How to Become a Servant Leader

This lesson is all about servanthood, Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to develop the character quality of humility. Servanthood and suffering bring greatness in the kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be (present imperative) your slave” (Matthew 20:27). The way up is down. God’s ways are counter intuitive. Man’s pride and ego keeps him from greatness. Ken Blanchard asks “What’s your leadership ego?” EGO is either “Edging God Out” or “Exalting God Only.” Servant leadership involves humbly serving those under us so they are successful. Jesus in this passage teaches us how to become a servant leader.

Historical Background: This narrative follows Jesus’ third prediction of the resurrection on the road to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34). This passage warns against ambitious pride. This request for places of honor showed a continuing feeling among the disciples that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to restore the glory of the fallen throne and kingdom of David. This request is irreconcilable with the fact that Jesus had just told his disciples that He would die, not reign in Jerusalem. Perhaps they were so consumed with selfish ambition that they didn’t hear what Jesus said. It’s obvious that they weren’t satisfied with Jesus’ recent words promising the Twelve that they would occupy the twelve thrones over the twelve tribes of Israel in the kingdom (Matthew 19:28).

Commanded in the Gospels: Matthew 20:27 – let him be; Luke 22:26 – let him become. The Gospels contain other instruction on this subject (Matthew 10:24, 25a; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43, 44; John 12:26) and cite numerous women who regularly helped Christ by ministering to His needs, (Matthew 8:15; 27:55; Mark 1 :31; 15:41; Luke 8:3; 10:40; John 12:2).

Illustrated in the Book of Acts: Acts 6:1-2; 13:5; 19:22; 20:19, 34; 21:19; 24:23

Amplified in the Epistles: Some Christians have the spiritual gift of serving (Romans 12:7). Others are put in charge of physical tasks that must be cared for by the church. These hold the office of deacon (diokonos) (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12-13) and deaconess, (Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:11) but every Christian must be involved in some form of service (Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:12; Hebrews 6:10; 1 Peter 4:10-11). The following men are positive examples of servanthood:

  1. Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5)
  2. Christ (Philippians 2:7)
  3. James (James 1:1)
  4. John (Revelation 1:1)
  5. Jude (Jude 1:1)
  6. Mark (2 Timothy 4:11)
  7. Onesimus (Philemon 1:13)
  8. Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18)
  9. Paul (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5, 6:4; 11:8, 23, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1)
  10. Peter (2 Peter 1:1)
  11. Timothy (Philippians 2:22)
  12. Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7)

1 . What relationship did mother Zebedee and her two sons have to Jesus? She was Salome, probably a sister of Jesus’ mother (Matthew 20:20; 27:55a, 56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). If so, then James and John were Jesus’ first cousins. Perhaps they hoped their family ties would help their cause. In addition to relying on their relationship as Jesus’ cousins, the brothers perhaps also thought to play on Jesus’ affection for his mother by having her sister approach Him for the favor. These two disciples were asking for preferential treatment.

2. What did the mother of James and John request? (Matthew 20:20-21; Mark 10:37) One of them wished to sit at His right, the highest assigned position, and the other at His left, the next highest place in a royal court (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews). The “right hand” and “left hand” suggest proximity to the King’s person and so a share in his prestige and power. Such positions increase as the King is esteemed and has absolute power (Psalm 16:11; 45:9; 110:1; Matthew 27:64; Acts 7:55-56). Mark has, “in your glory,” Matthew “in your kingdom.” Mark’s phrase clearly points to the Parousia, “when Jesus is enthroned as eschatological judge.”

3. Was Mrs. Zebedee’s request a political power play? (Matthew 20:20) John MacArthur writes, “The first worldly principle for greatness might be called political power play and is reflected in the attempt of the mother of the sons of Zebedee to persuade Jesus to give those two sons, James and John, the highest places of honor in His kingdom. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “…with typical motherly pride, felt her sons deserved the two best locations.” Throughout history one of the most common tactics for getting ahead has been using the influence of family and friends to one’s own advantage. These people are manipulated to gain political office, a promotion in business, a lucrative contract, or whatever else is craved. As the saying goes, “It’s who you know that counts.”

It seems incredible that James, John, and their mother could ask Jesus such a crass, self-serving favor immediately after His prediction of the persecution and death He would soon face in Jerusalem. There is no indication, either in this text or in Mark’s parallel account (Mark 10:35), that any of the disciples made a response to what Jesus had just said about His own imminent death. They may simply have discounted His prediction as being merely figurative and symbolic, or they may have been so preoccupied with their own interests and plans that His words went by them.

