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Matthew 20:28

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

A ransom for many - Λυτρον αντι πολλων, or a ransom instead of many, - one ransom, or atonement, instead of the many prescribed in the Jewish law. Mr. Wakefield contends for the above translation, and with considerable show of reason and probability.

The word λυτρον is used by the Septuagint for the Hebrew פדיו , pidion, the ransom paid for a man's life: see Exodus 21:30; Numbers 3:49-51; and λυτρα is used Numbers 35:31, where a satisfaction (Hebrew כפר copher, an atonement) for the life of a murderer is refused. The original word is used by Lucian in exactly the same sense, who represents Ganymede promising to sacrifice a ram to Jupiter, λυτρον υπερ εμου, as a ransom for himself, provided he would dismiss him.

The whole Gentile world, as well as the Jews, believed in vicarious sacrifices. Virgil, Aen. v. 85, has nearly the same words as those in the text. "Unum Pro Multis dabitur Caput," - One man must be given for many. Jesus Christ laid down his life as a ransom for the lives and souls of the children of men. In the Codex Bezae, and in most of the Itala, the Saxon, and one of the Syriac, Hilary, Leo Magnus, and Juvencus, the following remarkable addition is found; "But seek ye to increase from a little, and to be lessened from that which is great. Moreover, when ye enter into a house, and are invited to sup, do not recline in the most eminent places, lest a more honorable than thou come after, and he who invited thee to supper come up to thee and say, Get down yet lower; and thou be put to confusion. But if thou sit down in the lowest place, and one inferior to thee come after, he who invited thee to supper will say unto thee, Go and sit higher: now this will be advantageous to thee." This is the largest addition found in any of the MSS., and contains not less than sixty words In the original, and eighty-three in the Anglo-Saxon. It may be necessary to remark, that Mr. Marshall, in his edition of the Gothic and Saxon Gospels, does not insert these words in the text, but gives them, p. 496 of his observations. This addition is at least as ancient as the fourth century, for it is quoted by Hilary, who did not die till about a.d. 367.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 20-28

See also Mark 10:35-45.

Matthew 20:20

Then came to him give mother of Zebedee‘s children … - This was probably Salome, Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1.

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.

Matthew 20:21

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.

Matthew 20:22

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.

Matthew 20:23

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.

Matthew 20:24

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.

Matthew 20:25-27

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.

Matthew 20:28

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.

For many - See also Matthew 26:28; John 10:15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Hebrews 2:9.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The sons of Zebedee abused what Christ said to comfort the disciples. Some cannot have comforts but they turn them to a wrong purpose. Pride is a sin that most easily besets us; it is sinful ambition to outdo others in pomp and grandeur. To put down the vanity and ambition of their request, Christ leads them to the thoughts of their sufferings. It is a bitter cup that is to be drunk of; a cup of trembling, but not the cup of the wicked. It is but a cup, it is but a draught, bitter perhaps, but soon emptied; it is a cup in the hand of a Father, Joh 18:11. Baptism is an ordinance by which we are joined to the Lord in covenant and communion; and so is suffering for Christ, Eze 20:37; Isa 48:10. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; and so is suffering for Christ, for unto us it is given, Php 1:29. But they knew not what Christ's cup was, nor what his baptism. Those are commonly most confident, who are least acquainted with the cross. Nothing makes more mischief among brethren, than desire of greatness. And we never find Christ's disciples quarrelling, but something of this was at the bottom of it. That man who labours most diligently, and suffers most patiently, seeking to do good to his brethren, and to promote the salvation of souls, most resembles Christ, and will be most honoured by him to all eternity. Our Lord speaks of his death in the terms applied to the sacrifices of old. It is a sacrifice for the sins of men, and is that true and substantial sacrifice, which those of the law faintly and imperfectly represented. It was a ransom for many, enough for all, working upon many; and, if for many, then the poor trembling soul may say, Why not for me?
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 54

The working material in the church is found mostly in branches of three families which are connected by marriage. There is more talent in the church, and more material to make good workmen, than can be employed to advantage in that locality. The entire church are not growing in spirituality. They are not favorably situated to develop strength by calling into exercise the talents that God has given them. There is not room for all to work. One gets in the way of another. There is a lack of spiritual strength. If this church were less a family church each would feel individual responsibility. 3T 54.1

If the talent and influence of several of its members should be exercised in other churches, where they would be drawn out to help where help is really needed, they would be obtaining an experience of the highest value in spiritual things, and by thus bearing responsibilities and burdens in the work of God would be a blessing to others. While engaged in helping others, they would be following the example of Christ. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister to others. He pleased not Himself. He made Himself of no reputation, but took upon Himself the form of a servant, and spent His life in doing good. He could have spent His days on earth in ease and plenty, and have appropriated to Himself the enjoyments of this life. But He lived not to enjoy, He lived to do good and to save others from suffering, and His example is for us to follow. 3T 54.2

