Luke 22:41-46 describes this time, and says that Jesus prayed that “this cup be taken from me.” This phrase might be interpreted to mean that Jesus would like to not have to go through the upcoming torture and death. It may, however, refer to the fact that the physical pain he was suffering was going to kill him too soon, before he could die on the cross. The idea of Jesus praying for strength to continue parallels with Heb. 5:7-8, which says that he cried out to God to be saved from death and that he “learned obedience to the Father.”
A third possibility is to take “this cup” as an image of punishment, as it is in the Old Testament. Rather than asking to get out of the torment of the cross, Jesus is looking forward to the time when the punishment for sin will be over and he will be restored to complete fellowship with the Father. Craig Blaising notes that Jesus applied Isaiah 53:12 to himself before going to the garden, and suggests that Isaiah 51:19-22 may hold the key to interpreting the desire to have the cup removed. In Isaiah, the cup of God’s wrath is taken away from the people after they have experienced it. They received the punishment in full, but afterwards the cup is removed and they experience the blessings of the Lord in the Kingdom. Rather than asking to avoid the crucifixion, Jesus is praying that after he “drinks from the cup of wrath,” he have that cup taken away so that he can enjoy fellowship again.
The implication for Jesus’ prayer is this: As in this passage, where God will remove the cup of his wrath from his people after they have drunk it, so Jesus prays that the cup of God’s wrath for sin, which he drinks for all, will in the same way be removed from his hand by the Father after he has drunk it (335).
For me, it makes a great deal of sense to follow Blaising’s lead here and read the cup of God’s wrath in the sense found in Isaiah. The fact that Jesus constantly refers to Isaiah 40-55 is evidence that this is what he has in mind in the garden. In addition, I worry about what it says about Jesus if he was praying to avoid the cross if at all possible. The cross was not just a possibility, it was the whole reason for the incarnation. Jesus would not consider avoiding the cross since he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
Bibliography: Craig A. Blaising, “Gethsemane: A Prayer Of Faith” JETS 22 (1979): 333-343.