Grant that these my two sons - James and John. See Mark 15:40. In the preceding chapter, Matthew 19:28, our Lord had promised his disciples, that they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes. Salome, probably hearing of this, and understanding it literally, came to request the chief dignities in this new government for her sons; and it appears it was at their instigation that she made this request, for Mark, Mark 10:35, informs us that these brethren themselves made the request, i.e. they made it through the medium of their mother.
One on thy right hand, and the other on (Thy) left - I have added the pronoun in the latter clause on the authority of almost every MS. and version of repute.
That the sons of Zebedee wished for ecclesiastical, rather than secular honors, may be thought probable, from the allusion that is made here to the supreme dignities in the great Sanhedrin. The prince of the Sanhedrin (Ha -Nasi ) sat in the midst of two rows of senators or elders; on his right hand sat the person termed AB (the father of the Sanhedrin); and on his left hand the Chacham, or sage. These persons transacted all business in the absence of the president. The authority of this council was at some periods very great, and extended to a multitude of matters both ecclesiastical and civil. These appear to have been the honors which James and John sought. They seem to have strangely forgot the lesson they had learned from the transfiguration.
See also Mark 10:35-45.
With her sons - The names of these sons were James and John, Mark 10:35
Mark says they came and made the request. That is, they made it, as appears from Matthew, through the medium of their mother; they requested her to ask it for them. It is not improbable that she was an ambitious woman, and was desirous to see her sons honored.
Worshipping him - Showing him respect; respectfully saluting him. In the original, kneeling. See the notes at Matthew 8:2.
Grant that these my two sons may sit - They were still looking for a temporal kingdom.
They expected that he would reign on the earth with great pomp and glory. They anticipated that he would conquer as a prince and a warrior. They wished to be distinguished in the day of his triumph. To sit on the right and left hand of a prince was a token of confidence, and the highest honor granted to his friends, 1 Kings 2:19; Psalm 110:1; 1 Samuel 20:25. The disciples, here, had no reference to the kingdom of heaven, but only to the kingdom which they supposed he was about to set up on the earth.
Ye know not what ye ask - You do not know the nature of your request, nor what would be involved in it.
You suppose that it would be attended only with honor and happiness if the request was granted, whereas it would require much suffering and trial.
Are ye able to drink of the cup - To drink of a cup, in the Scriptures, often signifies to be afflicted, or to be punished, Matthew 26:39; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; Psalm 73:10; Psalm 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 16:9. The figure is taken from a feast, where the master of a feast extends a cup to those present. Thus God is represented as extending to his Son a cup filled with a bitter mixture - one causing deep sufferings, John 18:11. This was the cup to which he referred.
The baptism that I am baptized with - This is evidently a phrase denoting the same thing. Are ye able to suffer with me - to endure the trials and pains which shall come upon you and me in endeavoring to build up my kingdom? Are you able to bear it when sorrows shall cover you like water, and you shall be sunk beneath calamities as floods, in the work of religion? Afflictions are often expressed by being sunk in the floods and plunged in deep waters, Psalm 69:2; Isaiah 43:2; Psalm 124:4-5; Lamentations 3:54.
Ye shall indeed drink of my cup - You will follow me, and you will partake of my afflictions, and will suffer as I shall.
This was fulfilled. James was slain with the sword by Herod, Acts 12:2. John lived many years; but he attended the Saviour through his sufferings, and was himself banished to Patmos, a solitary island, for the testimony of Jesus Christ - a companion of others in tribulation, Revelation 1:9.
Is not mine to give - The translation of this place evidently does not express the sense of the original. The translation expresses the idea that Jesus has nothing to do in bestowing rewards on his followers. This is at variance with the uniform testimony of the Scriptures, Matthew 25:31-40; John 5:22-30. The correct translation of the passage would be, “To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, except to those for whom it is prepared by my Father.” The passage thus declares that Christ would give rewards to his followers, but only to such as should be entitled to them according to the purpose of his Father. Much as he might be attached to these two disciples, yet he could not bestow any such signal favors on them out of the regular course of things. Rewards were prepared for his followers, and in due time they should be bestowed. He would bestow them according as they had been provided from eternity by God the Father, Matthew 25:34. The correct sense is seen by leaving out that part of the verse in italics, and this is one of the places in the Bible where the sense has been obscured by the introduction of words which have nothing to correspond with them in the original. See a similar instance in 1 John 2:23.
