The mother of James and John, probably Salome, sister of Mary, Jesus’ aunt, came to Jesus with James and John and asked that the two boys sit in the highest places of honour is Jesus’ coming kingdom. Parents often have high hopes for children. I wonder how she asked. Jesus didn’t give them the nickname “Sons of Thunder” for nothing.
They were loud.
One commentator writes “There is nothing slight or gentlemanly about these guys! They worked the night shift on boats, throwing out nets and cranking them in by hand. No compass, no electric lights, no glass windows, no motor, no radar, no fish-finder. Maybe a sail, but other than that, oars. No women in sight, so you don’t have to watch your mouth when your brother slaps you upside the head with a wet net.”
They were quickly angered
When James and John saw someone doing something in Jesus’ name, they immediately wanted to stop the man, as if they were trying to prevent trademark infringement (Luke 9: 49-50, NIV). James and John were just protecting Jesus and His good name, but John’s stormy heart almost prevented someone from doing good in the name of the Lord.
They were speedy runners
Mary Magdalene told Peter and John that tomb of Jesus was empty. The race was on! Who do you think won the race – the Rock or the Son of Thunder? He let Peter go into the tomb first, though, because he was a nice guy. He let the Rock investigate what was behind the rock that had been rolled away at the tomb.
They had thunderous tempers
Jesus planned to go from Galilee to Jerusalem via Samaria. Jesus, though, decided to go right through that land (Luke 9: 51-56, NIV). The Samaritans refused to offer hospitality to Jesus and His disciples! How dare they! This caused James and John to “blow up” and they wanted God to blow up Samaria! They wanted God to rain down fire – that sounds like thunder and lightning to me! Talk about fiery speech! They were hot-tempered! They were firebrands!
James and John asked Jesus if they could throw down fire from heaven. This leads some to speculate that maybe James and John thought of themselves as some kind of gods..
They wanted thunderous applause
1. They were cocky, they sought power, and the storm of personal ambition raged in them.
Both Matthew and Mark record an interesting conversation regarding these two disciples (Mark 10: 35-41). In Matthew’s version, is the one who makes this request (Matthew 20: 20-28). They asked twice! In any case, it shows their arrogance. At that point, none of them understood the Kingdom of God.
The disciples were still expecting Jesus to establish His Messianic Kingdom then and now. They were looking for His reign to begin. There will be a reign and the Apostles will have a key part in that reign.
20:18-19 – Jesus very explicitly spelled out how that would happen. The only way the cross makes sense is that Jesus as our substitute for our sins
Neither James, nor John, nor their mother Salome, were perfect.
We might say, “How self-seeking is that! That’s terrible!”
But wait a minute. How much self-seeking do you do?
Are you concerned about your own position, your own comfort, your own future and your own family more than anything else? Are you looking out for “old number one”?
So often even we as Christians are looking out for ourselves.
How did Jesus earn His position of uppermost importance the Kingdom?
He did it through sacrifice and not self-seeking. If Jesus was self-seeking, He would have never left Heaven, let alone gone to the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).
2. There was no thunderous applause at the table (v24).
The disciples were jealous. They probably thought that James and John were taking advantage over their family relationship. They wanted that sort of position for themselves.
On the job, at school, among our friends and in our home lives much strife is caused because we all want our own way! We are selfish! Even in the church we can want our own way. And we all know people who like to lord it over others today. They like to use their authority to take advantage of others.
v26 – But Jesus said, that it is not to be that away among His followers. Those who are in the greatest positions of authority are to be ministers, or servants of all. Each one of us is to serve.
They thundered out the Gospel and had stormy servant=like lives If we are going to be leaders and if we are going to receive Christ’s greatest rewards, we are to be servants.
3. An inverted pyramid
Normally government and leadership within organisations are like a pyramid. The most prominent leader is on top and then it filters down in order of rank. Those on the bottom are to support the one who is on top.
John MacArthur and others have pointed out that Christianity is an inverted pyramid. The one who is the most prominent in leadership is to be serving, carrying, and supporting the others:
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Just as thunder and lightning unleash power, James and John became bold, intense followers of Christ. Thunder is actually a symbol of the voice of God (Psalm 18: 13). James and John echoed that thunderous voice, boldly proclaiming the Gospel. This got them into trouble. Jesus told them, “You certainly will drink from the cup from which I must drink” (Mark 10: 39).
4. Transformed lives despite the family background
James became the first apostle to die for the faith. This happened 14 years after the prophecy quoted above (Acts 12: 1-2).
John, on the other hand, was the last of the apostles to die. John was a part of the church in Jerusalem and shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, he moved to Ephesus (in modern day Turkey.) Tradition tells us that John became a pastor of the church at Ephesus and later was in charge of all the churches in Asia Minor. He wrote the Gospel of John, the three letters of John, and Revelation. That last one he wrote while he was exiled as a prisoner on the Island of Patmos. He was set free in AD 96 and returned to Ephesus. He died of natural causes in the second century, long after the other disciples had died.
The Holy Spirit transformed John from a hot-headed firebrand into “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. The same man who wanted fire from heaven to destroy people gave us the most-quoted Bible verse of all time: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).