Matthew 20:17-34 Part 6

As Solomon saw the design of Adonijah behind the request of Bathsheba, so Jesus saw the design of James and John behind the request of Salome.  And no matter how innocuous or transparent these designs seem, as we read them and look back on them now, we can count them as attempts to interrupt the design of God and terminate the predestined Will of God for the salvation of the world.

There are two issues to remember concerning our text so far here in Matthew:  first, none of those who were present with Jesus understood and lived God’s revealed eschatology.  They were all steeped in the Pharisees’ teaching of world-wide dominion from Jerusalem.  Regardless of God’s prophecy of the salvation of a remnant out of the destruction of this people, their expectations of the return of Israel’s glory blinded them to the Truth of the Messiah’s Kingdom.  And what’s so worrisome about this, in relating those conditions to today, is the fact that those expectations were marked and highlighted by a penchant for rebellion and sin against God!  So much so, that God called Israel by the names of the two most malevolent and demonic nations of history – Babylon and Egypt!  Israel’s expectations of God’s blessings were so high – irrespective of her idolatry and harlotry!  Let me put it this way so we can relate it to today:  Israel didn’t consider her deep sin and rebellion as a factor in her anticipation of the blessings of God!  Against every plain instruction of God’s Word, she thought that God would bless her – no matter what she did, and no matter who she did it with!

And this blind expectation generated such a stubbornness that, right up until the time the Roman legions finally broke down the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city, the Jews thought that God would come and save them right up until the last moment.  They were looking for the eschatological new age!  But as we all now know, what resulted was the bloodiest wholesale slaughter the world has ever seen.

And since a large portion of the Church today lives in that same, exact eschatology, I shudder to think what will happen to the world if the Jews ever rebuild the temple and reestablish the sacrifices!

Secondly, none of these who were following Jesus knew the means of the establishing of the Kingdom.  They not only did not know that Christ’s Kingdom was “not from this world”, but neither did they know how it was to take place!

They were blind to the facts of the Older Testament prophecy concerning the Suffering Servant of God – the Lamb of God, Who would take away the sin of the world.  In effect, the repentance and revivification of Israel would somehow take place (in their expectation) irrespective of God’s requirement for a perfect atoning sacrifice!  First it was irrespective of their own sin; and, now, it’s irrespective of an atoning sacrifice!

The means of the establishing of the Kingdom was Messiah’s submission to the Father’s will for humiliation and suffering and crucifixion and resurrection!  The weakness of the Cross (that is, weakness in the eyes of men) is the strength of God to the salvation of the world.  And why is that?  Why was a suffering and crucified Messiah necessary?  Why is this “weakness’ the very center of the Gospel of God?

Because the old man-of-sin must be humiliated and killed in rebirth!  There must be a perfect atonement for sin; and there must be denial, humiliation and death for the man of sin.  He must be nailed to the cross of Christ in abject weakness – in order to become reborn as a newborn babe!  And that goes against everything that man-in-Adam is, you see!  To natural man that’s senseless and weak and stupid!  To the believer, to be humiliated and reborn in Christ is the strength of God!  And it is the strength of a newborn-babe-in-Christ that is so fearsome to the world order!  And it’s not at all that the self-denied, humiliated man looks fearsome; quite the contrary.  To the world he’s a despicable creature!  But his strength lies in the fact of his rebirth into Christ!  So his very weakness is his ultimate strength!  And, so, the impetus for his despicability to the world is also the sole reason for his fearsomeness to the world!

So, therefore, the reason the world reacts so violently to Christ and His Kingdom people is that it despises the unnatural weakness and humiliation and self-denial and submission to God and His Word of the rebirthed man; and, at the same time, it fears and loathes the strength of his incorporation into Christ!

This is the means of the establishment of the kingdom; and this is exactly the point of blindness in the people following Jesus here in our text.  And it is the same point of blindness in a large portion of the Church today!  The Church just will not receive God’s revelation of the depth and breadth of the depravity of man – and, therefore, the necessity for humiliation and death of that old man.  It doesn’t understand the weakness of the Cross and rebirth into Christ!

If James and John and Salome had known the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, and if they had known the means of the establishment of that Kingdom, they wouldn’t have asked for something that so revealed their faulty expectations.  And so we can say the same thing about the Church (at least  a major part of it) today:  If the Church was steeped in the doctrines of the Scriptures, as we just explained, then it wouldn’t be involved in such faulty expectations.  And it wouldn’t be anticipating the blessings of God irrespective of the depravity of man.

