Matthew 20:21
And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
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(21) The one on thy right hand.—The favour which had already been bestowed might, in some degree, seem to warrant the petition. John was known emphatically as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; John 19:26; John 20:2), and if we may infer a general practice from that of the Last Supper (John 13:23), he sat near Him at their customary meals. James was one of the chosen three who had been witnesses of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1). Both had been marked out for special honour by the new name of the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). The mother might well think that she was but asking for her sons a continuance of what they had hitherto enjoyed. The sternness of our Lord’s words to Peter (Matthew 16:23) might almost justify the thought that his position had been forfeited.

20:20-28 The sons of Zebedee abused what Christ said to comfort the disciples. Some cannot have comforts but they turn them to a wrong purpose. Pride is a sin that most easily besets us; it is sinful ambition to outdo others in pomp and grandeur. To put down the vanity and ambition of their request, Christ leads them to the thoughts of their sufferings. It is a bitter cup that is to be drunk of; a cup of trembling, but not the cup of the wicked. It is but a cup, it is but a draught, bitter perhaps, but soon emptied; it is a cup in the hand of a Father, Joh 18:11. Baptism is an ordinance by which we are joined to the Lord in covenant and communion; and so is suffering for Christ, Eze 20:37; Isa 48:10. Baptism is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; and so is suffering for Christ, for unto us it is given, Php 1:29. But they knew not what Christ's cup was, nor what his baptism. Those are commonly most confident, who are least acquainted with the cross. Nothing makes more mischief among brethren, than desire of greatness. And we never find Christ's disciples quarrelling, but something of this was at the bottom of it. That man who labours most diligently, and suffers most patiently, seeking to do good to his brethren, and to promote the salvation of souls, most resembles Christ, and will be most honoured by him to all eternity. Our Lord speaks of his death in the terms applied to the sacrifices of old. It is a sacrifice for the sins of men, and is that true and substantial sacrifice, which those of the law faintly and imperfectly represented. It was a ransom for many, enough for all, working upon many; and, if for many, then the poor trembling soul may say, Why not for me?Grant that these my two sons may sit ... - They were still looking for a temporal kingdom.

They expected that he would reign on the earth with great pomp and glory. They anticipated that he would conquer as a prince and a warrior. They wished to be distinguished in the day of his triumph. To sit on the right and left hand of a prince was a token of confidence, and the highest honor granted to his friends, 1 Kings 2:19; Psalm 110:1; 1 Samuel 20:25. The disciples, here, had no reference to the kingdom of heaven, but only to the kingdom which they supposed he was about to set up on the earth.

Mt 20:17-28. Third Explicit Announcement of His Approaching Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection—The Ambitious Request of James and John, and the Reply. ( = Mr 10:32-45; Lu 18:31-34).

For the exposition, see on [1331]Mr 10:32-45.

Ver. 20,21. Mark saith, Mark 10:35, And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, the other on thy left hand in thy glory. Matthew’s saying in thy kingdom, Mark, in thy glory, leaves us in some doubt whether these two disciples and their mother had here some carnal notion of the kingdom of heaven, because Christ had before spoken of some that should be first in it, and others last; or were in some expectation of some glorious secular kingdom, which Christ after his resurrection should exercise in the world; for that they had some such thoughts appears from Luke 22:24 Acts 1:6. This mother of James and John was Salome, Mark 15:40, a constant follower of Christ, Matthew 27:55,56. Matthew saith she spake. Mark saith her two sons spake. They would first have had a general grant from Christ of whatsoever they should ask, or a certain thing. But wise men use not to grant such requests. Our Lord asks them what they would desire. Then do they betray their ambition. Was there ever a more unseasonable request, than for them to be suitors for great places to him, when he had but now told them he was going to be spit upon, scourged, condemned, crucified? Yet there was this good in it; they by it discovered a faith in him, that notwithstanding all this he should be exalted, and have a kingdom. But how carnal are our conceptions of spiritual and heavenly things, till we be taught of God a right notion of them!

And he said unto her, what wilt thou?.... Mark says, "he said unto them"; her two sons, James and John, "what would you that I should do for you?" Both is true; what is this singular favour? what business of moment and importance is it, you would have me do for you, you are so eager and pressing for, and so solicitous of? This he said, not as being ignorant of the matter; he knew the corruption of their hearts, the vanity of their minds, their carnal, worldly, and ambitious views; but to lead them on to say all they had to say upon this head; in which may be observed the goodness, humanity, and patience of Christ, in not upbraiding them with their pride and insolence, in bearing with their rashness and folly, and in giving them room to believe, that he should answer their request in every thing that was right and reasonable to be done,

