In the Fulness of Time/Part 125

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010
As noted in the discussion of 17:22-23 Christ gave many predictions of His death in Matthew, but the three which occur in 16:21, 17:22-23 and here in 20:17-19 are significant enough to group together, each adding some aspect not mentioned before. In 16:21 the basic facts of the place (Jerusalem) the people (elders, priests and scribes) and certain particulars (death and resurrection) are included. Then in 17:22-23 the added detail of the betrayer is listed. Now, in 20:17-19 Jesus says that the disciples will be present.

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Christ Foretelling His Own Future. Matthew 20:17-19

Matthew 20:17-19 “And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the disciples aside along the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him. And the third day he shall rise again.”

As noted in the discussion of 17:22-23 Christ gave many predictions of His death in Matthew, but the three which occur in 16:21, 17:22-23 and here in 20:17-19 are significant enough to group together, each adding some aspect not mentioned before. In 16:21 the basic facts of the place (Jerusalem) the people (elders, priests and scribes) and certain particulars (death and resurrection) are included. Then in 17:22-23 the added detail of the betrayer is listed. Now, in 20:17-19 Jesus says that the disciples will be present: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem;” previously He stated: “how he must go unto Jerusalem” (16:21). Those things which happen must be witnessed by many people, but the Apostles were witnesses who had been with Him: “Beginning with the baptism of John unto that same day he was taken up” (Acts 1:22). Further, the actual mocking, scourging and finally death by crucifixion are revealed as being the Gentile form of capital punishment. The Jews could “condemn him to death” (20:18) but only the Romans used crucifixion.

All three chapters (16, 17, 20) include the prediction of His glorious resurrection from the dead the third day, in order that: “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished” (Luke 18:31). Yet, it is Luke who also records the strange reaction of the disciples using three strong verbs; “And they understood (sunekan, aorist tense of suniemi, “to comprehend thoroughly”) none of these things, and this saying was hidden (kekrummenon, from krupto, “to be hidden”) from them, neither knew they (eginoskon, from ginosko, “to know, to realize”) the things which were spoken.

It was their failure “to believe all that the prophets had spoken” (Luke 24-25) which was at least part of the reason why the sufferings of Christ were “hidden from them.” As the next paragraph will show (Matthew 20:20-28), they were still so enamored with the promise of an earthly, Messianic Kingdom that James and John, two of the inner circle of His disciples, requested positions of honor in that kingdom; but the repeated predictions had little effect on them, except that “they feared to ask him of that saying” as far back as Luke 9:45.

The Messiah and the Ambitious Mother. Matthew 20:20-28

Matthew 20:20-21 “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshiping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these, my two sons, may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.”

Mark clarifies that the two disciples were directly involved in this request. Mention of their mother may have been because she was the aunt of Jesus (as a number of commentaries infer) and may have felt the same measure of privilege to approach Him with such a request. Each of the disciples had been promised a throne with rulership over a tribe of Israel, but these two seemed to want more, in spite of what Jesus had taught about greatness in the kingdom depending on childlike humility (18:1-4).

Matthew 20:22-23 “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given unto them for whom it is prepared by my Father.”

When Jesus spoke of the “cup” and “baptism” which He would experience, He was referring to His suffering and death. This cup is mentioned again in Matthew 26:39-40 in the garden of Gethsemane (cf. also Mark 14:35; Luke 22:43). This was an emotional and spiritual struggle of the human nature of Christ with the will of the Father, but it was not because He feared the physical agony of crucifixion; many martyrs had died by crucifixion without fear, but they never had to bear the burden of sin which Jesus did. The Apostle Peter reminded his readers: “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Yet, in Gethsemane there was that interaction with his Father: “Now is my soul troubled: and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:27-28a). “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible with thee. Take away this cup from me: Nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). When the soldiers came to take Jesus to be crucified: “Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Similarly, the baptism was used metaphorically of His suffering and death, not only here, but in Mark 10:38, and on another occasion as recorded in Luke 12:50: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained till it be accomplished.” Thus, when He asked James and John if they could drink the cup and be baptized with His baptism, Jesus was able to agree with them when they declared: “We are able.” Yes, they too, would suffer and die for the Truth. James was the first to die: “And he [Herod Agrippa] killed James, the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2). Though John was exiled to Patmos and lived a long life, he was not exempted from persecution and prison (Acts 4-5) and said of himself: “I, John, who am your brother and companion in tribulation” (Revelation 1:9). Tradition concerning the other Apostles includes various kinds of persecution and martyrdom.

In spite of all this, Jesus could promise thrones, but not specific places on His right and left hands to anyone; such positions remain the prerogative of God the Father.

Matthew 20:24-28 “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In their zeal to be first, James and John had so easily forgotten the recent teaching of their Lord, that the way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven was to exhibit true humility, as that of a little child (Matthew 18:14). But then, the remaining ten disciples were no better. Their indignation must have been superficial, as Luke 22:24 affirms: “And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” Note once again that Jesus had promised each of them a throne (Matthew 19:28) and He did not rule out the possibility of someone in exalted positions at His right and left hands. He simply did not reveal to whom those positions would be given. Now the ten continued this “strife” (philoneikia, “love of contention”).

Little wonder, then, that Jesus immediately contrasted such a heathen attitude with what their response should have been. The ruling Gentiles of that time were the Romans, and Jesus indicated that such princes and great men exercised dominion (katakurieousin, literally, “lord it down over”) over their inferiors, and authority (kataexousiadzousin, literally, “use authority down over”) over their inferiors. Both of these strong words emphasize that the use of power over others was the means of their greatness. To the contrary, in the kingdom of heaven it is to be ministry (as in the word diakonia) and servanthood (as in the word doulos) which are prerequisites for greatness.

In the statement “Whosoever shall be chief” (verse 27), the word is “first” (protos), which was used in 19:30; 20:16, “the first shall be last.” Jesus takes them back to the basic issue once again; to be first, put yourself last; to be great, be small. He finalizes the whole discussion by offering Himself as the example: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The Apostle Paul expands on this in Philippians 2:5-11 showing that the mind of Christ was to take upon Himself the form of a servant (doulos, “slave”) and become obedient unto the death of the cross. Then it was that God would highly exalt His Son. The way up is down.

It is of no little significance that Christ used the strong word for substitutionary redemption in 20:28: “a ransom for many.” This phrase is lutron anti pollon, which is repeated in Mark 19:45; 1 Timothy 2:5 with the two Greek words for ransom combined into antilutron. No one else could give his life as a substitute for sin, nor is it necessary. But it is imperative to have this “mind of Christ” if one is to become great in the Kingdom of Heaven, “in the fulness of time.

Read Part 126

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