Now.  In response to James and John, Jesus asks them a question, doesn’t He?  Verse twenty-two.


“Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”


And it’s very interesting to note the structure of the verbs that are used here.  Matthew is careful to record exactly what was said – and it is very telling.

When Jesus said, “Are you able to drink…?”, the two verbs there are different in form than the one used when He said, “…which I am about to drink.”  In other words, in speaking of the disciples He uses one tense of the verbs (the Aorist tense), and when speaking of Himself He uses another (the present tense).

Now, although it might not be productive for us to spend much time with the technical aspects of these tenses, it is vital that we see the contrasts that are meticulously made here by their use.

Jesus, by use of the Aorist tense, asks the disciples whether they, as human beings and disciples of Jesus Christ, now belong in a state of existence in which the requisite abilities are present in them!  And, by contrast, Jesus uses the present tense with regard to Himself when He says, “…the cup which I am about to drink.”

It is a rhetorical question to which, if the disciples understood that which was about to happen, the obvious answer would be, “No, we are not able to drink….”  (Aorist tense)!  In other words, “We now belong to the race of Adam in which we are powerless to participate in the cup which You are presently able to drink!  Yet, after You have suffered and died and been resurrected, we may be reborn into Your humanity, and be given the ability to share Your cup!”

You see, that’s the answer to the rhetorical question!  The obvious answer – to Jesus.  But it was not obvious to the disciples.  They were not yet reborn into the resurrected humanity of Christ; and, therefore, they answered with the wrong answer:  “We are (present tense) able!”  “We are, as You are, presently able to drink Your cup with You!  We do not belong to an Adamic race which is powerless; a rebirth as newborn babes is not required for us; it is not necessary for us to be reborn into a new humanity with You as our head; we are able to serve you and govern the nation with You as our King!”

So the disciples had no idea what Jesus meant by “the cup”; or what it meant “to drink” the cup!  Apparently they interpreted it to mean whatever serious consequences that would occur in the process of securing the crown and being seated in King David’s seat!  After all, there were massive numbers of people with them – all of them intent on Jesus being their King.  There was bound to be some kind of confrontation with the ruling powers, and with the scribes and priests and pharisees of Israel.  They wouldn’t succumb easily!

There would be some fear in the hearts of the leadership of Israel of this huge crowd of people; but there had already been numbers of confrontations with the pharisees.  And Herod Philip had already had John the Baptizer beheaded!  So, there was already serious opposition.  So whatever means that were to be implemented in order for God’s Messiah to be crowned King and emperor of Israel and the world, they would be resisted.  So the disciples were maybe thinking that that’s what Jesus meant, by way of allegory, when He spoke of “the cup” that He was “about to drink.”

So now we have to go to the Scriptures and find out just what Jesus did mean by “the cup” that He was about to drink.  But first we have to be aware that, although Matthew and John limit Jesus’ statement to “the cup”, the Gospel writer Mark has an expanded version of what Jesus said.  In verse thirty-eight of Mark’s tenth chapter, this is how it reads:


“And Jesus says, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking!  Are you able to drink the cup which I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”


Although that expanded version gives us some insight into the use of “the cup”, Matthew and John consider the use of Jesus’ baptism to be redundant.  Because “the cup” itself is all-inclusive of that which is about to take place – the suffering of Christ.

But let’s go now to the Scriptures for the fullest possible understanding of “the cup”.  I want to read for you, from the Septuagint, a small portion of Isaiah chapter fifty-one, which has to do with God’s fury against Jerusalem because of her sin.  Here it is:


“Awake, Awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, that hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; for thou hast drunk out and drained the cup of calamity, the cup of wrath….”


Jerusalem is here regarded as a woman lying on the ground in the sleep of stupefaction.  She has been obliged to drink, for her punishment, the goblet filled with the fury of the wrath of God.  And the goblet, which is implied to have been bulging at the sides, she not only had to drink, but she had to drain it quite clean!

The same picture of the woman, who is a fornicator, is found in Ezekiel chapter twenty-three.  And those with whom she has committed fornication have now turned on her.  Listen:


“…and they shall deal with you in hatred… and you shall be naked and bare; and the shame of your fornication will be exposed; And your ungodliness and your fornication brought this upon you, in that you went whoring after the nations, and did defile yourself with their devices.  You did walk in the way of your sister; and I will put her cup into your hands.  Thus saith the Lord:  ‘Drink your sister’s cup, deep and large and full, to cause complete drunkenness… the cup of destruction… receive now the reward of your ungodliness and your fornication.’”


