New International Version Matthew 16:21

From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Jesus knew he would suffer and died. Yet, he prayed about a certain cup in Matthew 26:39

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Was Jesus asking not to be hanged on the cross? Not to be arrested? What exactly was this cup? What is the imagery of the cup? What is the contrast between these two verses with respect to suffering many things and cup?

  • I recently read an interpretation that he didn't want to die drinking the cup of wrath, thus forfeiting his ability to complete the task of dying on the cross. He badly wanted to redeem humanity. That is why the angel strengthened him to endure the cup as an alternative answer to prayer. Oct 9, 2021 at 13:54

4 Answers 4


It was not the physical pain of physical death that was the cup Christ had to drink. It was the shame of all of the sin of all of mankind that He despised.

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2, KJV)

Because when Christ was covered with all of the blackness of all of the evil of all mankind, at that moment He was separated from our Father in heaven. I doubt there is any earthly man or woman who can understand that moment when Jesus cried out,

"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46, KJV)

To have all of the sins of the world cast upon the most sinless one of all was our shame, not His. But He felt it all. That was the cup He dreaded, to be filled with murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lies and all other manner of sins of the entire world.

Christ was not asking to avoid death, but to avoid the shame. He suffered the penalty of all sinners by being put to death, but for those few moments the shame separated Him from God.

  • 2
    Similar to the Kos ( כּ֔וֹס ) or "Cup" in Lamentations 4:21-22 which is used to uncover (גִּלָּ֖ה) our sins. Feb 15, 2021 at 16:26
  • 1
    I do not agree with the use of the word "shame" in the above answer. Our salvation at the hands of our saviour is not about shame. Jesus was simply cut off from His father because God and sin cannot coexist they are opposites like the light and darkness. I do not feel that is shame.
    – Adam
    Feb 15, 2021 at 19:11
  • 1
    I agree with @Adam - separation from the Father was the central issue. Having taken the sin of the world (1 John 2:1, 2) sin cannot stand in the presence of the Holy God - hence the darkness for 3 hours, etc. Shame is NEVER mentioned.
    – Dottard
    Feb 16, 2021 at 2:37
  • @Adam, & Dottard - the question was why Jesus prayed for the cup to be removed from Him. You are changing the subject of the question.
    – Gina
    Feb 16, 2021 at 3:30
  • @Gina...your question needs to be edited so that it correctly states the factual/biblical issue you raise. It is incorrect to say Jesus died of shame or even wanted the cup to pass from him because of shame. To put another spin on it, did Isaac allow himself to be placed on an alter because of shame? (this significance of the Isaac alter event was that it pointed to the crucifixion of Christ)
    – Adam
    Feb 16, 2021 at 3:36

The symbol of the cup is introduced earlier in Matthew (World English Bible):

20:22 -- But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Then, just a little earlier in the chapter of Matthew that you refer to, at the last supper:

26:27 -- He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins."

So by the time we get to 26:39, it's clear that the cup is the same cup as the one used in the eucharist. Possibly for first-century Jews it would also have evoked the cup of the wine of God's wrath:

Jeremiah 25:15 -- For Yahweh, the God of Israel, says to me: “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from my hand, and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it..."

The same imagery is echoed in the NT in Revelation 14:8 and 14:10, but in a way that if anything would seek to clarify to early Christians that the eucharistic cup wasn't that cup, even if both have something to do with sin.

Didache 9 has this: "Now concerning the giving of thanks [τῆς εὐχαριστίας, "eucharist"], give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our father, for the holy vine of your servant David, which you made known to us through your servant Jesus. Glory to you forever." This is probably an earlier version of the eucharistic ceremony than the one that was eventually retrofitted into the last supper by the evangelists. If so, then this is an additional layer of possible symbolism from the Hebrew bible.

But whatever poetic associations and overtones it had for the original audience of the evangelists, I think it's clear that what Matthew intends is that the cup represents what you would expect from the eucharist: the fact that Jesus is going to be sacrificed so that mankind can be forgiven for its sins.

As to the substance of your question, what Jesus meant, I think that really depends on what assumptions you're starting with about the nature of Jesus. To me, words like this and "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" read pretty straightforwardly as statements of fact about the historical Jesus: that he was a vulnerable human and had doubts and fears.


As mentioned by @Ben Crowell - the use of the term "cup" by Jesus likely refers to God's "cup of wrath" that was supposed to be poured out on the nations.

A reference to this is the book by Schalom Ben-Chorin, "Brother Jesus: The Nazarene through Jewish Eyes"

Chapter 11 is titled The Fifth Cup (p. 146-155)

Chorin notes that the "last supper" is likely a Passover celebration since all of the Gospel writers place this event at the time of Passover (Ex. 12; Lev. 23:5) and Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:6).

Luke 22:1 -

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching

The Passover meal celebrates the fourfold acts of God's salvation from Egypt (Exodus 6:6-7):

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians"

Therefore, it is customary at a Passover celebration to drink four cups of wine.

There was a debate in the first century (depicted between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai) on whether or not there should be a fifth cup - the cup of wrath

Jeremiah 25:15-17:

15 This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it:

Instead of the nations having to drink the cup of God's wrath - Jesus did. He took the sins of the world on him.

At this moment in the garden, Jesus is realizing the nature of what is coming.

  1. there IS a fifth cup at this Passover
  2. the fifth cup is the cup of wrath for the nations
  3. He is going to have that cup poured out on him

His request to God is essentially, "Isn't there any other way to do this?"

But ultimately Jesus says, "Not my will, but your will."


Did Jesus pray not to die on the cross in Matthew 26:39?

No, but he did pray that he might not go to the cross at all!

let this cup of suffering be taken away from me v39

Jesus had his own will - which could differ from the Father's. Jesus clearly had in mind other ways of doing things, but he always submitted to the Father.