She saith unto him, grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on the right hand, and the other the left in thy kingdom: or, as in Mark, "in thy glory" that is, in thy glorious kingdom; meaning a temporal one, which would outdo all the kingdoms of the world, in external glory, pomp, and splendour, as they imagined: to sit one on the right hand and the other on the left hand of Christ, when he should be seated, literally, on the throne of his father David, signifies to be nearest to his person; to be next to him in power and authority; to have the highest posts of honour, and places of trust and profit; to be his prime ministers; and, in a word, to have the greatest share next to him of worldly honour, riches, and power. To sit at the right hand, was, with the Jews, reckoned a great mark of honour and affection; see 1 Kings 2:19 and so with other nations: with the Egyptians especially, it was accounted a great honour to be placed on the right hand, but the greatest to be in the middle: which was equally observed among the Romans, and the same with the Africans and Numidians; though Xenophon relates, that Cyrus, with a singular prudence, that he might receive his guests the more honourably, used to place them at the left hand, accounting that part, as nearest the heart, to be the more worthy. (g) These two, the best and most honourable places, this woman was for engrossing for her two sons, who joined with her in the request; for Mark says, that "they said unto him, grant unto us that we may sit, &c." and Christ's answer here, which follows, implies as much.

(g) Alex. ab. Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 19.

And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
Matthew 20:21. She thus designates the two most distinguished positions in the Messiah’s kingdom. For among Orientals the foremost place of honour was considered to be immediately on the right, and the next immediately on the left of the king, Joseph. Antt. vi. 11.9; Wetstein and Paulus on this passage. She desired to see her sons not merely in the position of ordinary συγκληρονόμοι and συμβασιλεύοντες (Revelation 3:21), but in that of the most distinguished proceres regni.

εἰπὲ ἵνα] as in Matthew 4:3. The fact that the gentle and humble John should also have shared this wish (for both the disciples, in whose name also the mother is speaking, are likewise to be regarded as joining in the request, Matthew 20:22, so that there cannot be said to be any essential difference between the present passage and Mark 10:35), shows how much his character must subsequently have been changed. Comp. Introduction to John, § 3.

Matthew 20:21. εἰπὲ ἵνα: vide on Matthew 4:3.—καθίσωσιν, etc. = let them have the first places in the kingdom, sitting on Thy right and left hand respectively. After ἐκ δεξιῶν, ἐξ εὐωνύμων, μερῶν is understood = on the right and left parts. Vide Bos, Ellipses Graecae, p. 184, who cites an instance of the latter phrase from Diod. Sic. So this was all that came out of the discourse on child-likeness! (Matthew 18:3 ff.). But Jesus had also spoken of thrones in the new Genesis, and that seems to have fired their imagination and stimulated their ambition. And “the gentle and humble” John was in this plot! Conventional ideas of apostolic character need revision.

21. may sit, the one on thy right hand] Cp. for the thought ch. Matthew 19:28.

Matthew 20:21.[887] Ἵνα καθίσωσιν, that they may sit) She seems to refer to the promise of the twelve thrones mentioned in ch. Matthew 19:28, and to have taken occasion to apply the promise more especially to her own sons from the appellation, sons of thunder, which our Lord had bestowed upon them; see Gnomon on Mark 3:17.—[888]ΥἹΟΊ ΜΟΥ, my sons) Natural relationship had nothing to do with this.—ἐκ δεξιῶν σου, on Thy right hand) The words τὰ δεξιὰ signify, passim the right hand, foot, and side. Before then, Jesus would have others on His right and left; see ch. Matthew 27:38.[889]—ΕἿς, one) It may be supposed that the order of the disciples in their glory will correspond to the order in their office.

[887] Τἱ θέλεις, what wilt thou) The Saviour does not act hastily in promising.—V. g.

[888] Οἱ δύο) She seemed to herself at the time to be speaking altogether seasonably.—V. g.

[889] Sc. The two thieves who were crucified with Him.—(I. B.)

Verse 21. - What wilt thou. Jesus will make no unconditional promise; he compels her to formulate her petition. Grant; εἰπέ: command. These my two sons. She points to them, as they stood or knelt behind her. May sit... in thy kingdom. The right and left hand would be the places occupied by those next to the sovereign in dignity and consideration. There is here no thought of St. Peter's pre-eminence (comp. 1 Kings 2:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 45:9; Psalm 110:1). The petition was urged at this moment, because it was felt that a great crisis was at hand. This visit to Jerusalem must have momentous results; here Jesus was about to set up his throne; now was the moment to secure the highest places in his court. He had announced his death; he had also announced his glory; they balanced one declaration against the other, and seized on that which was most consonant to their national prejudices and their own ambitious views. Probably they interpreted the unintelligible resurrection to mean the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah (Luke 19:11). If this was imminent, no time was to be lost in making their claims known. So thought the "sons of thunder," and acted with energy and haste. Matthew 20:21Grant (εἰπὲ)

Lit., speak; i.e., with authority. Compare "command these stones," Matthew 4:3; "bid you," Matthew 23:3. Rev., command.

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