4. How do we know that Mrs. Zebedee’s request was a joint effort with her sons? (Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:35) From the Matthew passage it is clear that “the mother” was speaking at the request of her “two sons.” In fact, Mark makes no mention of her at all. The three obviously came with a common purpose and plan they had discussed among themselves beforehand. The mother probably spoke first, and then James and John spoke for themselves.

It is implied in Matthew but explicit in Mark that the first request was intentionally general and indefinite: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You” (Mark 10:35). Their approach was like a child trying to get a parent to promise something before saying what it is for fear that a specific request for it might be denied.

5. How was Mrs. Zebedee’s worship manipulative? (Matthew 20:20) “Bowing down” was a common act of homage, respect or honor given to ancient monarchs, and the mother may have been trying to flatter Jesus by appealing to His sense of power and royalty. By treating Him like a king, she hoped to manipulate Him into making a gesture of generosity. Near Eastern kings liked to pride themselves in having the resources to grant any favor or request. It was such pride that induced Herod Antipas to swear to the daughter of Herodias, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:23).

The fact that James, John, and their mother made a request of Christ for a blank check strongly suggests that they knew the request was not legitimate. The request was purely self-seeking, for her as well as for them. As their mother, she could bask vicariously in their exalted positions, and her own prestige would be greatly enhanced. In marked contrast to what they would become after Pentecost, James and John were not noted for their shyness or being reserved, and Jesus had nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:1-7). Their request of Jesus not only was bold but brash. In effect, they were claiming that, of all the great people of God who had ever lived, they deserved to have the two highest places of honor beside the King of heaven.

Like the scribes and Pharisees who loved “the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:6), James and John longed for prestige and preeminence and to be exalted over the other apostles. Like the self-seeking Diotrephes (3 John 1:9), they loved to be first. But that is not the way to greatness in the kingdom of God.

6. What was Mrs. Zebedee really asking for unknowingly? (Matthew 20:22) “You do not know what you are asking.” Matthew Henry writes, “We know not what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown, and ask not for grace to bear the cross in our way to it.” The response, “we are able” is amazing proof of their ignorance and self-confidence. Ambition had blinded their eyes.

John MacArthur writes, “James and John either completely misunderstood what Jesus meant or because, like Peter promising never to forsake Christ, they self-confidently thought they could endure anything required of them, James and John foolishly declared, “We are able.” And just as Peter denied the Lord three times before the cock crowed, those two brothers, along with all the other disciples, fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56).

No doubt with great tenderness and compassion, the Lord then assured the brothers, “My cup you shall drink.” But it would not be in their own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit that they would suffer greatly for their Master’s sake. They did indeed share in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:1 0).

7. What cup or baptism was Jesus talking about? (Matthew 20:22; 26:39, 42; Mark 10:38-39) “The cup” was a common Jewish metaphor either for joy (Psalm 23:5; 116:13) or for divine judgment against human sin, as here (Psalm 75:7-8; Isaiah 12:2). Jesus applied this figure to Himself for He was to bear the wrath of God’s judgment against sin in place of sinners (Matthew 26:39; Mark 10:45; 14:36; 15:34; Luke 22:42; John 18:11). He would drink the “cup” voluntarily.

If the disciples grasped anything of Jesus’ passion predictions, they probably thought the language of this metaphor referred to the eschatological conflict during which Messiah’s side would suffer losses; but these could scarcely be too severe for one who could still storms and raise the dead.

8. What has Jesus and other New Testament writers said about the role of suffering in Kingdom assignments? On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught His disciples that one of the ways to greatnessm it is through suffering for Christ on earth. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1 0-12).

The Apostle Paul learned that the way to great glory is through great affliction for Christ’s sake. Although he suffered extreme hardship, persecution, and suffering, he considered those things to be insignificant compared to what awaited him in heaven. He told the self-serving, pleasure-loving Corinthians, “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Paul also pointed out to the Thessalonians that their suffering wasn’t pointless. It was pain with a purpose. They would be considered worthy when positions in the kingdom were being assigned (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).

Edmond Hiebert writes, “In the day of judgment their present sufferings will be seen to have been beneficial… the statement is a direct encouragement to the suffering readers. They are assured that their sufferings are significant.

The Apostle Paul challenging young Timothy to be a good soldier who suffers for Jesus Christ wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him…” (2 Timothy 2:12a).

