By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: What is the main Point of Matthew 19.30 and 20:16 in light of the context? What is the application for us?
Reply: A parallel passage of Matthew 19:30 is Mark 10:31 (see also Lk. 18:28-30). Matthew’s account is: “But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last. ” Mark records it: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.” Jesus closed the parable of the laborers in the vineyard with the words: “So the last shall be first, and the first last” (20:16). This parable (Matt. 20:116) continues the thought of Matthew 19:30, because following this verse, Jesus begins in chapter 20, verse 1, with the word “for.” Commentators differ as to what is the main teaching of these verses. Our attention is therefore given to several considerations.
First, the Jews had been the chosen people of God – they were the first in the eyes of God. The Gentiles had not been in His favor; therefore, they were the last. But later, when the Jews rejected the gospel and the Gentiles accepted it, the situation was reversed. The Gentiles who had been last in God’s favor became first This is the interpretation given by several commentators.
Second, there is possibly a reference to the apostles themselves. Peter had responded to the teaching of Jesus about the rich by saying, “Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?” (v. 27) We recall the disputes of these disciples as to who would have the highest position in the kingdom (18:1). Perhaps they were thinking that those who had first followed the Master (Peter, Andrew, James and John) should be given the honor of highest rank. With them, it would seem that the issue was the order of time. But God according to His greatness and prudence, will reward as He deems wise. Paul is a case in point. Paul entered the service later than the twelve apostles, but it cannot be presupposed that his reward will be less than theirs. In the parable that follows, regardless of when the workers entered the vineyard (whether it was the sixth, ninth or twelfth hour) the wages were the same. The amount had been agreed upon, “a shilling a day.” Jesus assured His disciples that they would be rewarded for their faithfulness. Addressing those who had followed Him (28a), He then projected to their future by assuring them, “in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (28b). This is the period between the day of Pentecost and the second coming of Christ. It is the present period, when men are regenerated by the new birth Qn. 3:5); it is the age when people become “new creatures” (2 Cor. 5:17) by “the washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5) which refers to baptism (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3,4; etc.) These apostles are now judging members of the church (Spiritual Israel) by their inspired teaching — the word of God. Jesus promised them the richest blessing of all — eternal life (v. 29). Yet, those who entered His service later, would not receive any less reward. This seems to be the main point of the verses in the view of the context.
There is another suggested idea. Those that are first in the eyes of the world are last in the eyes of God, if they have not entered into His service. Those who are last are those who are in the kingdom but who are esteemed the lowest by those who are in the world. But these are first in the eyes of God.
Whichever view is the main point, the application for us is that we must enter into the kingdom of God at the first opportunity. In the parable given by our Lord, all the workers entered the vineyard at their first opportunity. We are by no way encouraged to procrastinate. To do so can be fatal to the soul. God will reward all who will enter into His family, the church, and serve Him faithfully. All will receive the same reward – an eternal home with God in heaven.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 20, p. 613
October 16, 1986