Matthew 20:20-28a Servant Leadership.
Apparently James and John, the sons of Zebedee (4:21; 10:2), didn’t think it was appropriate to ask for the positions at Jesus’ side themselves, so it is their mother who asks (Cf. Mk. 10:35-45). Kneeling down before Jesus conveyed humility and respect, but the question was contrary to the posture (v. 20). Essentially, by asking that they be first at his side in his kingdom, they were asking that they might have the most prominent places of rule (v. 21). This reign is that which he would possess upon his ascension as the Son of Man, and “sits on the throne of His glory (19:28). Jesus would enter upon this reign by first suffering and being crucified – the cup and the baptism referred to here (v. 22 Cf. Lk. 22:42; 12:50). James and John said that they were willing, and Jesus indicated that they would suffer a similar end, but as to the position occupied by others in his messianic kingdom he stated that this “is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father” (v. 23 Cf. Acts 12:2).
This whole discussion displeased the other twelve (v. 24 Cf. Mk. 10:41), but it also revealed what was essentially a pagan view of leadership, namely “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them” (v. 25). Instead, greatness in Jesus kingdom would be marked by the attitude and ministry of a servant (v. 26). Anyone seeking to be first among equals, needed to serve as a slave (v. 27), “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (v. 28a). It is the humble who will be exalted (23:11-12). This is the second time this issue arose, so that the first time obviously was not enough to put it to rest (18:1-5). On that other occasion they were told that they needed the humility of a child, those who know their utter need and trust implicitly in others. Peter reiterates this principle of leadership in the church when he instructs the overseers or bishops to not be “as lords” over those entrusted to them, but to serve as under shepherds (I Pet.5:3).