No one understood the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship as He journeyed up to Jerusalem—not even the disciples who were closest to Jesus. Jesus explained to them repeatedly that His role was not that of the nationalistic military conqueror they had expected, but they still didn’t understand.
Mark tells us that Jesus and His disciples “were on the road going up to Jerusalem” (Mark 10:32) when Jesus took the disciples aside to tell them yet again what would happen to Him. It is significant that Mark specifies their location; one always goes up to Jerusalem, not only because of the increase in elevation, but also because it is the high holy city. Mark clearly pictures for us here the fact that Jesus was resolutely determined to head to Jerusalem.
More Than a Rabbi
Mark further specifies that “Jesus was walking on ahead of them.” (Mark 10:32) It was customary for a Rabbi to walk ahead of his disciples by perhaps eight to ten feet. This was a traditional way for a disciple to show appropriate deference to his teacher. Jesus did not normally require this particular show of deference from His disciples though He was often called Rabbi and clearly filled that role in other ways.
Jesus had good reasons for walking ahead of His disciples in the customary rabbinical way as they journeyed together in this passage. He was resolutely going to Jerusalem, and His disciples were reluctant. In fact, Mark tells us, they were afraid.
Jesus took the twelve aside and began to tell them what would happen to Him:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again. (Mark 10:33-34)
Mark has drawn for us here a clear picture of Jesus as one who is heading to Jerusalem to give His life as a ransom for the many.
More Than a Conqueror
Even after this clear explanation, the disciples’ next questions make it clear to us that they still did not understand. James and John, thinking perhaps that this was now the great moment when Jesus would reveal Himself as a militaristic Messiah who would conquer the Romans and take His place on Messiah’s throne as Son of David, said to Jesus, “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mark 10:35) In other words, “we want you to say yes before you even know what it is we’re asking.”
Jesus asked them what they wanted. They answered, “Grant that we might sit, one of Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
To put it another way, “When You come into Your messianic glory, when You come into Jerusalem to reign on your earthly throne, grant that we may sit one on Your right and the other on Your left.”
James and John mistakenly assumed that they would have positions of power, glory, and prestige in the Messiah’s new kingdom, and they were making a preemptive move to become part of the king’s innermost circle. Despite all Jesus’ explanations, James and John still had no idea what they were asking.
James and John’s question had repercussions, both for their own lives, and for those who read their story in Mark’s gospel. I’ll continue to take a close look at this living parable in my next post.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on March 19, 1990.