Drinking the Cup of Trembling

We live in a moral universe, a society where there is right and wrong and if a wrong has been committed, a price has to be paid. Without morality there is no equity. The principle of morality is that there is a reward for right-doing and punishment for wrong-doing. God could not remain just and forgive a sinner if the price was not paid for the sin. For this reason, Jesus had to go to the cross and pay the penalty for man’s sin. This principle of equity or morality runs through the whole universe and is present in every time period of earth’s history. This is also true for any group of people, for a church, a family, or for an individual. Many people today are very lackadaisical believing by simply confessing the sin, it will all be erased, forgetting the consequences that have to be dealt with.

David committed a terrible sin when he took Bathsheba in adultery and then attempted to cover it up by having Uriah the Hittite killed. When confronted by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin. We know he was forgiven and will be in the kingdom of heaven, but there were temporal consequences to pay for his sin that are still felt today. 2 Samuel 12:10–12 states: “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’ ” Remember, David had passed judgment on himself in 2 Samuel 12:5, 6: “… David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.’ ”

The judgment took effect and he did pay four-fold. David killed one person, Uriah, and the Bible record says that he lost four sons as a result of his sin. The son of Bathsheba died and before David’s life was over he lost three other sons, Adonijah, Absalom, and Amnon.

There are consequences to sin. Young people are especially tempted of the devil to think they can go out and have a fling and it will not matter as long as they confess and repent later, but this is a delusion.

Most people that are middle-aged or older look at it more seriously and realize that they are already, and have been, paying some consequences for things that they have done earlier in their lives. God laid on Jesus the consequences of our sin so we would not have to pay the ultimate price. This was not a pleasant experience for Him. Let’s look at some texts about this.

This story begins in Matthew 20:20 when James and John wanted to sit on the right hand and the left hand in the kingdom. Jesus said in verse 22, “ ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’ ”

Ellen White comments in The Desire of Ages, 689: “The Redeemer had spent entire nights praying for His disciples, that their faith might not fail. Should Jesus now put to James and John the question He had once asked them, ‘Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ they would not have ventured to answer, ‘We are able’ (Matthew 20:22).”

Incidentally, the apostle Paul refers to this in Hebrews 12:4 where he says, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” Jesus had a cup to drink. If He had refused to drink the cup of suffering, there would be no way for you and me to be saved. We would be lost. The Bible records that He prayed three times, “Lord, if it is possible, let this cup pass.” It would have been impossible for the cup to pass if man was to be delivered from this world. So Jesus determined to drink the cup. (See Matthew 26:39–42.) As we draw near the end of earth’s history, everybody in the world is going to have a bitter cup to drink.

Let’s look now at the devil’s table. In 1 Corinthians 10:21 we are told, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.”

Notice, you can choose which table you will eat from and whose cup you are going to drink, but you cannot have both of them. He does not say not to do it, but you “cannot” do it. Adam and Eve had that very same choice with free access to the tree of life. When they chose to eat at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they never again ate from the tree of life; they were cut off. In their garden home they were free to choose this one or that one, but they could not have both. If you choose the devil’s table you are cut off from the Lord’s table.

Many sit in front of their television set, internet screen or video recorder feasting at the devil’s table all week long and then they come to church and can’t figure out why they are not blessed by the Holy Spirit. You cannot switch tables one day each week and expect miracles. God knows where you are the happiest.

John the Revelator makes a prediction concerning a cup that the people who refuse to accept the third angel’s message of warning will drink. “He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation” (Revelation 14:10). This cup is not optional; it will be drunk to the dregs.

Another Scripture which tells us what is in the cup is found in Jeremiah 25:14–16: “ ‘(For many nations and great kings shall be served by them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and according to the works of their own hands.)’ For thus says the Lord God of Israel to me: ‘Take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.’ ”

What does this mean, “because of the sword that I will send”? Jesus said to Peter, “Put up your sword into your sheath, because all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52, literal translation).

