Matthew 20:17-34 Part 8

On a number of occasions good, vigorous discussions of government have taken place among us.  And we have all denounced the continuing misuse of power and authority which both democrats and republicans have exercised over the people of the United States.  Over-regulating and over-taxing is oppressive – even in a Republican, representative form of government which is more Biblical than others.  And it was also said that a non-regulating libertarianism is ungodly because it assumes that autonomous man is inherently good.  It leaves depraved man to do as he wills without sufficient authority and restraint, and it tends to chaos!

In either case, and in all other cases, the tendency is toward abuse and tyranny because of the depravity of man!  And no form of government is effective for very long unless the nature of man is understood!  As I said, we’ve had these discussions a number of times here in Tyler, and it’s always good to compare the ways of men with the ways of God according to His Revelation.

In our text this morning Jesus makes a comment to His disciples about the abuses and tendencies of governmental authority, but only for the purpose of contrasting earthy power and rule with the required demeanor and conduct of His apostles (and all other newborn babes) in the Kingdom of Christ!  This is all due to the sinful tendency of people to ignore the character that Christ requires or to rebel against it!  Abuse of power takes place in every sphere – homes, businesses, and churches.

But as we have already seen, all of Jesus’ disciples had unbiblical expectations and conceptions of the Kingdom which degraded the prophetic Word of God.  And their blindness led to egocentric aspirations.  They wanted to be near the center of power; to have personal superiority; to be men with authority and influence.  They wanted nobility for themselves.

And when one or more of the disciples seemed to have the “inside track” to the highest positions, the others were “tweaked” in their self-esteem; and they became angry and jealous; and they began to “think down” on their co-disciples (verse twenty-four)!  Remember, that’s the word “despise” from back in chapter eighteen, verse ten.  (“… don’t despise even one of these newborns…”)

But Jesus, having called them to Himself (as Matthew says in verse twenty-five) says,


“you know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great wield power over them.  It will not be this way among you”!



Kings and emperors and other important people in governments have the power to “come down” on the people.  That’s the sense of the words here.  Both of them – to “lord it over them”, and to “wield power over them” have a prefix which has the sense of “down”.  They keep the people “under” their authority.  They come down on them, often by very oppressive means, and very often for the purpose of maintaining their authority.  But Biblical civil authority is for the purpose of restraining sin by the sword (i.e., by just punishment).  But the nature of man is to have other motives than those which are Godly.  Isn’t that right?  Ungodly people have ungodly motives!  And the restraint of sin-against-Almighty-God is not the intent of most emperors and kings and governors!

But whatever the motive, and whatever the means, the rulers and great men of the nations wield power and authority over the people – keeping them under their authority and influence.

Under our representative republic (just as a sidelight here), it is sometimes the case that governmental authorities exercise oppressive force in subduing the people to their will; but it is much more difficult to do, without legal repercussions, than it is with a more absolute form of governmental authority, such as kings and tyrants.

In this constitutional republic, in order for men to feed their egos with glory and power and influence, they have to resort to more subtle means most of the time!  So it’s incumbent upon them to keep the people “under” the yoke of entitlements.  Welfare puts people under authority; and they stay there in order to keep the money and other benefits coming!  And most of the time that’s even more effective than threats by the power of the sword!

But whatever the case (men being what they are) governmental authorities “lord it over” the people from the perspective of egocentric self-interest.  The influence and power and acclaim feed their esteem for themselves.  And, as far as they’re concerned, nobody else can do it quite as well!

Now, Jesus doesn’t comment either way as to what the disciples’ attitudes ought to be with regard to civil government and the way men exercise authority.  So rebellion or submission to civil authority isn’t the issue here.  Again, the reason for the teaching is to contrast the authority with which rulers rule (which the disciples were anticipating for themselves) and the nature of the Kingdom of Christ!  There is no contrast here between Biblical and unBiblical civil government; nor civil government with Church government!  The contrast is the nature of governmental authority (which the disciples so wanted) with the post-resurrection newborn babe in the Kingdom!

At this point the disciples had no knowledge of what it meant to be “great”, or to be a “first”, in Messiah’s Kingdom.  As far as they knew there was only one definition of those words, and it was the world’s definition.

And it was those worldly conceptions that Jesus refers to when He says, “it will not be that way among you” (verse twenty-six).  All of what is conceived concerning power and authority and rule over the nations’ governments is eliminated among you in My Kingdom.  It is all “poured out” of the words “great” and “first” where Christ’s Kingdom is concerned.  Emptied!  And, in place of those earthy concepts (filled with egocentric aspirations for power and authority), different concepts are poured in!  And these aren’t the same as, nor opposite, the earthy concepts – but totally different!


“But whoever (any of them) wishes”, He says, “to be great among you, let him be your (diakonos) servant” (verse twenty-six).  


So the earthy concept of “great”, which, for the disciples, included power and rule and fame and authority and influence, was poured out.  And replacing all of that (in the Kingdom) is this word “diakonos”.  Servant.  Radically different!

