“24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:24-28
Just after two brothers (and disciples) had the nerve to have their mother ask Jesus for her two sons to sit beside Jesus in heaven, the rest of the disciples were obviously upset. Didn’t the rest of them deserve a chance to sit in the places of honor? When Jesus began preaching about the Kingdom of God, everybody though that he was talking about an actual kingdom. That he was going to drive out the Romans, restore the Temple, and reign as King David did back in the golden age.
So when the disciples were called to follow after him, they saw an opening for power, honor, and wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Jesus was a bit of a celebrity and crowds seemed to be drawn to him. Once, a crowd even tried to make him king. The disciples pictured something akin to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They had only the Gentile example of how to rule – and more specifically, the Roman Empire had set the only one they knew personally.
In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem in the process he put an end to a civil war which was basically the Pharisees vs Saducees. (They each seemed to have the support of one leader and it was these leaders that went to war aginst each other.) Josephus records that 12,000 Jews died, but very few Romans died. Sometime afterwards, Herod the Great was appointed king by the Roman Emperor and Pontius Pilate was made the prefect over Judea.
Rome’s reputation was a fierce one – while we might remember aquaducts and roads, Rome often used the roads to march their legions of well-trained warriors to put an end to rebellion or rioting by the most efficient means possible – their very experienced military might. (http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/index.html – learn all about what it was like here.)
The disciples probably pictured themselves as a dozen generals standing beside the king, they planned on having all the rights and privileges that came with it … so when Jesus said “not so among you” they scratched their heads – how else could anybody possibly rule?
Modern Christianity has that same problem, much of the leadership structures that exist within the church are a page taken out of the world’s playbook. The only difference is that we give them different names, C.E.O. = Pastor, C.F.O. = Treasurer, C.O.O. = Deacons, and Secretary = Secretary. Their board or council is our committee. We both do conferences. It’s been 2,000 years and we still don’t get the message Jesus spoke.