35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45 NIV)
Yesterday, Jesus had just told His disciples about His upcoming arrest, mistreatment, death, and resurrection. This was the third prophecy Jesus made about His death and resurrection (see 8:31 and 9:31, as we noted yesterday).
Remember what happened after the second prophecy? The disciples were arguing about who was greatest among them (9:33-35). Jesus had to bring the disciples together and teach them, using a small child in their midst to illustrate how we must come before the kingdom of God with no merit of our own, humbly seeking the Lord and His mercy.
Today’s passage is almost identical in substance to 9:33-35. Once again, there is a vying for position and power in Jesus’ coming kingdom. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus and ask for positions of honor when Jesus takes up His reign as Messiah.
In Jesus’ day, the position to the right of a ruler was reserved for a position of honor, and the position to the left of a ruler was reserved for a trusted friend and advisor. These were the number two and number three ranking positions in a king’s reign.
The disciples had clearly heard the end result of Jesus’ three prophecies – His resurrection – which in their minds triggered the beginning of Messiah’s reign, the restoration of God’s kingdom, and the freedom of Israel.
However, one thing the disciples ignored – the suffering that must come before the glory. Jesus had talked about this, yet the disciples were focused on their own advancement, not on the path that must be walked beforehand.
In verse 38, Jesus says, “You don’t know what you are asking”. Jesus then asks them a question, with an implied negative response. When Jesus asked about the cup and the baptism, this was not literal, but figurative language. The cup represented God’s wrath or punishment poured out on the sins of mankind; baptism (in this context) represented God’s judgment of the sins of mankind.
Again, James and John (along with the rest of the disciples) didn’t understand what Jesus was asking them; they discounted the suffering part and were totally focused on the glory to come and the possibility to reign with Christ. James and John answer Jesus’ question in the affirmative; yes, they are willing to drink the from the same cup and be baptized like Jesus.
Jesus replies that they will both drink from His cup and be baptized as He will be, but the seats of honor are not His to assign. The seats of honor are up to the Father, not Jesus.
When the other disciples learn of James and John’s request, they became indignant toward James and John. They were mad, not because they thought the question was selfish or poorly timed (both of which were true). The other disciples were upset because James and John had beaten them to the punch and had asked first.
Jesus sees what is going on here, and pulls the disciples together to teach them again about greatness and unity. Jesus knows that they will not survive after He leaves if they are constantly fighting among themselves for power and control.
In verses 42 – 45, Jesus flips the entire economy of power and control on its head:
- To be great, we must become the lowest servant
- To be first, we must be last
- (Jesus speaking) Look at my life and follow My example – I did not come to be served, but to serve, and give My life as a ransom for many.
Jesus ultimately granted James and John’s request to drink from His cup and be baptized with His baptism. James was the first apostle to be killed for His association with Jesus; John endured much persecution in his life and was the last apostle to die. Together, they formed the “bookends” of life and death, of persecution and experiencing Jesus’ life of suffering first-hand among the apostles.
May we take Jesus’ words as our own and practice them daily in our minds, our hearts, in our families, our work, and our communities.
May we live for His glory, not our own, and remember that suffering is part of the journey in our walk with Jesus. The glory is yet to come when we see Him face to face.