Christian Devotions: Reflecting on Matthew 20:20–23 “Salome Makes a Request of the Lord”

By Zhang Yue

It’s recorded in Matthew 20:20–23, “Then came to Him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. And He said to her, What will you? She said to Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Your right hand, and the other on the left, in Your kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, You know not what you ask. Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say to Him, We are able. And He said to them, You shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not My to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father.” From this passage of Scripture, we can see that Salome (the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the disciples John and James) made a request of the Lord Jesus, hoping that her two sons would be able to sit on either side of the Lord in heaven, but the Lord did not grant her request.

Salome makes a request of the Lord
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Why Did Salome Make Such a Request of the Lord Jesus?

At that time, the Lord Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee and saw James and John mending nets in a boat with their father, Zebedee. He called to them, and they immediately abandoned their boat, bade their father farewell, and followed the Lord Jesus. Later, their mother Salome also came to follow and serve the Lord. She, along with some other women, looked after the Lord Jesus and His disciples along the way, and used their own money to provide for them. Salome believed that, because both she and her sons had given up everything to follow the Lord Jesus, and had offered up and expended a great deal, she was therefore qualified to make a request of the Lord. Therefore, Salome requested that, when God gained His kingdom and came to earth, her two sons could sit on either side of the Lord and abide with the Lord forever, and she believed that the Lord should grant her request.

How Did the Lord Jesus Answer Salome’s Request?

In response to Salome’s request, the Lord Jesus said, “You know not what you ask….” From the Lord’s words, we can see Salome’s request was at odds with the Lord’s will. Although the Lord Jesus loved mankind and took mercy on mankind, He is the Creator and we are but created beings, and we have absolutely no right to make requests of the Lord. Salome, however, believed that, because she had offered up a great deal and her sons had busied themselves much and worked for the Lord, she therefore had the right to make a request of the Lord, and even believed it only right and proper that she should do so. Clearly, we human beings are so lacking in sense.

Does Salome’s Problem Exist in Us Too?

There is a passage in a book that says: “In people’s life experiences, they often think to themselves, I’ve given up my family and career for God, and what has He given me? I must add it up, and confirm it—have I received any blessings recently? I’ve given a lot during this time, I’ve run and run, and have suffered much—has God given me any promises in return? Has He remembered my good deeds? What will my end be? Can I receive God’s blessings? … Every person constantly, and often makes such calculations within their heart, and they make demands of God which bear their motivations, and ambitions, and deals. Which is to say, in his heart man is constantly putting God to test, constantly devising plans about God, and constantly arguing the case for his end with God, and trying to extract a statement from God, seeing whether or not God can give him what he wants. At the same time as pursuing God, man doesn’t treat God like God. He has always tried to make deals with God, ceaselessly making demands of Him, and even pressing Him at every step, trying to take a mile after being given an inch. At the same time as trying to make deals with God, man also argues with Him, and there are even people who, when trials befall them or they find themselves in certain situations, often become weak, passive and slack in their work, and full of complaints about God. From when he first began to believe in God, man has considered God to be a cornucopia, a Swiss Army knife, and he has considered himself to be God’s greatest creditor, as if trying to get blessings and promises from God were his inherent right and obligation, while God’s responsibility were to protect and care for man and provide for him. Such is the basic understanding of ‘belief in God’ of all those who believe in God, and their deepest understanding of the concept of belief in God” (“God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II”).

After reading this passage, we come to have a better understanding as to why the Lord Jesus did not grant Salome’s request. He did not do so because she possessed too many impurities within her. She abandoned a few things and expended herself a little in her belief in the Lord and then made an unreasonable request of the Lord; she wanted to be blessed, to wear a crown and she made deals with the Lord—how could she not have caused the Lord to detest her when her faith in Him carried such motives? When we reflect on our actions and behaviors over the past few years and compare them with these words, we find that we are indeed just the same as Salome. When we first start believing in the Lord, we feel that, because we believe in God, then God should watch over us and protect us at every turn, bestow peace and blessings on us and our families, and we often pray to God asking Him to watch over us and protect us from sickness and disaster, and to make everything go smoothly for us. When we are blessed by God, we feel happy and joyful, but the moment we encounter any hardship or something goes wrong, we pray to God and ask Him to take the hardship away. When God does not grant our request, we then become filled with misunderstandings and blame toward God, we live in a state of negativity and conflict, and our hearts grow apart from God. When we have believed in the Lord for a long time, we busy ourselves and expend ourselves and we support the church for the Lord’s sake, and we suffer and pay a price in order to spread the Lord’s gospel in the belief that God should grace us and bless us and bestow on us a righteous crown. We believe that, in the future, we will be the most qualified to enter into God’s kingdom and that, once we have entered God’s kingdom, we will be given rulership over several cities, and so on. We always believe that our expectations and our requests of the Lord are all right and proper, that there is nothing about them that could be at odds with God’s will, and we even think that, in the future, if God does not give us a crown in accordance with everything we’ve suffered, then God is unjust. But think carefully about this now: God is the Creator and we are created beings, and it is natural for created beings to expend themselves for the Creator. And yet we use the fact that we busy ourselves and expend ourselves for the Lord to lay conditions on Him and to flaunt our seniority, and to ask for grace and blessings in return. We simply do not treat God as God, we are so devoid of conscience and reason and we haven’t a shred of a God-fearing heart. How could such a faith in God be worthy of His praise?

