Let this Cup Pass – Did Jesus Change His Mind?

In Matthew 26:39, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed,

O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.

Jesus praying

Though none of us can fully comprehend either the physical or the spiritual suffering that Jesus was about to endure, such a prayer by Jesus confuses many people. Up until this point, it seems that Jesus has known full well what He would face on the cross, and went toward it willingly and resolutely.

And yet now it seems that He is praying for a way around the cross. When Jesus prays, “Let this cup pass” is He asking for an alternate route to redemption?

While some pastors and scholars just say that such a prayer reveals the full humanity of Jesus, I am not sure the answer is that easy. I do not think Jesus changed His mind.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Scripture Evidence

First, the plan of the cross had been established from the very foundations of the world. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul writes about this plan. The fact that it would include the slaying of God’s own Son is recorded in Revelation 13:8. Before Jesus was even born, He knew that He must die on earth.

Second, numerous times during His ministry, Jesus spoke of His coming death in graphic detail and referred to it as “drinking the cup.” In Matthew 16:21 Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die (cf. Matt 17:22-23; Luke 9:22). He even knew many of the details, that He would be arrested, condemned, mocked, whipped, spit upon, and killed (Mark 10:32-33).

Furthermore, He occasionally used the imagery of drinking deeply from a cup to describe this painful suffering and death He would endure (cf. Matt 20:22-23). Also, in an earlier prayer, He stated that He would not pray for God to save Him from the suffering that was to come (John 12:27-28).

Third, after the prayer in the Gethsemane, Jesus continued to show willingness to drink the cup. In John 18:11, after Jesus had finished praying, and as He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter tried to rescue Jesus by pulling a sword on the Temple guards. But Jesus stopped Peter, and asked him, “Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

So if both before and after the prayer in the Garden, Jesus knew what His death would entail, and showed complete acceptance of it, how can we understand His prayer in the Garden for the cup to pass from Him? Did He have a moment of weakness? Was He losing His resolve? Was He afraid of the pain? Did He change His mind? The answer to all of these is “No.”

The Passover Solution

Last SupperPart of the problem is that we do not understand the Passover imagery which Jesus was using. Jesus and the apostles had just come from eating their Passover meal, during which time they would have drunk deeply from four cups of wine. At that time, the table would usually share one, large, communal cup. The custom was that when the cup came to the place you were reclining, you must drink from it as deeply as you could, before passing it on to the next person at the table.

Before you could “let this cup pass” you had drink deeply from it.

If the was emptied, it would be filled again before being passed on. Often, at the bottom of the cup, there were bitter dregs from the wine. If you were the person to empty the cup, you must drink the bitter dregs as well, before you “let this cup pass.”

So when Jesus prays, “Let this cup pass from me,” He is not saying, “I don’t want to drink it,” but is rather praying, “Let me drink of it as deeply as I possibly can before I pass it on to humanity. Let me empty it. Let me drain it. Let me drink all of it, even the bitter dregs at the bottom of the cup.”

Jesus was not asking God to let Him avoid the cup, but was asking to let Him take on as much of it as He possibly could, and if possible, if it was God’s will, to let Him drink every single drop, down the bitter end.

This is how the statements about not doing His own will, but the will of God, are to be understood (Matt 26:39, 42). Jesus was not praying to bypass the cup of pain and death, but was praying to end the reign of sin and death once and for all, in Himself, on the cross. Jesus was praying to finish the plan, to bring it to completion. Was He looking forward to the pain and suffering? Of course not. But nor was He shying away from it.

The Surprising Will of God

The seeming conflict between the will of Jesus and the will of God in Matthew 26:39, 42 was not, I think, in the will of Jesus, but in the will of God. It was God who was “struggling” with what to do; not Jesus. God was having to face a decision on whether He would let mankind suffer for our own sin, or if He would take all that sin and pour it out upon His one and only, perfectly righteous, everlasting Son. If He did that, their eternal relationship would never be exactly the same.

