35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus 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?” 39 And 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, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
—Mark 10:35-40 (ESV)
In spite of their haughty request, Jesus is kind to them and finishes out v.38 with “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And when they reply yes he lets them know that they will indeed drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism. They would in fact lay their own lives down for the church. I think it must have been very difficult for John all those years later on Patmos, the small island to which he was exiled, looking back at that time and wondering why he wasn’t blessed as the others were. Probably John the Beloved didn’t do that. His was a long martyrdom to which most of us become resigned at one point or another and as far as I can see from the record of scripture he did as he was commanded to the end.
But the most shocking thing comes in v.40 and reveals something that is contrary to a great deal of what is preached today with regard to ‘earning’ a position in heaven. Jesus tells them in v.40 “to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Wow. Those positions have been prepared for certain folks. A decision was made, not a contest ordained. If there are ‘levels’ to heaven, it’s a matter of a Sovereign choice made by God, not a ladder up which you must climb.
This wearies me to no end and I am glad that it is neither in my hands nor in yours.