Today we commentate James the Apostle. James and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee, fishermen by trade before their call from Jesus. He was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred, and his death is the only one recorded in scripture (Acts 12:1-2).
Read Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
In what ways are we tempted to seek status and power?
What did James and John’s request reflect about their character? (Mark 10:37)
What value did Jesus place on status and serving? (Mark 10:42-45)
What sort of unreasonable requests do we sometimes make of God?
In what way does God protect us from our foolish requests?
Jesus, the Son of God, left us a perfect example of humility and service to others. What does this imply for us?
How should you respond to Jesus’ giving His life as a ransom for you?
What steps can you take to guard yourself against an attitude of selfishness or greed?
What specific act of service could you do this week for someone else?
“The contrasting perceptions of the future are graphically portrayed next (35–45). James and John ask for seats on Jesus’ right and left in his glory (37). Mark frankly puts the request down to them, Matthew says their mother did the asking! (Mt. 20:20). Even there, however, they are standing (or ‘kneeling’) with her, since Jesus’ response is a question to them. Luke omits the whole embarrassing story. What is clear is that the greater the pressure upon them from the fateful journey they are now taking, the more the Twelve settle into discussion of their own greatness and status (compare 8:31–32, followed by 33–35).
Mark’s ‘in your glory’ is probably interpreted by Matthew as ‘in your kingdom’ (Mt. 20:21), meaning the Messiah’s kingdom which the Jews believed would precede the kingdom of God. By contrast, Jesus’ reply is not in their terms of courts and thrones, but in terms of a cup and a baptism (38). The cup, in a number of Old Testament passages, is about suffering and punishment, usually at God’s hand.8 This suggests that what lies ahead for the Son of Man is to be full of woe. That the Jewish authorities and Romans will somehow be meting out the cup for God would be light years away from James’ and John’s perception at that time, though they would remember and realize much later, not least in the light of their Old Testament scriptures like Isaiah 53:10, ‘Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.’ If one asks how God could ever bring this suffering servant figure to drink such a cup, then verse 6 of Isaiah 53 provides an answer, ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ This suffering servant, whose image comes to mind again and again in the words of Jesus about the Son of Man, is bearing for sinners what they cannot bear for themselves, the result of their sins in the wrath of God. This is the cup of the Son of Man.
Baptism is another violent image connected with sorrow and grief. It has about it the sense of being forcibly plunged beneath the waters, cast into the depths.
Martin points out that the disciples may have associated ‘the cup’ with celebration and the baptism with the current idea among many of their fellow Jews that baptism was ‘a token of God’s renewal of His people as a prelude to the coming of the Kingdom’. They answer confidently that they can share his cup and baptism. Jesus confirms their answer, though not their meaning by it (39). They had hardly begun to experience the ‘death and resurrection’ nature of discipleship. But in any case, the right and left places in glory were not for Jesus to grant (40).
By contrast, the other ten disciples might have come out of this incident well, but when they learned what had happened they showed their anger with James and John, perhaps at being upstaged by them! This leads Jesus to collect them together for a rebuke (42). They are still behaving like those outside the kingdom, even outside the Jewish faith. In the kingdom greatness is characterized by the degree of service to others (42–43). As supreme example they should note carefully what he has been teaching them about the Son of Man. He came not ‘to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (45).
This is a further enlargement of the meaning of his prediction of death and resurrection in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33–34. If the Twelve did not see the point of such a process Jesus is now trying to help them to do so. The ‘ransom’ was a familiar image in Jewish, Roman and Greek cultures. It was the price paid to liberate a slave, a prisoner of war, or a condemned person. The paying of the price cleaned the slate. To set a person free like this was known as ‘redemption’. Jesus Christ’s action in setting us free is described as ‘redeeming’ us in Luke 1:68; 2:38, Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:12 and 1 Peter 1:18. Again the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 hovers in the background of every discussion of what this means. There is no benefit in asking to whom the ransom price was paid: this is not the point of the image. Its single purpose is to make clear that Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man was himself the price paid to set us free. At the source of all Christian service in the world is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service.”
English, Donald. The Message of Mark: The Mystery of Faith. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.. The Bible Speaks Today.
Dear Father, You have sent Christ to serve us, although He had the right to demand our service. Forgive us, Father. Lead us to give ourselves for the sake of others, that we, being last, might truly be first with Jesus in His kingdom. Amen