The ten heard it - That is, the ten other apostles.
They were moved with indignation - They were offended at their ambition, and at their desire to be exalted above their brethren.
The word “it” refers not to what Jesus said, but to their request. When the ten heard the request which they had made they were indignant.
But Jesus called them unto him - That is, he called all the apostles to him, and stated the principles on which they were to act.
The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them - That is, over their subjects. “You know that such honors are customary among nations. The kings of the earth raise their favorites to posts of trust and power they give authority to some over others; but my kingdom is established in a different manner. All are to be on a level. The rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the bond, the free, are to be equal. He will be the most distinguished that shows most humility, the deepest sense of his unworthiness, and the most earnest desire to promote the welfare of his brethren.”
Gentiles - All who were not Jews - used here to denote the manner in which human governments are constituted.
Minister - A servant. The original word is deacon - a word meaning a servant of any kind; one especially who served at the table, and, in the New Testament, one who serves the church, Acts 6:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:8. Preachers of the gospel are called minister‘s because they are the servants of God and of the church 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 4:12; an office, therefore, which forbids them to lord it over God‘s heritage, which is the very opposite of a station of superiority, and which demands the very lowest degree of humility.
Even as the Son of man - See the notes at Matthew 8:20. Jesus points them to his own example. He was in the form of God in heaven, Philemon 2:6. He came to people in the form of a servant, Philemon 2:7. He came not with pomp and glory, but as a man in humble life; and since he came he had not required them to minister to him. “He labored for them.” He strove to do them good. He provided for their needs; fared as poorly as they did; went before them in dangers and sufferings; practiced self-denial on their account, and for them was about to lay down his life. See John 13:4-5.
To give his life a ransom for many - The word “ransom” means literally a price paid for the redemption of captives. In war, when prisoners are taken by an enemy, the money demanded for their release is called a ransom; that is, it is the means by which they are set at liberty. So anything that releases anyone from a state of punishment, or suffering, or sin, is called a ransom. People are by nature captives to sin. They are sold under it. They are under condemnation, Ephesians 2:3; Romans 3:9-20, Romans 3:23; 1 John 5:19. They are under a curse, Galatians 3:10. They are in love with sin They are under its withering dominion, and are exposed to death eternal, Ezekiel 18:4; Psalm 9:17; Psalm 11:6; Psalm 68:2; Psalm 139:19; Matthew 25:46; Romans 2:6-9. They must have perished unless there had been some way by which they could he rescued. This was done by the death of Jesus - by giving his life a ransom. The meaning is, that he died in the place of sinners, and that God was willing to accept the pains of his death in the place of the eternal suffering of the redeemed. The reasons why such a ransom was necessary are:
1.that God had declared that the sinner shall die; that is, that he would punish, or show his hatred to, all sin.
2.that all people had sinned, and, if justice was to take its regular course, all must perish.
3.that man could make no atonement for his own sins. All that he could do, were he holy, would be only to do his duty, and would make no amends for the past. Repentance and future obedience would not blot away one sin.
4.No man was pure, and no angel could make atonement. God was pleased, therefore, to appoint his only-begotten Son to make such a ransom. See John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 13:8; John 1:29; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 8:2-7; Isaiah 53:1-12; This is commonly called the atonement. See the notes at Romans 5:2.
