Matthew 20:17-34 Part 7

Only a few days away, now, from His betrayal, suffering and crucifixion, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem – leaving Galilee and traveling on the East side of the Jordan – with huge crowds of people following Him.  Now across the River from Jericho, He has taken His disciples aside and told them, again, what was about to happen.

But without any understanding of any of it, James and John, by their mother, Salome, have requested of Jesus that they have the seats of power in His administration (their understanding being that of the Pharisees’ teaching that Jerusalem and Israel will be revivified under Messiah’s reign from the seat of King David).  This was an unbiblical expectation of huge proportions, which is still around in today’s dispensationalism.

But Jesus, speaking directly to James and John, says, “You don’t know what you’re asking!”  The first implication being that there were going to be two thieves crucified with Him – one at His right and one at His left.

The second is that, even though the Revelation of God concerning Messianic Kingship had been written in the Law and the Prophets, the disciples of Christ had no insight into it at all.  They are effectively blind as to the nature of the Kingdom!

The third implication is that, since the disciples don’t know the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, they certainly don’t know the means by which it is to be established!  “You don’t know what you’re asking!”

But what it says is this:  Jesus Christ, in the fullness of the time, was the suffering Servant of God – the perfect atonement – the Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world.  And He was the One Sacrifice Who could satisfy the wrath and indignation of God the Father toward His people.

So rather than Jesus assuming the throne of David and being crowned Monarch of Israel (and the world) as the disciples and followers of Jesus anticipated, the Kingdom was to be established by the weakness of the Cross!  The sin and depravity of man having been expiated, and the wrath of God having been propitiated, man, who is dead in Adam, would then be rebirthed into the resurrected second Adam!

And those reborn into Him would share His inheritance, and share His glory – and share His suffering!  But the disciples could not drink the cup which Jesus was about to drink; Jesus was about to receive the cup from His Father – for His people!  And James and John awkwardly and ignorantly affirmed that they could do that!  But they didn’t have the slightest idea that Jesus would become sin; and that He would drain the chalice of the indignation of God!  They didn’t know that Jesus would have the full force of the anger of Almighty God poured out upon Him in place of His people!

But, as we saw last Lord’s Day, the cup which they would drink – in the futureafter the resurrection and after the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ – was the cup of persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom!  For, as the Scripture says, all who are reborn into Him will share, to some degree, in the separation and persecution and suffering of their Lord and King.  This is a participatory suffering, though, and not an atonement!  All suffering for the Name of Christ comes from the hand of God the Father, and it’s a sharing of Jesus’ suffering; and it is all confirmation of our incorporation into the body of Christ.  Therefore it is to be received with submission and joy and thanksgiving; for what better confirmation is there that we belong to Him than to bear the marks of His shame and humiliation!

And being reborn out of Adamic depravity into a new inheritance and a new Kingdom in the body of Christ involves the deep humiliation and denial of the old man of sin.  In obedience and submission to Christ, His people are to mortify and kill and shame and humiliate the old man in Adam – and turn away from him – in repentance!  The old man and his sin are to be nailed to the cross of Christ!  That’s the weakness of the Cross; which is so despicable to the world order; because the world order loathes the weakness of repentance and submission!  But the weakness of repentance and submission is the strength of Christ, isn’t it?

Where God loves the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart, the world order approach is to love one’s own self-image and self-esteem!  And the world fears and loathes, with all of its autonomous being, the strength of Christ in a repentant, newborn babe.  So the weakness of the Cross is the strength of the Kingdom of Christ.

These are the things that Jesus meant when He says to His disciples, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”  “We are going into Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of the priests and the scribes.  And they shall condemn Him to death!  And they shall deliver Him to the nations to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify, the third day to be raised.”  And the apostles of Christ, along with all His people, will bear the marks of His shame and His suffering and His death.  This is His cup; and it is our cup to share.

Now.  That having been a summary of the first six sermons in this passage, let’s pick up where we left off – in the middle of verse twenty-three.  Jesus continues to speak in response to the request of James and John:


“…but to sit at My right and left is not mine to give, but to whom it has been made ready by My Father.”


Now, the point here is that, in the fullness of time, the determinate counsel of God the Father is about to be carried out.  Jesus has come to do the will and counsel of His Father.  As this disciple John would later write (in quoting Jesus), the Messiah has come to save those whom the Father has given Him.  Listen to John in chapter six of his Gospel:


“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me.  And this is the Father’s will who hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose none….”


So Jesus, in our text here, is informing His disciples that He cannot issue a decree concerning any of these things:  “but to sit at My right and left is not mine to give, but to whom it has been made ready by My Father”!  The condemnation of Christ; the shame and humiliation and suffering and crucifixion of Christ; the thieves crucified at His right and left; His resurrection and ascension to power and glory and a Kingdom – all by the determinate counsel and will of God the Father!  It’s not Jesus’ place to decree any of these things!

