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17. THE SONS OF ZEBEDEE AGAIN;
OR, SECOND LESSON ON THE DOCTRINE OF THE CROSS
The incident recorded in these sections of Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels happened while Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem for the last time, journeying via Jericho, from Ephraim in the wilderness, whither they had retired after the raising of Lazarus.399399John xi. 54. The ambitious request of the two sons of Zebedee for the chief places of honor in the kingdom was therefore made little more than a week before their Lord was crucified. How little must they have dreamed what was coming! Yet it was not for want of warning; for just before they presented their petition, Jesus had for the third time explicitly announced His approaching passion, indicating that His death would take place in connection with this present visit to Jerusalem, and adding other particulars respecting His last sufferings not specified before fitted to arrest attention; as that His death should be the issue of a judicial process, and that He should be delivered by the Jewish authorities to the Gentiles, to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified.400400Matt. xx. 17-19. Mark (x. 34) adds spitting to the catalogue of indignities.
After recording the terms of Christ’s third announcement, Luke adds, with reference to the disciples: “They understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”401401Luke xviii. 34. The truth of this statement is sufficiently apparent from the scene which ensued, not recorded by Luke, as is also the cause of the fact stated. The disciples, we perceive, were thinking of other matters while Jesus spake to them of His approaching sufferings. They were dreaming of the thrones they had been promised in Persia, and therefore were not able to enter into the thoughts of their Master, so utterly diverse from their own. Their minds were completely possessed by romantic expectations, their heads giddy with the sparkling wine of vain hope; and as they drew nigh the holy city their firm conviction was, “that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.”402402Luke xix. 11.
While all the disciples were looking forward to their thrones, James and John were coveting the most distinguished ones, and contriving a scheme for securing these to themselves, and so getting the dispute who should be the greatest settled in their own favor. These were the two disciples who made themselves so prominent in resenting the rudeness of the Samaritan villagers. The greatest zealots among the twelve were thus also the most ambitious, a circumstance which will not surprise the student of human nature. On the former occasion they asked fire from heaven to consume their adversaries; on the present occasion they ask a favor from Heaven to the disadvantage of their friends. The two requests are not so very dissimilar.
In hatching and executing their little plot, the two brothers enjoyed the assistance of their mother, whose presence is not explained, but may have been due to her having become an attendant on Jesus in her widowhood,403403Salome was one of the women who followed Christ in Galilee, and served Him. Mark xv. 41. or to an accidental meeting with Him and His disciples at the junction of the roads converging on Jerusalem, whither all were now going to keep the feast. Salome was the principal actor in the scene, and it must be admitted she acted her part well. Kneeling before Jesus, as if doing homage to a king, she intimated her humble wish to proffer a petition; and being gently asked, “What wilt thou?” said, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom.”
This prayer had certainly another origin than the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and the scheme of which it was the outcome was not one which we should have expected companions of Jesus to entertain. And yet the whole proceeding is so true to human nature as it reveals itself in every age, that we cannot but feel that we have here no myth, but a genuine piece of history. We know how much of the world’s
spirit is to be found at all times in religious circles of high reputation for zeal, devotion, and sanctity; and we have no right to hold up our hands in amazement when we see it
appearing even in the immediate neighborhood of Jesus. The twelve were yet but crude Christians, and we must allow them time to become sanctified as well as others. Therefore we neither affect to be scandalized at their conduct, nor, to save their reputation, do we conceal its true character. We are not surprised at the behavior of the two sons of Zebedee, and yet we say plainly that their request was foolish and
offensive: indicative at once of bold presumption, gross stupidity, and unmitigated selfishness.
It was an irreverent, presumptuous request, because it virtually asked Jesus their Lord to become the tool of their ambition and vanity. Fancying that He would yield to mere solicitation, perhaps calculating that He would not have the heart to refuse a request coming from a female suppliant, who as a widow was an object of compassion, and as a contributor to His support had claims to His gratitude, they begged a favor which Jesus could not grant without being untrue to His own character and His habitual teaching, as exemplified in the discourse on humility in the house at Capernaum. In so doing they were guilty of a disrespectful, impudent forwardness most characteristic of the ambitious spirit, which is utterly devoid of delicacy, and pushes on towards its end, reckless what offence it may give, heedless how it wounds the sensibilities of others.
