“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ...” (Matthew 20:25-28)

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - 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 20:25-28)

What does this have to do with the mother of the Zebedees?

This statement by Jesus followed his discussion with the mother of the Zebedees - James and John - asked Jesus to take her sons into heaven. Jesus responded that they will follow him ("drink from my cup") but their entrance into heaven is up to God ("have been prepared by my Father"). 

That led to a reaction by Jesus' other apostles:
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said Jesus called them together and said ... (Matt. 20:24-25)
This means that Jesus' statements are specific to his disciples being "indignant" about Zebedees' mother asking Jesus to give preferential treatment to her sons.

What does Jesus mean by 'the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them'?

The word "Gentiles" is being translated from the Greek word ἔθνος (ethnos), which means, according to the lexicon, "a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together - a company, troop, swarm;" and "a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus - the human family - a tribe, nation, people group." 

More importantly, the lexicon also says this Greek word can mean, "foreign nations not worshipping the true God" and "pagans."

Jesus was referring to atheists. He was not speaking of the Gentiles as a particular race of people. Jesus was not referring to those who were by race not Jewish.

In other words, Jesus was not a racist.

Rather, Jesus is referring to those who do not accept the existence of the Supreme Being. Jesus is referring to those who reject the existence of God - atheists. This is what pagan means from a historical and practical perspective.

At the time, Judea was occupied by the Romans. And most Romans and many others from the Middle East at that time were not believers. They believed primarily in the pantheon - either the Greek pantheon or the Roman pantheon. In other words, they were polytheistic.

Jesus referred to such people not as a race but rather, according to their religious leanings. Therefore, the most appropriate word to translate ἔθνος in this context would be "atheists."

So what is the importance of atheists being ruled over? Jesus is referring to the Roman hierarchy and others that have ruled over Judea. We are speaking of people like Herod, who murdered John the Baptist, and Pontius Pilate, who ordered Jesus' persecution, and others.

Jesus is speaking of an atheistic governing body that was ruling over a primarily atheistic society. Jesus is contrasting this with the system prevailing in God's realm.

How is that system different?

In the Roman Empire and within many other hierarchical systems within the physical world, people are forced to accept the authority of the rulers of the society. And those who are in the ruling class struggle amongst each other for their positions of authority.

Thus, the hierarchy system of the physical world is based upon greed, violence, and self-centeredness, as those who seize power must battle with others who seek it in order to achieve their power.

This is not the structure of what Jesus was teaching. Jesus stated that "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant ..." This is an entirely different system.

This is not the first time that Jesus has stressed the importance of spiritual humility.

In spiritual life, there is no struggle for authority. Everyone in the spiritual realm accepts the Supreme Being as the ultimate authority and ruler. And they seek the most humble position for themselves.

This is the system of love. When a person truly loves someone, they put themselves in an inferior position - seeking to please the one they love.

This is the position the citizens of the spiritual realm put themselves in relation to the Supreme Being. They want to please Him and thus they serve Him.

And because the Supreme Being loves each of His children, pleasing God also includes service to His children.

Why did Jesus talk about being a slave?

This is not precisely slavery as we consider it in the physical world. In the physical world, some people have forced others to become slaves. This is not what Jesus is referring to. The word "slave" here is being translated from the Greek word δοῦλος (doulos). When used metaphorically, the word means "one who gives himself up to another's will" according to the lexicon.

It is not as if the Supreme Being wants slaves. And those who love and serve Him aren't being forced to become His or other people's slaves.

What Jesus is referring to is voluntary service given out of love. The Supreme Being wants our love - and He gives us each the freedom to love Him and serve Him or not. Thus each of us has the freedom to choose to love and serve God and His children - or not.

But if we choose not to love and serve the Supreme Being and His children then we are left with emptiness, which produces self-centeredness. This eventually leads us to become a slave of the physical world as we seek our happiness away from the Supreme Being.

But one who seeks to please the Supreme Being will find humility as their foundation. This is because the spiritual realm is full of love and everyone seeks the position of loving servant. The phrase, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant" renders the concept of service as the measure of advancement, rather than having authority over others - as it is within the physical world.

Why did Jesus say that he 'did not come to be served, but to serve'?

This clarifies how Jesus sees himself. He is not seeing himself as God - as many will attribute to him. Rather, Jesus sees himself as a servant. A servant of the Supreme Being, and a servant of humanity.

