Matthew 20:17-34 Part 4

The fact that Jesus’ disciples understood none of the things that Jesus had just spoken concerning “the Way” is now illustrated by the stark contrast of the next event in Matthew’s text.  Having already stated that the Son of Man would suffer many things at the hands of the nations gathered together against Him, and that He would be crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day to be raised, Jesus now receives a petition – the substance of which is completely incongruent with His Own stated purpose!

Now, that might be understood more clearly if you could put yourself into a situation in which you were giving a vigorous and powerful exposition of truth about an important theological subject – say, postmillennial eschatology; and, being satisfied with your irrefutable Biblical arguments, you stop and wait for the response to the Truth!  But then you are amazed when the resulting conversation has nothing to do with what you’ve just said!  There’s no argument, no refutation, no opposition – just a completely divergent subject of conversation which, ultimately, just happens to be at cross-purposes with eschatological reality!  In other words, your faithful witness to the Truth was just incomprehensible, and there was no response to it – everybody just went on with whatever it was they were thinking about or talking about before!

So it was here with Jesus.  A synopsis of the salvation of the world from wrath and hell was delivered to the disciples.  A summary statement of the rebirth, and the establishment of a Kingdom with a new humanity was delivered to them – and the next event recorded by Matthew was as if Jesus had said nothing at all!

We don’t know how much time passed between these two encounters – it was most certainly during the same day – but it doesn’t really matter.  “The Way” was incomprehensible.  And it didn’t matter whether the demonstration of that incomprehensibility came immediately after, or an hour after, or a day, or a year!

They “knew” Him to be the Son of God, and they knew Him to be Messiah; but they understood nothing of what was required of Him or what the Kingdom was.  And they knew nothing of the condemned status of all men before God, so therefore they knew nothing of the debt that was to be paid or the rebirth that was necessary!  And added to that was their anticipation of the resurgence of the old covenant kingdom of Israel.  Their hope was in God’s Messiah reestablishing the Davidic monarchy which would shine upon the whole world!  (Ezra and Nehemiah had rebuilt the temple of Solomon on the dome of the rock; and now for them, it was time for Messiah to occupy the seat of David!)

So the minds and hearts of the disciples, and their families, and all of the thousands who were following Jesus were intent on this obscure but miraculously powerful man from Nazareth being God’s chosen King of Israel; and that, somehow, against all the perceivable powers of the world, He would be installed in that seat!

They knew that there was dreadful evil and injustice in the highest places of the Jerusalem council and in the priesthood, and they knew the terrible situation and condition of the people of Israel; they knew that an Edomite family, the Herodians (descendants of the non-elect brother Esau), governed the Tetrarchies of Israel; they knew that Rome, a pagan Gentile city and the greatest world-wide empire in history, ruled Israel along with the rest of the world; and still they were intent on a revivification of Israel, and that this man Jesus was going to be the king!  They were marching toward Jerusalem and Pentecost to install a Nazareth carpenter as their king – against all the powers of the world!

And what Jesus said about His being mocked and scourged and crucified by the assembled nations of the world didn’t affect what they perceived to be the case!  This man was from God; and his kingship was going to be after the order of David’s rule.  It was a fait accompli – “a done deal”!  They were already hailing him as the Messiah/King of Israel and doing obeisance before Him!

And we have an example of that in our text this morning.  The wife of Zebedee, and the mother of the disciples James and John, approaches Jesus in a manner which suggested that His Davidic kingship was already a fact!  Matthew records (and he was there, and saw it) that she “did obeisance” before Him and was petitioning Him for something.  In other words this woman was positioning herself in subjection before the absolute potentate, requesting, in advance, that he grant her whatever she wished.  That’s the sense of the text.  The implication was, of course, that David’s great son, the king of Israel, was to be so powerful He could do whatever it was she asked.

Now, although this wasn’t a request for Jesus to demonstrate His power and show that He really was the King to be, the history does record that, on many occasions, an oriental king would grant (recklessly, and against God’s Law, I might add), grant a wish in advance of knowing what it was, in order to show his complete dominion over his realm!  Whatever it was, no matter what it was, he could do it, because he had absolute power!

We have one example of that in the Scriptures, don’t we?  Chapter fourteen of this Gospel relates the circumstances of John the Baptist’s execution.  Herodias’ daughter was dancing before Herod Philip (who already had John in captivity); and since he was so pleased with her, she received a potentate’s grant of anything she wished!    Having been instructed by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist.  And her wish was granted!  And, by the way, the history records that her name was Salome, which is the feminine of the name Solomon.

