Matthew 20:1-16 – The last verse of Matthew 19 really belongs with Matthew 20 as we shall see. One of the sins that Israel was indicted for when she was brought into captivity was calling God unfair and unjust. Ezekiel deals with this issue in Matthew 18:2-4; 25; 29.
When men doubt the justice and fairness of God, it is always because they base it on their own fallen views of justice and not on God’s. God Himself is the standard for righteousness, and it is as impossible for Him to be unjust as to lie. Paul was addressing this in Romans 2:9-11. To illustrate this point Jesus uses a parable concerning the work we are given and the payment for it. One of the graces of God is that he employs us giving us work to do.
Most of us would be deeply upset if we could not work. We need to understand that it is God who provides work for us. The landowner is God. The vineyard or field is the Kingdom. Without God there would be nothing, we wouldn’t exist nor the Kingdom. It is God who goes out to seek and call men to labor. The workers don’t know enough to come to Him. God’s going out after man is grace, the call itself, the challenge to go work, the promise of wages (reward), the acceptance by man.
God did not have to issue a call or take any of the steps that He took. God’s grace pays the promised wages to those who have worked for Him. The radical action of the landowner, which reflects the parable’s main point, is that those who were hired at about the eleventh hour each received a denarius, a whole day’s wage, as their pay. Since the last who were hired received a denarius, it is understandable that when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more.
At this point they had no problem with what the owner had done but, in fact, were elated. Because he had paid the other men a full day’s wage for a partial day’s work, they assumed that they would receive more than a day’s wage. At the rate the eleventh-hour group was paid, they would have received 12 day’s pay for one day’s work.
But they were bitterly disappointed when they also received one denarius, and they reacted exactly as you and I probably would. They grumbled that it wasn’t fair. They were upset by this apparent injustice and were determined not to leave until they had satisfaction from the landowner, who was standing near his foreman when the wages were handed out. We see his response in Matthew 20:13-16.
The owner let them know firmly but courteously that they were out of line. He was not being unjust because they had a clear agreement early in the morning at the market place. They were paid a fair wage, they worked the twelve hours that they agreed to and the landowner paid them the agreed upon pay. Both parties lived up to their part of the bargain, and therefore there was no legitimate complaint. What he paid the late-coming workers, or any others, was strictly his own business, and he was perfectly within his rights to be generous to the late-comers.
The problem was not injustice on the part of the landowner but jealousy on the part of the workers. Jealousy and envy are not based on reason but on selfishness. The charge of unfairness was not grounded in a love for justice but in the selfish assumption that the extra pay they wanted was pay they deserved. It was not that they did not get the wage that they earned and had agreed upon but that they could not stand seeing someone who was hired at the last minute get paid the same as they did. Instead of rejoicing at the good fortune of their co-workers, they envied them and became bitter.
All of them were well paid by a man who was not obligated to hire any of them in the first place. The primary point of this parable is that of the owner’s right to pay all the workers the same wage. Jesus says this parable is about “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 20:1).
Whether a person comes to God as a small child and lives a long life of faithful, obedient service, or whether he comes to Him on his deathbed, all come into the kingdom on the same basis and receive the same eternal blessings. The penitent thief who turned to Jesus on the cross received the same salvation and heavenly glory as the apostles. He died justly as a criminal, while most of them died unjustly because of their faithfulness to Messiah. He didn’t serve one hour while some of them served Him far into old age.
The Lord will reward His saints at His coming (1 Corinthians 4:5;Revelation 22:12) according to their faithfulness. The Lord here is not teaching about the differences of rewards but the equality of salvation. All believers will receive “the crown of life” (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), and the “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
From a human perspective, that seems unfair; but from God’s perspective, it is totally just. Because no person is worthy of salvation, eternal life is a gracious gift for which only Jesus could have paid the cost. All men are equally lost, and after they receive Him they are equally saved.. “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” Isaiah declared (Isaiah 64:6).
