“Let This Cup Pass From Me” – Matthew 26:39-44

Matthew 26:39 (ESV) And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26:42 (ESV) Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:44 (ESV) So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

What is “the cup” Jesus is about to drink? The metaphor of a cup for God’s judgment is common in the Old Testament, and it probably has the same meaning here.

Jeremiah 25:15–29 (ESV) Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.

Isaiah 51:21–22 (ESV) Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: 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 8:14–15 Because of this God mixed them (a drink) of a wavering spirit, and gave them a cup of undiluted wine to make them drunk. 15 He brought someone from the end of the earth, one who attacks in strength; he declared war against Jerusalem, and her land.

1QpHab Col. xi:12-14 Its interpretation concerns the Priest whose disgrace exceeded his glory 13 because he did not circumcise the foreskin of his heart and has walked on paths of 14 excessiveness to slake his thirst; but the cup of 15 [Go]d’s anger will consume him, increasing [… ]his [dis]grace.

Revelation 16:19 God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.

When Jesus refers to drinking a cup in Matthew 20:22–23 and 26:27, the cup refers to the suffering of the crucifixion. This raises a difficult question. Is Jesus praying to his father to avoid the suffering of the cross? This seems unlikely since Jesus predicted his suffering several times and stated his death was the main reason he came to the world (Matthew 20:28).

Cup of Wrath

As he instructed his disciples to pray, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, knowing the will of the Father is to pour out his wrath on Jesus, the son. The theology of this prayer is important. This is a time of extreme temptation for Jesus, a temptation to not fulfill his father’s will and go through with the crucifixion. For many, Jesus is asking for the strength to endure the cross. Rather than asking to “get out of” the cross, he is asking for his humanity to be strengthened to endure the suffering he is under.

Is Jesus, while on earth, unable to know if there is an alternative to the crucifixion? Craig Blaising argued that there was a real possibility that God could accomplish the atonement without the crucifixion but that he willed that it should be through the crucifixion. Jesus would then say that he is submitting to the father by submitting to crucifixion.

It is probably best to see Jesus as genuinely tempted and troubled unto death. This makes the second half of his prayer more foundational; he submits himself to the will of the Father, not knowing the outcome. This also makes Jesus’s role as a servant clearer. While on earth, Jesus submits himself totally to the will of the Father as a servant, who came to us to die as an atonement (Mark 10:45). “Although Jesus has plainly prophesied his fate, he here recoils from it. This is not, however, an act of rebellion. Rather does the plea harmonize with the Jewish notion that God can, in response to prayer or repentance or sin, change his mind” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:497)

Jesus prays this prayer continually over some time (long enough for the disciples to fall asleep). It is not a quick one-sentence prayer. What we read is the substance of that prayer. When he returns to his closest disciples, he finds them sleeping rather than watching over him and joining him in prayer.


Bibliography: Craig A. Blaising, “Gethsemane: A Prayer of Faith,” JETS 22 (1979): 333–43; M. Kiley, “‘Lord, Save My Life’ (Ps 116:4) as Generative Text for Jesus’ Gethsemane Prayer (Mark 14:36a),” CBQ 48 (1986): 655–59.

3 thoughts on ““Let This Cup Pass From Me” – Matthew 26:39-44

  1. Jesus’s prayer demonstrates his humanity. Of course he’s frightened by the prospect of what may await him. It also demonstrates his faithfulness. As Paul writes, it’s Jesus’s faithfulness, even unto death, that is the decisive factor in salvation and Jesus’s exaltation. Faith “in” Jesus is more accurately understand as the faith “of” Jesus.

  2. I believe Jesus was being honest, that he didn’t want to be crucified, but not his will, but thy will be done. It declares his humanity, that is, that he was born like all of creation, bot good and evil. He knew God had the power
    to change things, since he was the Son of God, but in the end he submitted himself to God’s judgment.. I know you know this,but your loyalty to an impossible dogma is preventing you from becoming the Son that God wants.


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