“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.
Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.
Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
—Jeremiah 25:3, 12, 15
Jeremiah 25 is a stout drink. It’s all judgment, 200 proof. Or perhaps we should say it’s 99.9% judgment. There is a hint of grace, but it’s easy to miss because it is disguised as judgment. That grace can dress as judgment should come as no surprise. The protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the gospel, was good news in just this way. Genesis 3:14–19 is all judgment but nestled in the judgment of the serpent is the implicit hope and salvation of man. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). That word of judgment was grace. Here, the disguise is simply harder to see through.
We shouldn’t miss the implicit salvation for the explicit judgement, for when salvation comes, it is certain to be salvation by judgment. What is subtle here is lurid in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” However God saves, know that it cannot be in any way that compromises justice or righteousness.
The judgment of God is inescapable and inevitable. Judgment will fall and it will fall on every sin. Every injustice, every iniquity, every idolatry will be judged. You see this in how Babylon is used by God for judgment, and then judged herself. God’s judgment cannot be evaded. His righteousness cannot be compromised.
We have no hope that our sins might be swept under the rug. We, like Judah and the nations, have not listened. For this reason the wrath of God is revealed against us (Romans 1:18ff). We deserve to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath and nothing more. Our only hope is that God would somehow act so that judgment would fall on our sins and yet not fall on us sinners.
The cup of God’s wrath is a common metaphor. In Isaiah 51 Yahweh promises grace to His people by judgment saying, “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…” (Isaiah 51:22–23a). Again, salvation for Judah comes by judgment. But still, how can the cup be taken from us?
We find the answer in a garden where the only servant of Yahweh to ever listen perfectly and deserve no judgment prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus took the cup of the wine of God’s wrath, not because He failed to listen, but for our failing to listen. He drained it; finishing it off down to the bitter dregs, bearing the judgment of His people. Again, when salvation comes, it comes by judgment. We are saved because our sins were judged on another standing in our place.
Because judgment fell on the Just one, for the sins of the unjust, there is now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saints, judgment has already fallen on this earth for our sins, but praise be to God, it wasn’t we who drank of that cup of the wine of wrath. It was drained for us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He drained of the cup of the wine of wrath, we now raise the cup of salvation given to us by the exalted Christ.