Matthew 20:17-34 Part 5

To promise something in the future to someone without having a clear statement as to what it is binds the conscience in an unlawful way – even if assured that it is not against God!

The future exists in connection with the mind and will of God; it is unknown to man.  And any attempt to determine what the future is, is considered divination – all forms of which have been condemned in God’s Law.  The reason for that is that God is the absolute Source and Reason for existence.  And He alone determines whatsoever comes to pass.  (That’s why we are to say, “If God so wills….”)

The existence of the universe is linear; so there is no future yet – except as it is predetermined in the mind and by the will of God.  So for man to explore the future he would have to find a way to probe the mind of God!  But, as the Creator, God has retained for Himself all the Power to determine what is to be.  He hasn’t relinquished any of that ability to the creature, whether it be with the use of crystals, or to palm readers, or astrologers, or divination.

Now, there are only three options with regard to man’s response to that.  Firstly, we can remain centered and thankful in the fact that all existence and all events are in the hands of God, Who is absolute Good and absolute Right – Justice.  This tends to great confidence and assurance – both for the present and for tomorrow, and for eternity.

The second option is for divination, or for self-determination (which is the essence of humanism), or to assume for one’s self the power to do whatever one wishes – such as does an emperor or potentate who declares himself almighty.  All of these fall into the same category – which is to usurp the power and authority of God.  The power which kings and rulers take upon themselves to grant blind requests falls into this category because of the arrogant demonstration of assumed sovereignty.

The third option is abandonment to chance.  Nothing is determined.  There is no sovereign authority, therefore all is random!  It’s called Nihilism – nothingness.  The theory of evolution for example, is the abandonment of sovereign design and determination to random chance.  The descent into chaos and disorder and purposelessness (evidenced by a larger and larger segment of today’s population) is a demonstration of the hopelessness produced by Nihilism – as are chemical mind-alteration, psychoanalysis, and hypnosis.

All the many ways in which man discounts the value of life are also examples, as are idleness, homelessness and wandering.  Gambling, by definition, is ipso facto, abandonment to chance – all the justifying arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.

So, of the three options of man in response to God’s sovereign determination of whatsoever comes to pass, two involve blatant demonstrations of disregard of the facts of God’s Self-Revelation.  The first is man’s usurpation of that sovereign authority; the second is man’s abandonment of that authority to the random.

So after all is said and done, there are, really, no options, are there?  All existence and all events spring from the Self-determining God, Who is absolute Right and Good!

In verse twenty of our text, Salome’s request for Jesus to grant her something, having not stated what it was, was a demonstration of her belief that He was the successor to the Davidic monarchy.  In oriental fashion, if he were the Messianic son of David, then He would have the absolute power to do whatever she wanted – no matter what it was!

But her convictions, her religious sentiments, her hope, her anticipations, her expectations weren’t grounded in faith!  Jesus, as the Older Testament Law and Prophets testified, didn’t come to assume the throne of the Old Covenant Davidic Monarchy.

As David’s great Son, and David’s Lord (Psalm one hundred ten, and Psalm twenty-two), Jesus Christ The God-Man came, in the weakness of the cross, to atone for the sin of the world; He came to rebirth man from his dead, cursed existence in Adam – to be the head of a new humanity and a new Kingdom; and to be the Rock on which the enemies of God would be crushed!

Should He have acquiesced to Salome’s sincere request, He would have abandoned The Father’s design for the salvation of His creation; and He would have assumed the power of self-determination!

But He had to submit Himself to the will of His Father and suffer the weakness of the cross in order to receive His inheritance!  Condemnation and mocking and scourging and crucifixion and descent into death – all at the hand of His Father – was the weakness to which He had to submit in order for the curse of death to be destroyed – in order for man to be reborn out of His Adamic inheritance!  The weakness and suffering and death of Christ, under the crushing weight of sin and wrath, was the atonement required for our being made new creations!

So, for Him to assume the role of emperor of the world at the request of Salome, or because of the expectations of His disciples, or due to the pitiable condition of the remnant of Israel, or because of the lawless rulers and teachers and priests of Israel, would have been a denial of the predeterminate council of God; it would have also meant a denial of the cursed and fallen nature of man; therefore there would never have been an atonement!  There would not be a new humanity with a new Adamic Head; there would be no New Israel – no new Church!  No salvation, no eternal life.

