“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20-28 NKJV).
An Acceptable Anticipation
There is a great shortage of patience these days. Seemingly, it was not much better back in the days of Jesus and the disciples. The Jewish people had a strong desire to see the promised and prophesied Messiah arrive to liberate them from the detestable yoke of the Romans. Obviously, the Lord’s disciples shared that yearning with their countrymen. They had walked with Him for three years. Therefore, to them, it was just a matter of course that they would get the most prominent places in Jesus’ future theocratic government.
A Cunning Coup
Still, there was something holding them back from boldly approaching Him to find out what His coming rule would look like. It is common knowledge that the greatest lever in this world is – yes, you guessed correctly – moms. So, the boys sent their mom to Jesus to sort things out (v.20-21).
A Consequential Challenge
Jesus, of course, discerned their incentive and took the opportunity to teach them a spiritual lesson (v.22-23). After having summoned them, He makes it clear that there is a connection between the suffering in this present age and the degree of glory the believer will experience in the age to come (Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 12a; 1 Pet 4:13; Rev 2:26; 3:21). When James and John (the sons of Zebedee) are asked if they are able to drink the “cup”, speaking of His suffering, that He will drink from, they answer, full of human confidence, that they indeed are able.
A Canting Claim
When the other ten are reached by the news about James’ and John’s bold request, they become upset (v.24). It is only logical to think that they, just like us, entertained the same thoughts in their hearts. In hindsight, we know that none of them were able to drink his “cup of suffering”. Instead they all abandoned Him in that hour (Matt 26:56; Mark 14:50). Peter, their leader, even denied Him (Matt 26:69-74; John 18:15-18; 25-27). To be honest, that is what we all would have done, if we had been in that place.
A Perfect Place
Jesus now tells them that things work differently in the Kingdom of God, compared to this world (v.25-28). The greatest virtue is serving, not reigning. Suffering is to be expected for those who want to follow the Lord. Jesus even promises that specifically (John 16:33). The disciples wanted a sceptre to reign with, but they were given a towel to wash each other’s feet with instead (cf. John 13:1-17). They wanted the places right next to Him on the throne, but they were referred to the place at His feet – the greatest and indeed only place to learn. Seemingly, Mary had learned that wonderful principle long before the disciples understood it (Luke 10:38-42).
A Turning of Tables
The towel symbolizes the “laid down life”. Jesus as the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:17-18). We are asked to do the same thing (John 15:13). Just as Jesus learned from the Father (Heb 5:8), we are to learn from Him (Luke 19:48). Again, we do that at His feet. There will come a day when the tables will be turned. The persecuted ones will indeed reign with Him (Matt 5:10). The persecutors and oppressors will receive their justifiable punishment, unless they are saved (2 Thess 1:6).
A Proper Preparation
The principle of reigning through suffering is prominent in the Bible. During the dispensation of the Church, which began when the Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and will end when Jesus will snatch His church out of this world (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1Cor 15:51-52), the Christians are being prepared to reign with Him in His soon to be Kingdom (Rev 2:26; 3:21).
A Thrilling Testimony
Watchman Nee, the famous Chinese evangelist and author was in prison from the communist takeover in the late 1940s to his release in the early 1970s. He died shortly after his release. He was forced to pass out communist tracts. At the same time, his writings (books that others compiled based on his sermon notes and other teaching material) spread like wildfire around the world. Where these years wasted? Far from it! They were paving the way for an age we have not yet seen. These things have been promised and predicted in the Word of God. That, and not the words of men, is what we have our confidence in (Rom 3:4).
An Epic Exchange
The other day, I was encouraged by the title of a song written by Levi Petrus, the founder of the Swedish Pentecostal Movement, that I saw written on my grandfather’s tombstone – “God’s promises cannot fail”. Suffering for the Lord is never in vain for those who are in Christ. We, just like James and John, must wait a little while at the feet of Jesus with a towel in our hand, until He sets up His Kingdom. Then and only then will the towel be exchanged for a sceptre and the place at His feet exchanged for a place at His side. What a day that will be!