The Correct Pursuit for Created Beings

Bible book

Looking again at Scripture, we see that, when the Lord Jesus exposed Salome’s improper request, He then said: “You shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not My to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father.” What the Lord Jesus meant by these words was that, no matter how much we work, how much we busy ourselves or how much we suffer for the Lord’s sake, we still have no right to request anything of God or to ask God to give us this or bless us with that. Because our entire being comes from God, everything we possess is also given us by God. It is a heavenly decree and a compelling obligation that we believe in God and worship God, and that we pay a price and expend ourselves for God—it is the duty we as created beings should perform. As for what grace or blessings God may bestow on us, that is God’s business, and we have no right to make any request of God—this is the sense of reason we must possess. For example, being filial to one’s parents is a heavenly decree, but as for who the parents will leave their wealth and property to when they die is the parents’ right to decide. The children should just take their proper place and perform their obligations and duties, for only then can they be considered children with a sense of reason. Just as it says in a book: “There is no correlation between the duty of man and whether he is blessed or cursed. Duty is what man ought to fulfill; it is his bounden duty and should not depend on recompense, conditions, or reasons. Only then is that doing his duty. A man who is blessed enjoys goodness upon being made perfect after judgment. A man who is cursed receives punishment when his disposition remains unchanged following chastisement and judgment, that is, he has not been made perfect. As a created being, man ought to fulfill his duty, do what he ought to do, and do what he is able to do, regardless of whether he will be blessed or cursed. This is the very basic condition for man, as one who seeks after God” (“The Difference Between the Ministry of the Incarnate God and the Duty of Man”).

An Example Worth Emulating

As he followed the Lord Jesus, the saint Peter never once asked anything of the Lord. He abandoned everything and expended himself for the Lord, but he did not do it to gain blessings or to make deals with the Lord. Instead, he did it out of the love and obedience he had for the Lord. He followed the Lord Jesus for many years and suffered much to accomplish the Lord’s commissions: He busied himself and expended himself, he worked and preached, and was even arrested and imprisoned by the ruling power…. And yet Peter never tried to use the price he had paid and the fact that he had expended himself as leverage, expecting to obtain some beautiful destination and future in return from God. In all the price he paid and his expending of himself, he never made any demands, but instead he just took his proper place as a created being and sought to love and satisfy God. Because he knew that he was a created being, that he should dedicate himself to accomplishing the Lord’s commissions, and that this was what he was supposed to do and was the duty of a created being, no matter how great the adversity and persecution he suffered, therefore, or what material things he had to go without in his life, he was always able to obey, and he made no decisions or demands for his own sake. In the end, he was even willing to be crucified upside down, and he bore a beautiful and resounding testimony. We can see from the behavior of Peter throughout his life that he made no requests for his own sake in his belief in God, but instead he sought to obey God, revere God and love God. His lifelong pursuit earned him the Lord’s praise, and he was one who most gladdened God.

Thanks be to the enlightenment and illumination of God for enabling us to understand the essence of God and the proper place we humans should take, and for allowing us to know that God is the Creator, omnipotent and supreme, and that we are created beings. At all times, no matter what God does, whether God blesses us or takes things away from us, we can always maintain reverence in our hearts before God, treat God as God, take our proper place, submit to all God’s orchestrations and arrangements, make no demands of God or harbor no extravagant desires, but base our faith in God entirely on His requirements of us, for only this accords with God’s will. From this day on, we should also emulate Peter, pursue the truth and satisfy God, and no longer demand that God satisfy us. This is the only proper attitude we Christians should have in our belief in God, and only this kind of attitude can win God’s praise. Thank the Lord!


Read more on our Bible Study Guides page, or in the recommended articles below.

Why Did the Lord Jesus Approve of Peter’s Faith?

Whether Our Belief Is According to God’s Will?

4 Concrete Ways on How to Love God

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