The cup that Jesus agonized over in the Garden of Gethsemane holds the mystery of his suffering and death. He had left most of his disciples sitting in the garden and had taken his inner circle—Peter, James, and John—further into the garden with him. He began to be very troubled and said to these three: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). Then he left them, and, going deeper into the garden, he fell on his face and prayed: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

This cup that Jesus had to drink is an important symbol of his suffering and death in all four Gospels, in Matthew (26:39, 42), Mark (14:36); Luke (22:42), and John (18:11). What is the meaning of this cup? What was so terrible about it that even the thought of drinking it caused him to be in agony, his sweat falling on the ground like great drops of blood?

Of course, the cup symbolized the suffering he would be required to undergo in the horrible death that awaited him. Jesus foresaw not only the fact of his death but the very method of his execution—by crucifixion (Matt. 20:19). Indeed, he had used the cup as a symbol of suffering in a general sense when James and John came to him seeking the place of honor in his kingdom. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” he asked. “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant” (Matt. 20:22, 23; Mark 10:38, 39).

Since Jesus’ followers will have to drink the same cup, in one sense it must represent persecution and suffering, even to death. However, there is a profound difference between the cup of suffering his disciples must be prepared to drink ...

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