The First Will be Last
Matthew Lesson #112
March 6, 2016
“Father, as we come together this morning we recognize that it’s a great privilege that we can do so and that we have freedom. That freedom has been purchased on many battle fields throughout the history of this nation, including the fact that some 180 years ago today, those valiant men at the Alamo finally lost their battle.
But Father, the greatest battle, the greatest fight that ever occurred in history, that secured for us the greatest freedom, is that which occurred on Golgotha when the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, which led to His ultimate victory over death during His resurrection.
He has bequeathed to us a challenge, as believers in Him to be disciples and to make disciples, to teach and to instruct those that come into our periphery about the truth of Your Word, whether formally or informally.
And Father, as we study today in Matthew, we recognize this is the overriding framework for understanding what Jesus is teaching and training His disciples to do in this section of the Gospel of Matthew. So Father, we recognize that there is direct application for us. For ultimately this relates to our mission as well.
We pray that we might be mindful and responsive to what You teach us today. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 19. The key to understanding this section from Matthew 19:25 down through Matthew 20:1–16 is really an understanding of the fact that this principle that’s stated and restated again throughout this section, but stated twice in this immediate passage, is “the first will be last.”
Now when we get there, what we have to understand (and it’s good to understand), is that this is an overview framework, because what we see illustrated throughout this is this principle.
Some people have come to this passage, and when they look at this and they look at what Jesus is teaching, especially in the parable of the workers in the vineyard in chapter 20, there’s a chronology that takes place in that parable.
That chronology starts off with workers that are hired at dawn. There’s another group hired at nine in the morning, another group hired at noon, and another group hired late in the day. So there’s the first group, the second group, the third group, and the fourth group, which is the last group.
There’s an illustration there about first and last, but it doesn’t apply in a chronological way in terms of the principle that is being taught in this section. But we have to understand that analogy.
The concept of first can be both first in order and first in quality, our preeminence. The one who is last can be last in chronological order, but it can also refer to those who are last in terms of quality.
That’s what’s going on here. When we look at this section, especially the parable that is coming up in the first sixteen verses of chapter 20, it cannot be divorced from what we have studied starting back in at least verse 13. And that, of course, can’t be divorced from what we have been studying throughout this whole section.
For those who haven’t been here, let me give you a brief review, so that we understand the context.
In Matthew 18:1, which occurs after Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration where He has taken three of His disciples with Him—James, John, and Peter—He discovers this argument going on amongst the other nine disciples. The issue is who is the greatest going to be in the Kingdom.
They are focused on status. They’re focused on who’s going to be tops in priority. Who’s going to have the greatest honor, the greatest glory, the greatest position when Jesus comes in His Kingdom?
Following that, Jesus begins to teach them that it’s not about status, it’s about service. I’ve drilled this into you the last three or four weeks that the issue here in all this section is not that we should be focused on what our rewards are going to be in Heaven, but we are to focus on the fact that we are called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in the body of Christ here in this life, and that we are to trust in Him to be generous and gracious at the Judgment Seat of Christ in terms of whatever rewards come our way, because even the ability to serve Him is energized by God the Holy Spirit.
So whatever we have that is accomplished for eternity is ultimately performed through God the Holy Spirit. Our rewards are not to bring honor or glory or prestige to ourselves, but to reflect back upon the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished in history.
We are just the insignificant means by which that is accomplished. It’s about service, not a focus on our status. Again and again I have pointed that out.
So the framework, the beginning and the end, the bookends of this section from Matthew 18:1 down to 20:28, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ ”
So that’s the starting point—this argument among the disciples. Who’s going to be the top dog when we get into Heaven?
Now the last episode that comes up as part of this narrative in Matthew 20 starts in verse 20, and is a repetition of that same argument. But this time you get a mama involved. This is the mother of James and John.
Her name is Salome, and she is the wife of Zebedee. She’s not named here in this passage, but she’s identified as “the mother of Zebedee’s sons”—these are the two sons of thunder—James and John—“came to Him with her sons.”
