Mark 10:32-45, Become Low to Reach High

The Third Prediction of the Passion (Mark 10:32-34)

[September 5, 2010] This is the third prediction of the passion (notice the word “again” in 10:32). It marks the third subsection of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem on “the way of the cross.” In the first (8:31—9:29), Jesus focuses on the individual disciple. In the second (9:30—10:31), the focus is on the life of the church. In the third (10:32-52), the focus is on the kingdom, albeit the story about the healing of Bartimaeus also serves to close the section, correlating as it does to the story of the healing of the blind man in 8:22-26.

In Mark’s gospel (unlike Matthew 20:17-19 and Luke 18:31-34) this subsection begins with the words, “Now they were on the Way,” “the way” being a device that Mark uses to allude to the way of the cross, which is the special focus of the Gospel according to Mark. The phrase, “on the way,” are also the last words of the subsection (10:52).

The phrase, “going up to Jerusalem,” appears six times, the first two times being here, in verses 32 and 33, and the last time in 11:27. Jesus is approaching the end of the way, when He will enter the city. Mark uses this phrase to prepare us for what is about to take place.

The phrasing, “the things that were about to happen to Him,” in verse 32, is also reminiscent of the transfiguration story in Luke when in 9:31 Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to complete in Jerusalem. This little thread, reminding us of the joy set before Christ (Hebrews 12:2), connects us to the request of the sons of Zebedee in the next story: they want the seats of honor “in Your glory” (10:37).

In the first passion prediction, Jesus speaks of rejection by the elders and chief priests and scribes. In the second, He speaks of being betrayed into the hands of men. In the third, He speaks of being betrayed to the chief priests and scribes and they condemning Him to death and betraying Him to the Gentiles, who “will mock Him and spit at Him and scourge Him,” before they kill Him. This third prediction introduces the Gentiles and says that the vinedressers of the vineyard (12:1-12), the stewards of the City of David and the Torah and Temple, will betray Him to them. This introduces the idea of the kingdom or government of God.

The kingdom of God does indeed have to do with Israel. Since the days of the exile, Israel has been under the judgment of God and will continue to be so until the coming of the Messiah. Then, when the eyes of Israel are opened, they will see who is the Son of David and welcome Him into the City (Jerusalem), saying, “Blessèd is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This overcoming of Israel’s hardening is affect of the kingdom or rule of God. This is alluded to in the healing of blind Bartimaeus.

But the rule of God also has to do with overcoming the Gentile powers, the rebellion of Babel. When the prophets pronounced the judgment of God on Israel and Judah, they also pronounced that God’s judgment on all the nations (Gentiles). If you read the prophets this is obvious, but see also Romans 3:19 as the conclusion of Romans 1:18—3:20 in preparation for 11:32. While God is omnipotent and rules over all through His providence, in the New Testament the “kingdom of God” has to do with that aspect of God’s rule that seeks to overcome humanity’s defiance of Him, our own, Israel’s and the nations.

The following story speaks of Christ coming “in glory” (verse 37) and alludes to His rule in verse 42. The title “Son of Man” in verse 45 also alludes to Christ’s coming in the kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). The story is about our ruling with Him, but it inverts our expectations, for whoever wants to become great (or first) shall be your slave, and even the King (the Son of Man Himself) must give up His soul to ransom the many.

In the forefront of the story is how things are to be “among you” (verse 43). But the assumption in the background is that this way of being has to do with the reward of the kingdom. Not all believers will enter the kingdom when Christ comes in glory. That will be the reward for those who are faithful in the way of the cross, who lose their soul, and who “overcome” the world and the devil in the face of adversity.

The reward is to reign with Christ during the time of the kingdom when He is “abolishing all rule and all authority and power” until all His enemies are put under His feet (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). This includes the Gentile nations (see 1 Corinthians 6:2).

Certainly the cross of Christ is our salvation. First, however, it is the revelation from heaven of the wrath of God upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18). On the cross Israel and the nations are judged and condemned. Broader than our own salvation, it is the means of God’s victory over His enemies. Before, however, He overcomes them, He judges them. The incarnation of Jesus puts them on trial. Their condemnation of Him manifests and condemns the soul of man and the world which constitutes it.

Let us turn now to the question of James and John.

The Way of the Kingdom in the Church (10:35-45)
The Brothers’ Request

James and John (in Matthew it is their mother who makes the request) want Jesus to do whatever they want. This statement reveals what is really in our souls. We come to Jesus, and we follow Him, but we also want to manipulate Him to fulfill our own ends. As long as we do not lose our soul, we still have our own agendas and we unconsciously use God to achieve them.