This isn’t a coup, you see – to assume the power of the throne of David and issue decrees for a political administration of the nation of Israel!  That’s what the disciples anticipate; but Jesus says that He can’t decree such a thing!  The nature of the Kingdom of Christ, and the means of achieving the Kingdom, have already been decreed!  And those involved in that Kingdom have already been made ready!  “…not Mine to give, except to whom it has been made ready by My Father”!

For Jesus to issue decrees would be for Him to assume autonomous control and to come out from under submission to His Father’s authority!  “It is not mine…” He says!  It has been “made ready” by the Father, and He is there to do His Father’s will.  This is a clear statement of the authority of God in the predestination of whatsoever comes to pass.

And there’s also the time factor here.  At the point of our text, Jesus has not yet received His inheritance!  It is the fullness of the time, but Jesus hasn’t yet provided the atonement; and He hasn’t yet ascended to the right of God – at which time He would receive power and glory and a Kingdom.  He hasn’t yet been given “all power in Heaven and Earth”.  As the apostle Paul would later say, in Romans chapter one, He was declared the Son of God with power… by the resurrection from the dead!

So Jesus could not issue royal decrees based on the false anticipations of His disciples; and, even if He could have done that, He had not yet accomplished His work and received the crown of His inheritance.  And, further, as Jesus says here in verse twenty-three, these are things already prepared long ago in the counsel and will of God the Father.

Which brings us to that issue.  What is it?  Or, Who is it?... that God the Father has “made ready” to sit at Jesus’ right and left?  In answer to the request of these two disciples to sit in those positions of power, there are those who say that Jesus seems to imply that those positions will be a reality in His Kingdom, and that the Father has already “made ready” the occupants for the positions!  He says, “… but to sit at My right and left is not mine to give, but to whom it has been made ready by My Father.”

Do the Scriptures say that there is to be anyone to Jesus’ right and left when He receives His inheritance?  Not that I know of.  The Bible does say that Jesus, Himself, will take His seat at the “right” of the Father.  And He did.  In every instance of the Revelation of the throne of God above His creation, there is no man seated near Him.

And even when we extend the visions of the Throne-room/mercy seat of God to the new-temple, resurrected body of Christ, there is still only one mercy-seat!  Not three!  All of us in Him have bold access to the Holy of Holies without restriction, but there is still only One Who is there.  There is no one on His right and left!

And even in the earthly administration of the Kingdom, i.e. the “Church”, we are all judges of the earth; and we are prophets, priests and kings after His image.  And although some are chosen as Overseers, there are none who are so set apart as to be at Christ’s right and left.  We are all in submission to One!

This doesn’t militate at all against setting some apart as officers, as we’ll see in the next verses.  In fact, the chief apostle of them all was the one who suffered the most!  So, from that paradigm alone, if there were to be some who were set apart to Jesus’ right and left, they wouldn’t be there as a result of being given an extra measure of power and holiness!  They would be there as a result of being given more suffering to bear!

So the outcome of all of this is simply to say that there is no man – pope, bishop, priest, minister or deacon – who is set apart from the rest of mankind to reign with Christ at His right or His left!  He alone is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God; and He alone is the One upon Whose shoulders the government rests!  And no man should presume to be the object of special regard, since God is no respecter of persons!

And since that is the case, what are we to say about the last half of this verse twenty-three?  As stated before, some have said that there are those who have been “made ready” by God the Father to sit at Jesus’ right and left – a conclusion which “clashes” with the Truth of Scripture!

Well, there are several ways to look at it; one of which is to see Jesus’ statement as “hypothetical”.  In other words, given the disciples’ propensity for false expectations, if there was going to be a kingdom such as that which they anticipated, the positions of honor and power still wouldn’t be Christ’s to give, except to whom it has been made ready by God!

Another, and much more Biblical, way to look at it also takes into account the false expectations of the disciples.  And since we already have the absolute paradigms as to what it means to be “set apart” to special offices and duties in the Kingdom, there’s no problem with making the “good and necessary” inferences here.  And conclusions.  And the good and necessary conclusions have to do with the contrasts between the expectations of the disciples and the reality of what Christ is doing!

And the contrasts between what the disciples expect from the positions of honor, and what God has decreed, are very striking indeed, aren’t they?  The disciples expect power and honor and influence and rule; but what has God decreed?  And for whom has He already decreed it?

