Death Foretold and Greatness
Jesus Foretells His Death (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34)
Jesus continues his final journey through Israel. Eventually he will go to Jerusalem, but meanwhile, he takes time to prepare his disciples for what will eventually happen there. The disciples had been amazed that Jesus would go to Jerusalem, but they are fearful in regards to Jesus’ destination. It is even displayed in how they traveled with Jesus taking the lead and the disciples reluctantly following after.
Taking them aside, Jesus begins to relate what will happen to him in detail.
• He will be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes.
• The chief priests and scribes will condemn him to death
• He will be turned over to the Gentiles.
• The Gentiles will mock and insult him.
• The Gentiles will scourge him.
• The Gentiles will spit upon him.
• The Gentiles will crucify him.
All of this is in accordance with what was prophesied of the Messiah (Isaiah 53). Yet, he doesn’t leave the disciples on a fearful note. He tells them that he will arise from death after three days.
Yet so fixed in the disciples’ minds was their expectations of Jesus’ reign that even Jesus’ plain statements did not make sense to them. We often wonder how they could be so dense, but we are looking at the events after they occurred. Our expectations are not the same as the disciples at this time.
Request for Positions of Authority (Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40)
The mother of James and John, approaches Jesus along with her two sons. Kneeling before Jesus, they asked if Jesus would place James and John as the two highest officials in his kingdom. To sit by a king was a sign of great confidence and reward (I Samuel 20:25; I Kings 2:9; Psalms 110:1). The very nature of the question shows how little they understood Jesus’ prediction of his death. They still were looking for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom.
Mark’s account states that James and John made the request. Matthew’s account makes us aware that they asked through their mother. They were somewhat reluctant to make the request boldly because they ask Jesus to grant them a favor before they even state what it was that they were seeking.
Jesus points out that they do not understand what they are asking. He asked them if they would be able to share the cup he was about to drink. A person’s cup is what comes to a person in life. It is his lot or portion given to him by God (Psalm 11:6; 16:5; 23:5; 75:8; 116:13; Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:33). He also asked if they would be willing to be baptized with his baptism. This a reference to being immersed, or in this case, overwhelmed with difficulties (Luke 12:50). In other words, he is asking if they would be able to share in his sorrows and hardships (John 18:11), though they did not understand this at the time. They sought glory and an opportunity to share in Jesus’ glory. The brothers were certain that they would be able share in the portion that God poured out for Jesus. Jesus told them that they would share it, implying that it would happen willingly or not. James was slain by Herod (Acts 12:2) and John spent time in exile and was well acquainted with tribulation (Revelation 1:9).
Christ does hand out rewards in his kingdom (II Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10, 17, 26; 3:12, 21). However, positions in his kingdom was not his to give arbitrarily. It belonged to those whom the Father had determined would receive them. It had to be done in accordance to God’s purpose and not by whims of requests.
Greatness in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:24-28; Mark 10:41-45)
The other disciples were not pleased with James and John’s apparent attempt to grab power for themselves. But Jesus steps in to tell all of them that their ambitions were misplaced. Greatness among the Gentiles is measured by the authority a person holds over other people. This would not be the case in Christ’s kingdom. If someone wishes greatness, they must be servants of all.
The role of deacon (I Timothy 3:12-13) is to serve the church. One of the names for the role of preacher is “minister,” which also refers to servant (I Corinthians 4:1; II Corinthians 6:4; I Timothy 4:6). The names are to remind people that they do not run the church but function as servants of the church. Elders, too, are reminded of this as well (I Peter 5:3). They hold authority, but not as rulers or dictators.
Those who desire to have a high position in Christ’s kingdom must gain it by being a servant. Jesus himself sets the example by serving mankind (Isaiah 53:12). He gave his life as a ransom payment (I Timothy 2:6; I Peter 1:18-19). The payment is one gives to release prisoners of war.