the cup does not refer to God's wrath at all. They believe that there was no wrath (nor punishment) at the cross - only salvation and communion. (This belief is increasing among some younger evangelicals - sometimes referred to as the anti-penal substitution view.)
But this view brings up many unanswered questions. First, why would Jesus use the cup analogy to describe what He was about to do (a symbol laden with wrath imagery) if what He was about to do did not involve an encounter of some kind with God's wrath? And also - why was Jesus in such agony over having to drink this cup if it was only a cup of salvation or a communion cup? Regarding His agony, I have sometimes heard the answer that Jesus was agonizing over His impending physical death. And at first we can all agree that the death Christ died was indeed physically torturous, but I think we can also agree that it is not the most phyiscally torturous way to die. Indeed Jesus Himself would call some of His followers to die in ways more physically agonizing than this. And yet Jesus was in such turmoil over his impending encounter with the cross that He was seen sweating great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). This fact alone leads me to believe there was something much more horrible going on here than just the painful way in which he would physically die.
The wrath of God at the cross is also important with regard to the "blotting out" of our sins. The blood of Jesus Christ made it possible for God's wrath to be poured out on our sins as they were placed on Jesus Christ at the cross. That same wrath obliterated our sins and freed us from their punishment and enslavement. Without wrath at the cross, how were our sins blotted out?
It might also help to recall that God's wrath is not like a trigger temper - it is rather the way in which His holiness is experienced when it comes into contact with sin. Without Christ, sinners must face God's holiness on their own, both now and for all eternity.
But praise God - it need not be that way. Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath on our behalf, and He alone was able to do so and survive. Because I believe this and have been enabled to trust in it, I will never be asked to drink that same cup.
Thank you Jesus for drinking that cup for me! I am no longer under wrath! I am in Christ - where there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1), both now and for all eternity. Amen!
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