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Mark records the following,

10:35 Then 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. 37 They 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, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Matthew records this incident in Matthew 20:20-23 with a few slight differences but the point of the story is essentially the same.

For whom has the right or left of Jesus been prepared?

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  • I'm not sure why you accepted Jack's answer but it seems at odds with the text to me. In the text God has decided and no one can earn it yet Jack seems to suggest that it will belong to the greatest sufferer or something. The text is saying the opposite: the apostles, despite their suffering cannot influence God's decision which has already been made according to election, not earning. – Ruminator Jun 21 '18 at 11:30
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Mark records that Jesus goes on to say:

43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. ESV

So you could ask "who in the Bible most fits that description?". An argument could be made for Paul or perhaps one of the other apostles, but I do not think Jesus has in mind a literal pair of people when he speaks of his left hand and his right hand, even if James and John do. This would be missing the point I feel.

Rather Jesus intends to subvert the whole idea of greatness in the mind of James and John:

42And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. ESV

They think that the position of highest honour is at Jesus hand as he sits on his throne, but rather it is by his side in his suffering and death:

45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ESV

As the hierarchy of greatness is turned on it's head, so is the need for this position on honour to be strictly limited to a small number of people: the worldly idea of greatness is by it's nature a pyramid with fewer and fewer people as you climb higher and higher. The concept of greatness Jesus introduces them to has no such inherent restriction. James and John (and you and I) can be great, he says. The problem is not that they are not able, it is that they have no idea what true greatness is:

38Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, ESV

In a figurative sense, those who have the position of highest honour are those who are crucified at Jesus left and right hand. Not the two criminals literally, but those who take up their cross and follow Jesus.

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    +1 Right on Jack! I think you should quote Mark 15:27 "They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left." I think Mark is indeed making allusion to the place of honor reserved for those who die with Jesus. But while James and John will die they won't die with Jesus. It has been literally prepared for the two thieves on the cross. – Matthew Miller Jun 11 '13 at 19:26
  • It sounds to me that Jesus is saying that it isn't a position that can be earned nor one that is in Jesus' power to decide but is already assigned by God. They will suffer with him but that will NOT earn them the spots which God will fill with those of his own choice. – Ruminator Jun 21 '18 at 11:17
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Davidic Kings, including Jesus (Luke 1:32-33), would have their mother, not their wives (unfortunately they still practiced polygamy, for which reason such would be unfeasible), as the Queen of that Kingdom, known as the גְּבִירָה (Geb-i-raah—'Queen [mother]' or 'Lady'). cf. Revelation 12:1,5; Luke 1:43.

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We see from Scripture that the Queen would be (or should be) the first one a Jew would think of who would have the right hand position next to the King. For example:

Nehemiah 2:6

And the king said to me, and the queen that sat by him: For how long shall thy journey be, and when wilt thou return? And it pleased the king, and he sent me: and I fixed him a time.


1 Kings 2:19

Then Bathsheba [the mother of Solomon] came to king Solomon,2 to speak to him for Adonias: and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upon his throne: and a throne was set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right hand.

1 * cf. Matthew 12:42.


So Mary could be one candidate (Mark 10:39; cf. Luke 2:34-35).

Who else? It's possible that by the the "left hand" Jesus understands God the Father to be meant, in light of the following Scriptures:

Psalm 110:1 (cf. Matthew 22:44)

The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.

Colossians 3:1

Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 8:1

Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: We have such an high priest [Jesus—4:14], who is set on the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens,

This would agree well with the words of Jesus: "You know not what you ask" (Matthew 10:38). On the other hand, one could argue that He is indicating negative implications in asking to be at His left hand (Matthew 25:33; Mark 15:26-28).

Matthew 20:23 seems to indicate, however, that God the Father is not meant, however, since Jesus says, "but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father."


One could argue fairly that the Scripture exegeted and mystically applied by St. Paul as portraying the perogatives more truly in Christ (Psalm 45) in Hebrews 1 indicates that the Queen (who would be His mother, i.e. Mary) is most likely the candidate for His "right hand":

Hebrews 1:5-9

For to which of the angels hath he said at any time, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the angels of God adore him. 7 And to the angels indeed he saith: He that maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8 But to the Son: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Quoting:

Psalm 45:7-10

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. 8 Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 9 Myrrh and stacte and cassia perfume thy garments, from the ivory houses: out of which 10 the daughters of kings have delighted thee in thy glory, the Queen stood on thy right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety.2

2 * cf. Revelation 12:1,5.


Or again, "the left hand" could even be a non-category in Jesus' eyes, and they were thinking too simply of what it means to be sat at someone's "right hand," namely, sway, amity, power, a position of prime importance, or favor with them.


Scripturally speaking, I found no category of a 'left hand' of the King, or anyone, for that matter (cf. Matthew 27:37-38). Of course excepting the idea of what seems to be more of a generic, yet categorical separation of the sheep and the goats, the good and the bad found in Matthew 25:34,41.

