The Meaning of the Cup

The past several weeks we have been giving a closer examination to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, and reflecting on our need to prepare ourselves to come to His table. So far, we have looked at the link with the covenant of betrothal, the need for cleansing, and the element of the bread. This week we will take a closer look at the meaning of the cup.

Throughout Scripture there has been a two-fold link with the cup. On the one hand the wine held in the cup symbolizes celebration and covenantal commemorations, and on the other there is a strong connotation of “the cup of wrath” that God will give those who continue in their sin. It is that latter cup which Jesus had asked for His Father to remove, if it was His will, but which He willingly accepted and drank for us.

In the celebration of the Passover meal which Jesus and His disciples were observing the night before He died, there were four specific cups shared at various stages of the observance: The cup of Sanctification, the cup of Deliverance, the cup of Redemption, and the cup of Praise. When Jesus raised the third cup, the cup of Redemption, He shifted the conversation from the commemoration of God’s redemption of His people from their captivity and slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of His people from captivity to sin and death which He was about to address with His life. He turned His attention from the old covenant to “the new covenant in my blood.”

The shedding of blood has always been a part of the penalty for sin. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned, God killed animals to provide skins to cover the nakedness of the couple. Even before Moses wrote down God’s law we see Abel offering blood sacrifices to atone for his sin. Abel was justified by God, but his brother, who did not offer blood, was not. Noah, Abraham and the other patriarchs offered these blood sacrifices, as well. It is clear that mankind had the understanding that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (Heb. 9:22). But, it’s also true that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin” (Heb. 10:4). Blood sacrifice was a faith-based placeholder, following God’s command, but it was not sufficient. God was paving the way for the Sacrifice that would totally cover our sin.

As He raised the cup of redemption Jesus announced that finally a sacrifice had come that would fully suffice. All the Old Testament covenants were sealed by the blood of a sacrifice, and Jesus was initiating a New Covenant, one that would be sealed by His own blood. Once again, however, it is not enough that we acknowledge our need for a sacrifice, or that Jesus IS that only and all-sufficient sacrifice, we must take His blood and apply it to ourselves, in similar fashion to when the Israelites applied the blood to the door posts at the first Passover. The sacrifice of the lamb could have been made, but if the blood was not applied to that home, the death angel would not pass over. The blood must be applied.

As we lift the cup to our lips we are acknowledging several things. First is what we examined in week one, that we are accepting the invitation of the Bridegroom to be betrothed to Him covenantally, to faithfully await Him by preparing and purifying ourselves for His promised return. Second, we are entering into this New Covenant in His blood. He has paid the bride price for us, so this new covenant is the true cup of Redemption for us. We are accepting His sacrifice and all the implications of His call on our lives that this commitment brings. Third, we are recognizing that He has taken God’s cup of wrath that was ours to drink, and He has drained it to its dregs on our behalf. Even though this cup was so awful that He prayed He might be spared, still He willingly took it from His Father’s hands, trusting that all He would suffer in consuming it would be worth it—for God’s glory and for our eternal good. When we drink our cup, we acknowledge the horror and blessing mingled in His.

As we can see from this brief glimpse at the cup, it is no simple matter to come to the Lord’s table to consume it. It cannot be done lightly or thoughtlessly; we treat it casually to our spiritual peril. Yet to come to the table with these truths on our minds yields a richness and a worship that truly lends to an experience of communion with our Savior, Lord, and Beloved.