I would not have liked my mother to have done that. We all have these things in our life we remember, and we just want to go crawl in a corner and hide, that we said that, or that we ever did that, or that anybody even knows it. I’m sure James and John felt this way.
She brought her two sons with her and “kneeling down”—in front of Jesus—“she asked something from Him.”
“He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.’ ”
See? She’s caught up with that status bug too, just like we all are at times. We want to be somebody.
Now the last verse that we come to, the last couple of verses in Matthew 20, Jesus again repeats this principle that’s stated in Matthew 19:30, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
It’s repeated in Matthew 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
And then it’s repeated again in Matthew 20:27, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
That’s the pattern for leadership in the Christian Church.
It is not someone seeking status, but somebody, who like Jesus, who is willing to give up all the position, power, prestige, wealth, money, all the details of life, all the status symbols of life because they are irrelevant for eternity. And the focus is: are we willing to do whatever the Lord wants us to do in this life? That’s the structure.
So within that structure, if Jesus is talking about service and not status all the way through Matthew 18, all the way through Matthew 19, and into Matthew 20, then when we come especially to this parable of the workers in the vineyard, we have to interpret it within THAT structure. Very few people do that.
When I’ve been struggling with this and wrestling with this, seeing this coming over the last several weeks, I kept looking at this framework and looking at these book ends, how this particular parable is bracketed by verse 30 of chapter 19 and verse 16 of chapter 20.
Now what we have to do is take these glasses off of the verses and the chapters and read it just straight through. That verse 1 starts, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner.”
The “for” we’ll see is the Greek word GAR, which means it’s explaining what was said in the previous verse. So it’s explaining this principle that Jesus is trying to teach about the one who is first will be last, and the one who is last first, and He ends it.
If you’ve ever been in the military in artillery, this is called “bracketing.” First you overshoot the target. Then you undershoot the target. And then now that you’ve established the parameters, the third round goes right on target.
In literature, this is called an “inclusio,” where you basically bracket the passage with similar statements, so that people understand where the beginning and end are, and that often those statements tell us what the focal point is going to be.
What we see in our story of the rich, young ruler, because we can’t understand the parable if we haven’t understood the episode with the rich, young ruler (right?), because the parable is explaining the principle of the rich, young ruler—the first will be last.
The rich, young ruler is first in the eyes of the world. He’s got three things going for him, and we still emphasize these things:
1. First of all, he’s got wealth.
2. Second, he’s young.
3. And third, he has power.
He’s a rich, young ruler. He has everything in this life that is valued and that matters to people in this life, that they think makes you significant and important.
But Jesus said he’s the first, but going to be last because he did not accept the challenge that Jesus set before him, which was to sell all that he had and give it to the poor.
Now as I’ve pointed out, Jesus isn’t saying this because giving everything that you have to the poor is somehow the key to spiritual maturity. That is not true for everybody, but it is true for people who are grasping hold of that particular thing because they think that will also give them status down the road, that that has significance for eternity.
So basically, he knows exactly how to punch the rich, young ruler’s buttons and to get his attention.
For other people, it’s other aspects of life. It’s other details of life that are the issue. And it is those details of life that become idols in our life and that separate us from consistent obedience to God.
They’re often, as I pointed out last time, the sins that so easily beset us, in Hebrews 12:1.
Sometimes they’re just the details of life that distract us and prevent us from truly focusing on the path to discipleship and spiritual maturity.
So we have to understand again the structure of this episode with the rich, young ruler. He came to Jesus and is asking Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
We understand that he is a regenerate man, that he is already a believer because the language, as I’ve gone through in the previous two or three classes, tells us that he’s not talking about how to get to Heaven, because of the language, the phrases used that are parallel. He asked, “What must I do to have eternal life” in parallel passages in the other Gospels.
It’s to inherit eternal life.