The same thing is true of the other passages in the Older Testament having to do with “the cup”!  And John the apostle, the very same one who stood here before Jesus with his mother Salome, carried that very same theme through to the Book of Revelation, in chapters fourteen, sixteen and eighteen – the texts coming right out of Old Testament prophecy.  And they all have to do with Jerusalem the harlot drinking the cup of the fury of God!

So there is no doubt in my mind, and there shouldn’t be in yours, that “the cup” that Jesus is about to drink until it’s clean is a cup which is deep, and large, and full of the wrath and anger of God the Father; for there had to be atonement for the iniquity and depravity and rebellion of God’s elect.  A substitute had to receive the fullness of the judgment of God until He was satisfied.

And that’s the cup which James and John were rhetorically asked if they were able to drink.  To which they affirmed that they were presently able.

Then “Jesus says to them (verse twenty-three) ‘This My cup you shall drink.’”  Future tense.  And what He had in mind was figuratively portrayed on the night before He was betrayed (delivered up); for they did share His cup.  The Lord’s Table.


“And on the night in which He was delivered up, Jesus took the cup.  And when He had given thanks He gave it to His disciples and said, ‘This is the new Covenant in My blood.  All of you drink of it.’”


But further, what Jesus had in mind was that James and John, upon being reborn by the Spirit into Christ, would, themselves, suffer for His sake – sharing in His suffering.  “This My cup you shall drink….”  He said here in our text.

The apostle Peter later confirms the same thing, as he writes to the Christian remnant in dispersion:  “Rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s suffering….”  (First Peter four, at thirteen)  Paul, writing his second letter to Corinth, chapter our, says, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”  And to the Galatians in chapter six, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

The cup which James and John will drink in the future indicates the suffering of Christ that they will, indeed, share.  King Herod, according to Acts twelve, at verse two, killed James with the sword.  John was a “companion in tribulation”, according to Revelation one, verse nine.  He was imprisoned, scourged and put in grave danger, according to Acts chapters four and five.  And he was exiled from his Ephesus pastorate to the island of Patmos according to Revelation chapter one.

The other apostles were always in great danger; and, according to the history books, a number of them died martyr’s deaths for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.  And Paul exceeded them all in suffering, as we see in Second Corinthians eleven, verses twenty-two and twenty-three – finally dying in a Roman prison as a prisoner for the Gospel of Christ.

So James and John falsely affirmed that they were able to drink the cup of the wrath of God upon Jesus Christ the Messiah.  But Jesus has said that they would, indeed, participate in His cup of suffering!  And we need to quickly discriminate between the two types of suffering being spoken of here, because “the cup”, as a term, doesn’t include the distinction that exists between the suffering of Jesus and that of His people.

Jesus’ suffering and death was the wrath of God poured out upon a Substitute for the atonement of His people.  Therefore it was expiatory (covering of sin) and propitiatory (satisfaction of the wrath).  But the suffering of His people doesn’t atone for anything; because it is participatory.  And therein lies the difference.  Being reborn in Him, we now share His suffering – which James and John both did, and in great measure.  And we all must now understand that our suffering for the Name of Christ still comes from the hand of God; and it is confirmation that we have been incorporated into the body of Christ.  And, therefore, the confirming marks of the body of Christ ought to be received with joy that we have been made “able” to share and participate in His suffering with Him.

As Paul once said, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”  We are co-heirs with Christ and co-sufferers with Him!  Therefore, even under the most severe persecution, we are to “rejoice with exceeding joy.”

Next Lord’s Day, we will come to the Table of our Lord in order to drink the cup.  And it is common to all who are reborn into Christ that we are conformed to His image.  And, therefore, during our whole lives we are as “sheep” appointed to the slaughter.  We suffer in Him and for Him and with Him – sharing that which He endured for us.  Who are we not to receive that?  We are participants….

And that is a major aspect of “the cup’s” significance.  It is the sign of the blood of Christ which was shed for many for the remission of sin.  And to us, with James and John – our apostles and brothers in Christ – Jesus says, “this My cup you shall drink.”

You are not able to drink the cup which I drank, but this My cup you shall drink, for you will participate with Me in My persecution and tribulation – just as you participate in My inheritance and My glory.