The request of the two brothers was as ignorant as it was presumptuous. The idea implied therein of the kingdom was utterly wide of truth and reality. James and John not only thought of the kingdom that was coming as a kingdom of this world, but they thought meanly of it even under that view. For it is an unusually corrupt and unwholesome condition of matters, even in a secular state, when places of highest distinction can be obtained by solicitation and favor, and not on the sole ground of fitness for the duties of the position. When family influence or courtly arts are the pathway to power, every patriot has cause to mourn. How preposterous, then, the idea that promotion can take place in the divine, ideally — perfect kingdom by means that are inadmissible in any well — regulated secular kingdom! To cherish such an idea is in effect to degrade and dishonor the Divine King, by likening Him to an unprincipled despot, who has more favor for flatterers than for honest men; and to caricature the divine kingdom by assimilating it to the most misgoverned states on earth, such as those ruled over by a Bomba or a Nero.
The request of the brethren was likewise intensely selfish. It was ungenerous as towards their fellow-disciples; for it was an attempt to overreach them, and, like all such attempts, produced mischief, disturbing the peace of the family circle, and giving rise to a most unseemly embitterment of feeling among its members. “When the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation.” No wonder; and if James and John did not anticipate such a result, it showed that they were very much taken up with their own selfish thoughts; and if they did anticipate it, and nevertheless shrank not from a course of action which was sure to give offence, that only made their selfishness the more heartless and inexcusable.
But the petition of the two disciples was selfish in a far wider view, viz. with reference to the public interests of the divine kingdom. It virtually meant this: “Grant us the places of honor and power, come what may; even though universal discontent and disaffection, disorder, disaster, and chaotic confusion ensue.” These are the sure effects of promotion by favor instead of by merit, both in church and in state, as many a nation has found to its cost in the day of trial. James and John, it is true, never dreamt of disaster resulting from their petition being granted. No self-seekers and place-hunters ever do anticipate evil results from their promotion. But that does not make them less selfish. It only shows that, besides being selfish, they are vain.
The reply of Jesus to this ambitious request, considering its character, was singularly mild. Offensive though the presumption, forwardness, selfishness, and vanity of the two disciples must have been to His meek, holy, self-forgetful spirit, He uttered not a word of direct rebuke, but dealt with them as a father might deal with a child that had made a senseless request. Abstaining from animadversion on the grave faults brought to light by their petition, He noticed only the least culpable — their ignorance. “Ye know not,” He said to them quietly, “what ye ask;.” and even this remark He made in compassion rather than in the way of blame. He pitied men who offered prayers whose fulfillment, as He knew, implied painful experiences of which they had no thought. It was in this spirit that He asked the explanatory question: “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”404404The second clause is a doubtful reading, and is omitted in R. V.
But there was more than compassion or correction in this question, even instruction concerning the true way of obtaining promotion in the kingdom of God. In interrogatory form Jesus taught His disciples that advancement in His kingdom went not by favor, nor was obtainable by clamorous solicitation; that the way to thrones was the via dolorosa of the cross; that the palm-bearers in the realms of glory should be they who had passed through great tribulation, and the princes of the kingdom they who had drunk most deeply of His cup of sorrow; and that for those who refused to drink thereof, the selfish, the self-indulgent, the ambitious, the vain, there would be no place at all in the kingdom, not to speak of places of honor on His right or left hand.
The startling question put to them by Jesus did not take James and John by surprise. Promptly and firmly they replied, “We are able.” Had they then really taken into account the cup and the baptism of suffering, and deliberately made up their minds to pay the costly price for the coveted prize? Had the sacred fire of the martyr spirit already been kindled in their hearts? One would be happy to think so, but we fear there is nothing to justify so favorable an opinion. It is much more probable that, in their eagerness to obtain the object of their ambition, the two brothers were ready to promise any thing, and that, in fact, they neither knew nor cared what they were promising. Their confident declaration bears a suspiciously close resemblance to the bravado uttered by Peter a few days later: “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.”
