Muslim polemicist Mustafa Ahmed made a short video issuing a couple of proof-texts in an attempt to challenge my position that Jesus is God. These were Matthew 20:20-23 and John 20:17. Had Mustafa done a bit more careful research, he might have discovered that I have already written a whole article on John 20:17, which you can find here. I refer Mustafa and others to my comments in that article regarding John 20:17. Here, I want to make some comments in regards to Matthew 20:20-23. Here is the text to which Mustafa wishes to draw our attention:
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”Thus, Mustafa argues, this text plainly teaches that Jesus is not God, since he says that "to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant."
There are numerous problems with this Muslim polemic. For one thing, this text refers to God as "Father" and specifically Jesus' Father. Since this possibility is absolutely precluded by the Qur'an (e.g. Surah 5:18), Mustafa's argument ends up proving too much: namely, that Islam is false and Muhammad is a false prophet.
Secondly, in this text, Jesus confirms that he has a kingdom. For some further context from Matthew's gospel as to what this entails, let's go over to Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43. Here is the text:
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.Look at the text carefully. The field represents the world. We are told that the owner of the field planted seed. Now, who is the owner? The identity of the owner is given in verse 37: Jesus, the Son of Man. We are, moreover, told in verse 27 about his servants coming to him and informing him about what his enemy did at night. Notice, furthermore, that in verse 41 he says he will send out his angels to weed out from his kingdom all the causes of sin and law-breakers. And yet in verse 43 the kingdom belongs to the Father of the believers. Thus, the Father's kingdom is the Son's kingdom, and the Son owns the whole world and everything in it, including the angels. This does not sound very consistent with Jesus being a mere prophet or messenger as Islam maintains. It is, on the other hand, very consistent with Jesus being God.
But it gets even worse for Mustafa. Let's take a look at Matthew 16:27-28:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”Compare Jesus' words in verse 27 with Isaiah 40:10:
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.Thus, Jesus the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father, and some will get a foretaste of what Jesus will look like when he appears in his kingdom. And Jesus will fulfill a role of Yahweh according to Isaiah 40:10, a role which presupposes his omniscience/omnipresence and omnipotence, characteristics of deity.
How, then, could Matthew 20:20-23 be a refutation of the Trinity and of Jesus being God?
But there's more. Take a look at Matthew 19:28:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.Thus, we learn that Jesus will sit on his throne of glory or glorious throne, whereas the twelve sit on thrones over the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, if Jesus isn't among the disciples ruling over Israel but is on a throne of glory presiding over them, what role is Jesus arrogating to himself? More specifically. if he isn't one of the kings ruling over Israel, since that has been assigned to the twelve, and yet reigns on a throne of glory over them, what role is he assuming in the light of the OT? Surely, it is that of God.
The Son of Man forms a new Israel. Therefore, he isn't merely a human king, but rather the God who creates a new covenant community.
Finally, let's look at Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Notice that in this text Jesus identifies himself not only as the Son of Man, but as the Lord and King, and says "MY Father" when speaking of the kingdom that was prepared for believers.
Furthermore, compare this text to the following Hadith, from 40 Hadith Qudsi (Hadith 18):
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, who said that the Messenger of Allah said:
Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.
It was related by Muslim.Thus, Muhammad takes the very words of Jesus and puts them in the mouth of Allah. Thus, apparently even Muhammad understood the implications of these words attributed to Jesus.
To finish, let's go back and look once more at the text with which we started out, the text referred to by Mustafa in his video in Matthew 20. Mustafa cited verses 20-23. But let's look at the immediate context of those verses. Look at verses 24-28:
24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Look in particular at verse 28. Jesus clearly says he has subordinated himself to become a servant, in order to serve, which is confirmed in Matthew 12:18 where Jesus fulfills Isaiah 42:1, being the Servant whom Yahweh loves and delights in. We are also told that the purpose of the Son of Man's coming is that he might "give his soul (Greek, psyche) as a ransom for many." Thus, again, Mustafa's citation of this text ends up proving too much, since this flatly contradicts the Islamic viewpoint. Compare it, moreover, with Psalm 49:7-9,15:
7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit. [...] 15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.So, while Psalm 49 says that no mere man can offer his soul as a ransom for a single soul, Jesus says he offers his soul for many. We learn from Matthew 19:25-26,
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Thus, while salvation is impossible with man, God alone is able to perform salvation. Since Jesus has said that he will lay down his life as a ransom in order to save men, this again entails His deity.
Something interesting also emerges when we compare Matthew 20:28 with Matthew 26:28 where Jesus says "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." In Leviticus 17:11, we are told,
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.The Hebrew literally says the soul (nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood. It doesn't say life, which would be the Hebrew word chay. Therefore, by shedding his blood he was relinquishing or forfeiting his soul. This then helps us to understand why Jesus would say in John 6 that we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood since that is his way of saying we need to take in his life.
In conclusion, we have seen that Jesus makes himself out to be Yahweh God while also distinguishing himself from the Father. Moreover, the Son Jesus shows that he is relationally (not ontologically) subordinate to the Father -- which is the orthodox understanding of Trinitarian Christians.