And John, the loving disciple who had leaned upon the breast of Jesus, was asleep. Surely, the love of John for his Master should have kept him awake. His earnest prayers should have mingled with those of his loved Saviour in the time of His supreme sorrow. The Redeemer had spent entire nights praying for His disciples, that their faith might not fail. Should Jesus now put to James and John the question He had once asked them, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” they would not have ventured to answer, “We are able.” Matthew 20:22. DA 689.1
The disciples awakened at the voice of Jesus, but they hardly knew Him, His face was so changed by anguish. Addressing Peter, Jesus said, “Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” The weakness of His disciples awakened the sympathy of Jesus. He feared that they would not be able to endure the test which would come upon them in His betrayal and death. He did not reprove them, but said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” Even in His great agony, He was seeking to excuse their weakness. “The spirit truly is ready,” He said, “but the flesh is weak.” DA 689.2
Again the Son of God was seized with superhuman agony, and fainting and exhausted, He staggered back to the place of His former struggle. His suffering was even greater than before. As the agony of soul came upon Him, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The cypress and palm trees were the silent witnesses of His anguish. From their leafy branches dropped heavy dew upon His stricken form, as if nature wept over its Author wrestling alone with the powers of darkness. DA 689.3Read in context »
When the request was made for the two sons of Zebedee to sit the one on His right hand and the other on His left in His kingdom, Jesus answered: “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able. And He saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of 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 shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father.” How many can answer: We can drink of the cup; we can be baptized with the baptism; and make the answer understandingly? How many imitate the great Exemplar? All who have professed to be followers of Christ have, in taking this step, pledged themselves to walk even as He walked. Yet the course of many who make high professions of the truth shows that they make but little reference to the Pattern in conforming their lives thereto. They shape their course to meet their own imperfect standard. They do not imitate the self-denial of Christ or His life of sacrifice for others’ good. 2T 32.1
The poor, the homeless, and the widows are among us. I heard a wealthy farmer describe the situation of a poor widow among them. He lamented her straitened circumstances, and then said: “I don't know how she is going to get along this cold winter. She has close times now.” Such have forgotten the pattern, and by their acts say: “Nay, Lord, we cannot drink of the cup of self-denial, humiliation, and sacrifice which You drank of, nor be baptized with the suffering which You were baptized with. We cannot live to do others good. It is our business to take care of ourselves.” Who should know how the widow should get along unless it be those who have well-filled granaries? The means for her to get along are at hand. And dare those whom God has made His stewards, to whom He has entrusted means, withhold from the needy disciples of Christ? If so, they withhold from Jesus. Do you expect the Lord to rain down grain from heaven to supply the needy? Has He not rather placed it in your hands, to help and bless them through you? Has He not made you His instrument in this good work to prove you, and to give you the privilege of laying up a treasure in heaven? 2T 32.2
Fatherless and motherless children are thrown into the arms of the church, and Christ says to His followers: Take these destitute children, bring them up for Me, and ye shall receive your wages. I have seen much selfishness exhibited in these things. Unless there is some special evidence that they themselves are to be benefited by adopting into their family those who need homes, some turn away and answer: No. They do not seem to know or care whether such are saved or lost. That, they think, is not their business. With Cain they say: “Am I my brother's keeper?” They are not willing to be put to inconvenience or to make any sacrifice for the orphans, and they indifferently thrust such ones into the arms of the world, who are sometimes more willing to receive them than are these professed Christians. In the day of God, inquiry will be made for those whom Heaven gave them the opportunity of saving. But they wished to be excused, and would not engage in the good work unless they could make it a matter of profit to them. I have been shown that those who refuse these opportunities for doing good will hear from Jesus: “As ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.” Please read Isaiah 58: 2T 33.1Read in context »
In His life and lessons Christ has given a perfect exemplification of the unselfish ministry which has its origin in God. God does not live for Himself. By creating the world, and by upholding all things, He is constantly ministering to others. “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45. This ideal of ministry the Father committed to His Son. Jesus was given to stand at the head of humanity, by His example to teach what it means to minister. His whole life was under a law of service. He served all, ministered to all. AA 359.1
Again and again Jesus tried to establish his principle among His disciples. When James and John made their request for pre-eminence, He said, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28. AA 359.2Read in context »
It is no part of Christ's mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated by his spirit, who seek to compel the conscience. Under a pretense of zeal for righteousness, men who are confederated with evil angels sometimes bring suffering upon their fellow men in order to convert them to their ideas of religion; but Christ is ever showing mercy, ever seeking to win by the revealing of His love. He can admit no rival in the soul, nor accept of partial service; but He desires only voluntary service, the willing surrender of the heart under the constraint of love. AA 541.1
On another occasion James and John presented through their mother a petition requesting that they might be permitted to occupy the highest positions of honor in Christ's kingdom. Notwithstanding Christ's repeated instruction concerning the nature of His kingdom, these young disciples still cherished the hope for a Messiah who would take His throne and kingly power in accordance with the desires of men. The mother, coveting with them the place of honor in this kingdom for her sons, asked, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom.” AA 541.2
But the Saviour answered, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They recalled His mysterious words pointing to trial and suffering, yet answered confidently, “We are able.” They would count it highest honor to prove their loyalty by sharing all that was to befall their Lord. AA 542.1Read in context »