And Many Who Are First Will Be Last And The Last First

by Mike Ratliff

27 Τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν πάντα καὶ ἠκολουθήσαμέν σοι· τί ἄρα ἔσται ἡμῖν; 28 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ὑμεῖς οἱ ἀκολουθήσαντές μοι ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ, ὅταν καθίσῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ, καθήσεσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐπὶ δώδεκα θρόνους κρίνοντες τὰς δώδεκα φυλὰς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ. 29 καὶ πᾶς ὅστις ἀφῆκεν οἰκίας ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ ἀδελφὰς ἢ πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ἢ τέκνα ἢ ἀγροὺς ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματός μου, ἑκατονταπλασίονα λήμψεται καὶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσει. 30 πολλοὶ δὲ ἔσονται πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι καὶ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι. (Matthew 19:27-30 NA28)

27 Then Peter answered, “Behold, we left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man sits upon His Throne of Glory, you who have followed me will also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And anyone who left home or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 And many who are first will be last and the last first. (Matthew 19:27-30 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

God awoke this believer from a spiritual stupor in 2004. From my rebirth in January 1986 through the end of 2003 I rode a roller coaster of faithfulness and backsliding to the point that I despaired of ever being able to be consistent in my walk. What always amazed me during that period is how God still used the spiritual gifts He had given me despite my own sorry spiritual state. It did not help that I was also suffering from depression after the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in 1995. I confess that from April 19, 1995 through 2003 I was a very angry, resentful person. Then God drew me to Himself in January 2004 in such a way that ‘reversed it all and changed it all.’ It took 8 months of drawing closer and closer to Him, but He did a wonderful work in this heart.

One Saturday morning early in August 2004 I awoke from sleep, bounded out of bed rejoicing in the Lord and realized that my entire value system had been restructured. I was overwhelmed with living my life for God’s glory alone. Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, he shared that the driving force of his life was ‘all-absorbing passion to pursue the glory of God.’ He shared that those who desire to know unspeakable joy and abundant peace are those whose chief aim is to live for God’s glory alone.  Do you see the difference my brethren?  There are so many who profess Christ and appear to be laboring for the Kingdom, but their chief aim is something other than God’s glory.

27 Then Peter answered, “Behold, we left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man sits upon His Throne of Glory, you who have followed me will also sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And anyone who left home or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 And many who are first will be last and the last first. (Matthew 19:27-30 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Matthew 20:1-16 is often called the Parable of the Laborers or the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. In any case, Jesus told this parable to answer Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27.  Let’s look at this parable a bit closer.

1 Ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδεσπότῃ, ὅστις ἐξῆλθεν ἅμα πρωῒ μισθώσασθαι ἐργάτας εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα αὐτοῦ. 2 συμφωνήσας δὲ μετὰ τῶν ἐργατῶν ἐκ δηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν ἀπέστειλεν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα αὐτοῦ. (Matthew 20:1-2 NA28)

1 For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of the house who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 And having agreed with the works for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1-2 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

A key to understanding this parable is to see that our Lord is making a distinction between two groups of people. The first group is made up of those who were “hired” to work in the vineyard. They agreed to work in the vineyard for a wage. The Greek word for “hired” here means exactly that. These laborers agreed to work in the vineyard for an agreed upon sum of money. They agreed to work for a δηναρίου or dēnarion for a 12 hour day of labor in the vineyard. A dēnarion was a coin that denoted the regularly accepted pay for a normal 12 hour day of work. In v2 the phrase “And having agreed” translates the verb συμφωνήσας or symphōnēsas. This participle is in Nominative, Singular, Masculine, Aorist, Active case. It is rooted in συμφωνέω or symphōneō and speaks of an arrangement, which was an agreement and that the laborers set their own price. A συμφωνέω or symphōneō is an accord, a mutual agreement or compact.

3 καὶ ἐξελθὼν περὶ τρίτην ὥραν εἶδεν ἄλλους ἑστῶτας ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ ἀργοὺς 4 καὶ ἐκείνοις εἶπεν· ὑπάγετε καὶ ὑμεῖς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν ᾖ δίκαιον δώσω ὑμῖν. 5 οἱ δὲ ἀπῆλθον. πάλιν [δὲ] ἐξελθὼν περὶ ἕκτην καὶ ἐνάτην ὥραν ἐποίησεν ὡσαύτως. 6 περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑνδεκάτην ἐξελθὼν εὗρεν ἄλλους ἑστῶτας καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· τί ὧδε ἑστήκατε ὅλην τὴν ἡμέραν ἀργοί; 7 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἡμᾶς ἐμισθώσατο. λέγει αὐτοῖς· ὑπάγετε καὶ ὑμεῖς εἰς τὸν ἀμπελῶνα. (Matthew 20:3-7 NA28)

3 “And going out around the third hour he saw others standing in the marketplace idle. 4 And to those he said, ‘Go also you into the Vineyard and whatever may be right I will give to you.’ 5 And they left. And going out again around the sixth and the ninth hour he did likewise. 6 And around the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why have been standing here all the day idle?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard also.'” (Matthew 20:3-7 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Here we see the second group of people. Were they sent into the vineyard as part of a συμφωνέω for a wage or price set by them? No, the master of the house simply called them into the vineyard according to a promise that he would reward them justly according to his own estimation. These people did not set the price, they entered the vineyard trusting the master. The master of the house promised, “Whatever may be right I will give to you.” The Greek word “right” in this phrase is the adjective δίκαιον or dikaion the Nominative, Singular, Neuter case of δίκαιος or dikaios. This is a very important New Testament word. It literally means “that which is right; conformable to right, pertaining to right, that which is just, which is expected by the one who sets the rules and regulations whereby man must live, whether that be society or God.” In 1 Timothy 1:9 Paul used δίκαιος as that which stands in opposition to “unrighteousness.” The sense of the usage of δίκαιος by our Lord in this passage is that the master of the house is righteous and will do justly. The reward for this second group of people called into the vineyard is according to the promise of one who always does right.