Which of us could ever make such a decision as God made here? He had to decide between His own Son, and all of wretched, sinful, rebellious humanity.

So Jesus, in His prayers to His Father, is saying,

God, this is why I have come. This is why I am here. This has been our plan from the very beginning. I want this. I want to drink this cup. I want to drink it fully. I want to drink every drop. I will not pass any bit of it on to the rest of humanity. I want to drink fully of the cup of your wrath (cf. Jer 25:17-38; Isa 51:17-23). This is how much I love them. This is how much I long for their redemption and forgiveness. Let me do this. This is my will. But ultimately, God, it is up to you. It is your choice.

If Jesus was uncertain of anything, it was not His own will to drink of the cup, but of the will of God to take the sin of all mankind and pour it out upon His Son. In His prayer, Jesus was asking God to finish what they had started.

This is what I love so much about Jesus. He truly is our Great High Priest, the Mediator between God and man. He did not try to pray Himself out of the pain and suffering of the cross at the last minute. No, He embraced it to the very end, praying and pleading with God to stay the course, despite how painful it would be for both of them to sever their relationship, and make Jesus become sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).

Oh, and by the way, I don’t think God hesitated for a second either. Jesus says that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. Therefore, God the Father loves us just as much as Jesus does. There was never any question about what would happen on the cross. Jesus did not change His mind about the cross, and neither did God the Father. Together, they endured the cross, despised it’s shame, so that Jesus could once again sit down at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, and we could be offered eternal life.

Some exegetical evidence for this view on “Let this cup pass”

The word used in Matthew 26:39 for “pass” is parerchomai, which can be translated in a variety of ways. It is used, for example, to speak of the coming to completion or the inability of God’s word to pass away until all is fulfilled (cf. Matt 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33).

I am one of those individuals, however, who thinks that in cases such as the Passover meal, and in His prayers, Jesus spoke in Hebrew. What we have then in the Gospels is a Greek translation from the Hebrew that Jesus spoke. There are numerous references in the early church to a Gospel written in Hebrew.

So in Matthew 26:39, in place of the Greek word parerchomai, the Ginsburg Hebrew New Testament contains the Hebrew word abar, which means “to pass through.” This is crucial word in the account of the Passover (cf. Exodus 12:12, 23). In that account, the Lord “passed over” (Heb. pesach), the houses of the Israelites which had blood of the lamb on the doorpost, but He “passed through” (Heb. abar) the houses of the Egyptians which did not.

It appears that when Jesus prayed to let this cup pass, He used the word abar. He was not praying to escape the pain and suffering, and have it pass over (pesach) Him, but was praying to take it on fully, to experience the pain, death, and suffering of the cup of God’s wrath.

This fits perfectly with the Passover imagery. Jesus, as the Lamb of God slain before the foundations of the world, takes on the full brunt the punishment for sin, allowing His blood to be put on the doorposts of all who believe in Him, so that punishment passes over them.


Here are other posts in this series on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Forget Christmas, It's Easter!
  2. The Physical Suffering of Jesus
  3. The Spiritual Suffering of Jesus
  4. The Love and Horror of the Cross
  5. Let this Cup Pass - Did Jesus Change His Mind?
  6. The Case for a Thursday Crucifixion
  7. Did Jesus Descend into Hell?
  8. Steps of Jesus our High Priest
  9. Good God, Bad God - On the Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement
  10. Death Precedes Resurrection
  11. Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen?
  12. Does the resurrection of Jesus prove He is God?
  13. Bored with the Resurrection of Jesus
  14. The Resurrection of Jesus is the Answer
  15. Why Jesus Wasn't Saved
  16. When the Passover Meal Includes Meat Sacrificed to Idols
  17. Why Did Jesus Wait Three Days to Rise from the Dead?
  18. The Most Beautiful Words in the Gospels
  19. Jesus Uses Doubters Too
  20. What if Jesus Had Never Been Raised?