So, as verse twenty-one indicates, Jesus declines to assume that role.  Instead, He makes Salome state what she wants.  Now, I want to set this whole scene again, because it’s very important that we see that none of these things are happening in a vacuum.  We need to avoid, as much as possible, the “flat” perspective, because this is a very dynamic situation here!

Just on the other side of the Jordan from Judah, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem.  As the Scriptures state, it was “the fullness of the time”!  And thousands upon thousands of people were all around, and following, Jesus – with all the sounds of excitement and joy and expectation.

This Man was surely from God; for He had caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk.  He had made the lepers clean; He had straightened deformed and useless bodies and cast out demons for the tormented – all of these things were condemnations upon the leadership of Israel who had “preyed” upon the people as ravening wolves!

He had fed thousands of people from almost no provisions.  The miraculous events were too numerous to count!  And now the crowds were sure that, finally, God had sent the Messiah to Israel; and that, now, He was going to be installed as King.  All of Israel would repent; God would restore Israel to its greatness; the yoke of Roman oppression would be thrown off; and all the world would look to Israel for the blessing of God.  These people were going with Jesus to Jerusalem to install the new King!

Jesus, in the midst of all of that, takes His disciples off to the side, away from the crowds, to tell them what’s really going to happen.  And having finished that, Salome, the mother of James and John, leaves the crowd of excited people and enters the circle of disciples.

We don’t know from the text whether her sons were beside her or behind her, but she immediately prostrates herself before Jesus.  And the text doesn’t explain (which is the custom of Matthew) whether Salome and James and John have conspired to approach Jesus in this manner, or whether Salome has decided on the spur of the moment to do it; but the situation is very dynamic – with high levels of emotion and excitement!  After all, this was God’s King – the Messiah-waited-for for over four hundred years!

But Jesus knew already that they understood none of what was happening.  This disciple John, who was standing here with his mother, would later write (John chapter two), that Jesus knew the hearts of men.  He knew that man was dead in Adam and was devoid of understanding.  He knew what they were thinking!

But Jesus made Salome openly state her request, knowing already that the desires and aspirations of His two disciples (and their mother) was for power; and for position; and for the finery and “perks” of basking in the glory of the King of Israel (maybe the emperor of the world!).

“What do you want?” Jesus says, verse twenty-one.  Salome may have been startled by the fact that Jesus responded to her in this manner – we don’t know.  But according to the text she didn’t miss a beat!  The request was planned, and she went right ahead with it.

She says, “Eipe.”  “Say.”  Grant.  It is an edict.  Proclaim.  Make a proclamation.  The assumption that Jesus was going to be the King already generated a request for a Monarch’s proclamation!  “Proclaim that these my two sons may sit one at Your right and one at Your left in Your Kingdom.” 

The right and the left of the King indicated the most important positions in the King’s cabinet.  So, two of the “inner circle” disciples were lobbying Jesus, through their mother, for the two positions of power over the nation (and, again, maybe over the nations of the world).  And all this, right after He had explained to them that He must suffer, and be humiliated, and be killed – to be raised again the third day!

As we read in Acts chapter one, even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, (but before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit), they still had some hope left that He would be installed as the king!

But in verse twenty-two we see that Jesus did not answer directly to Salome!  He turns to His two disciples to respond.  “You don’t know what you’re asking,” He says.  Rather than the feminine gender here, which would indicate He was responding to Salome, Matthew writes that Jesus spoke in the masculine plural.  He was speaking to James and John.  And, from this point on, Salome isn’t mentioned in the text until we find her present at the crucifixion.

“You don’t know what you’re asking!”  You wish to be seated in the throne-room of King David, basking in the light and glory of the King, as the chief ministers and power brokers of the administration!”

All three of these, as well as all the other disciples, and all the people who were following, had seen Jesus exposed to every contempt and ridicule and reproach.  They all expected a kingdom of which not one trace was visible at the time.

