Drinking the Cup of Jesus – Matthew 20:22-24

When the mother of James and John asks for her sons to sit on Jesus’s right and left side when the kingdom comes, Jesus says they are not able to “drink the cup” he is about to drink from (Matt 20:22). More or less, Jesus tells the mother and the two sons (the verbs are all second plural) do not know what they are asking!

“Drinking the cup” is a clear reference to the suffering from the three passion predictions (20:17-19). Drinking a cup is a common metaphor for the wrath of God in the Old Testament (Jer 25:15-16; Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-23; PsSol 8:14).

Isaiah 51:18, 22(ESV) Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. 22 Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.

Psalms of Solomon 8:14 Because of this God mixed them (a drink) of a wavering spirit, and gave them a cup of undiluted wine to make them drunk.

When Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane he asks for the “cup he is about to drink” to be taken from him, an indication he is about to face the wrath of God as he punishes sin.

James and John claim they can suffer and die along with Jesus (20:22b). This bold assertion is like Peter’s claim at the last supper that he is able to suffer and die with Jesus (Matthew 26:33). However, when the time comes to suffer and die with Jesus, James and John fall asleep along with Peter. The “sons of Zebedee can do nothing but sleep while Jesus wrestles with drinking his ποτήριον” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:89). That they think they can suffer in the same way Jesus will indicates they do not really understand what will happen when they arrive in Jerusalem.

In response, Jesus predicts James and John will “drink that cup,” but as for seating in the kingdom of heaven, that is prepared by the Father (20:23). James is the first martyr. He is the first of the disciples to be executed for his faith (Acts 12:1). James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I (not to be confused with Herod Agrippa II in Acts 26). John, on the other hand, lived a very long life, probably into the 90s A.D. It is possible he was quite young during the ministry of Jesus, maybe even a young teen, and lived a long life, often persecuted for his faith (see Ireneaus, Adv. Haer, 2.22).

The reaction of the other disciples: They were indignant! (20:24). It is possible their mother made this request in public, but most think they took Jesus aside to ask him in private. The verb ἀγανακτέω is to be angry at “what is assumed to be wrong” (BDAG); to “be vexed” (BrillDAG; the word is used in medical texts for literal irritation). Later in Matthew the Pharisees will be indignant when the disciples are shouting “hosanna” as Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem (21:15). The was used for the response of a disciple who thinks the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany is wasting money which could have been given to the poor (Matt 26:8).

This bold request from the mother of the sons of Zebedee indicates these two inner circle disciples have not fully understood Jesus’s predictions that he is going to suffer and die in Jerusalem. Although they fully understand Jesus is the Messiah, they do not yet understand the messiah’s mission is to serve as “a ransom for many.”

7 thoughts on “Drinking the Cup of Jesus – Matthew 20:22-24

  1. The “cup” in this passage is more than just something that holds water. “The word “cup” in the Bible frequently refers to the contents of a cup, not just the cup itself” (Barry, 2016). The cup in this passage is about the contents of the wrath of God. Jesus tells the sons of Zebedee that they cannot drink this cup. They don’t know what it all entails. Jesus Himself does not want to drink from the cup. He asks for God to take it away. He knows what the cup entails. He knows it is necessary to punish sin though. The “cup” “is often used figuratively for something that cannot be refused, especially something unpleasant like God’s judgements, wrath, or afflictions” (Barry, 2016). James and John know that meaning but did not understand the extent of Jesus’ cup. Jesus tells them they don’t know what they asked for. He drank the cup of wrath for His people, including these two. Believers do not have to drink this wrath they deserve. Through Christ, God sees us as having already suffered the punishment. We are now given the privilege to be seen through Christ’s righteousness and heirs of the kingdom. We can still expect to suffer, but it is not to the same extent. Philippians 1:29 says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”. The two men were not aware of Jesus’ drinking the cup on their behalf. They didn’t understand, as the article says, that he was “a ransom for many”. It is the pride of humans to want to contribute something to salvation. Many people believe they are “good people”. Yet we always fail miserably. The sons of Zebedee were not even able to stay awake while Jesus struggles with this.
    John D. Barry et al., eds., “Cup,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

  2. The fact that Jesus told them to drink the cup cracks me up because he is just outright telling them how wrong they are. The worst part is how far over their head it continues to go. What I wonder is how they did not understand the Messiah’s true mission. We do not know each and every word that was spoken between these men, but it is wild for me to think that they were this far off. Like I would have straight up asked Jesus if I was a disciple. It makes me wonder that they knew he was the “anointed one” (Strauss, 449), but they did not understand why He was anointed. Kings were anointed to lead people, but Jesus was not a typical king.

  3. I found this blog post very interesting especially in regard to the metaphor of “drinking the cup”. I thought this was a rather important thing to understand because there are two clear references how one should interpret. As for a modern New Testament point of view one could interpret drinking the cup as alcohol or some sort of depressant. I say this because according to Psalms of Solomon 8:14; it is obvious that the “drinking of the cup” refers to a beverage that will make one sick and staggering. “Because of this God mixed them (a drink) of a wavering spirit and gave them a cup of undiluted wine to make them drunk” (Psalms of Solomon 8:14). However, on the other hand there is the Older Testament point of view where one can interpret drinking the cup as “Drinking the cup is a clear reference to the suffering from the three passion predictions. Drinking a cup is a common metaphor for the wrath of God in the Old Testament” (P. Long). I find this very interesting because there can be a connection drawn between these comparisons in regard to suffering and drunkenness. The thing that also really stood out to me from this blog post was when P. Long mentions how things can be assumed to be wrong, which in my opinion is indignant. This caught my eye because a lot of people are so quick to judge and assume when there is always a reason for everything.

  4. Immediately reading about this blog post I was intrigued. I found the metaphor very interesting. Why do they want to suffer? Why does Jesus tell them they can’t? This reminds me of life. We tend to want what others have. We tend to want what looks good and nice but we don’t truly understand what it took for that person to get it. Just like Peter claiming he wanted to suffer with Jesus not knowing what was actually to come. James and John both claimed this but where were they when the time came. Long states in his post that they were asleep. I find it very interesting that Jesus predicted what was to come next for James and John. James, the first martyr, was executed for his faith. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. John on the other hand was predicted to be younger like a teen so he lived a long life. Another section of this blog that I found really interesting was the reaction of the other disciples. This was important to get those views as well. In that last paragraph it states that they did not fully understand what Jesus’ mission truly was and that obviously showed. This blog post was very interesting to me and helped me learn something new.

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