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14 November 2019

Greatness in the Kingdom

SYNOPSIS - To be a member of the kingdom of God requires a life of self-sacrificial service for others - Not power over them – Mark 10:35-45

Denali - Photo by Ben Parzybok on Unsplash
After once again predicting his trial and execution, Jesus observed the disciples jockeying for position and power in the coming messianic kingdom. As before, Jesus taught them that membership in the kingdom meant a life of self-sacrificial service to othersNOT power over them - (Mark 10:32-34).

James and John asked to sit at his right and left sides when Jesus came “in his glory.” They still could not hear his words or heed his daily examples of humble service to others - Suffering and death must precede glory. Apparently, John and James expected Jesus to come shortly into his royal glory and absolute reign over the earth.

Perhaps they still expected glory and power to come without cost or suffering. They addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ or “teacher,” a title of respect but one common enough among the Jews of the period. The use of the term provides no indication that James and John yet understood who and what Jesus is.

Drink My Cup
  • (Mark 10:35-40) - “And approaching him, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are saying, ‘Rabbi, we desire that whatever we ask of you, you will do for us.’ Now he answered them, ‘What is it you are wishing me to do for you?’ Now they said to him, ‘Grant to us that we may sit in your glory, one on your right and one on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You know not what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I, myself am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized?’ Yet they said to him, ‘We are able.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I, myself am drinking you will drink, and the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized you will be baptized, yet to sit on my right or left is not for me to give, but for those for whom it has been prepared.’” - (Parallel passage - Matthew 20:20-28).
In the Old Testament, the “cup” was used often to symbolize something given or allotted by God in the negative sense of receiving His judicial punishment. Though not stated by Jesus, the idea of drinking the “cup” suggests partaking of the wrath of God because of sin. Likewise, the context indicates a negative sense for his metaphorical use of “baptism” - (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).

When James and John declared that, indeed, they were prepared and well able to drink of his “cup,” the answer of Jesus meant that they did not understand what they were saying. However, they would drink eventually of the same “cup” when years later they also suffered for the kingdom.

In the translation above, “I myself” represents an emphatic pronoun in the Greek text (egō) – It occurs four times in the passage. This points to his messianic role – The suffering and death of the “Son of Man” is the event that inaugurates the kingdom of God.
When Jesus stated that James and John would “drink of the same cup,” he was speaking not just to them, but to all his disciples. As a group, they were destined to endure suffering, deprivation, and persecution for the sake of Christ - (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4).
This was not a specific prediction of the martyrdom of James or John but a reference to the suffering all the followers of Jesus can expect on account of his kingdom. James was later martyred. John’s fate is uncertain, although several traditions claim that he died of natural causes at an extreme old age in or near the city of Ephesus - (Acts 12:2).

Become Slave of All
  • (Mark 10:41-45) - “And hearing this, the ten began to be indignant concerning James and John. And having summoned them, Jesus says to them, ‘You know that those considered rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones take dominion over them. Yet not so is it among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, he will be your servant, And whoever desires to be chief among you will be slave of all; For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.”
Contrary to the ways of this age, “greatness” for a disciple is found in self-sacrificial service, not in political power or rank. The one who would be “great” must become “servant” of all. This latter term translates the Greek noun diakonos used elsewhere in the New Testament as a general term for a “servant” or “minister.”

In secular Greek, originally, diakonos referred to servants who waited on tables. This is the term from which the title ‘deacon’ is derived. The gospel of Luke uses it for one who waits on tables:
  • (Luke 22:26-27) - “But not so with you but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
The Greek word translated as “slave” (doulos) in verse 44 can refer to anyone who is a “servant,” but among Greek speakers in the first century it more commonly referred to slaves. Thus, Jesus defined his mission as one who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.” The Greek verb rendered “served” is the verbal form of the noun diakonos.

The “Son of Man” serves by giving his “life” to ransom others. The Greek term often rendered “life” in this verse is the noun for “soul” or psyché. Jesus used “soul” in the Old Testament sense as referring to his entire person, both physical and non-physical. Thus, he gave his entire being or “life” on behalf of others.

The preposition rendered “instead of” is anti, meaning, “instead of, on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for.” Lying behind the saying are themes from the ‘Suffering Servant’ songs in the book of Isaiah, for example:
  • (Isaiah 53:10-12) - “Yet Yahweh purposed to bruise him, He laid on him sickness: If his soul become an offering for guilt, He shall see a seed, He shall prolong his days, and the purpose of Yahweh in his hand shall prosper. Of the travail of his soul shall he see, He shall be satisfied with his knowledge, a setting right when set right himself shall my Servant win for the Many, since of their iniquities he takes the burden. Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as spoil, because he poured out to death HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, HE THE SIN OF MANY BARE, AND FOR TRANSGRESSORS INTERPOSES.”
In verse 45, Jesus referred to the “many.” This does not mean a limited or exclusive company. The term serves as a verbal link to the passage from Isaiah where “the many” referred to the “transgressors.” Moreover, the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but instead between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his self-sacrificial act. The passage from Isaiah also provided the term “soul” used by Jesus - the ‘Suffering Servant’ “poured out his soul.” Likewise, the “Son of Man” offered his “soul” to ransom the “many.”

In Roman society, a “ransom” was the price one paid to purchase the freedom of a slave. The statement is a declaration of his mission - To give his life as a ransom to free others from slavery.


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