Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. (Matthew 20:20)
The sons of Zebedee are James and John, who along with Peter were the three apostles Jesus trained the most. Their mother was among the women who ministered to Jesus according to Matthew 27:55 and 56. When Jesus responds to her request, he speaks directly to James and John indicating they may have put mommy up to approaching Jesus.
And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” (Matthew 20:21)
Her request was pretty audacious, especially when we consider what Jesus told the disciples a short while before.
Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)
They obviously believed that God’s Kingdom was coming to earth and were vying for the most prodigious position alongside their Lord. The request just does not seem proper!
But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”
He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23)
The cup is a metaphor for his future suffering. The connection Jesus placed on the cup and throne is interesting – suffering and the glory. They responded that they were able, but both ran when Jesus was taken captive. However, in their future they would drink the cup of suffering. James was murdered according to Acts 12:2, and John perhaps was imprisoned on Patmos at the end of his life. However, they hardly suffered like Jesus soon would. Positions of responsibility will be given in the future Kingdom as believers will be kings and priests, but the Father will decide who does what then.
And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. (Matthew 20:24)
Based upon what Jesus says after this verse, it is apparent they all were selfishly concerned about positions and authority and not the godly service that Jesus repeatedly modeled for them.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Jesus knew that as the Messiah he would one day sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem ruling the world; however, his service was never motivated by self-interest, advancement, or success. He had the heart of a humble servant only desiring to glorify His Father.
A short time after this incident, Jesus gathered his disciples together for what would be their last supper before His death. During the meal, Jesus taught them many things and again illustrated godly service when he washed their feet. Yet, sometime during this event, the apostles again showed their immaturity.
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.
And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’
But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.
For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)
After Jesus ascended, the apostles received the holy spirit and finally got the point. With the holy spirit, they had Christ in them and the ability for Christ-like service. What about you?