The one who has the greatest glory beside Christ in heaven will be the one who has faithfully endured the greatest suffering for Him on earth.

9. Did James and John ever taste this cup? (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:39; Acts 12:2; Revelation 1:9) These two brothers are the bookends of apostolic suffering in the early church. James was beheaded and John was tortured and exiled to Patmos for the sake of Christ. The Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of the World describes their suffering:

The Apostle James: St. James was the first of the apostles to meet a martyr’s death. Herod Agrippa, when he was made governor of Judea by the Roman emperor Caligula, raised a persecution against the Christians, and especially singled out St. James as an object of his vengeance. When the apostle was led out to die, a man who had brought false accusations against him walked with him to the place of execution. He had doubtless expected to see St. James looking pale and frightened, but he saw him, instead, bright and joyous, like a conqueror who had won a great battle. The false witness greatly wondered at this, and became convinced that the Savior in whom the prisoner by his side believed must be the true God, or he could not impart such cheerfulness and courage to a man about to die. The man himself, therefore, became a convert to Christianity, and was condemned to die with St. James the apostle. Both were consequently beheaded on the same day and with the same sword. This took place in the year of our Lord 44. [pg.27]

The Apostle John: He was distinguished for being a prophet, apostle, and evangelist. He was brother to James, and not only one of the twelve apostles, but one whom Jesus chiefly loved. St. John founded many churches in Greece. Being at Ephesus, he was ordered by the emperor Domitian to be sent bound to Rome, where he was condemned to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. Either this sentence was not carried out, or a miracle saved him from injury, for he was afterward banished by the emperor to the island of Patmos, and there wrote that beautiful book which is called The Revelation of St. John the Divine, and which tells of the joys of the celestial city.

At last Domitian died, and the next emperor, Nerva, was kind to the Christians, and sent St. John back to Ephesus, when he wrote his gospel. He lived to be a very old man, and died a natural death at Ephesus, some writers say in the one-hundredth year of his age. [pg.35]

10. Whose prerogative is it to give these privileged positions away? (Matthew 20:23) Jesus made it clear that granting positions of honor to His right and left in the kingdom is not His prerogative. Such places were not within His jurisdiction to give.

It would not be on the basis of favoritism or ambition that those honors would be bestowed, but on the basis of the Father’s sovereign choice. Personal ambition is not a factor in the eternal, sovereign plan of God. [MacArthur]. Mark 10:38-39 adds a little more text.

11. What other metaphor did Jesus use to describe the suffering that awaited Him? (Mark 10:38-39) The figure of “baptism” expresses a parallel thought. Being under water was an Old Testament picture of being overwhelmed by calamity (Job 22:11; Psalm 69:2, 15; Isaiah 43:2). Here the “calamity” Jesus faced was bearing the burden of God’s judgment on sin which involved overwhelming sufferings culminating in His death (Luke 12:50). He was to “be baptized” by God who placed these sufferings on Him (Isaiah 53:4b, 11). James and John may have thought Jesus was describing a messianic battle and their confident reply, “We can”, showed their willingness to fight in it. But their reply also showed that they had not understood Jesus’ words. So Jesus applied the same “cup” and “baptism” figures to them but in a different sense. In following Him they would share His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) even to death, but not in a redemptive sense.

12. Why did the other ten disciples become indignant with James and John? (Matthew 20:24; Mark 10:41) The verb “became indignant” speaks of jealous displeasure and is a strong word for angry resentment. The ten felt that James and John had taken advantage of their relation to Jesus.

This jealous reaction indicates that they also harbored the same selfish ambitions. They all would have petitioned Jesus for the exalted, favored positions, given the opportunity. To avert disharmony among the Twelve and to reemphasize the meaning of true greatness (Mark 9:33-37) Jesus contrasted greatness in this world’s kingdoms with that in God’s kingdom.

On the way from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest” but were ashamed to admit it to Jesus (Mark 9:33-34). Even at the Last Supper “there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). They were all guilty of the same self-serving ambition that had just been demonstrated by the two brothers. [MacArthur]

Jesus sees the cross waiting for Him, James and John see thrones waiting for them, but the other ten disciples could only see James and John. They are upset with these two men not because of the power play or the selfish ambition but because they got to Jesus first.

13. What is the leadership style of the corporate world? (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42) Jesus sets aside all the politicking, maneuvering, asking for favors and special privileges and tells His team how different the world’s ways are from kingdom principles.

