Ransom for Many

His disciples are called to lives of self-sacrificial service just as Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many – Mark 10:35-45. 

After predicting his death, the disciples begin jockeying for position in the coming messianic kingdom. Thinking according to the ways of this world, they do not yet comprehend what kind of Messiah Jesus is, and therefore, what it means to be his disciple.

In his words and deeds, he has demonstrated what kingdom citizenship means - self-sacrificial service to others. But as he approaches Jerusalem, even his closest followers continue to hold a very different vision of the kingdom of God than his.

Now, James and John ask Jesus to install them to reign at his right and left sides when he comes “into your glory.” Despite all they have seen, they remain incapable of understanding the words of God’s Son - “dull of hearing.” How can they ever emulate his daily examples of self-denial and service to others?

SUFFERING

In his kingdom, SUFFERING AND DEATH PRECEDE GLORY. As his disciples draw near to the city, they expect the Messiah of Israel will manifest his royal glory, impose his reign over the earth, and destroy the nation’s enemies. But to reign with him, they must first “drink his cup.”

  • (Mark 10:35-40) - “And approaching him, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are saying, Rabbi, we desire that whatever we ask of you, you will do for us. Now he answered them, What is it you are wishing me to do for you? Now they said to him, Grant to us that we may sit in your glory, one on your right and one on your left. But Jesus said to them, You know not what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I, myself am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I, MYSELF am being baptized?

In the Old Testament, the “cup” symbolizes something given or allotted by God, and often in the negative sense of judicial punishment for sin.

Though not stated here, the idea of drinking this “cup” points to Jesus enduring the wrath of God on account of the sins of others. Likewise, the context indicates a similar sense for the metaphorical use of “my baptism” - (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).

When the sons of Zebedee declare they are indeed prepared to drink from this “cup,” Christ’s response demonstrates they have no idea what this means. But eventually, they will drink the same “cup” when they also suffer for his kingdom. His followers should also expect to suffer persecution for his sake.

In the translation of the passage, “I, myself” represents the emphatic pronoun in the Greek text (egō), and it occurs four times in the passage where it stresses his messianic role - The death of the “Son of Man” is the event that inaugurates the kingdom.

SLAVE OF ALL

Contrary to the ways of this world, “greatness” in his kingdom is demonstrated by and measured in self-sacrificial service for others, not in political power, rank, or dominion over others. His disciple is a servant, not a master who lords it over his fellows and destroys his enemies.

And in his realm, the disciple who wishes to become “great” must first become the “servant” and “slave” of all. The English term “servant” translates the Greek noun diakonos, a word used elsewhere as a general term for “servant” or “minister.”

  • (Mark 10:41-45) - “And hearing this, the ten began to be indignant concerning James and John. And having summoned them, Jesus says to them, ‘You know that those considered rulers of the nations, lord it over them and their great ones take dominion over them. Yet not so is it among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, he will be your servant, and whoever desires to be chief among you will become the slave of all; For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.”

In secular Greek, diakonos refers to servants who wait on tables. It is the term from which the church derives the title ‘deacon.’

And the gospel of Luke applies it in this very manner - “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as the one who serves” - (Luke 22:26-27).

The Greek verb rendered “served” in the passage is the verbal form of the noun diakonos, and most often in ancient Greek, it refers to slaves.

RANSOM FOR MANY

And, so, Jesus points to himself as the one who came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his soul a ransom instead of many.” This is how he qualifies to become the Messiah and king who will wield all the awesome authority of God over all nations.

And the “Son of Man” becomes the “servant and slave of all” when he offers his “soul” in death as a ransom for others. Here, he uses the term “soul” in the Old Testament sense to refer to his entire person, both the physical and non-physical aspects. He gives his entire being or “life” for the sake of others.

The preposition rendered “instead of” or anti means “on behalf of, for, in place of, in exchange for.” Behind this saying is the passage describing the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:10-12) - “He shall be satisfied with his knowledge, a setting right when set right himself shall my Servant win for the many since of their iniquities he takes the burden. Therefore, will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as spoil because he poured out to death HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, HE THE SIN OF MANY BARE, AND FOR TRANSGRESSORS HE INTERPOSES.”

In Mark, Jesus refers to the “many” for whom he gives his life. This does not mean a limited or exclusive company. It is a verbal link to the passage in Isaiah where “the many” refers to the “transgressors.”

Moreover, the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who sacrifices his life and the many beneficiaries of his act.

The passage in Isaiah also is Christ’s source for the term “soul” in his words recorded in Mark. Just as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh “poured out his soul,” so the “Son of Man” offers his “soul” as a ransom for the “MANY.”

In first-century society, a monetary “ransom” was paid to purchase the freedom of a slave. Likewise, Jesus now provides his life as the ransom price to free a great many others from slavery to sin and death.

And his concrete example is now the paradigm for what it means to be a disciple and to reign with him in the kingdom of God. To become “great” in his realm and reign alongside him the disciple must first become a “servant and slave of all.”



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