Jesus, however, did not choose, in the case of the sons of Zebedee, as in the case of their friend, to call in question the heroism so ostentatiously professed, but adopted the course of assuming that they were not only able, but willing, yea, eager, to participate in His sufferings. With the air of a king granting to favorites the privilege of drinking out of the royal wine-cup, and of washing in the royal ewer, He replied: “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.” It was a strange favor which the King thus granted! Had they only known the meaning of the words, the two brethren might well have fancied that their Master was indulging in a stroke of irony at their expense. Yet it was not so. Jesus was not mocking His disciples when He spake thus, offering them a stone instead of bread: He was speaking seriously, and promising what He meant to bestow, and what, when the time of bestowal came — for it did come — they themselves regarded as a real privilege; for all the apostles agreed with Peter that they who were reproached for the name of Christ were to be accounted happy, and had the spirit of glory and of God resting on them. Such, we believe, was the mind of James when Herod killed him with the persecutor’s sword: such, we know, was the mind of John when he was in the isle of Patmos “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Having promised a favor not coveted by the two disciples, Jesus next explained that the favor they did covet was not unconditionally at His disposal: “But to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, save to those for whom it is prepared of my Father.” The Authorized Version suggests the idea that the bestowal of rewards in the kingdom is not in Christ’s hands at all. That, however, is not what Jesus meant to say; but rather this, that though it is Christ’s prerogative to assign to citizens their places in His kingdom, it is not in His power to dispose of places by partiality and patronage, or otherwise than in accordance with fixed principles of justice and the sovereign ordination of His Father. The words, paraphrased, signify: “I can say to any one, Come, drink of my cup, for there is no risk of mischief arising out of favoritism in that direction. But there my favors must end. I cannot say to any one, as I please, Come, sit beside me on a throne; for each man must get the place prepared for him, and for which he is prepared.”
Thus explained, this solemn saying of our Lord furnishes no ground for an inference which, on first view, it seems not only to suggest, but to necessitate, viz. that one may taste of the cup, yet lose the crown; or, at least, that there is no connection between the measure in which a disciple may have had fellowship with Christ in His cross, and the place which shall be assigned to him in the eternal kingdom. That Jesus had no intention to teach such a doctrine is evident from the question He had asked just before He made the statement now under consideration, which implies a natural sequence between the cup and the throne, the suffering and the glory. The sacrifice and the great reward so closely conjoined in the promise made to the twelve in Persia are disjoined here, merely for the purpose of signalizing the rigor with which all corrupt influences are excluded from the kingdom of heaven. It is beyond doubt, that those on whom is bestowed in high measure the favor of being companions with Jesus in tribulation shall be rewarded with high promotion in the eternal kingdom. Nor does this statement compromise the sovereignty of the Father and Lord of all; on the contrary, it contributes towards its establishment. There is no better argument in support of the doctrine of election than the simple truth that affliction is the education for heaven. For in what does the sovereign hand of God appear more signally than in the appointment of crosses? If crosses would let us alone, we would let them alone. We choose not the bitter cup and the bloody baptism: we are chosen for them, and in them. God impresses men into the warfare of the cross; and if any come to glory in this way, as many an impressed soldier has done, it will be to glory to which, in the first place at least, they did not aspire.
The asserted connection between
suffering and glory serves to defend as well as to establish the doctrine of
election. Looked at in relation to the world to come, that doctrine seems to lay
God open to the charge of partiality, and is certainly very mysterious. But look
at election in its bearing on the present life. In that view it is a privilege
for which the elect are not apt to be envied. For the elect are not the happy
and the prosperous, but the toilers and sufferers.405405 The lines of Euripides may be appropriated here to the true sons of God —
Οὔτ᾽ ἐπὶ κερκίσιν οὔτε λόγοις
φάτιν ἄϊον᾽ εὐτυχίας μετέχειν
θεόθεν τέκνα θνατοῖς (Ion, 510);
the meaning being, I have never heard it said that sons born to mortals of divine paternity were happy. In fact, they are elected not for their own sake, but for the world’s sake, to be God’s pioneers in the rough, unwelcome work of turning the wilderness into a fruitful field; to be the world’s salt, leaven, and light, receiving for the most part little thanks for the service they render, and getting often for reward the lot of the destitute, the afflicted, and the tormented. So that, after all, election is a favor to the non-elect: it is God ’s method of benefiting men at large; and whatever peculiar benefit may be in store for the elect is well earned, and should not be grudged. Does any one envy them their prospect? He may be a partaker of their future joy if he be willing to be companion to such forlorn beings, and to share their tribulations now.
It is hardly needful to explain that, in uttering these words, Jesus did not mean to deny the utility of prayer, and to say, “You may ask for a place in the divine kingdom, and not get it; for all depends on what God has ordained.” He only wished the two disciples and all to understand that to obtain their requests they must know what they ask, and accept all that is implied, in the present as well as in the future, in the answering of their prayers. This condition is too often overlooked. Many a bold, ambitious prayer, even for spiritual blessing, is offered up by petitioners who have no idea what the answer would involve, and if they had, would wish their prayer unanswered. Crude Christians ask, e.g., to be made holy. But do they know what doubts, temptations, and sore trials of all kinds go to the making of great saints? Others long for a full assurance of God’s love; desire to be perfectly persuaded of their election. Are they willing to be deprived of the sunshine of prosperity, that in the dark night of sorrow they may see heaven’s stars? Ah me! how few do know what they ask! how much all need to be taught to pray for right things with an intelligent mind and in a right spirit!