Then Jesus says to him, “You want to enter into life.” I’ve pointed out that “entering into life” again and again isn’t getting life eternal so that when you die you go to Heaven.
“Entering into life” is entering into the richly abundant life that Jesus has for those who are already saved.
Jesus then interprets His core question in terms of rewards and status in the Kingdom.
This is seen in Matthew 19:21 when Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect.” See, He doesn’t say, “If you want to have eternal life.” He doesn’t say, “If you want to go to Heaven.” He says, “If you want to be perfect.” That Greek word is TELEIOS, which means mature.
So Jesus understands that the question is related to maturity—not to how to be justified from our sins or how to go to Heaven when we die instead of the Lake of Fire.
Jesus says, “If you want to be mature, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
The phrase “treasure in Heaven” is a phrase that relates to eternal rewards that will be distributed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is an important phrase that is emphasized several times in the Gospel of Matthew and the other Gospels.
In Matthew 6:19, Jesus said to His disciples (remember in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 called “The Sermon on the Mount” Jesus isn’t talking about unbelievers and what must be done to have eternal justification. He’s talking to His disciples about what’s involved in being a disciple and what is required to have a position and privilege in the Kingdom that at that point He is still announcing.).
So in Matthew 6:19 He says, “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.”
It’s not about your bank account. It’s not about what kind of cars are in your garage. It’s not about what kind of garage you put your cars in. It’s not about the clothes that you have. It is about what we have for eternity because what we have in this life is less than a drop of water in all the seas and oceans on the earth.
Eternity is far beyond that. We cannot comprehend it. We are not to “lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moss and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”
I’d paraphrase this “where you still have to paint it, fix it, and repair it.” That’s what that’s talking about.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”
The focal point is that which motivates you in this life. If it has to do with status, with money, with people, with things, with power, with prestige, then you’re motivated by the wrong thing. What should motivate you as a believer and a disciple in Christ is that you are focused on serving the Lord Jesus Christ in whatever capacity you find yourself in and being willing to give up whatever you love in this life, if that’s what it takes to serve the Lord.
The Lord often doesn’t require that of us, but He does want us to be willing to give up everything in order to serve Him, so that we have complete and total obedience to Him.
Luke says it this way in Luke 12:21, “So he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
So when it’s all said and done, and your earthly remains are in the casket, and you are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord, the issue is going to be—what have you stored up for yourself in Heaven?
That’s the real retirement plan, folks. It’s not taking out and putting into your 401K during your 20s and 30s and 40s. Most people don’t start thinking about it until their 50s or 60s, if at all. The real retirement plan is what are you laying up for yourself now in your eternal 401K plan?
In Luke 12:32, Jesus says, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Verse 33, “Sell what you have and give alms; provide for yourself money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.”
Verse 34, “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”
See, the issue here is not on what is required in order to go to Heaven when we die, but what is going to be there in terms of our rewards that will impact eternity.
Colossians 3:24 says, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.” We’re talking about rewards.
Here’s the catch phrase. Rewards are earned. Salvation is free. Rewards are earned. Salvation is free. So in this passage when Jesus says to the young man, “You need to be willing to sell it all and give it to the poor,” that’s works, that’s effort. That’s not talking about justification or salvation.
It’s clearly understood that way, so that when the disciples hear Him, they are astonished. I pointed this out last week, that they’re just gob smacked. Their mouths drop open, they cannot fathom what Jesus is saying and how significant this is. They’re just saying, “Who then can be saved?”
Well, the way that it’s typically read is, “Who then can get into heaven?”
Then it’s very likely the next passage can conform to that, when Jesus says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
We make that sound like this is how you get to Heaven. You can’t save yourself. God does it.
But this doesn’t make sense in the whole context, in the whole flow. We’ve learned this many times that the word “saved” can refer to three different stages or phases of salvation.
The disciples here clearly understand that this is talking about rewards. We know this because of what Peter asked when we get down to Matthew 19:27. The issue here is salvation, so let’s review this.
