Scripture References—Matthew 20:20-24; 27:56; Mark 10:35-40; 15:40, 41; 16:1, 2
Name Meaning—See Salome, No. 1. Mark alone gives her name. Matthew designates her as “the mother of Zebedee’s children.”
Family Connections—Legendary attempts had been made to connect Salome with Joseph by a previous marriage, and therefore link her up with the family of Mary; or to make her a daughter of Zacharias. Inadequate attempts have sought to identify her as the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, using John 19:25 as the basis of association. Scripture is silent as to her genealogy. All we know is that she was the wife of Zebedee, the prosperous fisherman who had hired servants. The only glimpse we have of him is in his boat, mending his nets when Jesus came upon him and called his two sons to follow Him. That Zebedee shared his wife’s devotion to Jesus is evidenced by the fact that there was no action on his part to detain his sons from leaving his fishing business to accompany Jesus. Reading between the lines, it is not difficult to detect the harmony in that Capernaum family, concerning the call and claims of Jesus (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19, 20).
Salome, one of the saintly women who followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered unto Him, appears to have been one of His disciples from the outset of His public ministry (Mark 15:40, 41; Matthew 20:20-28). She had no doubt whatever as to His Messiahship, and faced no difficulty in persuading her sons, James and John, to accompany her in obedience to the Master’s word. Both Zebedee and Salome by their life and teaching prepared their children to follow Jesus. That they never forgot their home influence and instruction is seen in the depth of devotion, wide range of vision and a godly joyousness the writings of James and John, who became apostles, clearly reveal. Salome remained a faithful disciple of Jesus up to the very end. She was present at the crucifixion, beholding that grim scene afar off, even when her two sons had withdrawn.
Salome, along with the other women “stood afar off,” probably because of the malicious crowd, the rough soldiers, and the horrors of the cross, all of which was sufficient to make them timid. They were full of love and sympathy, even though they stood afar off. With tear-filled eyes with which they had shown their devotion on the way to the cross (Luke 23:28), they still beheld Him as He hung there in death. Salome was also with the women who came to anoint the body of Jesus, and shared in the glorious news of His Resurrection (Luke 24:10). They hastened to perform their last service for their Lord, but were not at the tomb soon enough to perfume His body with spices. Their devotion was rewarded by the revelation of the angel that He whom they loved and mourned was alive forevermore. They went forth to proclaim the blessed truth of the Resurrection—a miracle which Salome’s son, John, was to give emphasis to as he came to write the last book of the Bible (Revelation 1:17, 18).
Salome was ambitious for her sons, and ambition is commendable when it is in full agreement with the mind and purpose of God. Ambition, when divinely directed, can lead to the heights of honor but when selfishly pursued can cast one down to the depths of degradation. Salome knew she was an honored mother because her two sons, James and John, were two of Christ’s best-loved disciples and along with Peter formed the inner circle among the Twelve. On different occasions, Peter, James and John are grouped together. Salome knew that Christ was the Messiah, but as a millennialist could not separate Him from Israel’s temporal glory. Feeling that the kingdom would soon be established, she requested that her sons be placed one on Christ’s right hand and the other on His left when He inaugurated His kingdom. Although such a demand arose from maternal pride and jealousy, it did not arise from true faith. She knew not what she asked (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-40) when seeking seats of honor for her sons.
In His rebuke of Salome for her misguided ambition Christ did not reject the request of the mother for her children, but corrected it, and accepted it in a way mother and sons did not anticipate. To be intimately near Him on His throne meant fellowship with Him in His sufferings. Our Lord did not treat Salome’s ambition as if it were sinful but he was compassionate because of the ignorance behind the request. Salome did not know “what manner of spirit” she was of (Luke 9:55). In effect, Jesus asked if her sons were prepared to drink the cup of martyrdom, and implied that James and John would share His throne of suffering. This they did, for James was the first apostolical martyr and John, the last. Salome’s dreams of the kingship of Christ with her sons sharing His rule were rudely shattered as she saw her much-loved Messiah dying as a felon on a wooden gibbet. Along with others she thought that it would have been “He who would have redeemed Israel,” but there He is, hanging on a cross in agony and shame. Salome came to learn that the only way to sovereignty is through sacrificial service. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26, 27). The mother sought earthly crowns for her sons, but through losing their lives for Christ’s sake, they gained greater honor in heaven.
As we leave “the mother of Zebedee’s children,” it is with the realization of the influence of a godly mother in, and over, the lives of her children. So often it is from a mother’s tender affection that her child imbibes the love of God, so that it becomes almost part of the child’s nature. Further, there is no more potent antidote against sin within or without than faith in God generated by the holy life and teaching of godly parents. Salome and Zebedee were the Lord’s and both of their sons became His followers and died for His cause. Happy and grateful are those Christian parents who live to see their offspring wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord.