The cup of wrath is a biblical symbol for the wrath of God. It's a communal cup of punishment that's forced upon a sinful world. The wicked will drink the cup filled with the wine of God's wrath. However, in Christ we have deliverance from this cup that God has prepared.
The cup of wrath is the drink that God has stored up for the wicked. It's filled with the fermented fruits of their deeds. To drink from the cup of wrath is to reap divine punishment for one's sins. It's a cup that we all deserve, but God has appointed a way of escape.
"For in the hand of LORD there is a cup, and the wine foameth; It is full of mixture, and he poureth out of the same: Surely the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall drain them, and drink them...All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; But the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up" (Psalms 75:8,10 ASV bible).
The imagery of the cup of wrath is striking. Guzzling a large cup of strong wine would quickly make someone intoxicated. Their demeanour would suddenly change. They would think and feel differently, losing control of themselves. They might stagger from the effects of the alcohol, and eventually pass out in exhaustion.
The cup of wrath helps us to understand God's plan for dealing with evil. The Lord is patient and slow to anger. He waits and watches, allowing the wicked to exalt themselves with seeming impunity. He allows the world to run its course, and people to show their true colors.
But he has prepared a day of calamity for the wicked. On this day, they will not drink the wine of joy and fellowship. Instead the wicked will drink the bitter wine of God's wrath. God's wrath will quickly take effect, and they will be filled with terror at his presence. Their world will come crashing down around them as they are forced to accept the righteousness of God.
"The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup" (Psalms 11:4-6 KJV bible).
The wicked thrive in darkness, and use it as a cloak to cover their true intentions. They lie in wait and abuse whomever they can, thinking they will never have to answer to God. But God has set aside a day for them to drink the cup of his wrath. They will feel the full power of his indignation upon them.
"How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (Psalms 73:19-20 KJV bible), "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God" (Psalm 68.2 KJV bible).
God has prepared a cup of wrath that is full of the bitterness of sin. In this cup we see God's estrangement from the world. God is not a friend of the world. He's not part of the in the in-crowd, or the elites. He's not into unity or tolerance, or the phony kinds of love that people profess for each other.
"For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been" (Obadiah 1:16 KJV bible), "...and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath" (Revelation 16:19 KJV bible).
God will surely visit his creation. The prophets tell us the Lord is a consuming fire, and he will cleanse the world in the fury of his wrath. In his wrath, he will clear the way for an eternal Kingdom founded on peace and righteousness (see What does Faith Save us From?).
"For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:5-6 KJV bible).
In coming to know Jesus, there are several realizations that we will have. One of them is that the world is a place of darkness and deception. Often times we become disillusioned, as we begin to realize how little there is in the world that's real. People and things that seem true on the outside, turn out to be false. Sure there are some good qualities in the world, but none that are redeeming.
So we try different attitudes and personas, and they result in the same disappointments. We end up back at the same place of bitterness and confusion that we started at. We stumble around and aren't able to make sense of our mistakes, much less learn from them. The best we can do is put a smiley face on the situation.
But then there's another realization that's equally important on the path of wisdom. To know Christ we must realize that we aren't part of the solution, but part of the problem. We're part of the brokeness and dysfunction of the world. We might seek spiritual light and truth, but they're foreign to our hearts. We might want to do right, but what's that worth when our own thoughts and feelings betray us. We stumble in the dark of the world like everyone else.
These realizations lead us to repentance. In repentance we recognize the double standard we have when it comes to ourselves and the world. We go easy on ourselves, but condemn others. We damn and hate, but fail to realize that we're not much better. Sometimes it's only the circumstances that are different.
In repentance we recognize the situation and ask for help. If our hands are bloody, then what right do we have to be free from suffering? If our garments are stained, then what right do we have to a new life in a better world? If corruption and darkness have power in us, then how can we abide in eternal life?
So in the cup of wrath we see a message both of repentance and hope. We have hope because God desires to salvage us from this age of darkness. God has provided us a way of deliverance from the coming day of wrath. We have a way of escape through Christ, who having committed no sin, stood in our place to drink the bitter wine of God's wrath.
"He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done" (Matthew 26:42 KJV bible). Christ drank the bitter wine of suffering on our behalf. In that cup, our sins were transferred to him so that he might bear them for us. He bore our sins in his body so that we can be restored to innocence, and drink the wine of eternal life.
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