If consecrated to God, Brethren I and J could bear greater responsibilities than they have borne. They have thought that they would be prompt to respond to any call that should be made for means, and that this was the principal burden that they had to bear in the cause of God. But God requires more of them than this. If they had trained their minds to a more critical study of the word of God, that they might have become laborers in His cause, and had worked for the salvation of sinners as earnestly as they have to obtain the things of this life, they would have developed strength and wisdom to engage in the work of God where laborers are greatly needed. 3T 54.3

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Ellen G. White
Gospel Workers 1915, 190

Many a laborer fails in his work because he does not come close to those who most need his help. With the Bible in hand, he should seek in a courteous manner to learn the objections which exist in the minds of those who are beginning to inquire, “What is truth?” Carefully and tenderly should he lead and educate them, as pupils in a school. Many have to unlearn theories which they have long believed to be truth. As they become convinced that they have been in error concerning Bible subjects, they are thrown into perplexity and doubt. They need the tenderest sympathy and the most judicious help; they should be carefully instructed, and should be prayed for and prayed with, watched and guarded with the kindest solicitude. GW 190.1

It is a great privilege to be a co-laborer with Christ in the salvation of souls. With patient, unselfish effort the Saviour sought to reach man in his fallen condition, and to rescue him from the consequences of sin. His disciples, who are the teachers of His word, should closely imitate their great Exemplar. GW 191.1

*****

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 426

“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” “He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.” Margin, “a cool spirit.” 2T 426.1

Our great Exemplar was exalted to be equal with God. He was high commander in heaven. All the holy angels delighted to bow before Him. “And again, when He bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him.” Jesus took upon Himself our nature, laid aside His glory, majesty, and riches to perform his mission, to save that which was lost. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister unto others. Jesus, when reviled, abused, and insulted, did not retaliate. “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.” When the cruelty of man caused Him to suffer painful stripes and wounds, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him who judgeth righteously. The apostle Paul exhorted his Philippian brethren: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Is the servant greater than his master? Christ has given us His life as a pattern, and we dishonor Him when we become jealous of every slight, and are ready to resent every injury, supposed or real. It is not an evidence of a noble mind to be prepared to defend self, to preserve our own dignity. We would better suffer wrongfully a hundred times than wound the soul by a spirit of retaliation, or by giving vent to wrath. There is strength to be obtained of God. He can help. He can give grace and heavenly wisdom. If you ask in faith, you will receive; but you must watch unto prayer. Watch, pray, work, should be your watchword. 2T 426.2

Your wife might be a blessing if she would only take upon her the responsibility that it is her duty to take. But she has shunned responsibility all her life, and now is in danger of being influenced, instead of influencing you. Instead of having a softening, elevating influence upon you, there is danger of her thinking as you think, and acting as you act, without reaching down deep to be guided by principle in all her actions. You sympathize with each other, and, unfortunately, help each other to view matters incorrectly. She can exert an influence for good, but she possesses a spirit which savors of spiritual indolence and sloth. She is reluctant to engage in any good work if it is not pleasant and agreeable. What was the sin of Meroz? Doing nothing. It was not because of great crimes that they were condemned, but because they did not come up to the help of the Lord. 2T 427.1

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Ellen G. White
Steps to Christ, 78

The Saviour's life on earth was not a life of ease and devotion to Himself, but He toiled with persistent, earnest, untiring effort for the salvation of lost mankind. From the manger to Calvary He followed the path of self-denial and sought not to be released from arduous tasks, painful travels and exhausting care and labor. He said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28. This was the one great object of His life. Everything else was secondary and subservient. It was His meat and drink to do the will of God and to finish His work. Self and self-interest had no part in His labor. SC 78.1

So those who are the partakers of the grace of Christ will be ready to make any sacrifice, that others for whom He died may share the heavenly gift. They will do all they can to make the world better for their stay in it. This spirit is the sure outgrowth of a soul truly converted. No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. If we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace. If we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good we shall have something to tell. Like Philip when he found the Saviour, we shall invite others into His presence. We shall seek to present to them the attractions of Christ and the unseen realities of the world to come. There will be an intensity of desire to follow in the path that Jesus trod. There will be an earnest longing that those around us may “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. SC 78.2

And the effort to bless others will react in blessings upon ourselves. This was the purpose of God in giving us a part to act in the plan of redemption. He has granted men the privilege of becoming partakers of the divine nature and, in their turn, of diffusing blessings to their fellow men. This is the highest honor, the greatest joy, that it is possible for God to bestow upon men. Those who thus become participants in labors of love are brought nearest to their Creator. SC 79.1

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