Phase 1, justification, takes place when you trust in Christ as your Savior. It’s the instant you understand that eternal salvation, your eternal destiny is determined by one thing and one thing only, and that is what you think about Jesus Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
The instant you trust in Christ as Savior, at that instant God credits you with the righteousness of Christ and declares you to be eternally justified before Him—not because of anything on your part or my part, but because we are now clothed in the righteousness of Christ. On that basis God says, “You are justified.” We are declared to be just.
What also happens at that time is that we are regenerated, we are born again. We become a new creature in Christ.
As babies, we have to grow and nourish, and this is the second phase—our spiritual life.
The spiritual life continues until we’re either raptured or we die physically, and then we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord.
This is called glorification.
In Phase 1 we’re saved from the penalty of sin—eternity in the Lake of Fire.
In Phase 2 we’re saved from the power of sin. This is the fact that we are being saved, day after day. It is also called progressive sanctification.
Then in Phase 3 we’re saved from the presence of sin, and we will be saved.
So whenever we see that word “saved” we have to find out what it’s talking about, if it’s talking about one of these three things.
“Saved” can also be described as being rescued from a disaster. It can also describe being healed from an illness. The word SOZO has a wide range of meaning, but theologically it has these three senses; either justification, spiritual life—sanctification, or glorification.
In this passage, they are not talking about getting into Heaven. They are talking about who then can be saved? Who then can really have rewards in Heaven if we have to give it all up? They can’t comprehend it.
So Jesus looks at them, and He asks them, or He states to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
This is important here because we have to get into Peter’s head just a little bit, and the heads of the other disciples. They’re wrestling with the same kind of idea that many of us wrestle with.
I don’t think there would be a person here, lest you’ve just dropped in recently, I don’t think there’s a person here who hasn’t wondered what’s going to be there for me at the Judgment Seat of Christ? When all my works are burned up, what’s going to be left in terms of gold, silver, and precious stone? On what basis am I going to have any position, privilege, power, responsibility in the Kingdom? Have I done anything that is going to be rewarded?
We’re asking that from a genuine, humble position. We’re not asking it like the rich, young ruler because we’re trying to get something and be somebody in the Kingdom, we’re asking it from the viewpoint, “I just want to make sure that I’ve served the Lord. How do I know?”
That’s what Peter’s going to be asking here. And Jesus is addressing this when He says, “With men this is impossible.”
You and I can’t figure it out in this life. We can’t look at yesterday, which is fairly fresh in our memories or even this morning and say, “How much time this morning was I walking by the Spirit? How much time was spent where my mental attitude and my focus was in obedience to the Lord and walking by the Spirit? How much of that time was in fellowship? How much of that time was out of fellowship?” I don’t know, you don’t know.
Jesus says, “See with men, it’s impossible.” You can’t know this. You cannot evaluate your life and figure out what is going to be there in terms of rewards. But He says with God, this is possible. “With God all things are possible.”
Why? Because God is omniscient. He knows when we’re walking by the Spirit, when we’re not walking by the Spirit. He understands our thinking. He understands our motivation. He understands what we want.
We recognize that on a good day that we don’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
In 1 John 2:28, John warns that, “little children, abide in Him.” We’ve seen in many studies that “abide in Him” is just another way of talking about walking by the Spirit, being in fellowship, growing to maturity.
“… abide in Him, that when He appears”—that is, when the Lord Jesus Christ appears at the Rapture, and we’re taken to be with Him, that’s immediately followed by the Judgment Seat of Christ—“when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”
Now the Judgment Seat of Christ is most specifically described in 1 Corinthians 3, and it starts about verse 12 and goes down to about verse 15, and there we read, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss”—that is, you lose rewards—“but he himself will be saved”—that’s glorified Phase 3—“yet so as through fire.”
You are going into Heaven, but there are no rewards; there’s nothing rewardable. There is nothing that qualifies us for service in the Kingdom. We will be there, but that’s pretty much it.