This is precisely why "servant of humanity" is the more appropriate translation for the Greek phrase being translated to "Son of man" - υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

The Greek word that has been translated to “son” is υἱός. While this can indicate a relationship of offspring in the context of a physical family, in this context, as defined in the Greek lexicon, is "one who depends on another or is his follower."

And how would one properly describe someone who depends upon another and/or is his follower? We would call such a person a devoted follower or a loving servant. We know that Jesus is not speaking of becoming a follower of others. Rather, Jesus is speaking of service to others. And Jesus confirms this very meaning when he says he, "did not come to be served, but to serve."

Now if someone says they came to serve, are they not a servant?

Who did Jesus come to serve?

Jesus' teachings indicate that he is God's devoted loving servant: the loving servant (υἱός) of God (mistranslated as "son of God").

But Jesus is also referring to himself in this statement and elsewhere as, υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

The Greek word, ἀνθρώπου, can either mean "man" or more broadly "mankind," "humankind" or (in context here) "humanity," and τοῦ means "of."

In other words, the Greek phrase υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (used in the statement above), is more appropriately translated to: "Servant of humanity."

Jesus clearly states that he and his followers are to be considered servants, not masters. Their position is to serve, and not be served.

What is a disciple?

The New Testament mentions the word "disciple" or "disciples" 297 times. Obviously, this is an important topic. What does it mean?

The Greek word being translated to "disciple" is μαθητής (mathētēs). According to the lexicon, the word means "a learner, pupil, disciple." It also means "adherents." That means in this context, a dedicated follower.

We must remember that Jesus is speaking to those who have taken the position of becoming Jesus’ disciples: They were his students, in other words. The word "disciple" is derived from the word "to discipline". 

This process of becoming the student and follower of the spiritual teacher had been handed down through the ages among the great teachers such as Moses, Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and so on (consider for example Eli and Samuel, or Moses and Joshua). Jesus also illustrated this process as well, when he became the disciple of John the Baptist by accepting baptism from John.

This ancient process of accepting an enlightened spiritual teacher, who has himself accepted a spiritual teacher, was heralded and exalted throughout the ancient world of Judaism. This is also the reason why many considered Jesus the υἱὸς (mistranslated as "son") or follower of David (such as in Matt. 20:30). Certainly, Jesus could not physically be David's son, as David had lived about (according to some scholars) a thousand years before Jesus.

Now Jesus is telling his students that in order for others to become eligible for entry into the spiritual realm, they must become loving servants of God. This also means becoming a student of God's messenger in order to come to know God.

This is also the path empowered by God. It is only God who can ultimately empower one of His servants to become His messenger. But first, they must be introduced to God. This is the true initiation process into the kingdom of God. It is about having a relationship.

This system has been all but forgotten among many institutions, which today select their teachers through elections by councils of people. Such political processes ignore the personal relationships that exist between the Supreme Being and His messengers.

What did Jesus mean when he said, 'to give his life as a ransom for many'?

This is one of the key phrases that some teachers cite to claim that Jesus died for everyone’s sins.

But if this were true, no one would face any consequences for their actions. We know this by simply looking around and looking at our own lives: Every self-centered activity produces a reaction.

The physical world is the world of consequences. "As you sow, so shall you reap" is the scriptural phrase used. We can see this cause and effect everywhere in the form of suffering as well as achievement. People are suffering in the world, not because of some cruel joke by God. There is suffering in the world because suffering is a consequence of previously causing the suffering of others - either in this life or the previous one.

This consequence learning system was accepted by Jesus as he stated:
"Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." (John 5:14)
This was spoken to a person Jesus had healed. He was clearly indicating that sinning (self-centered activities) produces consequences.

So how did Jesus "give his life as a ransom for many" then?

Notice Jesus does not say "all" here. He is not speaking of granting a free pass for everyone just because he suffered on the cross.

Rather, Jesus is speaking of his accepting the persecution and murder of his physical body in order to teach us the importance of loving and serving the Supreme Being. Such a lesson - if we choose to learn it - has the ability to truly save us and purify our consciousness.

Just consider the importance of something that someone is willing to give up their physical life for.

When our consciousness is purified by the understanding of the importance of love for God, we have the ability to transcend the physical world and its various consequences and return to the spiritual realm.

Jesus confirmed that his act was an act of loving service to the Supreme Being (and all of humanity) when he prayed just before his arrest:
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)