The request of James and John

As Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem, he again spoke of his coming death and resurrection, but again his disciples misunderstood. They were still thinking mainly of an earthly kingdom of political power (Matt 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34).

James and John therefore came to Jesus with a request that they might have the top positions in the kingdom (Matt 20:20-21; Mark 10:35-37). Jesus, by using the words ‘cup’ and ‘baptism’ as symbols of his suffering and death, showed them that he had to suffer and die before he could enjoy the triumph and glory of his kingdom. They still did not understand, and boldly stated that they were prepared to suffer with him. Jesus replied that they would indeed suffer for his sake (cf. Acts 12:2; Rev 1:9), but their position in the kingdom was dependent on the Father alone. And he showed no favouritism (Matt 20:22- 23; Mark 10:38-40).

In wanting to be ahead of the other apostles, James and John probably had Peter particularly in mind, but all the other apostles were angry when they discovered what had happened. Jesus then repeated and expanded teaching he had given earlier about the difference between worldly and spiritual greatness (cf. Mark 9:33-35). In the kingdoms of the world people compete with each other to achieve power, but in the kingdom of God true greatness comes from humble and willing service. The perfect example is Jesus himself, who at that time was about to lay down his life so that people in bondage to sin might be set free (Matt 20:24-28; Mark 10:41-45).

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