So Jesus is saying that man can’t figure this out, only God can. He alone has the perfect logarithm, the perfect metric, however you want to describe it, that takes into account all of our heart’s desires, our motivation, our walk by the Spirit, our overt obedience, everything as understood by Him, and He will reward us according to His grace and according to His generosity.
That’s really the key to understanding what’s going to come up in the next parable.
Jesus is explaining that it’s not about what’s going on with the rich, young ruler. The rich young ruler came in, and he asked the question, “What good things shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He’s asking about rewards.
Basically, he’s got this legalistic mindset that he wants to understand what’s the contractual relationship so that if I do X, Y, and Z, I know that I will have A, B, and C in terms of rewards in Heaven. He wants a typed contract there, so he’ll know exactly what he’s going to get in return for the investment of obedience.
Now that’s critical to understand that. I haven’t brought that out in the past, but I don’t think it’s really something you grasp until you understand the significance of the parable that’s coming up, because in the parable, there’s a distinction between these three groups of workers, these day laborers.
The first group comes to the landowner, or the landowner goes to them, and he sits down in a negotiation with them at dawn, and he says, “I need you to come work the fields for the day.” They negotiate what the precise wage is going to be. “You do X, Y, and Z, and I’m going to pay you a denarius.”
That first category of worker is the rich, young ruler. They want to know exactly what they’re going to get for what they obey. They’re entering into this legal kind of contract, and they’re not just trusting in God in terms of service to reward them out of His grace and out of His generosity.
So Peter catches the drift of this, and he recognizes what the Lord has said. He sees that the Lord is saying that if you want to be a disciple, you’ve got to be willing to give up. It’s not aestheticism, it’s not that giving up is going to make you glorified or glorify you in this life.
It’s not like the ancient monks that started the monastic movement or the aesthetics that went out into the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East and lived without food or without water and set up on top of a pillar for six years or so, thinking that would make them spiritual.
Peter grasped this—that we’re either serving the Lord, or we’re serving mammon. Mammon just stands for all the details of life. That doesn’t mean that as a Christian you can’t serve in places of employment, work categories of labor, whatever, and that that is not part of your service to the Lord, but what is the ultimate end-game in your thinking.
So when Jesus says to the rich, young ruler, “You need to give it all up and give it to the poor, sell it and give it to the poor. Then you’ll have treasure in heaven.”
Peter puts that together and he says, “Well, Lord, we have left all and followed you.”
Now if you get the Marxist that comes along and says, “See, Jesus really doesn’t want you to have anything. You have to be impoverished. You know, just follow Bernie Sanders and everything will be fine.” That’s not what’s going on here.
Peter understood what the issue was for the rich, young ruler. He needed to be willing to sell it all and give it to the poor. But is that what the disciples did?
He said, “We left all.” He didn’t say, “We sold it.” They still owned their fishing business. They still owned their fishing boats. Peter owned his home in Capernaum. He’s recognizing that the issue that Jesus is asking is, are we willing to leave it all to serve the Lord and to follow Him?
So Peter frames the question well. He says, “Lord, well that’s what we’ve done. We did that. We left it all, and we followed You. What are we going to have?” It’s a question about rewards and not about eternal justification.
In verse 28 Jesus affirms what they’ve done, and He said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me”—see that’s what He was saying to the rich, young ruler, “Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, you’ll have treasure in Heaven and what? Come and follow Me.” “Follow Me” is not how to get to Heaven. “Follow Me” is discipleship.
So Jesus says to The Twelve, “You who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Notice this is in the dispensation of Israel. This is in the Age of Israel. He’s talking about ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel. He’s using a Jewish term “in the regeneration” that Peter uses the phrase “the times of refreshing” in Acts 3. It’s talking about the Kingdom. It’s talking about going on into eternity. “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man comes.”
This is a loaded term, a Messianic term coming out of Daniel 7 when the Son of Man, before He returns to the earth, the Son of Man goes before the Ancient of Days, Who is God the Father. At that point, God the Father gives Him the Kingdom.