The people that have led other people into captivity will be led into captivity. The people that have killed with the sword will be killed with the sword.

“Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the Lord had sent me: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its princes, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day: Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people; all the mixed multitude, all the kings of the land of Uz, all the kings of the land of the Philistines (namely Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the people of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastlands which are across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who are in the farthest corners; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed multitude who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes; all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth. Also the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.

“Therefore you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you” ’ ” (Jeremiah 25:17–27).

This is a prophecy about the cup that people are going to drink when we come to the end of the world. There will be many people who are not going to want to drink it.

“And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “You shall certainly drink!” ’ ” (verse 28). What you have done is going to return on you. Some people do not like to believe that. They don’t want to believe that we live in a moral universe and want to think, “I will confess it and it will all be erased and it won’t come back.”

The prophets talk a lot about this. For instance, in Obadiah 15, it says, “For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you.” That describes a moral universe. As you have done, it will come back. Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.

See, people think that you can sin and then just say, “I am sorry” and then go on and it will be erased. It says, “… as you have done, it shall be done to you.” Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. “For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all nations drink continually; yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been” (Obadiah 16).

We have often thought that we are the Lord’s people and that divine retribution is just for the other people and doesn’t apply to us, but notice what it says in the book of Jeremiah 25:29: “ ‘For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

If you keep reading in Jeremiah 25, you will see that when the Lord comes, all the wicked in the whole world will be killed. There will not be a single person left (see verses 30–33). “… at that day the slain of the Lord shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground” (verse 33).

Notice that Jeremiah 25:29 warns that the people that drink the cup first are God’s people. “… I begin to bring the calamity on the city which is called by My name …” The people that drink the cup first are God’s people.

Do you understand that, if we go into apostasy, the deeper the apostasy we go into, the bigger is the cup that we are going to drink. If we go contrary to God’s word in anything, we will drink the cup of consequences.

God’s people will actually drink of a cup. I call it the cup of trembling for when Jesus took it He trembled. God’s people are going to drink the cup first. Then after they have drunk the cup, the Lord is going to take the cup from them and the rest of the people are going to drink.

In Zechariah 12 and 13 there is a prophecy about the end times and what is going to happen. God’s people are going to become a cup of trembling to all the surrounding peoples when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:3 says, “And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.” All the nations of the earth are gathered against Jerusalem, against God’s people, but even though they want to do away with her, they themselves end up getting cut in pieces when they try to do away with Jerusalem.

“ ‘In that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will strike every horse with confusion, and its rider with madness; I will open My eyes on the house of Judah, and will strike every horse of the peoples with blindness’ ” (verse 4).

Verse 6 says, “In that day [same time] I will make the governors of Judah like a panfire in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left … .”

This is still talking about that very same time and it says again in verse 8, “In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord before them.”

Zechariah 12 is used by Ellen White over and over again in her writings to describe the situation among God’s people during the Sabbath-Sunday controversy when there is agitation to enforce Sunday worship by a national law, thereby initiating the mark of the beast. Verse 8 says, “The weak person is going to be like David” (literal translation). David was a person who in his youth, when he was considered almost a boy, went out and challenged Goliath. He not only challenged Goliath, but he picked up stones. When Goliath drew near, he got angry. It says, “David ran” (1 Samuel 17:48). David didn’t just challenge him, but he ran toward Goliath with his sling intending to use it. He would have been killed if the Lord had not intervened and blessed him. David was a person that had unbelievable energy and courage to face incredible odds. The weakest person in the church, at the time depicted in verse 8, is going to be like David. The person that would be naturally like David, a warrior, is going to be like the angel of the Lord. Under God, the angels are all powerful. There is coming a time when the church is going to have that kind of an experience when the weakest will be like David. However, that is not going to happen until we receive the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 9 says, “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” There is going to be destruction from the Lord over all the earth. The Lord is going to walk through the land and destroy it. This prophecy is not talking primarily about after probation closes but about the time just shortly before. Notice what it says in verse 11: “In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem … .” Verses 11 to 14 talk about the great mourning and grieving in Jerusalem over the sins in Jerusalem.

