Summary: James and John were naturally talented and dedicated to the Lord. Their mother, just like many mothers today, wanted the best for her children, and so a few days before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, she made a request in behalf of her children.
April 20, 2006
(37) Ambition of James and John
20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
From Matthew 4:21 we know that the two sons of Zebedee were the apostles James and John, because the verse says, “And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother...” When Jesus taught His disciples, the mother of James and John listened, with pride in her two sons. They were naturally talented and dedicated to the Lord, and they were included in Jesus’ inner circle. James was a born leader (see Acts 12:17; 15:13), and John was commonly called the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:23). Their mother, just like many mothers today, wanted the best for her children, and so a few days before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, she made a request in behalf of her children.
21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
The word “grant”, as it is used here, means “command”; “Command that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” This mother’s pride and ambition can be seen in her request that her sons set in the seats with the highest honor in Christ’s kingdom. The thought may have come from the revelation that Jesus’ followers will set on thrones. Three times Jesus had foretold that He would be condemned to death, then rise the third day; yet at the crucifixion, most of His disciples deserted Him, proving that they had heard Him selectively. They heard only the promises that the kingdom was coming soon, and His followers would sit on thrones (Matt. 19:28). These two disciples may have asked their mother to make the request, but in any case the request shows a lack of humility on their part. But it should be noted that the request showed a firm faith that Jesus was the Messiah, and that His kingdom was a reality. It’s faith like that that Jesus is willing to accept and reward.
22 But Jesus answered and said, 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.
23 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.
The cup and the baptism both refer to our Lord’s suffering and death. The cup is God’s wrath that will be poured out on Him at Calvary, where He suffered for the sins of mankind. The baptism refers to the immersion of the Lord into suffering. When Jesus said, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” He is predicting their future. James, who was beheaded, was the first disciple to die for Christ, and John suffered in a variety of ways over the longest period of time.
What Jesus says here is so important to Christians today. He is not saying that there is no place at His right hand and His left hand for somebody. He is saying that He will not arbitrarily give the positions to James and John or to anyone else, because these places are for those who prepare themselves for them. Keep this in mind: Heaven is for the asking.You do nothing for salvation. You are saved by faith in Christ through His marvelous grace. However, your position and your reward in heaven are determined by what you do here on earth. That’s very important and Christians seem to have lost sight of it. Ask yourself, “What kind of place am I preparing for myself?” Personally, I have missed the right to set on Jesus’ right side or left side—but I am working for a place. All of us should be doing this. In Philippians 4:13 Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The trouble with Christians today is that too few are even trying to win anything. We need to recognize that salvation is a free gift, but we need to get on the race course to receive a gift.
24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.