How wonderful that truth is. The Christian who is envious of other Christians, for whatever reason, not only is unspiritual but foolish. If God really did give him what he deserved, he would be destined for hell rather than for heaven.
The spiritual believer rejoices in the salvation of others, no matter what the circumstances of their conversion. If he sees someone come to Christ on a deathbed, after a life of profligacy and infidelity, he rejoices with the angels in heaven that one more sinner has repented (Luke 15:10) and that God has again been glorified through His marvelous grace.
A pastor friend told me that his father not only had been an unbeliever all his life but was a vocal Christ rejecter, openly criticizing the things of God and wanting no part of the gospel. When his father was hospitalized with a severe stroke and no longer able to communicate, the son again presented the gospel to him as he had many times before.
“I witnessed to him with all my heart,” he said. “I told him how he could embrace Christ even at this point in his life, even though he had so strongly rejected Him. I don’t know whether he did or not, because he had no way of letting me know But I know that if he did believe he will inherit the same eternal life that I have. And how I hope that he did.”
Jesus told the parable of the landowner in response to Peter’s query in behalf of the apostles about what was in store for them, which, in turn, was in response to Jesus’ teaching about the impossibility of entering the kingdom by human means or effort. The apostles represented the all-day workers who began at 6:00 a.m. and stayed on the job until 6:00 p.m. They had forsaken everything to follow Christ and had been with Him for nearly three years.
Although they had suffered nothing like they would suffer a few years later, they nonetheless had endured considerable hardship and ridicule for the Lord’s sake. Their faith was genuine and they truly loved Christ. But as events would soon prove, they were still terribly self-centered. Only a day or so later, the mother of James and John, no doubt with their approval and perhaps even at their request, asked Jesus to promise that in His kingdom “these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your fight and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:20-21).
Jesus had just spoken again of His imminent suffering and death, yet the minds of these two disciples were on their own personal aggrandizement. They were playing one-upmanship while their master was at that very time on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified (Matthew 20:18-19). When the other disciples heard what had happened, they “became indignant with the two brothers” (Matthew 20:24). But their indignation was far from righteous. As they would soon demonstrate, they were just as ambitious as James and John.
Not many weeks later, in the Upper Room a few hours before Jesus’ arrest, the disciples were still arguing among themselves “as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). After Jesus had arisen and appeared to the disciples and they had gotten over the shock of His crucifixion, their minds returned again to their own selfish, worldly ambitions. In light of everything they had said and done before, their question, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) was no doubt centered more on the prospects for their own glory than on Christ’s.
In the parable of the gracious landowner Jesus was dealing with the selfish, indulgent, envious, and ambitious orientation of the disciples. He wanted them to see, and He wants all His followers to see, that salvation is not in any way deserved or earned. It is the free gift of God, dispensed sovereignly and impartially to whomever believes in His Son.
Believing tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and social outcasts will have the same heavenly residence as Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Wesley. There are no servant quarters or lower-class neighborhoods in heaven. Everyone will have a room in the Father’s house specially prepared for him by the Son (John 14:2).
Every believer is a part of the church, which is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2,9), every believer is a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), and every believer is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). It is not that every believer receives an equal part but that every believer receives equally the whole of God’s grace and blessing. Just as hell is the total absence of God, heaven is the total presence of God. And every one of His children will enjoy equally the fullness of His presence there.
Everyone who belongs to God has all of God. That great reality is summed up in the truth of John’s marvelous declaration, “We shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
From this parable flow many spiritual principles that are closely related to the central truth that the gift of eternal life is equal for all believers. First is the principle that God sovereignly initiates and accomplishes salvation. The landowner went out looking for workers, and it was he who asked them to labor in his vineyard.
And because God does the seeking and the saving in His own initiative and power, we have no demands on His special favor or privilege. Every person who believes has first been sought out by the Father and given to the Son (John 6:39). And whether He sought us early in our lives or late, and whether we answered His call early or late, all merit and glory belongs to Him.
