Revelation / chapter 15 (read the chapter)
There is an image introduced in chapter 14 and continued in chapters 15 and 16 which, I feel, is worth taking some time to consider: the cup of God’s wrath. This is the object of much discussion, especially in the book of Revelation, for it is this final book of the Bible which clearly outlines the end of the wicked—and John describes this event in terms of their drinking from that cup. This phrase is used six times in the Bible, and it’s the only specific “cup” the Bible refers to as belonging to God:
- Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty. (Job 21:20)
- Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger. (Isa 51:17)
- This is what your Sovereign Lord says, your God, who defends his people: “See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.” (Isa 51:22)
- 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.” (Jer 25:15)
- A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.” (Rev 14:9-10)
- The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. (Rev 16:19)
As I encountered this image, it brought to mind another dramatic scene from the Bible where a cup from God was discussed: “They went to a place called Gethsemane . . . ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ Jesus said to his disciples. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mk 14:32, 34-36)
What other cup could Jesus have been referring to but the cup of God’s wrath which will be poured out on sinners? Indeed, Paul later confirmed that at the cross, Jesus had been treated exactly as God will treat sinners: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
And how, exactly, did God the Father treat Jesus on the cross? What did it mean for Jesus to drink the cup of the wrath of God? It meant He was given up: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” (Matt 27:46)
If Jesus drank from the same cup of wrath that the wicked will drink from in Revelation, then we must assume that the meaning of that is also the same in both scenarios. If God didn’t torture Jesus on the cross, then He is not going to torture wicked sinners at the end of the world. If God didn’t torment Jesus on the cross, then He is not going to torment wicked sinners at the end of the world. No, He will do to wicked sinners at the end of the world exactly what He did to Jesus on the cross—give them up to experience the consequences of sin.
The end result of this event for sinners is death, just as it was for Jesus on the cross. That’s why John said, “I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.” (vs 1)
There is nothing more to come after drinking the cup of God’s wrath to the last drop. The end result is death. However, this death is the inherent consequence of the sin, not the imposed punishment of God. If, on the cross, God imposed no punishment on Jesus, then He is also not imposing punishment on sinners at the end.
God has a cup of wrath for sinners, but it’s certainly not a cup He wants them to drink. It’s a cup He never intended anyone to drink. But when freedom had been abused in God’s universe to the point that some of His creatures would inevitably drink from this cup, He drank from it first so we would know that the destruction which comes from sin doesn’t come at the hands of God.
That will be an important point to remember as we turn the page to chapter 16.