Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 23, 2015  -  Comments Off on 12.04.04 MEN OF SELFISH HONOR – JAMES AND JOHN

12.04.04 Mt. 20:20-21; Mk. 10:35-45




Mt. 20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her.

“Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.”


Mk. 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do something for us if we ask You.”

36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

37 They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

39 “We are able,” they told Him.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. 40 But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to give; instead, it is for those it has been prepared for.” 41 When the other 10 disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John.

42 Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. 43 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”


Mark 10:35-45 and 9:33-37 are parallel passages of discussions that occurred at different times.  Both predict the death of Jesus, discuss the meaning of true greatness in God’s kingdom, and emphasize how undiscerning the disciples were.  The latter part is quite interesting as it authenticates the gospel as genuine.  If the book of Mark was a created work by later editorial Christians to enhance their religion, as some critics claim, they would never have written the critical comments about the disciples that are so evident in this gospel.


As previously stated, honor and respect were high values in this culture. This is evident in the wedding banquet parables. In this case, the seating arrangement is often thought to be of a selfish attitude.  However, Jesus never said there would not be a seating order at His table.  Rather, those who desire to be the greatest will need to be servant to all and will need to be humble in attitude.  The culture, however, demanded a precise seating arrangement and Jesus did not refute it.  What He said without words, was there will be a seating order based on an arrangement different than what the disciples thought, namely, that of humble service to the King of kings.  Note that there was a seating order at the Last Supper.


“The mother of Zebedee’s sons.” The mother of Zebedee’s sons has been criticized for making this request.  She was the sister of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Or in other words, she was the aunt of Jesus. In this culture where honor and age were highly valued, a woman, especially a woman of age, could often ask sensitive questions that others could not.[1]


“That these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left.”  Sitting on either side of a king would strongly suggest the honored person would also share the king’s power and prestige, especially if her sons were His cousins. Such a request in ancient times was quite normal, especially in families of royalty.[2] But Jesus never spoke of a future government; never spoke of any military organization, and did not propose any laws of His new society. So He recognized that the statement was made out of ignorance, because no one at this point could comprehend His concept of the Kingdom of God or the difficulties He would have to endure.  Anyone sitting beside a king was also obligated to share in the difficulties and hardships of being a monarch.  It was believed that ranking was initially a matter of respect and wisdom given to those who were honored for their age and wisdom.


When the patriarch enters, everyone rises and does not sit down until he says to them, “Sit down.”  And when the head of the court enters, they set up for him two rows, one on one side and one on the other side, through which he goes, and he sits down in his place.


Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7.8



And on what account does one sit in rank and age at his right hand?  Because of the honor owing to age.


Mishnah, Sanhedrin 8.1


The Essenes believed that there was a clearly defined seating order, which clearly reflected a person’s relationship in God’s order. This opinion may have been prevalent throughout the Jewish culture and therefore, reflected in this biblical passage.  Precisely whatever was in the minds of those in the biblical passage is unknown to the modern reader. Yet it is safe to presume that people in general believed that there was a proverbial “pecking order,” as described in the following Dead Sea Scrolls.


They shall act in this way year after year, all the days of Belial’s dominion.  The priests shall enter the Rule foremost, one behind the other, according to their spirits.  And the Levites shall enter after them. In third place all the people shall enter the Rule, one after another, in thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, so that all the children of Israel may know their standing in God’s Community in conformity with the eternal plan.  And no one shall move down from his rank nor move up from the place of his lot.


Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 1QS 2.19-23


When God will have engendered (the Priest-) Messiah, he shall come [at] the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all [his brethren, the sons] of Aaron the Priests, [those called] to the assembly, the men of renown; and they shall sit [before him, each man] in the order of his dignity. And then [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [come], and the chiefs of the [clans of Israel] shall sit before him, [each] in the order of his dignity, according to [his place] in their camps and marches. And before them shall sit all the heads of [family of the congreg]ation, and the wise men of [the holy congregation,] each in the order of his dignity.

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 1Q28a, Column 2[3]

The response by Jesus is two fold:


  1. He notes that they do not realize that suffering will be part of their future, if they will have a part of His ministry.


  1. In addition, the kingdom of God will be one that is opposite of the world’s system. Therefore, they have no clue as to what will be in store in their future.


Are you able to drink the cup.”  The term cup (poterion 4221) [4] in an expression or figure of speech indicating that “I” will share in someone’s misfortune and sorrowful fate (i.e. sin). There have been two major misunderstandings concerning “the cup.”


  1. Some have said Jesus referred to His physical death. Not so, see John 10:17; Luke 19:10; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 10:5-9.


  1. Others have said Jesus referred to his premature death. Not so, see Luke 22:46; John 10:18.


As is explained, Jesus referred to the wrath of God and spiritual death that was about to fall upon Him. The phrase “the cup” has more than a single meaning.


  1. It is a metaphor for the life experiences that one will have as the result of being a committed follower of Jesus. Those experiences may be good or bad,[5] but in this case, it reflects upon the coming suffering.[6]


  1. In Mark 14:32-36 it is symbolic of God’s wrath for the sin of humanity that Jesus bore; the baptism of persecution they will face is another metaphor.[7]


In Old Testament days, the cup of wine was a metaphor of God’s pending judgment for rebellion and sin.[8]  Later Jesus referred to the cup He would drink in reference to carrying the sins of humanity to the cross (Mk. 10:45; 14:36).[9]  In this passage (vv. 38-39), the cup refers to the persecution that His disciples would face.  A few decades later His half-brother, James, would be the first to be martyred (Acts 12:2). However, some messianic scholars say this phrase refers to wedding imagery, meaning that being joined with Jesus will mean similar trials and tribulations in life as He was about to experience.


“Give His life – a ransom for many.” The Greek preposition for means instead of, or a substitute for, or in place of.  The word ransom refers to the monies paid to purchase freedom for a slave.[10] This phrase makes the verse one of the outstanding theological passages in Mark’s book and was another prophecy (Isa. 52:13 and 53:12) fulfilled by Jesus.



12.04.04.Q1 How can Matthew 20:20 be reconciled with Mark 10:35?


In Matthew’s account, the mother of James and John approached Jesus to ask him for a position for her sons in the new kingdom.  Mark, on the other hand, does not mention the mother; he only records that it was the two disciples who came to Jesus to make the same request. In this culture, there was no difference between a requester and his agent.  They have the same issue with the centurion and his servant.  All too often attention is paid to the origin of the question rather than the response given by Jesus.

[1]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 308.


[2]. See Lk. 14:7-14 Banquet Place of Honor 12.02.05.

[3]. Translation by Stephen D. Ricks of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Provo, Utah. Because the Dead Sea Scrolls are 2,000 years old or older, portions of papyrus are at times missing and the translators attempt to insert the lost letters and words which are in brackets.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=120&chapid=1438 Retrieved October 10, 2013.  See also Dead Sea Scroll 1QSa 2:5-10 as referenced by Kenneth Bailey in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 321, citing  Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. (1975 ed.) 121.


[4]. Vine, “Cup.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:141.


[5]. Barclay, “Mark.” 255.


[6]. See Ps. 75:8; Isa 57:17.


[7]. Gen. 6-8; Isa. 30:27-28; Jon. 2:2-6; Ps. 18:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:5-6.


[8]. Isa. 51:17-23; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15-28; 49:12; 51:7.


[9]. New International Version Study Bible footnote on Mk. 10:38.

[10]. Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament. 95-96.


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