Now the Lord called them to Himself and reminded them of another wrong way of achieving spiritual greatness. It could be called the way of the dominant dictator. “Lord it over” is a strong term carrying the idea of ruling down on people, the prepositional prefix kata intensifying the verb.

The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects,” Jesus said. Virtually every government of that day was a form of dictatorship, often of a tyrannical sort. The world seeks greatness through power, epitomized by despotic “rulers of the Gentiles” such as the pharaohs, Antiochus Epiphanes, the Caesars, the Herods, and Pilate, under all of whom the Jews had suffered greatly.

The same philosophy of dominance is found in modern businesses and even in some Christian organizations. Many people in high positions cannot resist the temptation to use their power to “lord it over” those under them. Some are radical egomaniacs, whereas others are respectable and orthodox. But they share a common worldly desire to control others. Peter therefore warned Christian leaders against “lording it over those allotted to [their] charge” (1 Peter 5:3).

Another wrong way to achieve spiritual greatness is that of the charismatic personality. The expression “great men” carries the idea of distinguished, eminent, illustrious, or noble. It represents those who have high personal appeal and have achieved high stature in the eyes of the world and who seek to control others by personal influence. They can be seen as different in style from those in Matthew 20:25a. Whereas the dominant dictator uses the sheer power of his position and is often hated, the charismatic leader uses the powers of popularity and personality. By flattery, charm, and attractiveness, he manipulates others to serve his own ends.

“Exercise authority over” also translates a strong and intensified Greek verb, and could be rendered “to play the tyrant.”

The church has never been without self-seeking leader who capture the fascination of the people who willingly follow them while they make merchandise of the gospel in order to feather their nests and build up their reputations. By telling people what they like to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), they skillfully take advantage of selfish, gullible believers.

14. How does Jesus measure greatness? (Matthew 20:26; Mark 10:43) Jesus turned the world’s greatness upside down. The self-serving, self-promoting, self-glorying ways of the world are the antithesis of spiritual greatness. They have no place in God’s kingdom and are not to be so among you, Jesus told the Twelve.

Greatness in the Lord’s kingdom does not come through rulership or authority but through service (Matthew 20:26-27). Their goal should be serving, not ruling. Those most highly esteemed will be those who serve, those who are humble.

The world’s way of greatness is like a pyramid. The prestige and power of the great person is built on the many subordinate persons beneath him. But in the kingdom, the pyramid is inverted. As the great commentator R. C. H. Lenski has observed, God’s “great men are not sitting on top of lesser men, but bearing lesser men on their backs.”

Unfortunately, however, there are still many people in the church who, like James and John, continually seek recognition, prestige, and power by manipulating and controlling others to their own selfish advantage.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you, that is, great by God’s standards rather than men’s, shall be your servant.” He was not, as some have suggested, contradicting what He had just taught. He was speaking of an entirely different kind of greatness than the sort James and John were seeking and that the world promotes. This kind of greatness is pleasing to God, because it is humble and self-giving rather than proud and self-serving. The way to the world’s greatness is through pleasing and being served by men, the way to God’s greatness is through pleasing Him and serving others in His name. In God’s eyes, the one who is great is the one who is a willing servant.

15. What did Jesus command His disciples in Matthew 20:27 and Luke 22:26? Jesus said, “and whoever wishes to be first among you let him be your slave” (Matthew 20:17). The verb “let him be” is a present imperative. The Majority Greek Text has the better reading. The way to be “first” is to be a “slave.”

The position and work of a “slave” was much lower and demeaning even than those of a servant. A servant was to some degree his own person. He often owned little more than the clothes on his back, but he was free to go where he wanted and to work or not work as he pleased. But a slave did not belong to himself but to his master and could go only where the master wanted him to go and do only what the master wanted him to do. He did not belong to himself but was the personal property of someone else.

William Barclay has commented, “The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant.” The Christian who desires to be great and first in the kingdom is the one who is willing to serve in the hard place, the uncomfortable place, the lonely place, the demanding place, the place where he is not appreciated and may even be persecuted.

16. Why did the Son of Man come? (Matthew 20:28) To be a ransom for many, (see also question 19, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

17. What in this verse suggests that we follow Jesus’ example? (Matthew 20:28) The emphasis of the phrase “just as the Son of Man” sets Jesus forth as our role model. What Jesus says about Himself should also characterize His followers. To discover what it means to become a godly servant and slave, the disciples had only to look at “the Son of Man” Himself.

18. What in the text suggests Jesus’ preexistence? (Matthew 20:28) The phrase “did not come” hints of Jesus’ preexistence.