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Pretty sure Father God is on Jesus' left, if He's on God's right.

ACTS 7:55–56

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing pat the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing pat the right hand of God.”

ROMANS 8:34

34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.1

EPHESIANS 1:20

20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

COLOSSIANS 3:1

Put On the New Self 3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

HEBREWS 1:3

3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

HEBREWS 8:1

Jesus, High Priest of a Better Covenant 8 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,

HEBREWS 10:12

12 But when Christ1 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

HEBREWS 12:2

2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 PETER 3:22

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

REVELATION 3:21

21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

MATTHEW 22:44

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

ACTS 2:33

33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

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  • This is an interesting answer. Could you add the source of your translations? – b a Jun 20 '18 at 15:30
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but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.

Mark 10:40

What is interesting here, is that Jesus does not deny the existence of these 'positions', nor that they will be granted for two specific individuals. This is of profound significance.

While one clearly sees that Jesus completely up-ends the disciples expectations by saying that the greatest is the servant, and that many who are first will be last, He in no way denies that there is position within God's Kingdom.

Speaking of the Law, He said,

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19

There is a greater and lesser in the Kingdom, but Christ's point is that it is through love, faithfulness, and service, rather that something else (say, performance).

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:4

Again, Jesus describes those who are greatest as those who are humble like children, and who live and teach His commands. All throughout His teaching, He describes what it is to be like Himself, who is Himself the perfect portrait of greatness.

But, as for the specific two individuals, well, of course the Word doesn't say. Any speculation as to actual identities must, it seems, take into account AT LEAST 2,000 years of human history, considering every individual who either outwardly or inwardly confessed Christ. We are talking about probably over 10 billion people (random guess).

But, we have to remember that God's accounting looks different than ours. As Luke 21:3 says, the widow put in more than others, because she gave all out of her poverty, and the others gave out of abundance.

Certainly,

  1. God has prepared these two positions for specific persons.
  2. We have no way to know (in ourselves), who they are.
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Mary is at Jesus right hand. She is the highest human being in heaven given that Jesus is both God and man. Some say John the Baptist is on Jesus left hand. Yet Our Lady had stated that St. Joseph is a saint of great magnitude and St. Francis has been given the throne originally meant for Lucifer. Mary has taken both St. Joseph and John the evangelist with her. So its hard to say.

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  • 1
    Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. Supporting these ideas from the text of the Bible will make your answer more than just a personal opinion. For example, where is it recorded that Mary is at Jesus' right hand? – enegue Oct 11 '17 at 7:29
  • @enegue Consider the "woman" from Revelation 12, with a crown of twelve stars, signifying that she outranks the twelve apostles combined. Moreover, if Jesus is the King of Heaven, it is fitting that His mother would enjoy such exalted honor from her Son since it would have been most fitting for Christ to obey the commandment, "Honor thy father and mother." – Pascal's Wager Apr 20 '18 at 5:39
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The man with the withered hand who Jesus restored speak to this. Jesus teaching in the synagogue during the Sabbath stretched forth his Apostle asking more of him this is when he is restored. Being stretched forth is doing more than what is asked or what your capabilities are. This would make you someone's right hand if you did that. What do you think?

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  • Jason. Thanks for the response. Here are some hints for the future. This site deals with hermeneutics. They are looking for responses that deal specifically with the grammar and/or context of the text referenced by the questioner. So, our response should at least start with any grammatical or contextual insights of the referenced text. In this case, it might have been helpful to see if there were any differences with the parallel passage in Matthew 20. Or, is there some other scripture that speaks "specifically" to the referenced text. – alb May 1 '18 at 23:39
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The neglected paradox

Great answer by @Jack Douglas, I agree with him in all he says. Yet, even he does not specially discuss the most paradoxical and intriguing words of this passage, namely

"but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:40).

Below, I shall discuss and explain why is this logion paradoxical and what is the theologically sound exegesis of it.

