A Mother’s Request
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and knelt down to make a request of Him. “What do you want?” He inquired. She answered, “Declare that in Your kingdom one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right hand, and the other at Your left.” “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus replied. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” the brothers answered.…
The one on thy right hand.—The favour which had already been bestowed might, in some degree, seem to warrant the petition. John was known emphatically as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; John 19:26; John 20:2), and if we may infer a general practice from that of the Last Supper (John 13:23), he sat near Him at their customary meals. James was one of the chosen three who had been witnesses of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1). Both had been marked out for special honour by the new name of the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). The mother might well think that she was but asking for her sons a continuance of what they had hitherto enjoyed. The sternness of our Lord’s words to Peter (Matthew 16:23) might almost justify the thought that his position had been forfeited.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
20:20-28 The sons of Zebedee abused what Christ said to comfort the disciples. Some cannot have comforts but they turn them to a wrong purpose. Pride is a sin that most easily besets us; it is sinful ambition to outdo others in pomp and grandeur. To put down the vanity and ambition of their request, Christ leads them to the thoughts of their sufferings. It is a bitter cup that is to be drunk of; a cup of trembling, but not the cup of the wicked. It is but a cup, it is but a draught, bitter perhaps, but soon emptied; it is a cup in the hand of a Father, Joh 18:11. Baptism is an ordinance by which we are joined to the Lord in covenant and communion; and so is suffering for Christ, Eze 20:37; Isa 48:10. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; and so is suffering for Christ, for unto us it is given, Php 1:29. But they knew not what Christ’s cup was, nor what his baptism. Those are commonly most confident, who are least acquainted with the cross. Nothing makes more mischief among brethren, than desire of greatness. And we never find Christ’s disciples quarrelling, but something of this was at the bottom of it. That man who labours most diligently, and suffers most patiently, seeking to do good to his brethren, and to promote the salvation of souls, most resembles Christ, and will be most honoured by him to all eternity. Our Lord speaks of his death in the terms applied to the sacrifices of old. It is a sacrifice for the sins of men, and is that true and substantial sacrifice, which those of the law faintly and imperfectly represented. It was a ransom for many, enough for all, working upon many; and, if for many, then the poor trembling soul may say, Why not for me?
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
And he said unto her, what wilt thou?…. Mark says, “he said unto them”; her two sons, James and John, “what would you that I should do for you?” Both is true; what is this singular favour? what business of moment and importance is it, you would have me do for you, you are so eager and pressing for, and so solicitous of? This he said, not as being ignorant of the matter; he knew the corruption of their hearts, the vanity of their minds, their carnal, worldly, and ambitious views; but to lead them on to say all they had to say upon this head; in which may be observed the goodness, humanity, and patience of Christ, in not upbraiding them with their pride and insolence, in bearing with their rashness and folly, and in giving them room to believe, that he should answer their request in every thing that was right and reasonable to be done,
She saith unto him, grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on the right hand, and the other the left in thy kingdom: or, as in Mark, “in thy glory” that is, in thy glorious kingdom; meaning a temporal one, which would outdo all the kingdoms of the world, in external glory, pomp, and splendour, as they imagined: to sit one on the right hand and the other on the left hand of Christ, when he should be seated, literally, on the throne of his father David, signifies to be nearest to his person; to be next to him in power and authority; to have the highest posts of honour, and places of trust and profit; to be his prime ministers; and, in a word, to have the greatest share next to him of worldly honour, riches, and power. To sit at the right hand, was, with the Jews, reckoned a great mark of honour and affection; see 1 Kings 2:19 and so with other nations: with the Egyptians especially, it was accounted a great honour to be placed on the right hand, but the greatest to be in the middle: which was equally observed among the Romans, and the same with the Africans and Numidians; though Xenophon relates, that Cyrus, with a singular prudence, that he might receive his guests the more honourably, used to place them at the left hand, accounting that part, as nearest the heart, to be the more worthy. (g) These two, the best and most honourable places, this woman was for engrossing for her two sons, who joined with her in the request; for Mark says, that “they said unto him, grant unto us that we may sit, &c.” and Christ’s answer here, which follows, implies as much.