By Charles G. Caldwell, Jr.
James and John, sons of Zebedee, together with Peter were among the most faithful disciples of Jesus and privileged to accompany Him on many occasions when others of the Apostles were not allowed to go. These three are sometimes referred to as “the inner circle” of Jesus. They, however, were very slow to grasp the fundamental concept of His Kingdom being not temporal but spiritual in its nature. If it was a difficult thing for these who walked and talked with the Master here on earth and who were privy to His every word spoken in private conversation-I say, if it was hard for them to understand the nature of His kingdom, perhaps we can better comprehend how it is that many in our day with their prejudices and preconceived ideas have difficulty along this line. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36). It would seem that anyone would be able to understand that the Kingdom of Christ is totally a spiritual institution and not, therefore, of this world.
In Matt. 20:20, 21 and the parallel passage in Mark 10:35, we are told that James and John in company with their mother, Salome, came to Jesus with the request that they should have prominent places in His Kingdom. “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand in thy glory” (Mark 10:37). Matthew records that Jesus put the question squarely to the mother, “What wilt thou?” She replied, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” For Jesus to be in His “glory” and to be in His “Kingdom” is the same thing. In heaven today He is at the right hand of God and in His “glory”; and since to be in His “glory” and to be in His “kingdom” is the same thing, He is now in His “kingdom.” Let there be no mistake about that.
To sit on the right hand of a sovereign ruler is to occupy the highest position of honor that he can give. To sit on the`’left hand is to occupy the second highest position. Both positions entail not only great honor but also involve tremendous responsibility. To occupy these positions in the Kingdom of Christ was the heart’s desire of these two brothers.
Why The Request?
The traditional view is to look upon these disciples with disdain. In a highly critical air we are inclined to regard them as being rather egocentric, thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. “Why should they consider themselves more deserving of prominence than all the others? Who do they think they are anyway?”, we are inclined to ask. And so we conclude that this indeed was an ugly chapter in the lives of these otherwise good men. Is it possible that our conclusions are based solely on the attitude of the other Apostles who “were moved with indignation against the two brothers” (Matt. 20:24).
I have an idea that we have been too hard on James and John. It is my conviction that there is much here that is worthy of our serious consideration and emulation. If we can just put out of our minds for a moment the conceptions to which we have been wedded, let us look at these two men in the contextual setting.
Faith in the Promises
Note first of all, that Jesus had just made the statement, for the third time at least, that He would be crucified. He spoke of His being betrayed, that the rulers would condemn Him to death. Being delivered to the Gentiles He would be- mocked, scourged and crucified. He was careful to add, however, that the third day He would rise again. Surely James and John had heard all this and had been duly impressed with it. But, did that dampen their faith? Did that cast any doubt in their mind as to His ability to do what He had taught throughout His career that He would do and what was prophesied by the seerers of old?
Men of lesser faith would have wavered. But James and John had supreme faith in their Master and were confident that He would set up His kingdom just as He had promised and that He would rule over it. True, they did not fully understand the nature of the Kingdom but whatever the nature they wanted to be a part of it when it did come. I can think of no incident that demonstrates more forcefully their invincible faith in Christ.
I am convinced that our faith in Christ and His promises is not always that strong. Too often when the way grows weary and our sky grows dark and troubles beset us on every hand our faith wavers. In the hour when we need Him most, our faith in Christ weakens and we fail to unreservedly believe that He is with us to bless and carry the weight of the load resting heavily upon us. We should never abandon the conviction that the victory belongs to our Lord and regardless of opposing forces and obstacles in our way, if we will but walk by His side and hold to His hand we too will be victorious in the fight. The Word of God gives to us assurance that Christ will reign, in His Kingdom, till all His enemies are abolished (1 Cor. 15:25, 26). “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 57).
Another thing that strikes me about these two brothers is their loyalty and fidelity. Even though they had been told of all that Jesus was to endure and the assurance given that they too would suffer because of their allegiance to Him and even drink of the cup of death, it never entered their mind to turn back, to forsake, to get out of the line of fire. “We will follow all the way” was their attitude. Oh, how we need men-and women-like that today: Christians who love the Lord supremely and are not about to give up or faint in the way because of adverse circumstances. We need those, .who like James and John, are determined to “stay with it.” How about you, my brother, are you so determined?
The criticism most commonly leveled against these two disciples of Jesus is that they were ambitious. But, is that really something to be despised: Is it not rather to their credit: They were looking forward eagerly to the coming of the Kingdom predicted by the Master. Without a great deal of understanding concerning its nature, they nevertheless wanted to be a real and vital part of it. The very fact that it was Christ’s Kingdom and that He was to be the King over it was sufficient to commend it unreservedly to them. Certainly, they wanted to be in it. But more than that, they wanted to be deeply involved in it. There are too many in the Kingdom of the Lord today who have an altogether different view of the matter. They are those who have no ambition so far as spiritual matters are concerned. They are willing to assume an air of complacence, sit back and let others do the work, enjoy if possible the blessings without taking on any of the responsibilities. In other words, they are content to just sit around doing nothing, just going along for the ride. How unlike James and John!
The Request Not Denied
You will note that Jesus did not tell these brothers that they would not occupy the positions for which they asked. He rather told them that those positions would “be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” Then He proceeded to inform them who the Father had decreed should hold such positions. It would be the one who ministered; the one who served (Matt. 20:26, 27). He reiterated the same thought in Matt. 23:11, 12, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Worthwhile positions in the Kingdom would come to James and John and they will come to you and me only as we meet the specified conditions. Are we willing to humble ourselves and render worthwhile service? How about you, my friend?
Truth Magazine XXII: 5, pp. 92-93
February 2, 1978