Comments

  1. says

    Jeremy,
    I understand the metaphor, but I still don’t see how Christ’s statement implies a desire to drink the cup dry. If he wanted to drink to the bottom of the cup to taste the worst, wouldn’t he say “Let this cup NOT pass from me?” As in, let me finish it. What am I missing? Also, does your analysis hold with Christ praying that the “hour might pass from him” in Mark 14:35?

    • says

      Chris,
      Good question. I may not have been as clear there as I wanted. In Jewish passover imagery, the cup does not pass from you until you have drunk from it as deeply as you can. When the cup is passed to you, you cannot “pass it from you” without drinking deeply from it. We get confused because we think Jesus is looking at the cup, and saying, “God, can I get a pass? I would like to avoid drinking this if possible.”

      But that is not what He meant. The opposite in fact. Truly, Jesus does pass on the cup to us, but only after He has drunk it all. So we get the fresh, new wine. Jesus is praying, “Let this cup pass from me after I have drunk it all.” Hope that helps a bit.

    • says

      No written sources. Sorry. I learned it from Dr. Jay Quine, one of my seminary professors at DTS. So all I have are my sketchy class notes. I suppose he could be wrong. So If I find better documented resources, I will post them here.

  2. Clive Clifton says

    Your right Jeremy, thank you for confirming what I always believed, that when He set his face like flint to enter Jerusalem, knowing what He had to face, there was no way He was going to change His mind. What we do not know is the conversation he had with His Dad. Did His Dad say “Son, you don’t have to go through with this” Jesus may have said “it’s OK Dad their worth it, aren’t they” “yes Son they are, see you later”.

    Thank you Jeremy, it really brought it home to me what they both did, and I imagine the Holy Spirit wrapping His arms around both of them in consolation and agreement. You made me cry again, thank you. Clive

  3. Jeanne S. says

    It an interesting argument and I can see some of what you are saying except what with the fact that Jesus
    was sweating blood which certainly suggest someone agonizing over something.

  4. Pam Frazier says

    I like this perspective a lot. I posted the link in my group and the funny thing is, I can’t get anyone to read it. Maybe afraid to challenge their long held beliefs??? This is a very open minded organic group. I don’t understand it. I keep popping back to the top trying to get some to read but they won’t. What about the sweating of blood?? That certainly signifies much distress??

    • says

      Pam,

      Thanks for posting it in your group.

      Anyway, yes, Jesus certainly agonized and was distressed about what was going to happen to Him. He had certainly seen people crucified, and knew what was going to happen to Him. Not only that, but bearing the sins of the whole world on Himself was nothing to take lightly either. So this explains the drops of blood.

  5. Luke says

    I think the distress Jesus was feeling that caused Him to sweat blood was the unknown to Him. Jesus was fully prepared and willing to suffer the extreme physical pain and torture ahead of Him. He knew what was going to happen, He surely had experienced physical pain before, after all He was a carpenter and used tools. He hit his thumb at least once with a hammer right. But Jesus had never experienced sin or separation from God. I think this is what caused Him such great distress. My point being Jesus had experienced physical pain while in this earth, but had never experienced sin or separation from God, EVER!

    • says

      Luke,

      Great point. The righteous, holy, perfect God, becoming sin for us, is certainly a point of anguish for Jesus. Knowing that he was going to be separated from God, and forsaken by God would have been a source of much distress.

  6. Anna says

    I appreciate the thoughts in this piece. Could you give some sources for your point about passing the cup and drinking the dregs as customary before doing so? It feels right spiritually speaking and the idea of ‘passing the cup’ as a parable from everyday life fits with how Jesus taught. I does seem very likely that this is one (of several) metaphors that we miss because our traditions are not the same. I would definitely like to read more about the tradition. There was a talk in church today about this scripture from a member of our regional High Council. He spoke about how Jesus emptied the bitter cup without becoming bitter as another example to us of how we should strive to be like Him. I like the double layering of praising the greatness of the Saviour and seeing His life as a pattern for ours – even if in this case our ‘dregs’ are limited and his covered humanity’s and there is a huge difference there.

