Updated: Nov 29, 2022
When the mother of the sons of Zebedee tried to secure the best seats in the kingdom on Jesus’s right and left for her boys, she was in for a surprise. Jesus will teach that for her sons, James and John, to aim high in the kingdom of God, they will need to go low. The Lord turns her request into an essential lesson on the kingdom of heaven and those who enter it.
First, the Lord probes James and John’s understanding that following Jesus into the kingdom means suffering persecution as He, their Master, suffered. Jesus taught earlier that as He was maligned as “Beelzebul” (ruler of demons), persecuted, and will later hang on a cross, so too will His disciples suffer (Matt. 10:24). Were the disciples willing and ready for persecution? Today, are you and I ready to suffer slander, ridicule, or worse as we follow Christ in His kingdom?
Secondly, Jesus alerted James and John that in the Father’s foresight, the best seats in the house have already been arranged (Matt. 20:23). From the foundation of the world the Father has prepared the kingdom for those who will enter it (Matt. 25:34). God’s purposes for the redemption of His creation through the Son have begun to unfold and will continue until they are completed in the regeneration (Matt. 19:28; Rev. 21:5). The Father has ordained good works for us to walk in, as well as rewards (Eph. 2:10; Matt. 19:27-30). Have we set our hopes upon these promises?
Thirdly, Jesus explained that the model for which the disciples had clambered to be on top of was a worldly system (Matt. 20:25). Dog eat dog. Climbing the ladder. Corner office. Being the boss. Jesus had already emphasized that to even enter the kingdom one needed to be childlike and humble (Matt. 5:5; 18:1-5; 19:14). Pride of place is antithetical to kingdom living. In our lives are we are trying to climb a ministry ladder? How can we let go of seeking a name for ourselves?
Lastly, Jesus concludes His essential lesson by teaching that to aim high in the kingdom is to go low:
“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” (Matt. 20:26-28).
It’s a powerful, surprising truth that to excel in the kingdom of God, in the realm in which God rules, one must lower themselves to the place of a servant. Jesus gave us the chief example from His lowly birth all the way to His suffering, humiliation, and death by crucifixion—all for our sake. If you are following Jesus in His kingdom, who are you serving sacrificially? Have we let go of our pride and position to serve others?
Jesus’s gift spurs us on to offer our lives humbly in the service of others as we live under the reign of our King!