In Matthew 19:30, Jesus tells his disciples:
“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
This leads me to the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this situation: A landowner hires a number of workers early in the morning and promises to pay them a certain amount. Throughout the day, the landowner goes out to the marketplace and hires more workers, promising to pay them a day’s wages. Finally, an hour before quitting time, he hires the last group.
When the day is finished and it’s time to be paid, the last workers to be hired are paid the same wages promised to the very first group of workers early in the morning. These workers who have labored all day figure that because they’ve worked so hard and so long, surely the landowner will pay them more than the last bunch who only worked an hour. Unfortunately for them, the landowner says he has no obligation to pay them anymore than what he promised. That’s what they agreed to and that’s what they’ll get. The landowner tells them that if he wants to pay someone he hired later the same wage as those whom he hired first, that’s his prerogative.
Jesus then repeats what He said at the beginning of the parable in Matthew 20:16:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
What does this mean?
The first are those who have status, wealth, and esteem in the world, even in the church.
The last are the unknowns and those considered unimportant.
In the age to come there will be many who considered themselves above others, but will find their position in the kingdom won’t be as exalted as they believe now that it will be. There will also be those who are left behind when the Rapture comes despite what they considered of themselves, or perhaps are separated as a goat in the Great White Throne Judgment.
Remember Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus warns:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
On that day, many will be surprised—some to eternal torment, some to an unexpected eternal glory.
This teaching of the vineyard reveals that entrance to God’s Kingdom is a matter of privilege—God’s unmerited grace upon us, not of merit. He has chosen us because our hearts were right with Him.
Jesus warns us of three harmful attitudes:
- A feeling of superiority over others
- Failure to share God’s grace toward others
- A spirit of envy toward the spiritual blessings of others
Let us remember to love God in Christ, and through Him to love others as He has loved us.