The great exchange of the gospel is played out with two cups.
These are two cups mentioned by Jesus, both on the same night. These two cups represent two great aspects of what happens when Jesus Christ saves his people. This has often been spoken of as the "Great Exchange," where Jesus takes our punishment and what we deserve upon himself, and gives us the righteousness that is his, what we don’t deserve. Another way this is illustrated comes from Jesus himself as he speaks about cups.
Imagine the scene. Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He is in agony as he prays for he knows what awaits him. He knows that he will experience pain and torment, not only of the flesh, but also of his soul. He knows he will experience the wrath of the Father for the sins of his people. So he prays, “Let this cup pass from me.”
Jesus prays about a cup.
This cup is a reference to the wrath of God for the sins of his people. Isaiah 51:17 refers to the cup of the Lord’s wrath as the "cup of staggering." C.J. Mahaney says: “This cup contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against all sin.” It is no wonder that Jesus is in such agony; the wrath of God is looming. But the greatness of the gospel is that Jesus, fully knowing what the cup is, takes it. He drinks the cup of wrath meant for you and me, and he drinks it down to the dregs. He drinks until there is no more wrath left for all of God’s people. He drinks it so we don’t have to. This is the first part of the great exchange: Jesus taking the wrath that was meant for us.
But there is another cup.
That very same night Jesus shared another cup with his disciples and commanded that they continue to share it in remembrance of him. Jesus, in the upper room, institutes the Lord’s Supper. He takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it. He takes the cup of wine, and again blesses it and shares it with his disciples. When he passes out the cup, he says, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood..." (Lk 22:20). Whereas the cup of wrath was something we deserved and Jesus took on himself, this new covenant is something we don’t deserve and Jesus gives it freely to us. Jesus takes what is ours and gives us what is his.
How amazing this is! Jesus takes the cup of wrath once and for all. He downs it and it is no more. All wrath for God’s people has been poured out upon Jesus on his cross and that means there is none left for us. This is why Paul can say, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). God has nothing but love for us. But Jesus also gives us a new cup, his cup, filled with his blood of the covenant. And this is to be taken in remembrance of him again and again and again, because we need to be reminded again and again and again of the love of God that holds us fast. We need to have the gospel preached to us and illustrated to us again and again.
This is the gospel in two cups.