Discipleship, Kingdom of God


To be a citizen of the kingdom requires a life of self-sacrificial service for others, and not power over themMark 10:35-45.

Having predicted his trial and execution, Jesus observed the disciples jockeying for position in the coming messianic kingdom. As before, he taught them that citizenship in the kingdom means a life of self-sacrificial service to others. But as he approached the city, even his closest followers had a very different idea of what it meant to “rule” in his Kingdom.

DRINK MY CUP. James and John asked Jesus to install them at his right and left hands when he came “in his glory.” They remained incapable of hearing his words and learning from his daily examples. Suffering and death must precede glory. In their minds, as they drew near to Jerusalem, the Messiah of Israel was about to manifest his royal glory and impose his absolute reign over the earth.

  • (Mark 10:35-40) – “And approaching him, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are saying, ‘Rabbi, we desire that whatever we ask of you, you will do for us.’ Now he answered them, ‘What is it you are wishing me to do for you?’ Now they said to him, ‘Grant to us that we may sit in your glory, one on your right and one on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You know not what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I, myself am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized?’ Yet they said to him, ‘We are able.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I, myself am drinking you will drink, and the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized you will be baptized, yet to sit on my right or left is not for me to give, but for those for whom it has been prepared.’

Here, the two disciples addressed Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ or “teacher,” a title of respect but one common enough among the Jews. This suggests that James and John had yet to understand who he was.

In the Old Testament, the “cup” often symbolized something given or allotted by God, and usually in the negative sense of receiving judicial punishment. Though not stated here, the idea of drinking the “cup” points to his partaking of the wrath of God on account of sin. Likewise, the context indicates a similar negative sense for his metaphorical use of “baptism” – (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).

When James and John declared that they were prepared to drink of his “cup,” his response meant that they had no idea what they were saying. But eventually, they would drink of the same “cup” when years later they also suffered for the kingdom. His followers could also expect to suffer for his kingdom.

In the translation above, “I, myself” represents the emphatic pronoun in the Greek text (egō), which occurs four times in the passage. It stresses his messianic role, the death of the “Son of Man” was the event that inaugurated the promised kingdom of God.

SLAVE OF ALL. Contrary to the ways of this world, for the disciple of Christ, “greatness” is measured by his self-sacrificial service for others, and not in political power or rank. In his realm, the one who wishes to be “great” must become the “servant” of all. The term translates the Greek noun diakonos, which is used elsewhere as a general term for a “servant” or “minister.”

  • (Mark 10:41-45) – “And hearing this, the ten began to be indignant concerning James and John. And having summoned them, Jesus says to them, ‘You know that those considered rulers of the nations, lord it over them and their great ones take dominion over them. Yet not so is it among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, he will be your servant, and whoever desires to be chief among you will become the slave of all; For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.”

In secular Greek, diakonos referred to servants who waited on tables, and it is the term from which the title ‘deacon’ was derived. Luke uses it in this manner – “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as the one who serves” – (Luke 22:26-27).

Thus, Jesus defined his mission as the paramount one who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.” The Greek verb rendered “served” is the verbal form of the noun diakoonos. And most commonly, the Greek word often translated “servant” or doulos in English translations of the passage referred to slaves.

Cross Photo by DDP on Unsplash
Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Thus, the “Son of Man” became the servant and slave of all when he gave his “soul” to ransom others. Jesus used “soul” in the Old Testament sense to refer to his entire person, both the physical and its non-physical aspects. Thus, he gave his entire being or “life” on behalf of others.

The preposition rendered “instead of” is anti, meaning “instead of, on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for.” Behind the saying is the passage about the ‘Suffering Servant’ from the book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:10-12) – “He shall be satisfied with his knowledge, a setting right when set right himself shall my Servant win for the many since of their iniquities he takes the burden. Therefore, will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as spoil because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of Many bare, and for transgressors HE interposes.”

In Mark, Jesus refers to the “many.” This does not mean a limited or exclusive company. Instead, the term is a verbal link to the passage from Isaiah where “the many” refers to the “transgressors.” Moreover, the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his sacrificial act.

The passage from Isaiah also provides the term “soul” that Jesus uses here. The ‘Suffering Servant’ “poured out his soul,” so also, the “Son of Man” now offers his “soul” to ransom the “many.”

In first-century society, very often a monetary “ransom” was paid to purchase the freedom of a slave. So, also, Jesus gave his life as the ransom price to free a great many others from slavery to sin and death.

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