God the Father has decreed from eternity that Jesus Christ would be His suffering servant (not an earthly ruler).  So what would be His decree (in the terms of the disciples’ expectations) for those who were at Jesus’ right and left?  Of course!  They have been decreed to be servants who would suffer in Him and for Him and with Him!  So Jesus, then, is saying to His disciples in their terms, that it isn’t His to decree who would serve and suffer with Him; except that it was decreed by the Father!  And all those given to Him, He would lose none!  So it is the contrast between false expectations, and reality here – as to the nature of the Kingdom.  This is played out in the coming verses, as we’ll see.

But first, the other disciples become indignant with James and John!  James and John, through their mother, had asked Jesus to declare, or decree, that the highest positions in His kingdom would be theirs; and the other disciples were irritated and vexed by that!

The word “indignant” – angry – here is not the same word that is used for the wrath and anger of God poured out upon His enemies; nor is it that which is poured out upon Christ on the Cross.  But it is the “welling up” of irritation – vexation.

Matthew uses the word on one occasion with respect to Jesus; it was that time when the disciples attempted to keep the children away from Jesus.  And Matthew said that Jesus became “indignant” with them.  He was irritated at them because they didn’t understand the relationship between children and rebirth-as-newborn-babes!  For “of such is the Kingdom of God”, He said.

Now, the anger and irritation of the ten disciples wasn’t because they thought that James and John didn’t understand the nature of the Kingdom, was it?  The other ten had the very same expectations for the Messianic Kingdom as they did!  And they had the same ungodly ambition that they had.  Whatever the cause for the anger, it was all based on unbiblical eschatological hope, for the renewal of Old Testament Israel!

And I think it very interesting to note the context in which these very disciples were reproved by Jesus one other time for the very same sin!  Back in chapter eighteen Jesus had instructed Peter to find the tribute money in the mouth of a fish, and go pay the tribute for Peter and Jesus.  The whole event had to do with the upkeep of the temple and the Holy of Holies, for which Jesus was the foreshadowed sacrifice!

But the other eleven disciples all approached Jesus with irritation in their hearts and wanted to know who of them was to be the greatest in His Kingdom!  Since Jesus had the tribute paid for Peter, was he the greatest!?  By jealousy and envy, they missed the whole event that the price is paid for us!  It should produce humiliation and thanksgiving, not envy and jealousy!

And Jesus answered them by bringing in a baby, and using it as a sign of the rebirth.  All of them had to become newborns in order to even enter the Kingdom!

And here they are again, in our text this morning, with the same kind of vexation and irritation in their hearts toward James and John, who they thought were placing themselves above the rest!  And in doing this, the ten proved themselves to be no better than the two.  It was the same indignation they had felt against Peter; and Peter was here among the ten – indignant along with the rest!  And James and John had been among the group who were irritated with Peter when they thought he was the prime candidate for power and authority!  It’s a boiling cauldron of envy and jealousy and anger – all among the disciples of Christ, who, each and every one, had ungodly ambitions and expectations for personal gain in the renewed kingdom of Israel!

Now, without spending too much time on illustrative activity, I think a few comments of instruction and reproof are necessary in preparation for next Lord’s Day when we see how Jesus confronts His disciples.

First, newborn babes in Christ are to kill the old man of sin and turn away from him.  That’s the humiliation that makes us participants in Christ’s humiliation!  So if that’s the case, then why are there sensitivities and bitterness and envy and jealousy and irritations still separating those of us in Christ?  If one of us says or does something ungodly or foolish, why should that be counted as injury to the rest?

And in our text, did the ten disciples think they were injured by what James and John did?  If so, then they must have thought that, somehow, they were better, or more capable, or more necessary than these two brothers were.  If they didn’t feel that they were somehow hurt by James and John, then why did they become irritated with them?

So why do we become upset and irritated with what another brother or sister in Christ says or does?  Well, most of the time, I’m afraid, it occurs – not because it is a sin against God, but because it touches us!  It’s not the honor of Christ and His Kingdom at stake (we don’t become angry and irritated very much about that!), but it’s almost always when someone’s words or deeds have come in contact with our self-image, or self-respect, or our self-esteem!

The request of James and John for the highest places came in contact with the self-esteem of the ten.  “Are they better than we are?”  “Who are they to place themselves before us?”  “What about our rights?”

And that’s usually the case with us, isn’t it?  We become angry or irritated by words, or by deeds, and immediately we rise up in defense of our self-respect, not the honor of Christ or His Kingdom – but ours!  Our honor!  Something has come in contact with our pride.  Something has touched the way we feel about ourselves.

But I ask you again, is that a newborn babe doing that?  Or is it the old man of sin?  Somehow I got the impression that a newborn babe in Christ had a new heart – a servant’s heart.  One that had turned away from the sin in that old man.

That’s the center of Jesus’ teaching as He confronts His disciples – with the reality of His Kingdom – as we’ll see next time.