And I don’t think it’s any accident of history that the woman who approached Jesus, the mother of James and John, requesting that He, as the King of Israel, grant her something in advance – her name was Salome.

Zebedee, the fisherman-father of James and John, and the husband of Salome, is not mentioned any longer and presumed dead by this time.  But Salome has followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, and is present at His crucifixion – recorded in the final chapter of this Gospel.

But, nevertheless, Salome, thinking Jesus to be from God (and David’s great Son, and the promised Messiah/King of Israel), prostrates herself before Him in the way that is acceptable to an oriental emperor/potentate, and proceeds to honor Him by demonstrating that she knows He is capable of giving her whatever she desires!

We don’t want to speculate too far as to what her ultimate motives were, but she certainly had this design in her mind for her two sons who, from the beginning, had left their occupations to follow Jesus.  She obviously wanted them to share the glory and the power and the authority of being in the closest proximity to the mightiest ruler the earth had ever seen!  You see, if this Man were the successor to David, then He would end Roman rule over Israel, bring all of Israel to repentance, and subjugate all the nations of the earth to Himself!  And she would be the mother of the two most important men in the government of the world (other than the king himself)!

She had already seen and heard for three years how Jesus had favored three men – her two sons and Peter.  They seemed to be the “inner circle” of disciples; they were the ones who were with Jesus on a number of important occasions, such as on the mountaintop when the Glory-cloud/Throne-room of God came down, and Jesus was transformed.  And I’m sure that that gave her some confidence that her request wasn’t out of order.

And, like I say, I don’t want to impugn Salome’s motives unnecessarily.  It could very well have been that when she approached Jesus and asked Him to grant her desire – without knowing first what it was – that her motive was to honor this future king’s ability to do whatever it was!  So as far as her motive was concerned, it could have been right.

But the primary question with regard to Salome ought to be whether she acted faithfully and, then, had a clear conscience.  No doubt she was a devout woman; but what is faith?  Faith is thought, emotions, words, and deeds which are based in the revealed Truth of God.  If God said it, then all of life must be lived according to it.  If one is “faithing”, then one’s life is in accordance with the Truth!

It also then follows, that when one isn’t thinking and speaking and acting faithfully, then there can be no clear conscience – for the conscience also must be submitted to the Revelation of the Truth of God!  You see, the conscience of fallen man is dead!  So when the conscience says to you that something is okay, it’s not necessarily so!  It is so if your conscience condemns you or releases you in accordance with what God has said!

And the flip side of that is also the case – that the conscience is no judge of faithfulness outside of the Word of God.  So if your conscience is clear concerning some thought or emotion or word or deed, and you are outside, or without, God’s Revelation of Truth, then your conscience has freed you to sin against God; you have used your conscience to become a law unto yourself!  Faithing, then, is the only means to a clear conscience, because the conscience, when operating within itself, is an idolatrous judge of right and wrong.

So, Salome, although very devout – and with possibly pure motives (we’re not sure about that) – approaches Jesus outside of the realm of the Truth of God.  We know that to be the case, because the Law and the Prophets prophesied the coming “suffering servant of God” – the Lamb slain for the sin of the world!  We know, because the entire sacrificial system – the ceremonial Law – foreshadowed the necessity for a perfect, unblemished substitute to suffer and die for the atonement of God’s people!  And so did the prophets prophesy!

So the anticipation that Jesus would be installed, by men, as the new king of Israel – the idea that motivated Salome’s request – was not faith, because it wasn’t the Truth of God’s revealed Word!  Salome was very devout, and very sincere, and maybe properly motivated; but that does not constitute faithing!  And the Scripture says that “the just shall live by faith” – not by sincerity; not by deep religious sentiments; not by good works properly motivated – but by faith!  Those who are justified live under the authority of the Spirit of Christ, by the Word of God!

What God has said is life itself.  And one who is justified submits his life to it!  He submits his religious sentiments to it; he submits his emotions to it; he submits his every thought to it; he brings his anticipations under it; he forces his deeds and actions (and the motivations for those deeds and actions) to conform to it!

And Salome, acting without the Truth of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ, asks that Jesus break the Law of His Father!  It is the custom of men for a king to grant a blind request to demonstrate his absolute power!  But it is not according to God’s Law.  All kings and governors and magistrates are under the Law of God – they are not absolute rulers.  To grant a request, not knowing in advance whether the granting of that request is lawful, is a demonstration of high-minded arrogance; it is a usurpation of power that belongs only to God!

The Law of God also says that if a man swears to an oath, then he must do what he swore – even to his own hurt!  What a dilemma it is to first sin against God by swearing to grant a request without knowing what the request is; and, then, having heard the request, to again have to break the law in order to grant it!  You see, acting out from under God’s Truth generates a spiral of sin that is unavoidable!