    • says

      I know of no commentary that takes this view. I learned it from a seminary professor who has not written a commentary on it either. I do not know where he learned it.

  7. Pete says

    Its simple. Jesus was dying in the garden (Matt.26:38 …soul exceeding sorrowful, even unto death)
    Hemorrhaging through skin (sweat drops like blood). The cup was a cup of death offered Him IN the garden. He showed His exclusive surrender to His Father by being willing to drink it, and not go to the Cross which was His goal and desire. Final proof: Heb. 5:7 …in the days of His flesh…offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard…”. When did this happen, pray tell??? Jesus certainly wasn’t saved from death on the Cross! He was heard in the garden, and an angel came and strengthened Him (Lk 22:43)
    God bless.

      • Pete says

        The scriptures say that Jesus was “sorrowful and very heavy…exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt.) “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark). In Luke praying, “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him”
        Heb. 5:7 He prayed, was heard, and saved from death!
        Yes, I agree with the scriptures… Jesus was offered a “cup of death” by His Father. He was surrendered and willing to drink it, if it be His Father’s Will. Jesus proved that He loved the Person of His Heavenly Father more than even the Plan which was for Him to go to the Cross, be the Saviour of the world, and purchase for Himself His Bride with His own Blood!
        I’ve heard only one person teach this view, which makes more sense to me than all the rest of commentaries put together, moreover it has changed my life, and given me a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Father and His Son of Love!
        I want to thank you for your incredible description of the crucifixion & scourging process. It left an eternal impression on my heart & mind, for which I am very grateful.
        God bless.

          • Pete says

            Question and challenge. Can you or anyone else point to any event in the life of Jesus (other than the Garden of Gethsemane) to which Heb. 5:7 can apply?
            Days of His flesh…
            Prayers, supplications, strong cryings, tears
            was heard
            Saved from death
            Once this point is settled, the scene in Gethsemane makes perfect sense.

          • says

            Well, the way I have always understand that verse is that He was saved from death through resurrection. But you think he was saved from death in the garden, and then still went to the cross and died?

  8. David Alexander says

    So did God create hell and heaven and then come to earth and then die for our sins and suffer from his own wrath for three days in hell? Why did God have to make such a big sacrifice? Couldn’t he forgive our sins directly? Please reply.

  9. John Levine says

    In the Bible Old Testament says that whoever dies on the cross is accursed by God. Does that means Jesus was accursed? Also can you please explain how it is possible to be God and human at the same time because God is powerful while humans are weak?

    • says

      Wow. Good question. Yes, Jesus was accursed. He actually became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).

      As for how Jesus could be both God and human at the same time, this is one of the greatest theological debates in Christian history, and I do not have an adequate way of explaining it. This doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it just means that our weak human minds cannot understand it.

      • Stacey George says

        As far as I know, Jesus is at the same time God – because of his mission, and man – because of the humanity he had (his flesh, fears, etc.).

  10. Cecil says

    Brother Jeremy, Ifeel that is important for us as believers to know that Jesus had to feel everything we would feel and what we would go through in life. Our Lord had to have a will that was all of his human state with the emotions doults to over come. His will had to be seperate It had to be touch and he had to make choses. Drinking deeply in the. cup is a give because he had to drink all of it anyway. All of it meant he died and all that which separated us from God. We were in the cup our fears, sins, emotions etc. Jesus was touch with our infirmities. So the bitter cup is has to be tied to Christ humanity, was all human yet all God . Make since? Love you in Christ Jesus

  11. HT Morgan says

    I really appreciated your blog. I have to admit I never delved into the verse before, because frankly I couldn’t grasp it all. Great explanation. However, I have one remaining question. If Jesus and God the Father are one, how is it they had different wills? That part still confuses me. Thanks

    • says

      I think that is actually an argument in favor of the view I am presenting. God and Jesus did not have two different wills in this matter, but were of one mind and one will.

