It is important that we reread the verses which set up today’s reading. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” NIV This is the third time Mark records Jesus telling the Twelve what to expect.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” NET James was the first of the Twelve to die—about 10-12 years after the resurrection. But John lived some sixty years after the resurrection before he died of old age. In all that time John had to remember what he and his brother had done as they walked to Jerusalem. What a shame to have to bear for so long.
Why did they do it? It is helpful to remember Mark 3:17James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”). NLT The boys were what we might call today, social climbers, or up-and-comers. They knew they were destined for greatness and were never afraid to push their causes. That and their self-centeredness.
Jesus, on the other hand, had God’s plan on his mind. ‘I’m on my way to a hard death.’
Given that, look at how Jesus reacted to the Sons of Thunder. 36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” NET Jesus knew what they wanted, yet he gave them the opportunity to do the right thing. They did not. 37 “Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!” Phillips
We must give them some credit for believing that Jesus was on his way to claim his kingdom, even if their ideas about that Kingdom were very small k.
38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?” MSG The Greek wording on baptism here uses only present tense, but clearly Jesus is looking ahead to his baptism on the cross; thus, The Message has the better translation.
Jesus did not get angry and berate the boys for their lack of understanding, nor did he call them Satan as he did with Peter. Even with his mind on far greater things, he treated them kindly. He said, ‘You have no idea what you ask.’
The boys missed his message. 39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.” NET
Jesus does not tell them that they will suffer all that Jesus will suffer. He does say that to walk in his footsteps will result in suffering. The cup of Jesus is a cup of service, not glory. The baptism is one of death. Only by dying can we have life.
Jesus cannot hand out privileges in Heaven to anyone on earth because that is up to God. Even if Jesus knows who would be on his right and left, he will not speak it here on earth.
41-45 When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.” Phillips
Be righteous and do good.