And ambition far beyond the Truth flowed from that false expectation.  But who was it that eventually would be at Jesus’ right and left?  At the height of His suffering and shame and humiliation, who would be directly to His right; and who would be directly to His left?  Two thieves would be crucified with Him!  James… John.  You don’t know what you’re asking!

If these two disciples had known that Jesus would be crucified, and that two men would be hung there with Him, one on His right and one on His left, would they have conspired with their mother for those positions!?  Later on we’ll see that, at the point where it was obvious that Jesus was in deep trouble with Israel’s government, they all deserted Him!  They wanted no part in the persecution which He suffered.  Peter denied Him three times; and James and John were nowhere to be found!  And they certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be crucified with Him!

James and John were desiring the highest places for themselves, much like Adonijah did in First Kings chapter two.  If you’re familiar with the history, you’ll remember that David leaves the succession to the throne of Israel to his son Solomon.  Solomon was his last son – born of Bathsheba.

But David had four other sons by his first wife – the only one to be alive at David’s death being Adonijah.  Well, Adonijah, being the oldest son of David, aspired to the throne!  It was inconceivable to him that Solomon would be the one chosen to succeed, since he was the younger.

But after David’s death, and after Solomon had been crowned king of Israel, Adonijah involved himself in a conspiracy to degrade Solomon’s reign and to establish himself as the real heir to the throne.

So after conspiring with two cohorts, Adonijah convinced Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to go to Solomon and request that he give Abishag to Adonijah for his wife!

Now, Abishag had been David’s nurse and attendant in his old age.  The Scriptures indicate that David never knew her carnally, but, in reality, she belonged to him the same as a concubine!  So Adonijah was asking Solomon for David’s concubine.  And, as was the case then, when one succeeded to the king’s concubines, it was indicative of his succession to the throne!

So, by way of subterfuge, and intrigue, and deception, Adonijah was using Solomon’s mother (unwittingly it seems), to indicate to all the people that he was the true successor to the throne of Israel!  It might seem like a little thing to us, but, apparently, it was a big step to Adonijah to remove this concubine from Solomon’s house!

Well, even though Bathsheba may not have realized what the underlying reasons were for Adonijah’s request, nor the implications for her son’s reign, King Solomon did!  In all his wisdom, he saw through this conspiracy; and he knew that Adonijah wanted to use Abishag in order to degrade Solomon’s reign as king!

And for Adonijah’s conspiracy against the king, he and his two cohorts lost their lives.  God, through King David, had chosen Solomon to reign over Israel.  But, by ambition, Adonijah refused to accept it; and he become a law unto himself.  And it required his death.

By that same unlawful ambition, James and John used their mother in a conspiracy to gain positions of high authority and power for themselves.  And she even provoked Jesus to grant her a blind request!

And Jesus says to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking!”  You don’t know what the implications are, James and John.  Your conspiracy to gain honor and power, by subterfuge, requires your death!  Your unfaithfulness to the revealed Word of God requires your death!  I know what’s in your heart.

And if you were to gain the positions at My right and at My left, that, too, would require your death; for those at My right and left will be crucified with Me!

Jesus Christ, David’s great son and David’s Lord, was the true King in Succession to the throne of David.  And He would sit in David’s seat in the Kingdom.  David’s seat was a foreshadowing of the throne of God’s King, the Messiah.  His seat was that of the true Israel – not the seat of the harlot!

And his successor, in order to gain the succession to the throne, had to suffer, and be humiliated and shamed, and be crucified – to be raised the third day.  And God would give Him power and glory and a Kingdom for His inheritance.

And all of those who would conspire against Him for personal ambition and power – their deaths will be required.  For He has gained the right, by faith, to all power in heaven and earth.  And it has been given to Him by God the Father.  No conspiracies and no sedition are allowed.

We may not assume for ourselves the power to do as we wish, for that is to usurp the authority of the King.  And we may not abandon the design of God for the salvation of the world.  Random chance does not exist.  So there are no options other than to center one’s self squarely under the authority of God and His King.  Jesus says, “What do you want?”  And His answer to your request must not be, “You don’t know what you’re asking!”  It may require your death.  You may not conspire against the King!  The death penalty is required!

Next Lord’s Day – the remainder of Jesus’ answer to James and John; and the anger of the other disciples.