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.
35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."
36"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
37They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."
38"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"
39"We can," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."
41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:35-45 NIV
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. 36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. 41And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:35-45 KJV
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.