Ten Become Indignant at the Two

Mark provides a series of parables in chronological order matched to the overall story of the Bible. This one is about Constantine’s era.

The Story

35And Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, Teacher, we wish you would do for us whatever we ask. 36He said to them, What do you wish me to do for you? 37They said to him, Grant us to sit, 1 at your right and 1 at your left, in your glory. 38He said to them, You do not know what you are asking; can you drink the cup which I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized? 39They said to him, We can. Joshua said to them, The cup which I will drink, you too will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will also be baptized; 40but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give; except to those for whom it is prepared. 41When the 10 heard it, they began to murmur at Jacob and John. 42Joshua called them and said to them, You know that those who consider themselves princes of the people are also their masters; and their officials rule over them. 43Do not let this be so among you; but he who wishes to be great among you, let him minister to you. 44And anyone of you who wishes to be 1st, let him be a servant to all. 45For the son of man did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life as a salvation for the sake of many. Mark 10:35-45

Background

Beginning in the late 300s AD and progressing into the 400s AD the Roman world went through a process of division. The eastern branch of the Roman world moved headquarters to Constantinople, modern Istanbul. The western church remained centered at the city of Rome.

This division was foretold in a dream given to Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon. In the dream the progression of empires from the Babylonian through the divided Roman empire was shown as a progression down along a statue. The split in the legs of the statue was the split between the eastern and western branches of that future empire.

The Book of Daniel, and the various events related to Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon, are quite curious because they are recorded in the Bible. Generally speaking God only speaks to people under some sort of covenant. When someone is not under covenant with God the conversations that God has with that person generally deal with coming into covenant.

People who are not yet following Jesus often have spiritual encounters. Sometimes those encounters involve the Holy Spirit wooing them into relationship with Jesus. Sometimes those encounters are frightful, scary episodes that drive people through fear into the arms of Jesus.

At the national level, God speaks openly to the king because there is some sort of national covenant with the people in the nation. Outside of such a covenant God works in unseen ways, without direct communication.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue was curious because it belies the national covenant that falls on him. Where did it come from? The Assyrian invasion about 200 years before. The ancient Israelites had been deported to Babylon and were now ruling the country. Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams were of the future direction of that same kingdom. It would end with 10 toes, the ten tribes back in a political alliance across the globe.

The separation between the "east" and the "west" as we know it today springs from the two legs of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. It also springs from the civil war that separated Solomon’s kingdom into north and south. Generally speaking the "north" went west while the "south" went east. This is seen in another parable where the mount of Olives is seen dividing along an east-west axis with half going north and half south. Out from within that division living water flowed east and west. The point of that parable was the people involved in the civil war that split the kingdom north-south would actually travel east and west out of the promised land.

Since the northerners went west, the expression "ten" always refers to the western peoples in the Bible’s parables. The "two" the number of tribes that made up the southern kingdom, went east.

Curiously, the tribe of Judah, the leading tribe of the southern kingdom maps in modern time to Russia. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, ended up as the English speaking world in the west. Until very recently the instrument of the "Ten" has been the NATO alliance. The instrument of the eastern alliance was the CIS. Russia and the United States have been at odds with each other since geo-politics brought the two nations into each other’s spheres. The split between the modern equivalents of the western and eastern branches of the Roman empire is what Jesus’ parable is pointing at.

The first scene in this parable shows the two brothers coming to Jesus and asking him to grant them anything. Jesus recognizes the problem this request entails and carefully explains these positions are given to those whom the father has prepared.

When the Ten hear about what these two have asked they become indignant. The split between the east and west is seen here directly, in the actions of the disciples.

Curiously, Jesus’ explanation of the two who sit on either side of him is an explanation of the future split kingdom. Instead of the first two sitting on either side of him, the two sit together on one side of him. They make up the eastern branch of the Church, the eastern branches of earthly governments across the globe.

The Ten, on the other hand, sit on the other side of Jesus. These ten also stand at Jesus’ side in the place prepared for them. But, they all share one of Jesus’ sides. In this case the western side.

Jesus closes the parable with a more complete explanation of what these positions mean. Earthly rulers lord it over other people. Of course this is how this happens. These disciples represent the kingdoms that span the globe. But, Jesus explains that there is a purpose. This is the purpose that all kings have, which is to serve their subjects.

The purpose of the earthly kingdom, stated clearly in Moses’ day, was to be a royal priesthood. A people belonging to God. (cite) That general purpose was to allow the spreading of the Gospel message around the globe to all peoples, following the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.

The purpose for God granting worldly political power to the eastern and western branches of the Roman empire was to foster this very purpose: The spread of the Gospel around the world.

Finally, in a last point in this parable Jesus makes the point that the highest ruler in the Kingdom of God must be someone who is servant of all. The one who is the servant of all is Jesus, who died on the cross for everyone almost 2000 years ago.

Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-06