What is paradoxical here? This is what: Jesus, in fact, states that He is powerless to grant the level of proximity of His followers to Him. Now, any earthly king has this power to make somebody a chief minister, closest to him, so why Jesus, the Heavenly King (John 18:36) is devoid of this capacity? (To anticipate things later below to be explained: just because He is heavenly and not earthly king!). But who is then more powerful than He, who has prepared this proximity for His followers, for it is plainly written that "those places have been prepared for some", but if Jesus Himself was who has prepared, then He also has granted, for the first implies the second. But Jesus necessarily denies the first (i.e. preparation) while denying the second (i.e. granting). So, who then has prepared those places if not Jesus? Who is this more powerful principle, against whom even Jesus has to confess His powerlessness? Maybe the Father? Maybe the Father has prepared saints' proximity to His Son and the latter cannot change any more what the Father has prepared. But this answer is theologically totally unsound, for Father acts His deeds only through the Son (creates the universe through His Son/Logos; forgives sins and saves mankind through the Son/Logos etc.,), thus if the Father has prepared and granted, then necessarily also the Son has likewise and simultaneously prepared and granted, but Jesus denies it for Himself, and by implication, also denies it for the Father. Of course, neither Holy Spirit can be this "preparer" and "grantor" against whom neither Father nor Son can do anything (I will not develop logic for proving this last point, for it will be redundant). Thus, the Trinity does not prepare and grant the greater or lesser proximity to the hypostasis of the Son, the incarnate Logos Jesus Christ, and, therefore, even the Trinity is powerless to grant this grater or lesser proximity. But Trinity is God and as God is omnipotent, so what is this principle against which even God is powerless? Maybe Fate? There is Trinity, yes, but alongside with the Trinity there could be also the Fate/Necessity (Τυχή/Ἀνάγκη) which sets things in such a way that even the Trinity cannot change it. But this is absurd, for then instead of the Biblical omnipotent God we shall obtain a pagan deity like Zeus who is weaker than Fate/Necessity in Greek religion and start henceforth building temples to Lady Fate/Necessity and worship her alongside or even more principally than the Trinity. Thus, to avoid this absurdity, we must conclude that neither fate/necessity prepares and grants saints' degrees of proximity with Jesus. But then what?

And here comes the answer: nothing but human freedom, in which even God does not intervene; for nothing but human freedom can decide the intensity of human co-action with divine Grace; nothing but human freedom can decide how much alike Christ to become, how closely imitate Him, how heavy a cross to carry, how many needful neighbours to help. God gives talents, that is to say apportions His Grace to humans, but say, Chuck, out of his free initiative, increases those talents more, while, say, Jonathan, again out of his free initiative, also increases, but less so than Chuck, and both are very good Christians, faithful custodians of Grace, but with greater or lesser reciprocation with God and greater or lesser free efforts and exertion. But proximity with God is exactly pending on this free initiative, free reciprocation with Him and free exertion. But against our freedom even God made Himself utterly powerless, because He utterly respects it in us, for it is the mark of His image and likeness in us, for without this intrinsic gift in us, we are even not humans any more and this gift of free decision-making is as intrinsic and inseparable from us as thinking is four our minds and as ability to breathe is for our bodies until they are alive and breathe. As a beautiful image tells about divine and human interaction: Jesus stands and knocks constantly to the door of our hearts, but this door has only one handle, that from inside, so even Jesus cannot break in, so to say, into our hearts without us freely letting Him to, freely and with a reciprocal desire opening our heart's door to Him with the handle of our free choice, which only we can stir. And that is exactly why the earthly kings can, in fact, make anybody, any wretch and undeserving person to sit in a closest proximity to his throne out of his sovereign initiative, but Jesus as the Heavenly King is unable to do so, for even though He desires all to come to Him most closely, He cannot impose this and cannot make an unwilling or un-reciprocating person "sit" close to Him even by His Sovereign Authority, for it was exactly by this Sovereign Authority that He gave to us, humans, this untouchable freedom of free will, free choice and the ability of free decision-making.

Thus, to conclude: Jesus' words express a divine respect towards an awesome, a horrible gift of freedom (and therefore, also the horrible responsibility) that all humans, as images and likenesses of God, have been endowed by Him. We can use this gift for following sins and making ourselves remote from God, or we can use this gift for repenting and making ourselves closer to God, or, moreover, we can use this gift for even greater opening of our hearts and lives to the infinity of divine love towards us and get even closer to Him, but He does not force us, it is only on us and our free, dreadfully so, decision.

Jesus speaks about the mystery of human freedom in this passage.

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  • How is God omnipotent if human freedom so easily subverts his power? – 習約塔 Jun 26 '18 at 2:56
  • @xiota Otherwise all intelligent creatures - all angels and all humans without exception - will be necessarily saved, which will make obsolete the idea of divine judgement, central in the Biblical tradition. All-poweful God does want a student to plagiarise, but makes Himself absolutely powerless to interfere in this misdeed. If God will always interfere in human free wrong decisions, then also He will cease to be all-powerful, because He will betray Himself as being unable to create free decision-making persons in a true sense. – Levan Gigineishvili Jun 26 '18 at 5:34
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First one must ask the question? what then is missing from this equation ...Jesus is the Son of the Father ... A Son and a Father needs a Mother .. To complete the family ... The Father is a spirit and Son is flesh of a women and the spirit of the Father therefore the women is of flesh .. Jesus mention that the person on the left is a servant .. And the least shall be the greatest .. The person who sits at the left hand of Jesus is therefore a woman made of flesh who is a servant ...

P.s she is mentioned in description in Isaiah 54:1-8 KJV

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Unfortunately, this does not answer the question. Be sure to visit the tour to learn more about this site. Due to the nature of this site, references may be required in order to support your conclusions. – Paul Vargas Nov 14 '14 at 0:29

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