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14 November 2019

Greatness in the Kingdom of God

The Death of Jesus
In response to a bid for power by two disciples, Jesus defined just what “greatness” is in the Kingdom of God – self-sacrificial service to others with no expectation of reward – and presented his death as the prime example of just what he meant. “Greatness” in his realm is not measured by wealth, power over others, popular recognition, titles, or offices. In fact, political power as exercised in this age is the exact opposite of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Rather than impose his lordship over others, Jesus “gave his life a ransom for many.”
After predicting his suffering and death, the disciples began to jockey for rank and power in the coming messianic kingdom. As before, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them that to be a true member of the kingdom necessitates a life of self-sacrificial service to others, not power over them.
James and John requested to sit beside Jesus when he came “in his glory.” They were still not hearing his words or heeding his example. Suffering and death must precede glory. Apparently, the two brothers still expected Jesus to come shortly into his kingly glory, perhaps without cost or suffering. They addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ or “teacher,” a title of respect but one common enough among the Jews. The term suggests that James and John still had no clue who and what Jesus is, let alone what it means to be the Messiah.
(Mark 10:35-45) - “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…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…You know that those considered rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones tyrannize 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” (cp. Matthew 20:20-28).
Were James and John able to drink of the same “cup” as Yahweh’s Messiah? In the Old Testament, the “cup” sometimes symbolized that which was given by God, most frequently, something negative and often a punishment (see Psalm 11:6, 16:5, 75:8, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28, 49:12, Habakkuk 2:16). Though not stated, the idea of drinking God’s cup implies the partaking of His wrath because of sin.
Contrary to the ways of the world, “greatness” for a disciple is achieved in self-sacrificial service, not by political power or rank. The one who would be great must become “servant” of all. This translates the Greek noun diakonos used in scripture as a general term for “servant” or “minister.” In secular Greek, it referred to servants who waited on tables. This is the same Greek term from which the title ‘deacon’ is derived. Interestingly, the gospel of Luke uses diakonos in the customary way 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 “slave” or doulos in Mark 10:44 can refer in general to anyone who is a servant, but among Greek speakers of the first century, the noun most often referred to slaves.
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 word rendered “served” is the verb form of the term just used for “servant” or diakonos. The Son of Man came to serve and does so by the giving of his life to ransom the lives of others.
While most English versions translate the word as “life” here, technically, the Greek word is the noun for “soul” or psyché. Jesus used “soul” in the Hebrew sense to refer to his entire person, whether physical or non-physical. That is, he gave his entire being in behalf of others.
The preposition for “instead” is anti, meaning “instead of, on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for” (“to give his soul a ransom instead of many). Lying behind this saying are verbal and thematic links to Isaiah’s ‘Suffering Servant’ songs, especially the one recorded in Isaiah 53:10-12:
(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.”
When Jesus referred to “many,” he was not describing a limited or exclusive company. This was not a reference to some supposed “elect” company predestined by God. This was a common Semitic expression for “all.” Further, Jesus borrowed “many” from the passage in Isaiah (“he the sin of Many bare”) in which “the many” refers to the “transgressors,” not to a select or predestined group of the righteous. The contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of that self-sacrificial act. Also, Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” poured out his “soul” unto death; likewise, Jesus offered his “soul” as a ransom for many.
In first-century Greco-Roman society, a “ransom” was often paid for the release of captives, whether captured by pirates or in warfare. However, most often, “ransom” or lutron referred to the price paid to obtain the freedom of a slave. Jesus gave his life as a “ransom” to free others from slavery, in this case, from slavery to sin, Satan, and death.
Here is the ultimate example of how a follower of Jesus achieved “greatness” in God’s kingdom and what it means to be a disciple, to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

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