As the King James Version translates Matthew 26:27, this happened during Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper: “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it.’” (The 1901 American Standard Version puts it the same way.)
“Drink ye all of it.” What does this mean? How should we understand it? This English translation is ambiguous. Some have taken it to mean, “Drink every drop of juice out of your cup!” Years ago I heard of a local congregation where an elder patrolled the aisle as communion was passed, sternly checking to make sure that every participant drained his or her cup.
Let’s be clear about this. It is perfectly fine to drink all of the juice in one’s cup. In this day of individual mini-cups, there are practical advantages to this. If the practice is to pick a cup out of the tray, partake of the juice, and place the cup immediately back into the tray, “drinking all of it” prevents later partakers from picking up an already-sipped-from cup. If the practice is to take a cup and hold it, then partake of it and place the used cup into a pew rack, “drinking all of it” makes the clean-up a lot less messy.
But this is not the point of Jesus’ command. What he is saying (as the NASB puts it) is simply this: “Drink from it, all of you.” There was just one cup, after all; and Jesus was instructing all of the disciples to take a sip from it and pass it on. Obviously none of them was supposed to drink the entire contents of the cup. Today, as we take our individual cups from the tray as it is passed, we can drink part of the juice or all of it, as we choose. There is no requirement either way.
What DOES matter, though, is what we are remembering and celebrating as we are drinking from our cups. We are remembering Someone Else who had another kind of cup to drink nearly 2000 years ago. We are remembering JESUS, who came to drink the cup of suffering, indeed, the cup of God’s wrath for us on Calvary.
In Matthew 20:22, Jesus mentions “the cup that I am about to drink.”
In Matthew 26:39, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”
In Matthew 26:42 (NIV), later in Gethsemane, he prays, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
In John 18:11, a bit later as he is being arrested, Jesus resolutely declares, “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
The cup to which Jesus is referring here is the cup filled with the suffering and agony of his propitiation for the sins of the world. And how much of this cup did Jesus drink? HE DRANK IT ALL! The contents of that cup were more than enough to cancel out the eternal punishment of hell for the whole human race, and that includes every one of us. This is what we are supposed to be remembering, with great gratitude, as we are drinking that little bit of juice (in whatever amount) from our communion cup.