JESUS AGAIN FORETELLS HIS DEATH
DEALING WITH THE APOSTLES’ DESIRE FOR PROMINENCE
As Jesus and his disciples complete their journey southward in Perea toward Jerusalem, they cross the Jordan River near Jericho. Others are traveling with them for the Passover of 33 C.E.
Jesus is walking on ahead of the disciples, determined to be in the city on time for the Passover. But the disciples are afraid. Earlier, when Lazarus died and Jesus was about to go from Perea into Judea, Thomas told the others: “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.” (John 11:16, 47-53) So going to Jerusalem is risky, and the disciples’ fear is understandable.
To prepare them for what lies ahead, Jesus takes the apostles aside and tells them: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to men of the nations to be mocked and scourged and executed on a stake; and on the third day he will be raised up.”—Matthew 20:18, 19.
This is the third time that Jesus has told his disciples about his death and resurrection. (Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23) However, this time he says that he will be executed on a stake. They listen to him, yet they do not comprehend the meaning. Perhaps they are expecting the restoration on earth of the kingdom of Israel, wanting to enjoy glory and honor in an earthly kingdom with Christ.
The mother of the apostles James and John, who is apparently Salome, is among the travelers. Jesus has given these two apostles a name meaning “Sons of Thunder,” no doubt because of their fiery disposition. (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54) For some time, these two have had the ambition of being prominent in Christ’s Kingdom. Their mother is aware of that. She now approaches Jesus in their behalf, bows before him, and asks for a favor. Jesus replies: “What do you want?” She says: “Give the word that these two sons of mine may sit down, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your Kingdom.”—Matthew 20:20, 21.
The request is really coming from James and John. Having just outlined the shame and humiliation he will experience, Jesus says to them: “You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They reply: “We can.” (Matthew 20:22) Still, they likely do not really comprehend what this means for them.
Nevertheless, Jesus tells them: “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”—Matthew 20:23.
On learning about James and John’s request, the other ten apostles are indignant. Might James and John have been outspoken in the earlier argument among the apostles about who is the greatest? (Luke 9:46-48) Regardless, the present request reveals that the Twelve have not applied the counsel Jesus has given about conducting oneself as a lesser one. Their desire for prominence persists.
Jesus decides to deal with this latest controversy and the ill will it is creating. He calls the Twelve together and counsels them lovingly, saying: “You know that those who appear to be ruling the nations lord it over them and their great ones wield authority over them. This must not be the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.”—Mark 10:42-44.
Jesus brings up the example they should imitate—his example. He explains: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) For some three years, Jesus has been ministering in behalf of others. And he will yet do so to the extent of dying for mankind! The disciples need that same Christlike disposition of desiring to serve rather than to be served, to be a lesser one rather than to be in a position of prominence.