To follow Jesus “wherever he goes” means a life of self-denial and of self-sacrificial service to others.
When he dispatched his disciples to announce the “good news,” Jesus warned that they would find themselves as “sheep among wolves.” Hostile men would haul them before “councils and whip them in their synagogues.” Even “brother would deliver up brother to death,” and his disciples would be “hated by all men for his sake, but only he that endured to the end” would be saved.
The disciple is “not above his master.” Why would the world treat them any different from how they treated him? The potential and sometimes real loss of wealth, security, friends, prestige, and even life for his sake is what it means to follow Jesus. As he declared:
- “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that does not take his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. He that finds his life will lose it; and he that loses his life for my sake will find it” – (Matthew 10:16-39).
On one occasion, Jesus foretold his impending arrest, trial, and execution. “The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify, and the third day he will be raised up.” Strong and ominous words. The religious leaders of Israel would conspire to betray him into the hands of the nation’s pagan overlords. Yet that was the fate God had determined for the Messiah of Israel – (Matthew 20:17-18).
But the disciples did not comprehend his words, which, apparently, went in one ear and out the other. In reaction, they began to jockey for position and power in the coming messianic kingdom. As before, Jesus used the opportunity to teach them that membership in the kingdom meant a life of self-sacrificial service to others, NOT power over them.
James and John asked to sit at his right and left sides when Jesus came “in his glory.” They could not understand his words or daily example of humble service. However, in his kingdom, suffering and death must precede glory.
- (Matthew 20:20-23) – “Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, worshipping him, and asking a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What do you wish? She said unto him, Command that these my two sons may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, You know not what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink? They say unto him, We are able. He said unto them, My cup indeed you will drink: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it has been prepared of my Father.”
In the Old Testament, the “cup” symbolized something given by God, and very often in the negative sense of receiving judicial punishment. Likewise, to drink the “cup” in his coming sufferings suggests he partook of the wrath of God on account of sin. And the context indicates this negative sense by the metaphorical use of “baptism” – (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).
When the “sons of Zebedee” declared they were well able to drink that “cup,” his response demonstrated they had no idea what they were saying. Regardless, in time, they would drink of the same “cup” when they also suffered for the kingdom.
But Jesus was speaking not just to James and John, but to all his disciples. As a group, they were destined to endure suffering, deprivation, and persecution. This was not a specific prediction of the martyrdom of James or John, but instead, referred to the suffering that all disciples could expect to endure for his sake.
- (Matthew 20:24-28) – “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation concerning the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so will it be among you: but whoever would become great among you will be your servant; and whoever would be first among you will be your slave: even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Contrary to the ways of this world, “greatness” in his domain is achieved by self-sacrificial service. The one who would be “great” must become the “servant” of all. This term translates the Greek noun diakonos, which is used elsewhere as a general term for “servant” or “minister.” But in ancient Greek, it referred to the servants who waited on tables, usually household slaves. And the Greek word translated “slave” means exactly that – (Luke 22:26-27).
Next, Jesus defined his mission as one who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.” The Greek verb rendered “served” is the verbal form of the noun diakonos, and the preposition “instead of” or anti means “on behalf of, in place of, in exchange for.” Lying behind the saying is the ‘Suffering Servant’ song from the Book of Isaiah:
- (Isaiah 53:12) – “Therefore, will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong will he apportion as spoil because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered – he the sin of Many bare, and for transgressors interposes.”
Jesus gave his life to “ransom many.” That does not mean a limited or exclusive company. “Many is a verbal link to the passage from Isaiah where “the many” refers to the “transgressors.” Moreover, the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his self-sacrificial act.
In first-century society, very often, a “ransom” was paid to purchase the freedom of a slave. The statement is a declaration of his mission – To give his life as a ransom to free others from slavery to sin and Satan.
Thus, to “drink his cup” is to walk the same path that Jesus did in self-denial and self-sacrificial service to others for the sake of his kingdom so they, too, will be freed from bondage to sin and death.