A second principle is that God alone establishes the terms of salvation. Because the laborers in the vineyard came at different times, they worked a different number of hours, and we can assume they worked with many different degrees of productivity. But they did not receive different pay The measure of God’s gift of salvation is not maps merit or accomplishments but His own grace, which does not vary.
A third principle is that God continues to call men into His kingdom. He keeps going back and going back into the market places of the world calling men to Himself. And He will continue to call until the last hour of this age. The night of judgment is coming when no man can work, but while it is day, the Father will continue to draw men to Himself. “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working,” Jesus said (John 5:17), because the Lord does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
A fourth principle is that God redeems everyone who is willing. “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out,” Jesus said (John 6:37, 39). All the laborers who went to the vineyard recognized they were needy They had no hope of work except what the landowner would give them, and they received it gladly and thankfully They had given up dependence on their own resources and looked only to him.
A fifth principle is that God is compassionate to those who have no resources and acknowledge their hopelessness. He reaches out to those in need who know they are in need. When the men in the last group told the landowner they were standing idle because no one would hire them, he hired them. And when anyone comes to God knowing he has no other prospect for life but Him, the Lord will always lovingly and mercifully accept that person for His own.
A sixth principle is that all who come into the vineyard worked. They may have come at the last hour, but they worked. Even the penitent thief on the cross, who died within hours if not moments after confessing his faith in Christ, still testifies today to the saving grace of God. The history of the church is replete with stories of those whose deathbed conversions were used by God to lead others to Himself.
A seventh principle is that God has the divine authority and ability to keep His promises. At every hour of the day that the landowner went to the market place, he hired all who wanted to work, and at the end of the day there was no shortage of funds to pay each one the full amount. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world, from the Fall of Adam until the day of judgment. If any person is not saved it is because he will not be saved. Man’s sin can never outstrip God’s grace, because where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Romans 5:20).
An eighth principle is that, just as God always gives what He has promised, He also always gives more than is deserved. The 6:00 a.m. workers were envious of those who came at 5:00 p.m. because, in their selfish view, they deserved to be paid more. But the landowner was no more obligated to hire the first workers than the others. He would have been entirely justified to have passed them all by, and all of them were paid more than they were worth. In an infinitely greater way, no believer is qualified to receive God’s least favor, much less salvation, and even the best person by human standards is blessed immeasurably beyond what he could possibly deserve.
A ninth principle, which is a corollary of the previous one, is that humility and a genuine sense of unworthiness is the only right attitude in which a person may come to the Lord. Like the eider brother who was resentful when the prodigal son returned home and was royally received by their father, the early workers lost some of their humility at the end of the day because of their jealousy. But they had come to the vineyard in the same attitude of submissiveness in which the others came.
A tenth and final principle is that of God’s sovereign, overarching grace. From beginning to end, the parable pictures God’s divine, boundless grace. The men’s work had absolutely no relationship to what they were paid. Even less do men’s works of supposed righteousness have any relationship to what they receive through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as sin is the great equalizer that causes every man to “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), God’s grace is the great equalizer that removes sin and makes every believer equally acceptable to Him in Christ.
He will pay at the appointed time. When is that appointed time? In the evening, at death, when all labor ends. This is when we receive the reward of eternal life. God transports us into the Lord’s presence and we are transformed into the image of our Messiah. God pays everyone out of a heart of love and care. He cares for all servants, no matter how old or how long they have been serving Him. He cares, so that the laborers to have enough to meet their needs.
A day’s wage which is the reward of eternal life which is our greatest need. All of His servants will receive that wage even the late-comers. We all have different responsibilities but we all be rewarded with eternal life. This particular parable is not dealing with our rewards for faithfulness with the life and work that we are called to do just that we shall all be there. The Judgment Seat of Christ, will determine that. We will all receive different duties in heaven because of the good and bad service we do here on earth, but we will all be perfectly happy and joyful in what we do.