19. What is the significance of Christ giving His life as a ransom? (Matthew 20:28) In His incarnate role as the Son of Man, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.

Read Philippians 2:5-9. Jesus is the supreme example of humility and servanthood, because, as the sovereign of the universe and of all eternity, He subjected Himself to humiliation and even to death. He is the most exalted because He faithfully endured the most humiliation. Although He was the King of kings and had the right to be served by others, He ministered as a Servant of servants and gave His life to serve others.

Jesus’ ultimate act of servanthood, however, was to give His life. “Greater love has no one than this,” He said, “that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In His next statement, Jesus presents the first explicit New Testament teaching about the redemptive work of the Messiah. He would vicariously suffer for the sins of mankind as a ransom for those who trust in Him. He did not simply give His life an example for others. He was no mere martyr for a godly cause, as some claim. Nor was He merely an example of life-giving selflessness, although He was indeed the supreme example of that. Jesus not only lived and died for others but died as a ransom for others.

The word “ransom” (Lutron) was the term commonly used for the redemption price of a slave, the amount required to buy his freedom. It is used only twice in the New Testament (see also Mark 10:45), both times in reference to Christ’s giving of Himself to redeem others. Here it is followed by the preposition anti (“instead of”), expressing an exchange. In 1 Timothy 2:6, the word used for “ransom” is antilutron, which simply combines the two words used here. In both cases the idea is that of a price paid for a life.

The unbeliever is a slave to sin, the flesh, Satan, and death, and it was to redeem men from those slaveries that Jesus gave His life a ransom in exchange for sinners. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul explained to believers in Rome. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3). “Having been freed from sin,” the apostle had told them earlier, “you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Christ’s sacrifice bought us back from the slavery of sin.

Although the noun lutron is used only twice in the New Testament, other forms of the root word are used frequently as are numerous synonyms (1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13; 4:5; Ephesians 1:7; 14; 4:30; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9).

Jesus’ ransom was paid to God to satisfy His holy justice, and it was more than sufficient to cover the sins of everyone who has ever lived and ever will live. His death was sufficient for “the whole world” says John (1 John 2:2). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Although His ransom is sufficient for every person, it is valid only for those who believe in Him. It is in that sense that His redemption is for many, rather than for all. The Lord was not teaching limited atonement, the idea that He died only for the sins of a select few. Paul makes it clear that Christ died for the whole world: “The man Christ Jesus… gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The basic idea behind “for” (anti) is that of being set over against something else, and the word was often used to denote an exchange or substitution. In becoming a ransom for many, Jesus exchanged His life for the lives of the many who would believe in Him. It became His death for the deaths of those many, His undeserved punishment for the punishment they deserved.

20. Did the disciples learn this lesson on servanthood? (Matthew 20:17-18; Luke 19:28, 41; 22:10, 24-26) During the Last Supper, after the disciples had again been arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus asked, “Who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

It was probably at this time that Jesus gave them the beautiful object lesson of servanthood recorded by John (John 13:4-5, 12-17).


  1. Who has been an example to you of Christ-like servanthood?
  2. How has this command impacted your soul?
    1. Mind- thoughts
    2. Will – decisions
    3. Emotions – feelings
  3. Pray for “five lost friends” and for one another.


The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources.

  1. Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
  2. The Expositors Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondervan Publishing House, 1984
  3. Mark: A Portrait of the Servant by: Edmond Hiebert, Moody Press, 1974
  4. New Testament Commentary- Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew by: William Hendriksen, Baker Bookhouse, 1973
  5. Descending to Greatness by: Bill Hybels, Zondervan Publishing House, 1993
  6. The Last will be First by: John MacArthur Jr., Word of Grace Communication, 1987
  7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 16-23 by: John MacArthur Jr., Moody Press, 1988
  8. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew by: Alfred Plummer, James Family – Christian Publishing Company
  9. Management: A Biblical Approach by: Myron Rush Victor Books, 1986.
  10. Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living by: Charles Swindoll, Word Books, 1981
  11. The Servant Leader by: Ken Blanchard & Phil Hodges, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003
  12. The Maxwell Leadership Bible by: John C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002
  13. The Thessalonian Epistles by: D. Edmond Hiebert, Moody Press, 1971
  14. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of the World by: John Foxe, Moody Press
  15. Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. IV by: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman, Press, 1931
  16. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text Edited by: Zane C. Hodges & Arthur L. Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1982

Matthew Commentary:

