Please join us for a series of studies in some of the most well-known encounters with Christ in the Gospels. Each study will provide (1) initial Observations & Questions from the text, (2) followed by some Exegesis & Interpretation, (3) concluding with some personal Application questions and considerations.
SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:35-45
1. What are James and John really asking? What do they really want? What were these “seats”?
2. What kind of “glory” do they envision Jesus entering into?
3. What is “the cup” and the “baptism” Jesus is talking about?
4. What does Jesus mean by “to sit at my right or left is not mine to grant…it is for those for whom it has been prepared”?
5. Why do the other 10 disciples get angry at James and John’s request?
6. What lesson should the disciples have already learned from back in Mark 9:33?
7. How does Jesus’ understanding of greatness, power and authority differ from that of the Gentile rulers?
8. Is there significance behind Jesus’ title of Son of Man used in v. 45?
9. What is Jesus primary challenge in this passage? What point does he most want to get across to his disciples?
II. EXEGESIS & INTERPRETATION
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. James and John are part of Jesus’ inner circle, and most likely expect that upon arriving in Jerusalem, the great political confrontation will take place and Jesus will take the throne of David and rule as Israel’s (strictly political) Messiah. They approach Jesus and ask for positions/places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus takes this opportunity to unpack the nature of his coming Kingdom and the way by which he will enter into his “glory”.
“You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). Despite Jesus multiple warnings of his coming suffering and death (Mk 10:32-34), James and John still can’t grasp the idea of a suffering and dying messiah. Can we blame them? Everyone knew that a dead messiah was a failed messiah — and Israel would see many of these come and go.
Jesus asks them if they are prepared to “drink the cup” and “be baptized with the baptism” that Jesus is about to undergo. They answer ‘Yes’ most likely assuming Jesus is asking if they are prepared to fight and possibly suffer in the military scuffle they anticipate. Jesus, on the other hand, is referring to the cup of God’s wrath that would be poured out on him on the cross, bearing God’s wrath in the place of sinful humankind (cf. see Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15). Likewise, baptism here refers to Jesus’ suffering and death, which would pour over him like a flood (cf. Ps. 88:7; Jonah 2:3; Ps. 42:7; Isa. 43:2). Jesus indicates that they will indeed drink his cup and undergo a baptism insofar as they will indeed suffer for their allegiance to Jesus later on (cf. Acts 12:2).
The other disciples grow indignant with James and John when they hear of their request. Are they upset because of the nature of their request? Or are they upset because they had the same idea in mind and got beat to the punch? Are they jealous of these two inner circle disciples’ proximity to Jesus?
Jesus uses their clamoring for power as an opportunity teach the disciples how power and greatness in the Kingdom of God is radically redefined and completely opposite of worldly definitions of power. No where is the counter-cultural, cross-shaped Kingdom of God more clearly on display then here. Here we have Jesus clearly defining Kingdom leadership as servant leadership.
- Kingdom power is not ruling OVER others but by coming UNDER others in self-sacrificial servanthood.
- Kingdom power involves the leaders serving the people; not people serving the leaders.
- Kingdom power is not CRUSHING those on the underside of power but BEING CRUSHED for their benefit.
- Kingdom greatness is measured by one’s willingness to deny oneself for the benefit of others.
- Kingdom definitions of greatness and power will always be in conflict with worldly political definitions.
Finally, Mark 10:45 provides the linchpin and centerpiece of Mark’s theology of the cross. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Hidden behind this verse is Jesus’ understanding of what it means to be Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. The pathway to glory and enthronement (cf. Dan. 7) will entail great suffering and sacrifice for those he is ransoming from sin’s grip and becoming the substitutionary sacrifice to appease God’s wrath (cf. Isaiah 53). Unpacking the ways Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 are melded together to form the rich OT background of Jesus’ self-understanding of his mission in 10:45 deserves an entire study for a later time.
For now, we are all left to ponder Jesus’ bold, redefinition of power and greatness. This passage serves up a potent punch and countercultural challenge no less scandalous today in our powerful nation than in the ancient Roman empire. Which kingdom’s values are we serving? Which definition of power and greatness guides our ambitions? How can we apply this to our lives?
III. APPLICATION & STUDY QUESTIONS
1. James and John didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to enter into “glory.” Do we sometimes have mistaken views of “glory” as well?
2. Jesus is Lord, King and ruler of the universe. But what kind of King is he? How does he rule over the world? How does he exercise his power?
3. When you picture God on His throne, sovereign over all, how do you picture him exerting his power and rule? Is your picture of God in alignment with your picture of Jesus? Do we really believe Jesus shows us most clearly who God is?
4. How do Jesus’ followers/Christians today still jockey for positions of honor, privilege and power? In the church? In the world? How can we be more Christlike in our desire for significance and leadership positions?
5. Jesus points to the rulers of the secular world and says, “This isn’t how it is going to be with you.” Think about our world today, our governments and rulers in power. Would Jesus say the same thing to us today? How can we exercise Kingdom power in our world today, in our daily lives at school, at work, in politics, etc?
6. Get practical. Where in your life do you have influence, power, greatness, authority or position? How can you practice “Servant Leadership” in that role in the week(s) ahead?
7. The God of the universe came to earth as a human being “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a random for many.” Reflect on that mind-blowing truth for a moment. What does this tell us about our God? What does this tell us about our God’s love for us?
8. Take a moment to praise God and thank him for coming to serve us, die for us, rescue us from our sins and set us free to live anew in a right relationship to Him, ourselves and others. Amen!