That’s the same as the scroll, the title deed for the Kingdom in Revelation 4 and 5. The scroll is given to the Lamb that comes before the throne, takes it from the Father, and then proceeds to prepare the earth for His Coming through the judgment and cleansing of the Tribulation, which is focused ultimately on preparing Israel to accept Jesus as the Messianic Son of David, the Son of Man promised in Daniel 7.
“… when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory,”—He’s not on the throne of His glory now. We’re not into this “kingdom-now” theology.
There is no Kingdom now. The Kingdom is a Messianic Kingdom when the Messiah, the Son of David, sits on the throne of His glory in Jerusalem. Right now, according to Revelation 3:21, He is seated at the right hand of the Father on His Father’s throne—not on His throne.
He doesn’t get His throne until Daniel 7 when He’s given the title deed for the earth and comes and takes the earth for Himself. When that happens, He establishes His Kingdom, and He will give out rewards.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” This isn’t getting into Heaven. This is inheritance. Inheritance is rewards.
“And he will be rewarded a hundredfold.” Notice the generosity there. That’s the focal point in understanding all of this.
Then Jesus concludes it, and this is the introduction to the parable. He says, “But many who are first”—that is, who appear to be the ones who have a fast-track to a key position in the Kingdom—“many who are first”—they look good by human viewpoint standards, but they’re not.
They’re first. They seem to have priority, but they will be last. They will not have position, privilege, or power in the Kingdom.
But the last—that is, those who have no standing in this life. The disciples were nobodies, and all but one of the disciples was martyred. They got the point. Isn’t that interesting? They all ended up dying for the gospel, except for the Apostle John, and He was in prison for a while on the Isle of Patmos, but he’s the only one who died of natural causes. So Jesus emphasizes this.
Now we’re going to illustrate it.
Matthew 19:30 says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
And then at the end of this section He says, “So the last will be first and the first last.”
So this parable that is sandwiched between Matthew 19:30 and Matthew 20:16 is illustrating that which comes before Matthew 19: 30. Just logically verse 30 is the summary statement of why Matthew has put the rich, young ruler in here, and what he is teaching contextually.
So what Jesus is saying in the conversation with His disciples from verse 23 to verse 30 is directly related to what has happened. He’s using the rich, young ruler as an object lesson. Then He’s going to conclude and say, “See, you think he’s somebody, but who’s first will be last, and who’s last is going to be first. Now let me illustrate that.”
So the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard illustrates it.
This is one of those parables that is terribly misunderstood. I’ve heard some dispensationalists say, “See this is talking about the first are the Jews—they were given the gospel first. They came along, and they were in God’s plan first. And then there are others who came along later.
“There are the Church Age believers, and then there are the Tribulation saints, and so this is talking about some sort of chronology in history.”
But that doesn’t fit the context at all.
I’ve heard others, and read others, who say that this is talking about something related to salvation—those who are saved early in life versus those saved later in life.
But it has nothing whatsoever to do with that.
It is talking about the principal here—those who are first, who think they really have something to be honored, they have a basis for being great in the Kingdom, going back to Matthew 18:1.
But they will be last because they don’t have the right attitude, the right motivation. It sours what they’ve done.
Then those who were last will be first. So that’s what this is talking about in terms of understanding this particular passage.
So the conclusion is going to be, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The last point is that the rich, young ruler, as I’ve said, was first in this life. He had wealth, youth, and power, but he held on to his earthly desires for status. He will be last.
The disciples, whom we view as insignificant in this life—they’re last, but they will be first. They’re going to be granted twelve thrones to rule in the Kingdom.
So as I said earlier, Matthew 20:1 begins with this explanation. It’s a pretty simple story to understand.
Basically, you’ve got a guy who’s got a vineyard, and he needs some day laborers. So he goes down to the Southwest Freeway, 59 South, somewhere around Chimney Rock, and there’s a whole bunch of South American and Central American and Mexican day laborers there waiting for somebody to pick them up and give them a job for the day.