Having said what was needful to James and John, Jesus next addressed a word in season to their brethren inculcating humility; most appropriately, for though the ten were the offended party, not offenders, yet the same ambitious spirit was in them, else they would not have felt and resented the wrong done so keenly. Pride and selfishness may vex and grieve the humble and the self-forgetful, but they provoke resentment only in the proud and the selfish; and the best way to be proof against the assaults of other men’s evil passions is to get similar affections exorcised out of our own breasts. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus;.” then shall nothing be done by you at least in strife or vainglory.
“When the ten heard it,” we read, “they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” Doubtless it was a very unedifying scene which ensued; and it is very disappointing to witness such scenes where one might have looked to see in perfection the godly spectacle of brethren dwelling together in unity. But the society of Jesus was a real thing, not the imaginary creation of a romance-writer; and in all real human societies, in happy homes, in the most select brotherhoods, scientific, literary, or artistic, in Christian churches, there will arise tempests now and then. And let us be thankful that the twelve, even by their folly, gave their Master an occasion for uttering the sublime words here recorded, which shine down upon us out of the serene sky of the gospel story like stars appearing through the tempestuous clouds of human passion — manifestly the words of a Divine Being, though spoken out of the depths of an amazing self-humiliation.
The manner of Jesus, in addressing His heated disciples, was very tender and subdued. He collected them all around Him, the two and the ten, the offenders and the offended, as a father might gather together his children to receive admonition, and He spoke to them with the calmness and solemnity of one about to meet death. Throughout this whole scene death’s solemnizing influence is manifestly on the Saviour’s spirit. For does He not speak of His approaching sufferings in language reminding us of the night of His betrayal, describing His passion by the poetic sacramental name “my cup,” and for the first time revealing the secret of His life on earth — the grand object for which He is about to die?
In moral significance, the doctrine of Jesus at this time was a repetition of His teaching in Capernaum, when He chose the little child for His text. As He said then, Who would be great must be childlike, so He says here, Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. In the former discourse His model and His text was an infant; now it is a slave, another representative of the mean and despicable. Now, as before, He quotes His own example to enforce His precept; stimulating His disciples to seek distinction in a path of lowly love by representing the Son of man as come not to be ministered unto, but to minister, even to the length of giving His life a ransom for the many, as He then reminded them, that the Son of man came like a shepherd, to seek and to save the lost sheep.
The single new feature in the lesson which Jesus gave His disciples at this season is, the contrast between His kingdom and the kingdoms of earth in respect to the mode of acquiring dominion, to which He directed attention, by way of preface, to the doctrine about to be communicated. “Ye know,” He said, “that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great (provincial governors, often more tyrannical than their superiors) exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you.” There is a hint here at another contrast besides the one mainly intended, viz. that between the harsh despotic sway of worldly potentates, and the gentle dominion of love alone admissible in the divine kingdom. But the main object of the words quoted is to point out the difference in the way of acquiring rather than in the manner of using power. The idea is this: earthly kingdoms are ruled by a class of persons who possess hereditary rank — the aristocracy, nobles, or princes. The governing class are those whose birthright it is to rule, and whose boast it is never to have been in a servile position, but always to have been served. In my kingdom, on the other hand, a man becomes a great one, and a ruler, by being first the servant of those over whom he is to bear rule. In other states, they rule whose privilege it is to be ministered unto; in the divine commonwealth, they rule who account it a privilege to minister.
In drawing this contrast, Jesus had, of course, no intention to teach politics; no intention either to recognize or to call in question the divine right of the princely cast to rule over their fellow-creatures. He spoke of things as they were, and as His hearers knew them to be in secular states, and especially in the Roman Empire. If any political inference might be drawn from His words, it would not be in favor of absolutism and hereditary privilege, but rather in favor of power being in the hands of those who have earned it by faithful service, whether they belong to the governing class by birth or not. For what is beneficial in the divine kingdom cannot be prejudicial to secular commonwealths. The true interests, one would say, of an earthly kingdom should be promoted by its being governed as nearly as possible in accordance with the laws of the kingdom which cannot be moved. Thrones and crowns may, to prevent disputes, go by hereditary succession, irrespective of personal merit; but the reality of power should ever be in the hands of the ablest, the wisest, and the most devoted to the public good.