Why do we find ambition in the local churches? People want to be loved by others, they want to be important, they want influence, or they want power. We need to be loved and appreciated, but this basic need is distorted in our minds. We compare ourselves with others. Who is getting more? We act as if there is a scarcity of what we need and we must compete for it.

On a larger scale, Christians want to, ultimately, have power in the world, or over the world. They rationalize this. If the church is powerful enough, it can change the world and make it a better place. This has always been the ambition of civil religion, and before that it has been the ambition of the state churches and the churches of the Roman and Byzantine empires. We justify it, and our reasoning makes sense, but in reality, this desire comes from a soul that is still alienated from God. We want Jesus to do things our way and not His way which is the way of the cross.

Indeed, the brothers want to be given the two seats of privilege at the right and left hand of Jesus when He rules in the kingdom of God. Jesus does not deny that there are special places, but He tells them that they have no idea what they are asking for. If you wish to reign in the kingdom, then you must deny yourself, indeed die to self by taking up the cross, and lose your soul for My sake and the Gospel’s (8:34-35). Only then you can save your soul and win a place in the kingdom.

What Jesus says to them is that they must drink the cup which He drinks and be baptized with the baptism with which He is baptized. The cup, obviously, refers to the cup of Gethsemane (14:36), the cup of the Father’s will—to give up His sinless soul (10:45) in death for the sake of others. The baptism is the baptism of death (Luke 12:50: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am pressed until it is accomplished”). This martyr’s baptism in blood (1 John 5:6-8) is the end of the baptism that began in water, for the baptism in water—when Jesus was anointed with the Spirit for His work—signified His renunciation of His soul, as evidenced by His testing in the wilderness.

Of course, since they do not know what they are saying, the brothers say they are able to drink this cup and receive this baptism. And Jesus assures them that they shall. We know that James was martyred by Herod in Acts 12:2. Whether or not we give up our physical life as he did, we do need to give up the false life of the soul (the old man) if we would reign with Christ.

The symbols of death that Jesus uses, the cup and baptism, are also the marks of the church.

Baptism marks our entrance into the church and the Supper marks our continuation. In baptism we identify with Jesus in His death (Romans 6:4). If we understand the cost of discipleship, then in receiving baptism we are expressing our intention to go this way—the way of the cross. Our baptism into the church is a martyr’s baptism that not only signifies our acceptance of God’s grace (the redemption that is ours through the blood of Christ), but our intention to die to our false self.

The cup that we drink at the Lord’s Supper as we remember our Lord, the cup of the New Covenant filled with blood, is also a taking of the Lord into ourselves. In doing this also we are identifying with the Lord in His death. To receive the Gospel is to drink this cup. We are reminded of Gethsemane and in drinking the cup we are likewise expressing our intention to go the way of the cross.

This reminds us, as the Gospel according to Matthew makes so clear, that in the church we are under the fatherly government (kingship) of God which works to overcome our resistance to Him so that we may “enter” the kingdom when Christ comes in glory.

To lose our soul is the way to save it; to die to the false self is the entrance into life and freedom. Not only will be possess the seed of God, eternal life, within us, as a seal and promise, but we will “inherit” eternal life in the age to come, the age of the kingdom.

How It Is to Be Among Us

The two brothers wanted a place above the other Twelve, and presumably above all other disciples. Naturally the ten others became indignant. Jesus compares this desire to the way the Gentiles think about power. Those who rule are bossy, they lord it over others, and their “big shots,” the great ones, exercise authority over others. But if you want to rule or be “big,” then you must put yourself below all others and serve them as a slave.

It cannot be different for the disciples than it is for Jesus Himself. If He is to be “given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages might serve Him” as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14), then He must wait on others as a domestic servant (a diakonos) instead of as a master (or lord, kyrios), and give up His soul as the ransom price in exchange for the many.

Therefore, Jesus says, among you—that is, in the church—it cannot be the way it is among the Gentiles. Rather, among yourselves—that is, with each other—you all have to be like Me.

Let us be blunt about what this means. In Luther’s Bible there is an engraving with someone kissing the pope’s ring on one side and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet on the other. Luther freed his congregations from the rule of the bishop of Rome but he kept his own bishops, and he used the power of the German princes to reinforce their authority. Other protestant reformers did the same.