This parable tell us that God will pay all of us more than what he deserve, because all of us were our of work and doomed to death. That the reward of heaven is for all equally is not an unjust act against the first workers. It is simply a gracious act that reveals God to be an enormously caring Person. God gives to all what He has promised but His justice seems all the greater who is less deserving. It is only our envy and jealousy that questions his graciousness to those who came last.
It may be that earlier workers who complain may be the Jewish people who have come to faith about the easy acceptance of God to the Gentiles. To prevent His servants from judging and showing preference among themselves, Christ closes His discussion of eternal life and salvation with two warnings. First, the last shall be first; many of these late-comers will outstrip us unless we are faithful in serving God. We may have professed and served Christ for years before others did; yet we may fail in our day by day walk not being as consistent as the later workers.
Matthew 20:17 Jesus now tells His disciples that He is going to be handed over to the chief priests and the Scribes. The chief priests were the hereditary leaders of the priesthood those who were descended from Aaron and the Kohanim. The scribes were scholars who were those who had initially followed in the steps of Ezra but over the years had now distorted the law for the sake of their traditions which became more prominent. These would be Jesus chief antagonists before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body.
They would condemn him to death, but since Rome was ruling Israel they had lost the right to execute and would have to turn Him over to the Gentiles for execution. Thus both Jews and Gentiles were responsible for the death of Jesus. As Jesus knew and the prophets had foretold He would be scourged and mocked, and then crucified. He knew that He would die for the sins of the nation and the world but be raised on the third day. This would be the sign given to Israel, the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:40)
The only sign Jesus offered to those looking for verification of His claims by astounding miracles was the old story which they knew well, the sign of the prophet Jonah. Two important concepts may be distinguished in the saying:
(1) Jesus had no doubt concerning the historicity of Jonah or the veracity of Jonah’s encounter with the great fish. If the story were not true, the credibility of Jesus as God in human flesh would certainly be shaken.
(2) As in so many other instances, Jesus filled history with new meaning, pointing out that the Jonah episode was more than merely an historical incident. Actually, the remarkable emergence of Jonah from the fish after three days foreshadows Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on the third day. The expression three days and three nights does not necessarily require that 72 hours elapse between Christ’s death and resurrection, for the Jews reckoned part of a day to be as a whole day. Thus this prophecy can be properly fulfilled if the crucifixion occurred on Friday.
Matthew 20:20-21 – This request demonstrates how little the mother of James and John understood about the work and ministry of Jesus. His ways are much different than the ways of the world. We live in a society that teaches us to look out for number one. Today promotion, self-esteem, self-fulfillment and self-glory have become virtues. The idea of humility, brokenness, and suffering as something to be desired has been greatly diminished within the Body of Christ.
God has regard for humility and meekness (Psalm 138:6; Isaiah 66:2). The greatest obstacle that we who are believers have in living Godly lives is not the intelligence to understand God’s Word, but rather the removal of pride that prevents us form accepting our Messiah’s teaching on servant-hood, sacrifice, humility and love. When the mother of the sons of Zebedee comes to Jesus the account in Mark tells us that it was at the request of the them that their mother makes this request (Mark 10:35 ff).
They were likely trying to take advantage of their family relationship to Jesus. The mother of James and John was named Salome who was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, making her the aunt of Jesus and James and John His first cousins (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). It may have been that Salome thought that by bowing down to Jesus she would appeal to his vanity, when she treated Him like royalty. Like the scribes and pharisees James and John were seeking the place of honor.
Matthew 20:22-24 – Jesus said to them that they did not know what they were asking. Were they able to drink the cup that He was about to drink? This was the cup of his suffering and death (Matthew 20:18-19). He was saying that the way to eternal glory is by suffering and death. (2 Corinthians 4:17).