Zechariah 13:1 says, “In that day [the same day] a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”

This will be the last opportunity to get cleaned up before probation closes, and those who are truly repentant of their sins will get rid of their idols at the same time.

Still talking about the same time it says in verse 2: “ ‘It shall be in that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.’ ” You can’t get rid of the sins and the uncleanness unless you cut off the idols.

And finally, verse 4 says, “And it shall be in that day …” at that same time, false prophets are going to be all cut off from the land.

Zechariah chapters 12 and 13 repeat “in that day, at that time,” almost ten times reiterating what is going to happen. This is at the time when Jerusalem is made a cup of trembling. The whole world will be gathered against God’s people.

Isaiah 51 tells us what is going to happen. Verse 13 says, “… you have feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor.” In other words, this is a time of persecution. Notice verse 17: “Awake, awake! Stand up O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out.” This is a description of God’s people who have drunk clear to the bottom of the cup. This cup is the temporal consequences of their sins.

“There is no one to guide her among all the sons she has brought forth; nor is there any who takes her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up. These two things have come to you; who will be sorry for you?—Desolation and destruction, famine and sword—by whom will I comfort you? Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of all the streets, like an antelope in a net. They are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of your God. Therefore please hear this, you afflicted, and drunk, but not with wine. Thus says your Lord, the Lord and your God, Who pleads the cause of His people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup of trembling, the dregs of the cup of My fury; you shall no longer drink it. But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you, who have said to you, “Lie down, that we may walk over you. And you have laid your body like the ground, and as a street, for those who walk over.” ’ ” Verses 18–23.

When Jerusalem has drunk to the bottom of the cup, the Lord is going to take the cup from them and give it to those who cause the affliction, and they will drink.

We live in a moral universe where actions have consequences. The time of judgment is the time when the consequences are meted out.

Isaiah 40:1, 2 says: “ ‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’ ”

In other words, she has to drink the consequences. Most people would like for that cup to be easy. It is especially important for young people to realize that the cup that they are to drink in the future will be the result of what they have lived in the past. See Isaiah 40 and Obadiah.

What you have done will be done to you. Those who have never gone out and sown wild oats will not have as big a cup of remorse to drink as those who did, for it is measured by what you have done.

Understanding this will affect your behavior now if you would rather not have such a bitter cup to drink in the future. Every sin that you have committed in the past is still stored in your memory bank. It may be unconscious, but physicians who have done experiments on the human brain are well aware that those things that you think you have forgotten can be brought to your consciousness instantly under the right stimulus. Every sin committed is stored until the record is reviewed during the investigative judgment and He is the only One able to blot sin out. If you are a Christian, He is going to blot them out, but until that time, whatever you have done wrong in the past provides the devil with a weapon to tempt you and enable him to get access to you in the future.

Just because the devil can tempt you does not mean that the Lord cannot give you the power to overcome, but it can be a bitter cup to drink on the way to victory. There will be a cup of consequences for things that have been done in this world both for the wicked and for the righteous, whether you go to church or do not go to church, whether you are God’s child or the devil’s child.

We have seen from the Bible that everyone is going to drink of a cup. If you do not want to drink such a large, bitter cup then you must decide when you are young to follow the Lord. At whatever age you are, today is the best time to make that decision, because the longer you sit at the devil’s table and drink his cup, the bigger the cup you are going to have to drink in the future.

The decisions you make today impact tomorrow. May we all recognize that we live in a moral universe and that even though we can confess our sins and they can be forgiven, there are temporal consequences that come to us as a result of what we have thought, what we have said, and what we have done.

May the Holy Spirit transform us in character and help us to become Christ-like in the way we think, the way we speak, and the way we act, so that our future may be less difficult as we come to that time of the judgment of the living.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.