He gets out there before anybody else, at the crack of dawn, and he picks up enough day laborers that he thinks will accomplish the job.
But they get out there, and then they begin to bargain. They barter, “What are we going to get for our time?” He barters for a denarius a day, which was the going rate for a day of labor. They’re the only ones in this group that have bartered for a set amount, a set return.
That’s like the rich, young ruler. He wants to know, “If I’m going to give you ‘X,’ I want to know what I’m going to get in return, ‘A.’ ” I want to have this nailed down.
He’s not just trusting and serving the Lord, that, “whatever the Lord rewards me with, it will be based on His grace, His generosity. My focus is serving Him, not on what I’m going to get in the Kingdom.”
So the first group represents the thinking of the rich, young ruler, a desire for a bargain, a guaranteed return on their invested time of labor.
“And he goes out the third hour”—which is 9:00 in the morning—“and saw others standing idle in the marketplace.” These guys haven’t been picked up for the day yet.
“And he says to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard”—and notice he doesn’t barter with them. He doesn’t set what the wage is going to be. He just says—“and whatever is right I will give you.’ ”
In other words, these guys have to just trust in his goodness and his generosity and his character to make things right. There’s no set return on what they’re going to do.
In verses 5–7, “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour”—he goes at noon, and at 3 pm—“and did likewise.”
“And about the eleventh hour”—5:00 in the afternoon—“he goes out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ ”—Why haven’t you been working?
“They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ ”
So the 9:00 group, the 12:00 group, the 3:00 group, and the 5:00 group are just trusting in the goodness and the generosity of the landowner to pay them for what they do. And here’s what happens.
“When evening comes, the owner of the vineyard called his stewards, and says, ‘Call them in”—he got his manager and he said—“Call in all the workers and give them their wages”—and notice—“beginning with the last to the first.’ ”
See you’ve got to understand, that phrase is critical to understanding the whole breakdown of this parable, because of the structure stated in Matthew 19:30 and Matthew 20:16, that the last will be first.
So he’s going to start with the last ones, the 5:00 crowd.
“And when those came in who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.”
Now this really aggravates the others. This isn’t socialism where everybody gets the same pay no matter how little work they did. Jesus is teaching a principle of grace here.
This isn’t salvation. This is a return on work. This is labor. Whenever you see wages, we’re talking about working for something. Remember, salvation is free, rewards are earned. So, “they each received a denarius.”
Then it’s assumed, it’s not stated, but he went to the 3:00 crowd, the 12:00 crowd, and the 9:00 crowd. They each got a denarius.
And then when the first ones came, they thought, “Well, he’s given these people more and so much more than what he would have given us. We’re going to get more than a denarius! He’s going to give us maybe two denarii. We’re going to be taken care of.”
“And they likewise received each a denarius.” They got what they bargained for. The others never bargained.
“And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner. And they said, ‘Well, the last ones worked for only an hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ ”
We worked through the hottest part of the day, and we really labored and these guys didn’t. So how is this just?
And the landowner answered and said, “I’m not doing you any wrong. How come you’re complaining? Didn’t you agree with me? You entered into a contractual agreement to do your work for a denarius? That’s what I paid you. Take what’s yours, go your way. But I want to give to the last man the same as to you. That’s my prerogative. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?”
I have the right to spend my money the way I want to spend my money without interference from the Federal government, without interference of anybody else telling me how to spend my money—that’s just an additional point for everybody. We have a right to spend our money the way we want to spend our money without the government coming in and telling us how to spend our money. I won’t ride that hobby horse anymore.
He says, “Or is your eye evil because I am good?”
How many of y’all understand what that means? Right? You got it? We’ll bow our heads and close in prayer and move on, right?
The evil eye is not some kind of juju black magic where somebody’s looking at you and casting a curse on you.