By the fourth century, bishops were powerful people in the church, often drawn from the aristocratic classes. Some of the best of them, whom we admire for their faithfulness and courage, were also patriarchal tyrants, even when the empire persecuted the church. When the empire supported the church, the power of the bishops grew, and when the empire could no longer support the society, the bishops practically took their place (as with Gregory the Great). These were often—I’d like to think usually—good men. Nevertheless, this hierarchical pattern of authority seems to be exactly what Jesus was telling us not to do.

In the Reformed Churches (they are not churches but “denominations” of the church) the pattern of presbytery, synod and general assembly—for which there is no evidence in the Bible or early church (a connectionalism of fellowship exist but it was not institutionalized)—was meant not to be hierarchical but as it has copied the bureaucratic and management models of the Gentiles has become more and more so. The “executive presbyter” often takes the place of a bishop, though now the tendency is to imitate secular models of management that are more team and committee driven.

In the New Testament, elders (presbyteros) were bishops (episkopos). See Acts 20:17, 28 and Titus 1:5, 7. And every church had a plurality of elders/bishops who served together. By the end of the second century the bishop (or overseer) became the title for one of the elders and elders often served the small rural congregations alone under the oversight of the city bishop. Eventually the power of the bishop grew. It is questionable, however, that the elder/bishop in the apostolic churches was even a position of authority. They were leaders, certainly, but one can lead by example rather than rule. Also we do not find—in the apostolic churches—that they served a distinct public role (as such), meaning, in the gatherings of the church (for example in the ministry of the word). There were apostles and prophets and teachers, or in other words, coworkers of the apostles and other people with gifts, but as “elders” or “bishops” we do not see anyone engaging in public ministry. This is interesting, for eventually the presbyter often became the sole public minister: the worship leader and preacher. In the days of the New Testament, there were no public offices in the local churches (not even the apostles, for their role was not in or over the local church). Elders and deacons served behind the scenes.

The great “Orthodox” and Roman Catholic denominations are hierarchical as are most of the Protestant churches, and the structure of most Protestant churches is almost always a pastor and a congregation (with any number of other staff and auxiliary helpers) with or without a board. Yet the churches in the New Testament were neither hierarchical nor pastor-led. This is obvious, yet it is ignored.

I can think of several times in the history of the church when an attempt was made to give up the way of the Gentiles. 1 Corinthians 14:26 describes a church gathering in which all participate on an equal basis according as the Spirit leads, without the imposition of human authority. Some Anabaptist churches sought to put this into practice. Then the Quakers did. After them the Plymouth Brethren did. Then, in the twentieth century the “Little Flock” movement did this in China and internationally. In more recent times this was practiced in Charismatic circles (rarely in Pentecostal churches, which tended to be dominated by a pastor-tyrant). Some of these ecclesial movements still practice this.

In the local church every believer has the Holy Spirit and has been gifted by the Holy Spirit to minister (serve) their fellow believers in the local church (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:7). These passages refer to spiritual ministry and not the ability to do recordkeeping or manual labor. Nor does it mean that some are the “servant-leaders” and everyone else is served and led. As long as some believers can lord it over others as those who possess spiritual gifts, then we cannot be a church in which all are servants. Within the local church all must use their one talent. No one has the privilege to remain passive spiritually while others serve them. As long as there are believers younger than you in the faith, you have something to give them. As long as the Lord gives you any crop during the week, you have something with which to serve others, even those in the faith longer than you. It takes great humility to offer what we have, and to do so in mutual subordination to one another, putting all others above ourselves as if we were little children. It is lack of humility that keeps us safely and securely silent. Our church gatherings ought to be open for all to participate as the Spirit leads, rather than the situation where some have an active responsibility and others are passive recipients. There is a place for apostolic ministry, but the ministry of the local church should be based on mutuality and the principle of “one another.”

For almost forty years I have been convinced of this and all my study has not changed my mind. There have been times, when I have observed denominational churches, when it seems that lay people in leadership tend to push the church in a more secular direction. This is true in Reformed denominations. Nowadays, however, the clergy often base their stances so little on Biblical authority and theological understanding that they act more like “lay people” than the lay people do. In this case, the conservative stances of the Orthodox and Catholic denominations hold back the secular floodwaters better.

  However, in the proper local church believers are not just “lay people.” They should be qualified because they take their baptism (as separating them from the world) seriously. They ought to be equipped with knowledge of the Scriptures and well practiced in the spiritual life. If the local church functioned as it ought, the new believer would receive more than a seminary education when it came to the practice of discipleship. May the Lord’s will be done.

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