Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 20:17-34, Understanding Jesus’ Service


As we come to the end of Matthew 20, we are seeing Jesus’ ministry come to a close. Chapter 21 begins by telling us that Jesus has come to the Mount of Olives and to Jerusalem. Chapter 19 told us that Jesus had left Galilee and made his way to Judea, the region where Jerusalem is located. But this will be the final time that Jesus comes to Jerusalem. But Jesus has another hard saying and important teaching for his disciples before he arrives in Jerusalem.

The Teaching (20:17-19)

Matthew 20:17 begins with Jesus and his twelve disciples making their way up to Jerusalem. As Jesus is making his approach to Jerusalem, he must explain to them what is going to happen in the next few days. So Jesus tells his disciples that by going to Jerusalem, he is going to be delivered over the religious leaders and they will condemn him to death. Then he will be given to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged, and then crucified. But he will be raised from the dead on the third day.

I think it is important to notice all the details that Jesus knows regarding his death. Jesus knows what is going to happen. He does not merely know that he is going to die. He does not only know that he will be crucified. He knows that the Jewish leaders are going to condemn him but give him to the Gentiles for crucifixion. But before being crucified, he knows that the Romans are going to mock him, flog him, and then crucify him. Only God can know the exact details of one’s death in advance.

The Question (20:20-21)

But this teaching leads to an interesting moment. The mother of James and John kneels before Jesus with a request. Her request is for her two sons to sit and his right hand and left hand when he comes into his kingdom. Now before we are quick to jump on her request, I want us to see some spiritual understanding that she is showing. She understands that Jesus will take his rightful place on the throne when he comes to Jerusalem. She understands that Jesus is going to be glorified somehow as they come to Jerusalem and she wants her sons to belong to this glorious new kingdom.

You will notice that Jesus does not correct her thinking. Jesus does not tell her that she has this wrong. He does not tell her that he is not coming into his kingdom nor establishing his rule on his glorious throne. He does not tell her that this is not is what is going to happen. That is what is going to happen when Jesus comes to Jerusalem. But there are two problems that Jesus needs to speak to them about.

The Call (20:22-28)

The first issue is seen in what Jesus says in verse 22. Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking.” Now I would think that they do know what they are asking. They are asking for greatness in the kingdom. They are asking for exaltation in his kingdom. So they know what they are asking for and Jesus knows what they are asking for. What they do not know is how this exaltation comes. Look at the question Jesus asks them in verse 22. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” We can read in the scriptures about a cup of blessing and a cup of suffering and judgment. The cup that Jesus is referring to is a cup of suffering and judgment. Jesus is asking his disciples if they are able to go through what he will go through. Jesus just clarified what his cup of suffering looks like. Jesus taught them again that he will be condemned to death, mocked, flogged, and crucified.

Now I want you to be these disciples and listen to Jesus’ words. Jesus says that to join him in glory, you will have the drink the cup of suffering that he drinks. Are you able to drink that cup? What would your answer be? Listen to what these disciples say in verse 22. “We are able.” How amazing! Are you ready to drink the cup of suffering that I will drink. They answer that they are ready and able.

Notice that Jesus does not tell them that this will not be necessary or that they will not be able to drink it. He tells them that this is exactly what is going to happen. “You will drink my cup.” The scriptures reveal that they did. James is killed in Acts 12 and John is exiled on an island for his testimony of Jesus in Revelation 1. Jesus continues that sitting at his right and left hand is not something for him to grant. The Father will grant it to those for whom it has been prepared (20:23). After reading the last paragraph I think we would rightly draw the conclusion that sitting with him in glory is assigned to all who come into the vineyard and labor for the master (cf. 19:27-20:16).