Salome, acting unfaithfully with false eschatological expectations, tempts the Son of God to break His Own Father’s Law-word!  Her request was for Him to sin!  With great sincerity; with devout religious sentiments; motivated by hope and anticipation and expectation – Salome tempted the Son of God to sin against God the Father!

Living out from under the authority of the revealed Word of God always produces disastrous consequences, doesn’t it!  All the more reason for us to live by Faith – and to make no promises and swear no oaths unless we are fully aware of the entire circumstances and the consequences.  Only then can we make rational judgments according to God’s Word and live under God’s authority.

Marriage vows; pledges and stipulations of contracts; promises to a child; promises to deliver services faithfully and on time; debt servicing – all of these and many more are pledges not given in a vacuum, because God and His Law-word stand as judge over every word that comes out of your mouth!  And all of our pledges should be made with Jesus Christ the King as intermediary between the parties; and with all knowledge of the facts in advance; and without guile and deception; and with full knowledge that to break a promise is sin against God.  “The just shall live by Faith!”

Now, the false and unfaithful expectation of a personal-rule-by-Messiah-from David’s-seat-in-Jerusalem was an ill-conceived and wretched aberration of the Truth.  And we grieve today for the Church, for, in most circles, it is saturated with this same deadly dogma.  It’s not just in judaistic circles, but also in the Church!

But regardless of the unfaithful expectations of Salome, and her sons, and the rest of the disciples, and the entire leadership and people of Israel, and the whole Gentile world, Jesus Christ was delivered into the hands of the high priests and scribes; and He was condemned to death.  And regardless of all those expectations of a judaistic king, He was delivered up to the nations to mock and to scourge and to crucify, the third day to be raised – according to the Scriptures!  And He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He was given a Kingdom and all power in Heaven and Earth!  All through Scripture this Kingship is prophesied.

And His Kingdom is not from this earth, but from Heaven where He shall reign until all powers and principalities that raise themselves up against Him are put down.  The Scriptures say that Christ was given the Kingdom, and He, right now, is the One to Whom all things must submit – and eventually will!  Isn’t it wonderful though that Gentiles were involved in Old Testament prophecy?

The Gentile Magi from the East traveled for maybe a year in order to commemorate the birth of the Great King.  They got it right!  You see, in history, the celebration of the King’s birth was recognition that He was omnipotent!  The present and the future were in His hands!  That’s what the celebration was about!

All through the history of the Church the birth of Christ has been celebrated – because the Scriptures proclaim the age of salvation under His reign – the reign of the King of Kings. The celebration of the birth of Christ, and the proclamation that He has not yet come to reign over the earth (as much of the Church does) is a demonstration of the Church’s proclivity for contradiction!  Why celebrate the birth of the King if He is not yet King?!  But… that’s dispensationalism.

The four great world-wide, culture-changing empires of the earth, before the birth of Christ, all proclaimed the King’s (or the emperor’s) birth as a holy day of national celebration.  And what do you think precipitated the origin of those celebrations?  The idea came from God’s Word!  The celebration of the King of Kings!  The emperors and kings themselves proclaimed their own birthdays as holy festivals of celebration, because they wished to be the omnipotent saviors of the world – not God’s King!  But the idea came from God’s Word concerning the birth of Jesus Christ – the world’s King!

Listen to the great king of Assyria, which was the first, great, world-wide kingdom of the earth, as he proclaimed Messiah-ship!  The words come right out of the prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ!  King of Assyria proclaimed:


“days of justice, years of righteousness, plenteous rainfall, good prices for merchandise.  Old men leap for joy, children sing; the condemned are acquitted, the prisoners set free; the naked are clothed, the sick are cured…” 


Messianic?  You bet it is.  He claimed for himself the things prophesied of the Messiah of God.  He detested the fact that there would be another King born who would be greater than he.

And there are many now who detest it.  The Judaists detest it – claiming that He is not yet come.  They don’t celebrate – they have no king.  Much of the Church detests it – saying that He has come but He is not yet King.  Contradiction!  And then there are many, many who live and breathe that humanity can save itself – by the state or otherwise.  Why do they celebrate the birth of the King!?

But whether it’s Salome’s unfaithful expectations or the U.S. government’s self-proclaimed Messiahship, or judaism’s denial, it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus Christ is, now, King of Kings and Lord of Lords – for He is the potentate of Heaven and Earth, the Savior of mankind.

Next Lord’s Day, Jesus’ response to Salome’s request.