8 ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης λέγει ὁ κύριος τοῦ ἀμπελῶνος τῷ ἐπιτρόπῳ αὐτοῦ· κάλεσον τοὺς ἐργάτας καὶ ἀπόδος αὐτοῖς τὸν μισθὸν ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῶν ἐσχάτων ἕως τῶν πρώτων. 9 καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ περὶ τὴν ἑνδεκάτην ὥραν ἔλαβον ἀνὰ δηνάριον. 10 καὶ ἐλθόντες οἱ πρῶτοι ἐνόμισαν ὅτι πλεῖον λήμψονται· καὶ ἔλαβον [τὸ] ἀνὰ δηνάριον καὶ αὐτοί. 11 λαβόντες δὲ ἐγόγγυζον κατὰ τοῦ οἰκοδεσπότου 12 λέγοντες· οὗτοι οἱ ἔσχατοι μίαν ὥραν ἐποίησαν, καὶ ἴσους ἡμῖν αὐτοὺς ἐποίησας τοῖς βαστάσασιν τὸ βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν καύσωνα. 13 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς ἑνὶ αὐτῶν εἶπεν· ἑταῖρε, οὐκ ἀδικῶ σε· οὐχὶ δηναρίου συνεφώνησάς μοι; 14 ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε. θέλω δὲ τούτῳ τῷ ἐσχάτῳ δοῦναι ὡς καὶ σοί· 15 [ἢ] οὐκ ἔξεστίν μοι ὃ θέλω ποιῆσαι ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς; ἢ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰμι; 16 οὕτως ἔσονται οἱ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι. (Matthew 20:8-16 NA28)

8 “And when evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give to them the wage, beginning with the last up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired around the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. 10 When the the first ones hired came they thought that they would receive a larger sum, but each of them received a denarius as well. 11 And having receive the denarius they were complaining against the house master, 12 saying ‘These last ones worked one hour and you made them equal to the the ones who endured the burden of the day and the heat.’ 13 Be he answered them, ‘Friend I am not cheating you. Did you not make an agreement with me for a denarius? 14 Take the denarius which is yours and go. If I wish to give to this last one as also I gave to you may I not do so? 15 Or is not permissible for me to do with with what is mine? Or are you envious of my generosity?’ 16 Thus will be the last ones first and the first ones last.” (Matthew 20:8-16 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The Greek word for wage in v8 translates the noun μισθὸν or misthon the Accusative, Singular, Masculine case of   μισθός or misthos. This word does mean “wage” but it also refers to the rewards received in eternity according to ones life. The KJV renders v9 as, “And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.” The two words “were hired” are in italics because they are not in the Greek text.  Here is v9 from the Textus Receptus, “και ελθοντες οι περι την ενδεκατην ωραν ελαβον ανα δηναριον .”  It should read in English, “And the ones coming the eleventh hour each received a denarious (penny).” Why is this important? Those called into the vineyard after the initial workers were “hired” for an “agreed upon wage” were not “hired,” but called. If we reexamine this parable in light of this then it enables us to grasp what Jesus is teaching here.

Remember, Jesus told this parable in answer to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27 where he asked, Behold, we left everything and followed you. What then will we have?Those who serve the Lord for any other reason than His glory are hirelings. They work for a wage they set themselves. However, those called into the vineyard according to the promise from the Master Himself leave the reward up to Him. When those “hired” complained or grumbled when those “called” all received a δηναρίου, which was the same wage they agreed to, the Master referred to the one speaking as “friend.” This is the Greek noun ἑταῖρε or hetaire, which is the Vocative, Singular, Masculine case of ἑταῖρος or hetairos. This is what Jesus called Judas in Gethsemane just before He was arrested (Matthew 26:50). He did not call him φίλος or philos, which means “dear friend.” Our Lord called His disciples His φίλοι a plural form of φίλος in John 15:14-16.

14 ὑμεῖς φίλοι μού ἐστε ἐὰν ποιῆτε ἃ ἐγὼ ἐντέλλομαι ὑμῖν. 15 οὐκέτι λέγω ὑμᾶς δούλους, ὅτι ὁ δοῦλος οὐκ οἶδεν τί ποιεῖ αὐτοῦ ὁ κύριος· ὑμᾶς δὲ εἴρηκα φίλους, ὅτι πάντα ἃ ἤκουσα παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου ἐγνώρισα ὑμῖν. 16 οὐχ ὑμεῖς με ἐξελέξασθε, ἀλλʼ ἐγὼ ἐξελεξάμην ὑμᾶς καὶ ἔθηκα ὑμᾶς ἵνα ὑμεῖς ὑπάγητε καὶ καρπὸν φέρητε καὶ ὁ καρπὸς ὑμῶν μένῃ, *ἵνα ὅ τι ἂν αἰτήσητε τὸν πατέρα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου δῷ ὑμῖν. (John 15:14-16 NA28)

14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:14-16 ESV)

Notice that His φίλος are those who did not choose Him, but He choose them and appointed them that they should go and bear fruit. Those who are called into the vineyard are not hirelings working for a wage, but are called according to a promise and are the Lord’s φίλος.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “And Many Who Are First Will Be Last And The Last First

  1. Loved this, Mike….Have often seen myself as one of the eleventh-hour called ones…and so, so grateful for it!..to be one of His ‘philos’ !

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