But there is a second issue that Jesus needs to address. Look at verse 24. When the rest of the disciples heard their request, they were indignant at the two brothers. Clearly, the ten disciples feel like these two beat them to the punch. How dare you seek to get ahead of us in greatness and glory! This brings about another important teaching about greatness in the kingdom. Look at what Jesus says in verse 25-27. The people of the world act like this. The leaders and rulers of the world seek authority and lord it over others. The people of the world look to be in charge and want to have authority over people. The whole point of having authority it to be able to do what you want to do and tell others what to do. But look at verse 26 carefully. “It shall not be so among you.”

Can I just say how sad it is people who claim to be followers of Jesus do the very thing that Jesus says it not to be so among us? How sad it is that those who claim to be followers of Jesus act just like the world, domineering others and lording their authority over them! Jesus said that this is not to be the case among us. The disciple of Jesus does not care about being great among others. The disciple of Jesus does not want authority so that they can have charge or tell others what to do. Notice what Jesus says we do with our authority and abilities. Look at verses 26-27.

Greatness is found in becoming a servant. Being first is about making yourself last. What a hard, counterintuitive teaching! Greatness is found in serving. Exaltation comes from making yourself last of all. Authority is given so that we can use that authority to serve others. This teaching is so important and threads through so many of God’s teaching in the scriptures. Why are shepherds given authority to the church? They are given the authority to serve the church. Why are preachers and teachers given authority? They are given authority to serve others. Why are deacons given authority over church matters? They are given authority to serve the church. Authority is given to serve. Authority in marriage and in the family is given to serve the family. No authority is given for self-promotion or self-elevation.

Then Jesus proves this by pointing to himself. Look at verse 28. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a random for many. Jesus has all authority and power. Jesus is worthy of all glory and exaltation. Yet Jesus used all of his authority and power and glory to serve, not to be served.

The Evidence (20:29-34)

This truth is shown in the miracle recorded in verses 29-34. Two blind men cry out for mercy when they hear Jesus is passing by. The crowd rebukes these blind men, telling them to keep quiet. But they cry out all the more. So Jesus asks what they want him to do for them. They ask for their eyes to be opened. Notice the two things that we read about Jesus. He is moved with compassion and heals them so that they can see. Jesus does not use his authority to ignore these blind men. Jesus uses his authority to serve these men. Jesus does not exert his authority to be dismissive of people. Jesus uses his authority and power to care for people and serve them. Jesus does not tell these people to serve him. He does not sit down, snap his fingers, and ask people to do for him. Jesus serves.

Kingdom Greatness

This whole paragraph is about greatness. James and John want to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom. The disciples are indignant about this. So Jesus explains about greatness in his kingdom. There are two key characteristics. First, kingdom greatness requires following Jesus in his suffering. Jesus told James and John that they must drink the cup of suffering that he would drink. But we are also asked if we will drink the cup of suffering with him. Listen to what the apostle Paul said about this.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17 NIV)

Jesus is exalted after his suffering. Jesus was glorified through his suffering. Glory did come by avoiding the suffering but going through the hardships. God brings us to eternal glory through suffering and hardships.

Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine. (2 Corinthians 4:17 God’s Word)

Second, kingdom greatness requires following Jesus in his serving. Our interactions with each other are not supposed to look anything like the world. We are to be the people to show how authority is supposed to be used. We show it on the job in how we treat others and serve others even with the authority we have. We show it in the home as husbands and wives and as parents in how we serve one another in the family. We show how authority is supposed to be used in the church as shepherds, teachers, and deacons in how we treat each other and serve each other.

We will keep at the forefront of our minds this truth in every interaction we have: Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Jesus used his authority to show compassion to others and help them. He did not use his authority for ruling, lording, or domineering. We are not here to be served, but to serve. We will use any positions we are granted to show compassion to others and help them. We will not use our position or our roles for ruling, lording, or domineering. Greatness is our Father’s eyes comes from suffering and serving. Will you drink the cup of suffering that Jesus drank so that you can join with him in eternal glory? Will you serve like Jesus served so that you can join with him in eternal glory?

Share on Facebook
Scroll to Top