A Contrast of Kingdoms.
Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-52; Luke 18:35-19:27; John 11:55-12:11
The replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT
One of the things that jumps out in the Gospels as we near the end of Jesus earthly life and ministry, is the growing contrast between the views of Jesus and the disciples regarding the coming Kingdom. The story recorded in Matthew and Mark gives us a pretty clear indication that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up His Kingdom on earth. He would rule and reign from the throne of David right there in Jerusalem. He would defeat the Romans and make the Jews a power to be reckoned with just like they were in the glory days of David and Solomon. The nation of Israel would once again have power, prestige, and experience peace and prosperity. And the disciples saw themselves as playing significant roles in Jesus’ earthly Kingdom, because they had sacrificed everything to follow Him. Remember Peter’s statement to Jesus back in Matthew 19? “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Each of the disciples were hoping to benefit greatly from their relationship with Jesus. They fully expected to be part of His inner circle when He finally quit beating around the bush and established His Kingdom.
But Jesus had a different view of what was going to happen in the days ahead. He knew full well that His mission, as given to Him by God, would first involve a crucifixion, not a coronation. He would have to suffer and die before He could rule and reign. A cross would be His next stop, not a throne. So when James and John take Jesus aside and ask Him to do them a favor and assure them the two top spots in His administration, Jesus has to correct their thinking. Matthew even indicates that they had gotten their mother involved in this whole matter. The ironic thing is that they ask Jesus to let them “sit” on His right and on His left. Jesus breaks the news to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!” They really didn’t want to be on His right or His left when the time came for Him to be “lifted up.” Those two spots were actually reserved for two unnamed, common criminals. Jesus knows what He is about to go through in the not-too-distant future, and He asks them, “Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). As was so often the case, the two disciples assure Jesus they are fully capable. “We are able!” they exclaim. They still didn’t get it. They were clueless as to what was really about to take place, even though Jesus had told them repeatedly that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.
When the other disciples caught wind of what James and John were doing, they were indignant. They were jealous and upset that they hadn’t gone to Jesus first. All of these men were jockeying for position and battling for prime spots in what they believed to be was Jesus upcoming royal administration. So Jesus reminds them that things are slightly different in God’s Kingdom. It will not be about who is the greatest. It will not be a matter of who is first and foremost. No, Jesus tells them, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else” (Mark 10:43-44 NLT). This was not exactly what they wanted to hear. What Jesus was saying made no sense whatsoever. But Jesus assured them that this was the way things were in God’s Kingdom and it even applied to Him. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mark 10:45 NLT).
Over in the book of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to the disciples, “to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away” (Luke 19:11 NLT). Jesus was going away. After His death and resurrection, He would be returning to His rightful place at the side of His Father in heaven. And He would be leaving the disciples on earth to accomplish the mission He would be giving them. They would be expected to faithfully use all that He had given them over the last three years, and to steward the gifts that would be provided for them by the Holy Spirit when He came. So that when Jesus returned the next time, they would be found to have been faithful and rewarded in full. “…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given” (Luke 19:26 NLT). There was much to be done before any of the disciples received their rewards or places of prominence in Christ’s Kingdom. And before that could happen, they would have to faithfully complete their assignment, just as Jesus was about to do.
Another compelling reminder that Jesus’ Kingdom was not going to be earthly in nature, was the anointing He received at the hands of Mary, the grateful sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Mary took a 12-ounce jar of very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping it off with her hair. Jesus indicates that this was in preparation for His coming burial. In other words, He was not being anointed in preparation for His coming coronation, but His crucifixion and death. So when Jesus told the disciples, “You don’t know what you are asking,” He knew what He was talking about. Neither James or John would want to be on His right or left when Jesus completed His God-given assignment. He would be hanging on a tree, and hanging beside Him, on His right and left, would be two guilty criminals. For the Kingdom of God to be established, the Son of God had to suffer and die. For Jesus to eventually rule and reign, He would have to conquer sin and death.
Things were not what they seemed. The Kingdom of God would not be what the disciples expected. His Kingdom was of a spiritual nature. It involved suffering, sacrifice and servanthood. It required the sinless Son of God to selflessly give His life so that others might live. The earthly Kingdom of God is coming. Jesus will eventually rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And the disciples will have places of prominence in that Kingdom. But much had to happen first. The enemy Jesus came to defeat was not the Romans, but Satan. The Kingdom He came to establish was not to be temporary, but permanent. And that day is coming.
Father, thank You for sending Your Son to suffer and die. Your plan was not what the disciples expected and it is often not what I would choose. But it is perfect because You are righteous, all-knowing, and good. I am grateful that Jesus sits on a throne even now and that He rules in my heart, when I am willing to allow Him to do so. He is exalted on high and sits at Your right hand, and some day He is coming back. I am grateful that the kingdom the disciples wanted never came about. I am thankful that Your plan is going to be fulfilled in perfection and the ultimate rule and reign of Christ over all the earth is coming. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men