“Diakonos” is the word used in the New Testament for the office of deacon.  But it’s not the office that Jesus was speaking of (Jesus’ disciples were going to be apostles and elders rather than deacons).  Here it is the concept of servanthood!  The noble one isn’t the one who will wield earthy authority, lording it over the people and keeping them “under”, but the one who serves the others!  And included in the concept of service is the absence of exaltation and reward and power and influence – and abuse!

To the ideas of the world, greatness is glory and acclaim and power and nobility; but, in Messiah’s Kingdom, greatness is servanthoodabsent the exaltation and reward!  It is to serve the others without high-minded expectations of personal, egocentric gain!  In fact, it is not to matter that there is no reward, because to serve the other newborns in Christ is to serve the Body of Christ!  It is to do all those things God requires to mature the Body of Christ!

Then Jesus, in verse twenty-seven, takes that a step further, saying,


“and whoever wishes to be a first among you shall be your slave….”


The one (any of them) who wishes to be the pre-eminent one among the great ones “shall be your slave….”

Now, just as the worldly concept of “great” refers to earthy rule and acclaim and glory, so the word “first” does the same.  The pre-eminent one.  The “first” among those who are the principalities and powers of the world.  But, just like “greatness” is emptied of its earthy meaning, as far as the Kingdom is concerned, so “first” is emptied of its earthy meaning as well.  And poured into the Kingdom definition is the word “doulos”, slave!  Again, this is radically different!

You remember after speaking to the rich, young man of Israel, Jesus then spoke the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  And He said, “the firsts shall be lasts and the lasts firsts.”  The ones born in the first Adam shall be lasts.  And the ones born in the “last Adam” shall be first.  And the same theme is carried over to this discussion of servanthood, for the one who would be a “first” in pre-eminence would become a “slave” in the “last Adam”.  (As Jesus says here, “and the one who wishes to be a “first” shall be your slave.)  The one who will be a “first” is one who will be newborn in the Kingdom of Christ – reborn from the first kingdom and the first inheritance in Adam – and he will be a “doulos”, a slave, rather than one who wields personal power over the people and holds them under his authority.

Now, the slave is one who has been purchased for servitude, and who is the lowest of the servants of a master.  We’ll relate that to the “ransom” paid (in verse twenty-eight) in a minute, but the slave receives no honor or praise; and he has no assumed authority at all; for the slave serves his master as his sole duty!  And if he does all that he is commanded, then that was simply his duty.  It’s not praiseworthy to do all that is required!  And the one who wishes to be pre-eminent among you (a first), shall be your slave, Jesus says!

“Even as…” (verse twenty-eight).  Now comes the great verse in the Gospel in which a flood of light is shined on the nature of the Kingdom and on the nature of one reborn into that Kingdom!


“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom in place of many.” 


“The Son of Man”, the Everlasting King of Daniel’s fifth kingdom, did not come to wield earthy power and authority and influence for His Own personal glory and acclaim; but He came to serve and glorify His Father in doing all His Father desired with regard to His creation and His people!

And having done that, and having given His life a ransom in place of the many, He received His inheritance – power and glory and a Kingdom!  He became pre-eminent!

Whoever wishes to be great; whoever wishes to be a first among you, he shall be your servant – your slave – even as Messiah, the Son of Man, served and glorified His Father and received His inheritance!  Your servant, your slave, the one who serves you and works for you in humble servitude – without any expectation of authority or power or glory of acclaim – is even as the Son of Man Who served His Father.  And he shall be given to participate in the inheritance of the Son of Man!

Whoever wishes to be great is he who serves the others in the Body of Christ, who empties himself of any matter of acclaim or honor or glory.  The Son of God came from His Father, where He was equal in power and glory, and He emptied Himself of all of that.  And He became the Son of Man – subjugating Himself to duty and obedience.

“Even as”… the Son of Man did not come to be served (as earthy rulers wish to be served), so the “diakonos” is not called to be served as one of power and authority.  “Even as…” the Son of Man came to serve (His Father) so the newborn in Christ is to subjugate himself – putting himself under – rather than exercising power to put others under.  Without thought of glory and acclaim and authority, he is to do his duty as one purchased as a slave – as one attentive to his master’s household!

That’s the Kingdom definition of greatness and pre-eminence!  And it is radical, isn’t it?  In fact, you have to be made an all-new creation in order for that to be even sensible!  It’s not man’s fallen nature to identify servitude and slavery with greatness and pre-eminence!  It’s man’s nature to struggle (in so many different ways) for the satisfaction of his own ego.  But a new creation in Christ is great because he serves the body of Christ for the glory of God!  And the basis for that is the fact that Jesus Christ came not to be served – but to serve.  The newborn babe is not to rule “over”, but to serve “under” – even as Jesus came not to rule “over” – but to serve “under”.

Now, the last half of verse twenty-eight is not to be taken as a requirement for us in order to emulate Jesus Christ.  We cannot give our lives “a ransom in place of many”, can we?  There’s only One ransom.  What this is is the further basis for our servitude!  We are servants, not only because Jesus came not to be served but to serve, but because Jesus gave His life a “ransom” for many!