Having explained by contrast the great principle of the spiritual commonwealth, that he who would rule therein must first serve, Jesus proceeded next to enforce the doctrine by a reference to His own example. “Whosoever will be chief among you,” said He to the twelve, “let him be your servant;.” and then He added the memorable words: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
These words were spoken by Jesus as one who claimed to be a king, and aspired to be the first in a great and mighty kingdom. At the end of the sentence we must mentally supply the clause — which was not expressed simply because it was so obviously implied in the connection of thought — "so seeking to win a kingdom.” Our Lord sets Himself forth here not merely as an example of humility, but as one whose case illustrates the truth that the way to power in the spiritual world is service; and in stating that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, He expresses not the whole truth, but only the present fact. The whole truth was, that He came to minister in the first place, that He might be ministered to in turn by a willing, devoted people, acknowledging Him as their sovereign. The point on which He wishes to fix the attention of His disciples is the peculiar way He takes to get His crown; and what He says in effect is this: “I am a King, and I expect to have a kingdom; James and John were not mistaken in that respect. But I shall obtain my kingdom in another way than secular princes get theirs. They get their thrones by succession, I get mine by personal merit; they secure their kingdom by right of birth, I hope to secure mine by the right of service; they inherit their subjects, I buy mine, the purchase-money being mine own life.”
What the twelve thought of this novel plan of getting dominion and a kingdom, and especially what ideas the concluding word of their Master suggested to their minds when uttered, we know not. We are sure, however, that they did not comprehend that word; and no marvel, for the thought of Jesus was very deep. Who can understand it fully even now? Here we emphatically see through a glass, in enigmas.
This memorable saying has been the subject of much doubtful disputation among theologians, nor can we hope by any thing that we can say to terminate controversy. The word is a deep well which has never yet been fathomed, and probably never will. Brought in so quietly as an illustration to enforce a moral precept, it opens up a region of thought which takes us far beyond the immediate occasion of its being uttered. It raises questions in our minds which it does not solve; and yet there is little in the New Testament on the subject of Christ’s death which might not be comprehended within the limits of its possible significance.
First of all, let us say that we have no sympathy with that school of critical theologians who call in question the authenticity of this word.406406Baur expresses doubts in his Neutestamentlich Theologie, p. 100. Keim, on the other hand, defends the authenticity. It is strange to observe how unwilling some are to recognize Christ as the original source of great thoughts which have become essential elements in the faith of the church. This idea of Christ’s death as a ransom is here now. With whom did it take its rise? was the mind of Jesus not original enough to conceive it, that it must be fathered on some one else? Another thing has to be considered in connection with this saying, and the kindred one uttered at the institution of the supper. After Jesus had begun to dwell much in thought, accompanied with deep emotion, on the fact that He must die, it was inevitable that His mind should address itself to the task of investing the harsh, prosaic fact with poetic, mystic meanings. We speak of Jesus for the moment simply as a man of wonderful spiritual genius, whose mind was able to cope with death, and rob it of its character of a mere fate, and invest it with beauty, and clothe the skeleton with the flesh and blood of an attractive system of spiritual meanings.
Regarding, then, this precious saying as unquestionably authentic, what did Christ mean to teach by it? First this, at least, in general, that there was a causal connection between His act in laying down His life and the desired result, viz. spiritual sovereignty. And without having any regard to the term ransom, even supposing it for the moment absent from the text, we can see for ourselves that there is such a connection. However original the method adopted by Jesus for getting a kingdom — and when compared with other methods of getting kingdoms, e.g. by inheritance, the most respectable way, or by the sword, or, basest of all, by paying down a sum of money, as in the last days of the Roman Empire, its originality is beyond dispute — however original the method of Jesus, it has proved strangely successful. The event has proved that there must be a connection between the two things, — the death on the cross and the sovereignty of souls. Thousands of human beings, yea, millions, in every age, have said Amen with all their hearts to the doxology of John in the Apocalypse: “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, unto Him be glory and dominion forever.” Without doubt this result of His self-devotion was present to the mind of Jesus when He uttered the words before us, and in uttering them He meant for one thing to emphasize the power of divine love in self-sacrifice, to assert its sway over human hearts, and to win for the King of the sacred commonwealth a kind of sovereignty not attainable otherwise than by humbling Himself to take upon Him the form of a servant. Some assert that to gain this power was the sole end of the Incarnation. We do not agree with this view, but we have no hesitation in regarding the attainment of such moral power by self-sacrifice as one end of the Incarnation. The Son of God wished to charm us away from self-indulgence and self-worship, to emancipate us from sin’s bondage by the power of His love, that we might acknowledge ourselves to be His, and devote ourselves gratefully to His services.
