11.02.04 Mk. 9:33-35; Lk. 47-48; Mt. 18:5 Capernaum
APOSTLES DISPUTE ABOUT RANK
Mk. 33 Then they came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Lk. 47 But Jesus, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, took a little child and had him stand next to Him.
48 He told them,
“Whoever welcomes this little child in My name
And whoever welcomes Me
welcomes Him who sent Me.
For whoever is least among you—
this one is great.”
Mt. 5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.
This discussion occurred shortly after the transfiguration. Peter, James, and John witnessed the event while the other nine disciples were some distance away and felt left out. Their feelings of disconnect were heightened after the three returned and told what they saw. Naturally the feeling that certain individuals had become the favorite disciples of Jesus intensified.
Jesus makes the comparison of a child to a believer who has his faith in Him. The common opinion or interpretation is that children are innocent – which is incorrect. The correct interpretation is that children have absolute faith in their parents and so likewise believers are to have absolute child-like faith in God. Furthermore, a child understands that he is under the authority of his parents, so likewise, believers are under the authority of God. In Luke’s version the children come to Jesus while in Matthew’s rendering the children have faith in Jesus. While there is a difference in the English between the two gospels, to the Jews reading these two gospels there was no difference – both gospels report the same concept.
“What were you arguing about on the way?…who was the greatest.” They were too embarrassed to reveal the truth, but since Jesus already knew it, He spoke on the issue they were thinking: “Who would be the greatest in His kingdom?” This was a point of contention because the disciples still thought that in some manner Jesus would destroy the Roman Empire and establish His Kingdom of God as a political entity. This was an on-going issue and obviously, they were far from understanding who Jesus was. He responded by giving them a lesson on servant-hood. In the ancient Middle East culture, as today, social position and dignity were highly important. An example is found in the Messianic Rule of the Dead Sea Scroll:
And 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.
Dead Sea Scroll, Messianic Rule 1QSa 2:11
It is easy for modern readers to conclude this was simply a matter of greed and position. That is not to say these issues were not present, but the issue of rank was important in their hierarchical culture of honor. Even today, persons of advanced age and visitors are honored to a much higher degree there than in Western countries.
. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 121; Bailey, Poet and Peasant. Part II, 90. Words/letters in parentheses were added since these are missing in the damaged manuscript.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 240.