Remember that I said that a “doulos”, a slave, was purchased?  And that, having been bought, he was to serve his master’s household with gratitude, and without any necessity for honor or acclaim?  Just out of thanksgiving and gratitude for being bought, and being included in the house, the servant is to do all his duties in attending the Master’s household!

So what is this for which the slave ought to be so thankful?  What is it that brings such gratitude that a man, or a woman, or a child will serve and attend the household of another without a thought for his own glory or self-esteem?

The apostles’ letters always remind God’s people to remember what they once were, don’t they?  We all were once in bondage to our inheritance in our father Adam.  And that inheritance is one of cursed depravity.  But Jesus says here that the Son of Man would give His life a ransom in place of many!  A ransom from that bondage!  The servant and slave in the Kingdom of Christ is one who has been ransomed out of bondage to his Adamic inheritance!  That’s what a slave ought to be so thankful for!  That’s why he ought always to do his duty!

Now, the word “ransom” is the key here; and it’s so very revealing and interesting.  The root word is “to loose”.  We’ve seen it a number of times already, so I won’t take the time to go back through the passages.  But you’ll especially remember Jesus’ address to Peter as the representative of the Apostolic foundation of the Church.  He said that whatever was bound and loosed in the world was in a state of having been already bound and loosed in heaven (referring to the administration of the Gospel in the New Israel)!  Our word “ransom” is a cognate of that word “to loose”.

The translators of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek used the word “ransom” to translate three main Hebrew concepts; first, in the civil law, a ransom was a covering – a vicarious gift of value (such as money) to cover a fault – a fault which usually forfeited life!  Second, in family law, to ransom meant to “buy back” something which the family had lost to bondage – such as land, goods or even a person.  And, thirdly, the word “ransom” was used to translate the concept of “setting free” from bondage-to-an-alien-power!

Now I want your total attention for three more minutes.  Can you give me that?  No distractions and no wandering thoughts for just three minutes.

The Son of Man came “to give His life a ransom in place of many.”  “To give His life….”  Psuche.  Life.  Not soul – life!  The person.  Self.  He gave Himself – an act of willing obedience to His Father.  To serve His Father.

Jesus is the Divinely smitten Shepherd of the flock.  What He suffered would have had to happen to the “many” (which is representative of the entirety of “humanity-in-Christ”).  He took our place.  It was an act of substitution – the One for the many.

God the Father is the recipient of the “loosing” ransom – not Satan.  The many are in bondage to an alien power; their lives are forfeited due to iniquity, and their rightful due is to receive the wrath of God – the terms of the curse are set to be executed, because God demands their suffering and eternal death!

But He receives the loosing, ransom substitute for them – in their place – demanding that the substitute be what they are, and that He receive what they are due!  An eye for an eye; the substitute must be perfect; the retribution must be just; the restitution must be complete; the ransom must be paid in full!  The Son of Man gave His life a ransom in place of many.  He loosed us from an alien bondage!

The eternal condemnation of the many is indisputable reality; but the remission of that condition sets man eternally free from that condition!  The ransom frees (looses) from bondage to sin, the curse of the Law, the inheritance of Adam, the guilt; the condition of the many is remitted – in full.  It is loosed!

Finally, the ransom is so bold and so complete and so liberating, that the slightest subtraction from the holy seriousness of these things is unconscionable and blasphemous.  Luther said, “Christ purchased me and won me from all sin, from death – not with silver and gold, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Now the ransom can’t be defined or understood anthropocentrically – that is, from the point of view of man.  Jesus did not give Himself to “show” man the grace of God; He didn’t provide the perfect substitute because man needed a “demonstration” of the infinite love of God.  Due to the gravity of sin and man’s condition, he can’t create an environment in which God’s love is recognizable and acceptable!  The fact is that the ransom was paid for many!  So this was no show or demonstration of the grace and love of God!  The many – both Jew and Gentile – were paid for!  And God has definitively set them free.  This is eternal election and the provision for that election!  God did not make it possible for humanity to be saved – He saved humanity.  And the many for whom the ransom was paid will reign with Him forever.  And the Church cannot surrender this confession!

And therefore any flabbiness of living-in-obedience-to-God ought to be dreadful and fearsome and monstrous.

So Christ refutes His disciples’ contention for an earthy Kingdom.  It is foolish imagination.  He is to give His life a ransom for many.  His life is the price of redemption for mankind.  And it follows that we obtain an undeserved reconciliation with God, the price for which is to be found nowhere else than in the suffering and death of Chrst.  All other “satisfactions” are abominable to God.  Jesus Christ is the One, complete, total payment for the human race.

Next Lord’s Day – the two blind people at Jericho.

As we come to the Table today, it is a memorial celebration of the Life that was given for us.  The ransom for loosing us from a doomed alien existence.  And it ought to be with unbridled joy that we have been freed from that bondage!  Therefore as slaves of our Master who bought us, and servants of our fellow servants who have also been bought, it must be the most dreaded thing to be in rebellion against the One Who gave His life a ransom for many.