Whenever we study the Bible, it’s helpful to understand the cultural and historical context of the stories. Although we don’t always think about it, Jesus was living in what was perhaps the greatest and most powerful nation in human history. The Roman empire was the seat of world dominion and it was all about power, which was dictated from the top down. It was a time when people were vying for authority and where Caesar was Caesar only because he had an army. The Jews were living in the midst of this dominant society and they were under the thumb of Roman leadership. Consequently, they were expecting Jesus to establish a physical Kingdom to take power away from the empire that they perceived controlled them.
Enter James and John, the sons of thunder! Like their name implies, they were bold and blustery guys who were grasping for position and power in the Kingdom that they believed Jesus was going to create. When they told their master what they wanted, the Bible says in the Greek language that He literally sighed, because He knew that they didn’t understand what they were asking. Though they had spent day and night with Him and had listened first-hand to His teaching, they hadn’t yet conceived of the fact that His Kingdom was not one of might and dominion, but one of service. Far from being a super-power with an army of thousands, Jesus’ reign was established in the Spiritual realm, with authority accessed by humble hearts willing to take their cues from His suffering.
Friend, as different as black and white is the world’s view of power vs. God’s view. Jesus doesn’t call us to be the greatest, best, or most powerful; He asks us to lead by being willing to sacrifice ourselves, and even to suffer. You see, your capacity to gain influence is proportionate to your willingness to lay aside your own desires for the sake of others. When you submit your kingdom to the authority of His Kingdom and make His values and priorities your own, you become a conduit of His Heavenly power, which is far greater than anything you could ever gain in this world! Don’t seek to be the first in line — voluntarily move to the back and watch as blessing follows you there!