This debate among the disciples was no doubt related to their views of the future. They thought that Jesus was going to deliver Israel from the Romans, restore the kingdom of David, and reign as its new king in all the glory that the nation experienced under King Solomon.
When that would happen, they no doubt assumed that, as part of Christ’s inner circle, they’d have prominent and important roles to play in the newly restored kingdom. But even that wasn’t enough: they wanted to know who among them would be the “greatest” in the kingdom. If that doesn’t sound like the promptings of Lucifer, what does? (See Isa. 14:14.)
Read Matthew 20:20-28. How did Jesus answer this request? What was His main point?
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this pathetic incident is its context. They were on their way to Jerusalem where Jesus was about to be crucified. He had just explained to them that He was going to be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, scourged, and crucified, and then rise again the third day (Matt. 20:18-19). As soon as He finished saying all this, the question of who was greatest came up again. They did not even hear what Jesus said. It was obvious that they were not listening. Interested in their own small-minded ambitions, they missed the large issues at stake, focusing on false concepts of an earthly kingdom that would never come and missing out on what Jesus was telling them about the eternal one that He was offering them through His own upcoming death.
It’s easy to think about how shortsighted and petty the disciples were. Look at yourself and ask: “What shortsightedness and pettiness do I need purged from my own soul?”