This is a Jewish idiom that runs throughout the Scripture that reflects on how you view your possessions. An evil-eyed person is a person who is greedy, who’s a tightwad, and who is focused on getting all he can get for himself.
A good-eyed person is a person who is open and generous and gracious. So what Jesus is saying here is, “Is your eye evil? Are you just a stingy tightwad?”
Now one of the reasons I say this is that there are a lot of reasons for this. In Proverbs 28:22 we have in the NKJV, “A man with an evil eye hastens after riches.”
The word “evil” in Hebrew is Ra, the word for eye is Ayin. It’s a ra ayin, evil eye.
He “hastens after riches.” He’s greedy; he’s materialistic; he is focused on getting everything for himself and not giving anything to anybody.
Proverbs 22:9 says, “He who has a generous eye”—literally, this is an ayin tob, a good eye—“He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.”
Notice the emphasis here on grace and generosity. The point of this parable is that Jesus is saying that the landowner is generous and gracious, and that the laborers who came late in the day, the ones who were last, were ones who were serving, not on the basis of a contractual agreement for what they’re going to get out of it, but they were resting and trusting in the generosity and the goodness of the landowner to do what was right by them.
The issue for us isn’t, “What am I going to get out of this? How do I know what I’m going to get at the Judgment Seat of Christ? What am I going to get so that I know for sure what my role is going to be in the Kingdom?”
We can’t know. With man that’s impossible, but with God it’s possible. He’ll know. But the attitude for us is to serve the Lord out of grace orientation, trusting in Him that when we are there at the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will treat us and deal with us on the basis of His love and His grace and His generosity, so that we can rest in Him and not worry about how that’s going to be. Just serve Him here and now.
This is the focal point of verse 16. “The last will be first, and the first last.”
The last are those who are just focusing on what they’re going to do to serve the Lord, not their prestige, power, place, or anything today.
Jesus concludes, “For many are called, but few chosen.”
Now that’s not in some versions, but it is in the Majority Text, and I think the evidence is weak for being excluded from this passage. “Many are called” and that word “chosen” is the word that should be translated “choice.”
It’s the word that is used many times in Hebrew and Greek, but translating it “chosen” indicates and is often used for people for the doctrine of election, but it’s talking about their quality. Their quality.
“Many are called, but few are choice.” Those who are willing to serve and be thought of as last, not seeking to be first. These are the choice ones. These are those who have quality. These are the ones who are the premier believers. They’re the ones who will be rewarded in Heaven.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to reflect upon this passage—a difficult passage, challenging passage, one that reminds us that we are to live to serve You. We’re called to be disciples, not just simply to be believers, not to simply go to church once a week, not simply to be “nod to God,” but to really be focused that everything in our life is on serving You—our work, our employment, our labor, whatever it is.
It’s not for our personal gain or our personal comfort, it is to serve You, to be reflected in our lives as disciples. And that we’re not concerned ultimately about what our rewards may be in terms of specifics, but only that we glorify You with that which You have produced in our lives by virtue of God the Holy Spirit.
Father, we want to make it clear that if anyone here is unsure of their salvation or their eternal destiny, that salvation is not based on who we are or what we do, it’s not based on our background, it’s not based on what church we belong to or any other human factor. It’s based exclusively on what Christ did on the Cross. He paid the penalty for our sins in full.
When John says when it was finished—that is, when it was all accomplished, Jesus said, “It is finished.” The repetition there emphasizes that all of the work was done between 12 noon and 3:00 pm, at which time Jesus said it is accomplished. The work of salvation, the payment for the penalty was completed. And at that point, He died physically.
It was that spiritual death, when God the Father poured out our sins upon Him and judged Him for our sins in our place, that that transaction was accomplished.
So the issue isn’t what have we done, what are our sins, what are the problems. The issue is what do you think about Jesus? The instant we trust in Him alone for salvation, we have eternal life, which can never be taken from us.
Father, we pray that You would challenge us with what we’ve studied this morning. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”