BRIEF RECAP: Jesus had just finished expressing to the twelve that they were headed to Jerusalem (vv.33-34). There, He would be cruelly treated and condemned to death. But after three days, He would rise again! One would think this news, being the third time expressed to them, would be a solemn, self-searching moment, but it doesn’t appear to be that kind of moment.
Rather than self-reflection and preparation, we witness a very selfish and prideful request of Jesus from two of the three in the “inner circle” of the twelve, James and John! What was that request? What does it reveal about these two men and their mother (Matthew 20:20)? How did Jesus respond to them? We will seek the answers to these questions in this post.
5 [a]James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to [b]Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “[c]Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”
FOCUS ONE: The request (35-37)
We read that James and John approach Jesus (came up to Him). This means that they took the initiative and “journeyed” toward Him. They were some distance from Jesus at the time this thought of self-glory came into fruition and therefore had to travel some distance to get in His immediate presence.
These two men believe that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to set up His kingdom; ironically, Jesus just predicted His coming death and resurrection! They do not understand the nature of what Jesus came to do and therefore petition Jesus to “do for us whatever we ask of you” (v. 36). Perhaps we can credit them with ignorance even after all Jesus spoke to them, but as Matthew Henry so eloquently put it: “It was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their master.” That is their first mistake. Rather than presuming upon Christ the fulfillment of our desires, we should be happy and at peace, trusting Him to accomplish what He desires!
Although these two men spoke out of ignorance regarding Christ’s purpose, that doesn’t relieve them of the subsequent guilt revolving around the issues that stem from their hearts (selfishness, pride, and arrogance).
Once again, in Mark’s gospel, we witness the patience of Jesus. Go back and look at everything we have studied in this book. It would be a great encouragement for your daily walk of faith to be reminded of how extraordinary the patience of Christ is! Not only His patience but His wisdom too! Jesus asks them to qualify what they are requesting of Him (v. 36). “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.”
38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
FOCUS TWO: Jesus responds (38-40)
Jesus responds by telling them they don’t understand what they are asking Him for. “To ask for a place of honor in His glory was also a request to share His suffering since the one is a requisite to the other.” Such a statement seems to call for a negative response from the two men. “The cup was a common Jewish metaphor either for joy (Psalm 23:5) or for divine judgement against human sin (Psalm 75:7-8; Jeremiah 25:15-28).” Jesus was applying the metaphor to Himself because He was about to bear the wrath of God’s justice against sin as a “substitute” for sinners (v. 10:45).
It is impossible to miss the noticeable contrast between James and John seeking a place of honor in the kingdom, without any sacrifice, and Jesus humbly sacrificing Himself for others as their King!
They reply that “we are able” to drink the cup that Jesus was about to drink and be “baptized by the baptism with which I am baptized.” Still, they do not understand His words to them. Jesus responds to their answer by “agreeing” with them that they will indeed drink of the cup and be baptized in the same baptism that He is. What does Jesus mean by “baptism?” Baptism means to be immersed or submerged.
Both these figures, cup and baptism, are figures used in a different sense. “In following Him, they would share His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) even to death but not in a redemptive sense.” His prediction came true. James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2), whereas John, who endured many years of persecution and exile, was the last apostle to die (John 21:20-23; Revelation 1:9).”
Unlike His previous response to James and John, Jesus tells them they will NOT be sitting on His right and left (v. 40). Why? Because only the Father had the authority to assign such places of honor. Jesus unapologetically states, “this is not mine to give.” In His answer, we get a glimpse of the “trinity” (Jesus and the Father)! Matthew adds “the Father” in His account (Matthew 21:23).
We also should notice that such places in the kingdom have “already” been prepared by God for those He has chosen (v. 25).
41 Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with [a]James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their [b]people in high position exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become [c]prominent among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [d]life as a ransom for many.”
FOCUS THREE: The indignant ten (41-45)
Jesus’ response contrasts how earthly rulers conduct themselves with how God’s followers conduct themselves. He taught them that those who follow Him would lead others in humility and love, not out of pride and lust for authority. Pride, power, arrogance, and selfishness contrasted with humility, selflessness, and mutual submission.
Again, we find another well-known area of misunderstanding regarding how the disciples think concerning their ministries. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be a slave of all” (v.43).
The contrast is not between “two ways of ruling,” but between ruling (good or bad) and serving. They are not to oppress those in their authority. They are not to exploit others. But, he should serve others by “doing nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
After all, this is the reason Christ came to earth, and it is our divinely given example to follow (v. 45; Philippians 2:5-11).
How can you apply what you learned in this study in your life of service to the King of kings?
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 152