His disciples are called to lives of self-sacrificial service for others, just as Jesus gave his life a ransom for many – Mark 10:35-45

After predicting his trial and execution, the disciples jockeyed for position in Christ’s reign over his kingdom. In words and deeds, he taught them previously that kingdom citizenship means a life of self-sacrificial service to others. But as he approached Jerusalem, even his closest followers demonstrated a very different vision of what it meant to “rule” over others in his domain.

James and John requested that Jesus install them at his right and left hands when he came “in his glory.” Despite all they had seen and heard to this point, they remained “dull of hearing,” incapable of comprehending the words of God’s Son or learning from his daily examples.


In the messianic kingdom, suffering and death precede glory. As Jesus and his entourage drew nearer to the city of Jerusalem, they expected the Messiah of Israel to manifest his royal glory, impose his reign over the earth, and destroy their enemies.

  • (Mark 10:35-40) – “And approaching him, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are saying, ‘Rabbi, we desire that whatever we ask of you, you will do for us.’ Now he answered them, ‘What is it you are wishing me to do for you?’ Now they said to him, ‘Grant to us that we may sit in your glory, one on your right and one on your left.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You know not what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I, myself am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized?’ Yet they said to him, ‘We are able.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I, myself am drinking you will drink, and the baptism with which I, myself am being baptized you will be baptized, yet to sit on my right or left is not for me to give, but for those for whom it has been prepared.’

In the Old Testament, the “cup” often symbolizes something given or allotted by God, and usually in the negative sense of judicial punishment.

Though not stated in the passage, the idea of drinking this particular “cup” points to Christ’s tasting of the wrath of God on account of the sins of others. Likewise, the context indicates a similar sense for the metaphorical use of “baptism” – (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).

When James and John declare that they are prepared to drink from this “cup,” the response of Jesus demonstrates they have no idea what they are saying. But eventually, they would drink of the same “cup” when they also suffered for his kingdom. His followers can and should also expect to endure persecution for his sake.

In the translation above, “I, myself” represents the emphatic pronoun in the Greek text (egō), which occurs four times in the passage to stress his messianic role – The death of the “Son of Man” is the event that inaugurates the promised kingdom of God.


Contrary to the ways of the fallen world order, “greatness” in God’s kingdom is demonstrated and measured in self-sacrificial service for others, not in political power or rank.

In Christ’s domain, the disciple who wishes to become “great” must first become the “servant” of all. This English term translates the Greek noun diakonos, a word used elsewhere as a general term for “servant” or “minister.”

  • (Mark 10:41-45) – “And hearing this, the ten began to be indignant concerning James and John. And having summoned them, Jesus says to them, ‘You know that those considered rulers of the nations, lord it over them and their great ones take dominion over them. Yet not so is it among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, he will be your servant, and whoever desires to be chief among you will become the slave of all; For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.”

In secular Greek, diakonos referred often to servants who waited on tables. It is the term from which the church derived the title ‘deacon.’ The gospel of Luke applies it in this manner – “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as the one who serves” – (Luke 22:26-27).

The Greek verb rendered “served” is the verbal form of the noun diakoonos, and most commonly, it referred to slaves.


And, so, Jesus points to his own mission as the one who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.”

And the “Son of Man” became the “servant and slave of all” when he gave his “soul” in death to ransom others. Jesus uses the term “soul” in the Old Testament sense for his entire person, both its physical and non-physical aspects. He gave his entire being or “life” for the sake of others.

The preposition rendered “instead of” or anti means “on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for.” Behind this saying of Christ is the passage describing the ‘Suffering Servant’ in the book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:10-12) – “He shall be satisfied with his knowledge, a setting right when set right himself shall 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 shall he apportion as spoil because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of Many bare, and for transgressors HE interposes.”
[Photo by v2osk on Unsplash]

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus refers to the “many.” This does not mean a limited or exclusive company. It is a verbal link to the passage in 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 that sacrificial act.

The passage in Isaiah also is Christ’s source for the term “soul” in the passage.

Just as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh “poured out his soul,” so the “Son of Man” offers his “soul” to ransom the “many.”

In first-century society, a monetary “ransom” was paid to purchase the freedom of a slave. Likewise, Jesus gave his life as the ransom price to free a great many others from slavery to sin and death. And his concrete example is the paradigm for what it means to be his disciple and reign with him in the kingdom of God.

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