The full measure of the cup that Jesus was about to drink was not only the agony of the cross, but also the agony of having the sins of the world placed upon Him, and being separated for a season from the Father. They like Peter thought that they would be able to handle it. Jesus said that they would drink his cup but not in their own strength but through the Holy Spirit.
James was the first Apostle to die as a martyr (Acts 12:2) and John experienced a full life of suffering. Jesus went on to tell them that where they sit was a decision that the Father had already determined. The reaction by the others was not because of their own righteousness but rather because they wanted those positions themselves. Earlier they had fought over who was the greatest among them, and they would once again (Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24).
Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus taught that those who are His disciples would be different from the ways of the world. He described how the rulers of the Gentiles acted, the Pharaohs, Caesars, and Kings, under whom they suffered greatly. They Lorded it over their subjects and exercised their authority over them controlling their lives. We who are disciples of Jesus are not to be so instead we are told, “and whoever wants to be first must be your slave‑‑”.
Self serving, self-promoting, self-glorifying has no place in the Kingdom of God. It is the opposite of the world’s systems and kingdoms. There are many in the church, sadly who feel that in order to succeed we must operate in this way. All the great men of the Bible were servants. Consider Moses, Joshua, David to name just a few. We are called to be bond servants. Slaves are the property of their owners and could be bought and sold by their owners. In much the same way we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). (1 Corinthians 7:23),(John 13:5 ff).
The great example is that He laid down His life for us as a ransom for many. The word translated ransom (Lutron) was a term used for the redemption price of a slave to buy his freedom. We were slaves to sin and with his death he purchased us out from bondage setting us free to serve Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. 1 Peter 1:18-19). The ransom was paid to God to satisfy His justice, in that sin must be dealt with. The price is sufficient for all mankind, but it is only valid to those who by faith receive it. It is His steadfast love that serves as an example for us.
Matthew 20:29-34 – Yeshua was on His way to Jerusalem for His last Passover Seder. He knew that He was to suffer, mocking, scourging, and an agonizing death by crucifixion. He has shared this with His disciples three times already. On His way up to Jerusalem He goes through Jericho where He is entreated by two blind men.
You would think that He would have had other things to think about, but Yeshua demonstrates His compassion and concern at all times. Concerning this account Matthew has Yeshua going out of Jericho when he encounters these men. Mark reports that He was coming into Jericho (Mark 10:46) and Luke says that He was approaching Jericho.
This is explained that there are actually two Jericho’s. The first is the ancient Jericho, in which there are ruins to see this very day. Then there was the newer city of Jericho. This event probably occurred as He was going out of Old Jericho and on His way to new Jericho. In any case their was a great multitude of people following Yeshua as He continued on His way to Jerusalem.
These were Jewish people who were responding to the commandment of God to be present at Jerusalem. (Deuteronomy 16:16) “Blindness was far more prevalent in those days and since disability programs were non-existent, begging was the only source of income for many people who were blind. Mark identifies this man as Bartimaeus, which means “son of Timaeus”. Bartimaeus recognizes Yeshua as the “Son of David” (a messianic title Isaiah 11:1‑5; Jeremiah 23:5, 6; Ezekiel 34:23‑31; Matthew 1:1).
His recognition stands in sharp contrast to the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders Yeshua will encounter in Jerusalem. Yeshua spoke of this kind of blindness (Matthew 6:22-23). Bartimaeus realizes that the Messiah is His only hope for sight, and started yelling at the top of their voices. The multitude turned and rebuked them telling them to be quiet, but these blind men would not be deterred, perhaps knowing that this was their only chance to physically see again.
Yeshua responded by asking them what did they want Him to do for them. With compassion he responded by healing them. It is interesting but I don’t think that I have ever heard of anyone with the supposed gift of healing, able to heal a man born blind. Faith was not a requirement for healing by Yeshua, many were healed at the request of others. Bartimaeus and his companion had spiritual sight, lacking only the ability to physically see. This is evident because after being healed, they followed Him.