In my reading of Mark, I found myself pondering predestination in a passage that I have heretofore not considered in that light. It is the conversation between Jesus, James, and John about their request for special seats in the kingdom of heaven. And in that conversation, we get to see one more hint of the fact that the Father has determined the future for these men.
In Mark 10, Jesus speaks of his coming crucifixion and death as an atoning sacrifice. Strangely, this led to disciples seeking to land the most prime positions in the kingdom of God. Obviously, we are not often good at recognizing that we are not personally at the center of the universe. James and John (along with their mother according to a parallel account) approach Jesus asking for the best seats in the kingdom of God. They want to sit on thrones next to Jesus in his kingdom, elevated above the other disciples.
Jesus first asks these two disciples if they think they can really handle the kind of suffering he is about to go through. The two confidently assert they can. In a sense they will, as James and John will die as martyrs. In a broader sense, however, they can’t even come close to the spiritual suffering of the Savior.
But then Jesus tells the two something fascinating, something they did not expect.
Mark 10:40 – “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.”
Jesus tells John and James that he is not the one assigning seats in the kingdom. No, that authority belongs to another, This is obviously the Father’s decision.
But in that verse, in Jesus’ response to the disciples, is a hint at predestination that we do not often see. Jesus said, regarding the right to sit in the positions of highest honor, “but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Those seats are for particular persons. Which? Those persons for whom those seats have been prepared. Stop and think. Look at the verb tense. Jesus, speaking to John and James, tells them that the seats of highest honor in the kingdom have already been prepared for specific people. That decision has already been made. And there is no reason to think that Jesus is telling John and James that they can do anything to change that decision. It is a destination for some that has been determined beforehand—a pre-destination.
Giving the passage a fair reading, we can see that the seats of honor are already reserved. Jesus does not tell John and James that, if they make the right choices or do enough good, they can work their way into those seats. Instead, Jesus indicates that the decision of who will sit in those seats has been made already—presumably by the Father—and that decision was made long ago. This is exactly what we teach when we look at predestination. God the Father decides and determines our destination.
Now, I certainly would not argue that this passage in Mark is the slam dunk text to prove Calvinistic predestination. There are far more texts to consider. There are far deeper arguments to ponder. But it is interesting that the wording of this text hints at predestination, and a predestination of the kind that a Calvinist can see with no discomfort. However, for one whose theology of salvation or the future puts all outcomes into the hands of men, this statement from Jesus must feel awkward.