But there is more in the text than we have yet found, for Jesus says not merely that He is to lay down His life for the many, but that He is to lay down His life in the form of a ransom. The question is, what are we to understand by this form in which the fact of death is expressed? Now it may be assumed that the word “ransom” was used by Jesus in a sense having affinity to Old Testament usage. The Greek word (λύτρον) is employed in the Septuagint as the equivalent for the Hebrew word copher (כֹּפֶר), about whose meaning there has been much discussion, but the general sense of which is a covering. How the idea of covering is to be taken, whether in the sense of shielding, or in the sense of exactly covering the same surface, as one penny covers another, i.e. as an equivalent, has been disputed, and must remain doubtful.407407Ritschl takes the former view (vide Lehre von der Rechtfertigung, ii. 80), Hofmann the other (vide Schriftbeweis(. The theological interest of the question is this, that if we accept the word in the general sense of protection, then the ransom is not offered or accepted as a legal equivalent for the persons or things redeemed, but simply as something of a certain value which is received as a matter of favor. But leaving this point on one side, what we are concerned with in connection with this text is the broader thought that Christ’s life is given and accepted for the lives of many, whether as an exact equivalent or otherwise being left indeterminate. Jesus represents His death voluntarily endured as a means of delivering from death the souls of the many; how or why does not clearly appear. A German theologian, who energetically combats the Anselmian theory of satisfaction, finds in the word these three thoughts: First, the ransom is offered as a gift to God, not to the devil. Jesus, having undoubtedly the train of thought in Psalm xlix. in His mind, speaks of devoting His life to God in the pursuit of His vocation, not of subjecting Himself to the might of sin or of the devil. Second, Jesus not only presupposes that no man can offer either for himself or for others a valuable gift capable of warding off death unto God, as the Psalmist declares; but He asserts that in this view He Himself renders a service in the place of many which no one of them could render either for himself or for another. Third, Jesus, having in mind also, doubtless, the words of Elihu in the Book of Job concerning an angel, one of a thousand, who may avail to ransom a man from death, distinguishes Himself from the mass of men liable to death in so far as He regards Himself as excepted from the natural doom of death, and conceives of His death as a voluntary act by which He surrenders His life to God, as in the text John x. 17, 18.408408Ritschl, Lehre von der Rechtfertigung, ii. 84. In taking so much out of the saying we do not subject it to undue straining. The assumption that there is a mental reference to the Old Testament texts in the forty-ninth Psalm and in the thirty-third chapter of Job, as also to the redemption of the males among the children of Israel by the payment of a half-shekel, seems reasonable; and in the light of these passages it does not seem going too far to take out of our Lord’s words these three ideas: The ransom is given to God (Psalm xlix. 7: “Nor give to God a ransom for him"); it is given for the lives of men doomed to die; and it is available for such a purpose because the thing given is the life of an exceptional being, one among a thousand, not a brother mortal doomed to die, but an angel assuming flesh that He may freely die. Thus the text contains, besides the general truth that by dying in self-sacrificing love the Son of man awakens in the many a sense of grateful devotion that carries Him to a throne, this more special one, that by His death He puts the many doomed to death as the penalty of sin somehow in a different relation to God, so that they are no longer criminals, but sons of God, heirs of eternal life, members of the holy commonwealth, enjoying all its privileges, redeemed by the life of the King Himself, as the half-shekel offered as the price of redemption.
These few hints must suffice as an indication of the probable meaning of the autobiographical saying in which Jesus conveyed to His disciples their second lesson on the doctrine of the cross.409409Vide p. 183. With two additional reflections thereon we end this chapter. When He said of Himself that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, Jesus alluded not merely to His death, but to His whole life. The statement is an epitome in a single sentence of His entire earthly history. The reference to His death has the force of a superlative. He came to minister, even to the extent of giving His life a ransom. Then this saying, while breathing the spirit of utter lowliness, at the same time betrays the consciousness of superhuman dignity. Had Jesus not been more than man, His language would not have been humble, but presumptuous. Why should the son of a carpenter say of Himself, I came not to be ministered unto? servile position and occupation was a matter of course for such an one. The statement before us is rational and humble, only as coming from one who, being in the form of God, freely assumed the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death for our salvation.
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