The Greek word for ransom is lytron and is not found apart from this setting in the New Testament. Its basic meaning is money paid to buy back prisoners of war. Barclay calls attention to what “the crude hands of theology” have done with this “lovely saying” and quotes Peter Lombard (as the extreme example), who writes that “the cross was a mousetrap to catch the devil, baited with the blood of Christ” (vol. 2, pp. 234–35). After all the caveats have been registered, Jesus still declares that he came to give his life as a means of redeeming humankind. The Greek text says that he gave his life lytron anti pollōn (“a ransom in the place of many”). It would be difficult to express the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death in clearer language. This understanding of the death of Jesus as substitutionary is foundational to Christian theology. 1

Additional Comments: The metaphorical language used in Mark 10:45, a ransom (or redemption) for many, is drawn from ancient economic life in which a slave, a prisoner, or a forfeited parcel of land or other possession might be freed by a purchase price paid. The metaphor presents Jesus’ death as the price of the liberation of the many. The statement is paralleled in Matthew 20:28, and similar language is used elsewhere in the NT, for example, 1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 9:12; Titus 2:14. In still other places the language varies, but the thought remains that Jesus’ death was a redemptive event, indeed, the redemptive event that is the basis for the salvation offered in the Gospel (Romans 3:21–26; 4:25; 5:6; Hebrews 1:3). All this is to say that in the description of Jesus’ death given in 10:45, Mark reflects the basic teaching of early Christianity.

Believer’s Bible Commentary:  It is a sad commentary on human nature that, immediately after the third prediction of His passion, His followers were thinking more of their own glory than of His sufferings.

Christ’s first prediction of suffering gave rise to Peter’s demur (16:22); the second was soon followed by the disciples’ questions, “Who is the greatest …?” So here, we find the third capped with the ambitious request of James and John. They persistently closed their eyes to warnings of trouble, and opened them only to the promise of glory—so getting a wrong, materialistic view of the Kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-21 / The mother of James and John came to the Lord asking that her boys might sit on either side of Him in His kingdom. It is to her credit that she wanted her sons near Jesus, and that she had not despaired of His coming reign. But she did not understand the principles upon which honors would be bestowed in the kingdom.

Mark says that the sons made the request themselves (Mark 10:35); perhaps they did it at her direction, or perhaps the three of them approached the Lord together. No contradiction is involved.

Matthew 20:22 / Jesus answered frankly that they did not understand what they were asking. They wanted a crown without a cross, a throne without the altar of sacrifice, the glory without the suffering that leads to it. So He asked them pointedly, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” We are not left to wonder what He meant by the cup; He had just described it in verses 18 and 19. He must suffer and die.

James and John expressed ability to share in His sufferings, though perhaps their confidence was based more on zeal than knowledge.

Matthew 20:23 / Jesus assured them that they would indeed drink of His cup. James would be martyred and John persecuted and exiled to the Isle of Patmos. Robert Little said, “James died a martyr’s death; John lived a martyr’s life.”

Then Jesus explained that He could not arbitrarily grant places of honor in the kingdom; the Father had determined a special basis on which these positions would be assigned. They thought it was a matter of political patronage, that because they were so close to Christ, they had a special claim to places of preferment. But it was not a question of personal favoritism. In the counsels of God, the places on His right hand and left hand would be given on the basis of suffering for Him. This means that the chief honors in the kingdom are not limited to first century Christians; some living today might win them—by suffering.

Matthew 20:24 / The other ten disciples were greatly displeased that the sons of Zebedee had made such a request. They were probably indignant because they themselves wanted to be greatest and resented any prior claims being made by James and John!

Matthew 20:25–27 / This gave our Lord the opportunity to make a revolutionary statement concerning greatness in His kingdom. The Gentiles think of greatness in terms of mastery and rule. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is manifested by service. Whoever aspires to greatness must become a servant, and whoever desires to be first must become a slave.

Matthew 20:28 / The Son of Man is the perfect example of lowly service. He came into the world not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. The whole purpose of the Incarnation can be summed up in two words—serve and give. It is amazing to think that the exalted Lord humbled Himself to the manger and to the cross. His greatness was manifested in the depth of His humiliation. And so it must be for us.

He gave His life a ransom for many. His death satisfied all God’s righteous demands against sin. It was sufficient to put away all the sins of all the world. But it is effective only for those who accept Him as Lord and Savior. Have you ever done this? 3

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]
1 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 191). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark (p. 172). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1279–1280). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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