This is critical in understanding that Jesus depended on the Father for everything he needed to complete the mission perfectly - even at great cost to himself - we can barely imagine the pain, the extended suffering and all accomplished in great humility, peace and love - and trusting obedience.

John 5:30 I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 6:38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.

A second time He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” Matt 26:42

“Abba, Father,” He said, “all things are possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36

We have all the passages that show how Jesus could do nothing or speak nothing except what the Father provided. John 14:24, 49 - even Rev 1:1 where God is giving Jesus the revelation for John.

But, let us not think for a moment that Jesus was separated from his Father. Sin separates from God - Jesus never sinned. He WAS the sin offering only.

God...by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering Rom 8:3

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and to cause Him to suffer; and when His soul is made a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. Is 53:10

The erroneous idea that Jesus became sin is of poor understanding.

He made the One not having known sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:21

The Gr. 'hamartia' can be translated as ‘sin’ OR ‘sin offering’. So the former is not forced on the text^.

1 John 3:5 And you know that he appeared, so that he might take away sins; and in him there is no sin.

It seems to be this matter of Jesus becoming sin for this moment that God is to have abandoned him. This is the final moment of glory for the Father and His son in the accomplishment of the whole plan laid down from the foundation of the world!

What about the cup?

27And having taken a cup, and having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matt 26:27-8

Jesus was being given the cup of the new covenant to 'drink'. He had just been sharing the cup with the disciples - the drink represented his blood. But he was about to share in the cup of the entire world. It was his life-blood being poured out and he would need to be fully committed to this sacrifice to the bitter end. The cup the Father had given to him could only be taken away by the Father. But Jesus, doing the Father's will, drank it for everyone else - there was no one to share this cup with!

Jesus not separated from God.

Jesus crying out, 'My God, why have you abandoned me?' is a timely quote from the Psalms. Jesus knew that the Jews and followers knew the Psalms very well.

Ps 22 begins with '...why have you forsaken me?', and closes with, "It is finished!"

I wont draw this out - you can read it for yourself, but he uses words that are largely lost in our translations. Jesus was drawing their attention to all these prophetic details that applied to him. Beginning with the first verse and also quoting the last - they knew what was in the middle and were being reminded of all the details that applied directly to him - to the prophecies that were being fulfilled right then and in the lead-up to this time.

v31 They will come and declare His righteousness To a people yet to be born—that He has done it [and that it is finished]. AMP

No the Father never left Jesus at this most triumphant point in all creation - Jesus is about to redeem it all and there is no reason for the Father to turn away from him.

Yes Jesus bore the sin of all creation - but he did not become sin. The perfect one-time offering for sin only. He was never separated from or abandoned by his God.

Jesus despising the shame... what does that mean? (Paul) is talking about the cross.

disregarding its shame NLT, Jesus is not despising the cross, but the shame that any other person would connect with such a choice - to give their innocent life in such incredible cruelty and pain, for others. To suffer the ignominy and disgrace and humiliation of being the 'King', even the son of God, yet choosing not to stop the impending doom.

The 'shame' that would accompany any other person, is what Jesus despised. He wasn't going to fall for self-pity or get angry or violent, he wasn't going to let pride get the better of him, which is what shame may drive one to. Pride was the devil's weapon of choice in the first round of temptation... it was still there at the end and Jesus held the line - doing God's will - not his own.

Not being diminished by such a base self-centred emotion - not succumbing to it at all. This is part of his willingness to not strive for his rightful place beside God as His son, but to be the human sacrifice for his brothers - defeating sin and death and evil in one go! AND THEN - God would raise him and exalt him to the highest place - the very throne of his Father and God!!!

Jesus did not become sin. This is perhaps a possible translation, but it has no purpose, nor any correlation with other scripture.

^A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the NT by Barclay Neman - hamartia means, “sin” and “sin offering,” and the Zondervan Pictorial Ency lists both “sin” and “sin offering”. English Bibles that have “sin offering” or an equivalent in 2 Corinthians 5:21 include the CJB, NLT, The NT by Charles Williams, and The Holy Bible: New European Version. Hamartia is from the Hebrew word for “sin offering” in the Septuagint (Exod. 29:14, 36; 30:10; Lev. 4:3, 8, 21, 24, 25) chattath in the Hebrew Bible, means either “sin” or “sin offering etc

  • Although Jesus cries out with the words from Psalm 22:1 in two of the passion accounts, there is no reasonable way to read the entire psalm as a prophecy of Jesus as the messiah. It includes text like "I am a worm," which doesn't work as a messianic prophecy at all.
    – user39728
    Feb 16, 2021 at 0:17
  • @Ben there is much to appreciate and understand about the tremendous cost of Jesus life and sacrifice - it comes not from reading the word alone, but from the spiritual transformation being done in us to show how we are also worms - he was indeed 'made like us in every way', but that, without sin!
    – Steve
    Feb 16, 2021 at 0:45
  • Can you point to any place where any good lexicon or Bible verse translates harmatia as "sin offering"
    – Dottard
    Feb 16, 2021 at 3:00
  • A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the NT by Barclay Neman - hamartia means, “sin” and “sin offering,” and the Zondervan Pictorial Ency lists both “sin” and “sin offering”. English Bibles that have “sin offering” or an equivalent in 2 Corinthians 5:21 include the CJB, NLT, The NT by Charles Williams, and The Holy Bible: New European Version. Hamartia is from the Hebrew word for “sin offering” in the Septuagint (Exod. 29:14, 36; 30:10; Lev. 4:3, 8, 21, 24, 25) chattath in the Hebrew Bible, means either “sin” or “sin offering etc etc.
    – Steve
    Feb 17, 2021 at 3:47

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