The Request of James and John


James and John wanted Jesus to promise them exclusivity and preeminence. What can we learn from Jesus' response?

Mark 10:35-45


The Bible is a book with no illusions. It does not hide human weakness in an attempt to idealize spiritual truth. And so it is that Mark goes on to show us in 10:35-45 that though the disciples followed after Jesus, they understood very little of what was happening. James and John, certainly, were not thinking of Jesus’ impending sufferings and death but about what they might get for themselves. These men had pushed away the people with children in their arms, and they had been shocked at Jesus’ teaching about giving up goods for His sake. They were amazed and afraid as He took the road to Jerusalem, and now they were filled with greed for themselves and jealousy of the others.

James and John were ready with a scheme to “deal Peter out.” The three had been together from the beginning, and Jesus had made them something of an inner circle of teaching and fellowship. Their presence on the Mount of Transfiguration was perhaps the highest privilege they had enjoyed. But now James and John attempt to get Jesus to promise them exclusive preeminence before they even ask Him (v. 35). Matthew adds the information that the brothers had their mother do the talking for them, but there is no doubt that the request originated in their own hearts.

Jesus was not caught in the trap of answering yes before He knew what He was promising. The form of the question reveals their bad conscience. But we need to ask ourselves exactly what was wrong with their request. Certainly it was good that James and John wanted to be near Jesus but that was not all they were asking. It was not simply, “We want to be near You,” but, “We want to be prominently near You.” How we need to search our motives! How easily we are deceived about our own hearts!

Notice how Jesus deals with their request. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” “We are able,” they replied (vv. 38-39). Here is a mixture of rashness and courage. It is a good illustration of what we seek to avoid when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t put us to the test, Lord. These two men did not know what they were saying, and they were not able. But later, on, when they were filled with the Spirit, they were called on to ratify the vow they made here. Luke records that James died a martyr (Acts 12:2), and John wrote the Book of Revelation while exiled to the island of Patmos “on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).

Christ’s answer reveals that positions of honor will not be given to His personal favorites (if indeed He has any) but to, “those for whom it is prepared.” Who are these? John himself later recorded Jesus’ words that, “he who conquers I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne” (Rev. 3:21). “Those for whom it is prepared” are those who are prepared for it. This preparation begins with grace but develops in accordance with our yielding to that grace. It is for the person who can say with Paul in Philippians 3:10-11, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” It is for the person who has followed in obedience in Christ’s steps and in His power.

Repercussions from the brothers’ request came quickly— the rest of the disciples were “indignant at James and John” (Mark 10:41). Jesus calls them together quickly to deal with the problem, for a wound like this could not be allowed to fester.

The result is that the ten are now to get the lesson James and John had just received. Jesus wanted to teach them not the qualifications for rewards but the inner meaning of rewards and their oneness with true service. Jesus notes that the higher men are in earthly governments, the more they are served. But in the kingdom of our Lord, both in its present, temporary form and in its eternal, spiritual form, the higher men are, the more they serve. Jesus’ word in verse 43, “But it shall not be so among you,” emphasizes the contrast between human affairs and divine, spiritual affairs. We see this thought echoed in 2 Timothy 2:11-12: “If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him.”


  • How does this passage illustrate human weakness?
  • What was the error that James and John had fallen into?
  • What is the position of honor?
  • How does Jesus teach the disciples about the "inner meaning of rewards"?


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