Matthew 20:20–28: A Ransom for Many

by Apr 15, 2024Premium, The Gospel of Matthew

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As Jesus continues to approach Jerusalem (see Matt. 20:17), it becomes clear that he is coming into his kingdom. Indeed, when he arrives, he will make his kingship plain by his triumphal entry into the city on a donkey (Matt. 21:9). Yet, despite his repeating teachings about the nature of his kingdom, even those closest to him fail to understand the full implications. In this story, then, we see the mother of James and John—two of Jesus’ closest disciples—asking for her sons to remain close to Jesus in his reign. In the course of this conversation, though, Jesus will make clear that to share in Christ’s glory will first require his people to share in Christ’s sufferings.

Discussion Questions

1. How does “then” connect this passage with what has come before (v. 20)? What has Jesus been teaching about his mission and the nature of his kingdom in the immediately surrounding context? What kind of a backdrop does this context form around the question posed by the mother of the sons of Zebedee? Why do you think that James and John permitted their mother to make this request after all that Jesus had predicted about his sufferings?

2. What is the significance of the connection between the phrase “one at your right hand and one at your left” that appears here and to describe the thieves at the cross (v. 21; Matt. 27:38)? Why do you think Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking (v. 22)? What does Jesus mean when he asks them whether they are able to drink from the cup that Jesus drinks (v. 22)? How would you have responded to this question?

3. Why do you think that the other ten disciples were indignant by this (v. 24)? Have you ever been the one requesting a privilege? Have you ever been the one indignant at someone else who requested a privilege? How did your heart evaluate each request? Why do you think that all of us are so eager to “lord over” and to “exercise authority over” others, yet so indignant at the authority that others have over us (v. 25)?

4. If the Son of Man was given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples should serve him” (Dan. 7:14), why does Jesus here say that the Son of Man “came not to be served but to serve” (v. 28)? What does it mean that Christ “gave his life as a ransom for many” (v. 28)? How does Jesus allude to Isaiah 53:11–12 by this statement? What is the significance of that Old Testament prophecy to inform the nature of Jesus’ work and his kingdom?