  12. mark says

    I just read your commentary, and the exchange with Pete. I have had his viewpoint for a very long time,and It makes complete sense for me. Look at it in the light of what he told the apostles in the garden when they could not stay awake…. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. He knew this, because He was going through it Himself, as His flesh-complete humanity-was giving out under the stress of the situation, but His will was to complete the task.
    It has always bothered me that preachers would teach that Jesus was weak enough to back out of a plan He knew of since eternity past. It also requires that at one time, God was opposed to His own will.

    • says

      Thanks, Mark. I agree with you (obviously). Certainly Jesus did not look forward to the pain and suffering He was about to experience, but He had known this from before the foundation of the world, and so I cannot imagine that the knowledge of this was making Jesus change His mind now.

  13. Robert Dover says

    Three points.
    1. Jesus never claimed nor does the Bible ever state that Jesus was God and man. There are some mistranslations on a few verses that seem to indicate that Jesus was God, but it one goes to the Greek, it is easy to see that these verses are not true to the text. John wrote in his gospel that in the beginning was the
    Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. That is past tense. Then he became a man. Philippians states that Jesus gave up equality with God to become a man. If he was no longer equal with God, then he was no longer God. Jesus stated he was doing his Father’s will not his own. He stated all power was from God which means he didn’t have the power himself. Jesus was tempted. God cannot be tempted nor does he tempt anyone. God and sin cannot co-exist. Jesus was around sin everyday and bore man’s sin. Jesus died. There was no on off switch. Now he is God, now he is not. Situational God? I don’t think so.

    2. Jesus was always a man with a mission. He was a spiritual warrior. He never had a weak moment. He met Satan one on one and stood firm even in physical weakness. He came to his final Passover fully prepared to complete his mission. He confronted the opposition, cleared the temple, secured the upper room, sent Judas to carry out his betrayal, then went to the garden and wimped out, folding under pressure only to quickly regain his composure when Judas and company arrive. I don’t think so. Jesus said, ” My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

    3. Jesus did not sweat blood. He was sweating as if he was bleeding. Sweat was pouring out in the same way blood flows when we bleed. There were no broken capillaries, no red to it. It was clear sweat like everyone sweats. It is a figure of speech. More specifically, it is a simile.

    And now finally a question… How does the cup passing relate to God forsaking Jesus?

    • says

      Robert,
      I have explanations that satisfy me for all your questions, but to provide them would take a very long comment. Maybe if you want these questions answered, you could submit them using the “Ask a Question” section on the sidebar? Then maybe I can answer each one later as I have time. Same with your other question below.

  14. Robert Dover says

    Another point. I have heard all my life that God turned His back on Jesus and that is why he was forsaken. Psalms 22 discribes the crusifiction and then in 22:24 states “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Does this not refute the notion that God turned his back on Jesus?

  15. Michael says

    Christ came to gather the lost sheep (tribes carried off because of their fornication). Jeremiah 3 explains this. Under Law, a man could not return to a divorced wife…that would defile the land. however, if the husband died, then the wife was no longer under the Law and she could remarry. In Numbers 5, if a wife was unfaithful, or if a husband suspected his wife of being unfaithful she was to drink from a cup of bitterness. If she was guilty, her stomach would swell and her thigh would waste away. Christ drank that bitter cup, was forsaken by God and cursed by his people. His body swelled and his thigh wasted away(his thigh supported Him on the cross in order for Him to breathe) With Christ resurrection, God was now able to RE-NEW His covenant with Israel and gather the lost sheep.

  16. RadicalChris10 says

    You have merely reversed their positions on the matter. Either Jesus wanted to go to the Cross and God was having 2nd thoughts or Jesus was having 2nd thoughts and God wanted Jesus to go. I don’t see how your argument changes anything.

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