SYNOPSIS – To follow Jesus “wherever he goes” means a life of self-denial and sacrificial service for others – Matthew 20:20-28.
When he dispatched his disciples to announce the “good news” of the Kingdom to the “lost sheep of Israel,” Jesus warned 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,” for his disciples would be “hated by all men for his sake; however, only he that endured to the end” would be saved. After all, a disciple is “not above his master, nor a servant above his lord”:
“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).
The potential – And often very real loss – Of all things for his sake is what it means to follow Jesus and become his disciple. In the book of Revelation, John saw the overcoming “saints” standing on “Mount Zion” with the “Lamb,” having his Father’s name “written on their foreheads.”
This company was comprised of men and women who “followed the Lamb wherever he went.” They overcame the “Dragon” by the “blood of the Lamb, the word and their testimony, and because they loved not their lives even unto death.” In the same manner as the “faithful witness” – Jesus – They “overcame” and so qualified to reign with him on his Father’s Throne – (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11, 14:1-5).
On one occasion, Jesus foretold his impending arrest, trial, and execution in Jerusalem. To this, Peter objected most vehemently – “Be it far from you, Lord! This must never happen to you!” But Jesus rebuked the disciple – Peter was thinking in the manner of men, not God. And just like him, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it” – (Matthew 16:21-28).
Sometime later, Jesus again predicted his trial and execution to his disciples:
“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes; and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him unto the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify – and the third day he will be raised up” – (Matthew 20:17-18).
Apparently, the disciples did not comprehend his words. 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 – (Matthew 10:17-34).
James and John had asked to sit at his right and left sides when Jesus came “in his glory.” They still could not understand his words or daily example of humble service to others, but, in his kingdom, suffering and death must precede glory.
“Drink My Cup”
(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” often symbolized something given or allotted by God, most often in the negative sense of receiving His judicial punishment. Likewise, to drink the “cup” in his coming sufferings suggests his partaking of the wrath of God on account of sin. So, also, the context indicates a negative sense for his metaphorical use of “baptism” – (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).
When James and John declared they were well able to drink this “cup,” the response of Jesus demonstrated they did not understand what they were saying. However, eventually, they would drink of the same “cup” when years later they also suffered for the kingdom.
When Jesus declared that James and John would “drink of the same cup,” he was speaking not just to them, but to all his disciples. As a group, they were destined to endure suffering, deprivation, and persecution for his sake. This was not a specific prediction of the martyrdom of James or John, but instead, a reference to the suffering all disciples of Jesus can expect to endure on account of him.
“Become Slave of All”
(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 age, “greatness” in the Kingdom of God is achieved in self-sacrificial service, NOT in power, rank, or privilege. The one who would be “great” must become the “servant” of all. This term translates the Greek noun diakonos used elsewhere as a general term for a “servant” or “minister.”
However, in ancient Greek, diakonos referred to the servants who waited on tables. This is the term from which the title ‘deacon’ is derived. The gospel of Luke uses it in this older way for one who waits on tables:
(Luke 22:26-27) – “But not so with you but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as the servant. For 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.”
The Greek word translated as “slave” (doulos) may refer to anyone who is a “servant”; however, among Greek speakers in the first century, it more commonly referred to slaves.
Thus, 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.
The preposition rendered “instead of” is anti, meaning, “instead of, on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for.” Lying behind this saying are themes from the ‘Suffering Servant’ songs in the book of Isaiah, especially–
(Isaiah 53:10-12) – “Yahweh purposed to bruise him, He laid on him sickness: If his soul become an offering for guilt, He will see a seed, He will prolong his days and the purpose of Yahweh in his hand will prosper. Of the travail of his soul will he see, He will be satisfied with his knowledge, a setting right when set right himself will my Servant win for the Many, since of their iniquities he takes the burden. 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.” This does not mean a limited or exclusive company. The term serves as a verbal link to the passage from Isaiah where “the many” referred to the “transgressors.” Moreover, the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but instead between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his self-sacrificial act.
The passage from Isaiah also provided the term “soul” used by Jesus – the ‘Suffering Servant’ who “poured out his soul.” Likewise, according to Jesus, the “Son of Man” offered his “soul” to ransom the “many.”
In first-century society, 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 follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” is to walk the same path that Jesus did in self-sacrificial service to the Kingdom of God. To emulate his life will cost the disciple everything. The disciple of the “Lamb” can only “gain his life” by first “losing it.”