Matthew 19:16-30 Part 7

This will be the seventh and last sermon in the series on this passage of Scripture.  I have a few more comments on the rebirth, and then we will spend some time on verse thirty – “the firsts shall be lasts and the lasts first….”

But we have yet to say very much about the nature of the ones reborn, as babes, into the Kingdom.  We’ve used most of our time, and rightly so, on the rebirth itself, which is, as was mentioned, the center of the Gospel.  And we learned that the newborn babe has a new nature and a new inheritance in the second Adam.

So let’s just review, for a few minutes, the things we know about that new nature; not necessarily the long-term fruits of the Spirit in sanctification, but more so the nature of the new believer as opposed to his former deadness.  Remember now that these are not “changes” or “betterments” in the degree of depravity or in the conduct of depraved man; nor are they changes in attitude; but this is re-creation in newness of life.  A man can change his conduct, or his attitude, or his direction, or his location; but only God can create life.  Only God can create a new creation.

Now, first of all, many people are Church members and they’re in the covenant as baptized members; but they may not be rebirthed into Christ.  And sooner or later their hypocrisy is uncovered and they prove who they are.  Judas and Simon Magus are two New Testament examples; Alexander the coppersmith from Second Timothy four is another – and there are others, but baptism and church membership doesn’t make a new creation.  Secondly, many people are educated, and they look and act as if they understand Christianity – so there is a degree of sophistication as far as the Faith is concerned.  But Education doesn’t constitute a new Creation in Christ.  (A trained animal is still an animal!)  And then thirdly, there are many who turn from an open, profane life in their youth, to a life of civility (or at least discretion) during their more mature years.  But that isn’t a new birth; it’s just common reform by way of age and experience.  And fourthly, some others will even enter into a strict code of religion, counterfeiting the fruit of grace!  Paul was one like that, saying that he lived “after the straightest sect of our religion – a Pharisee”  (Acts twenty-six, five).  That doesn’t make a new creation.  And some others may even live in terror of the pangs of judgment and hell – conscience-stricken and sorrowful.  Pharaoh was one of these who actually repented himself of what he had done; and so was Judas.  But neither does sorrow and fear of judgment constitute rebirth!  But what is the nature of a newborn Christian?

Paul, in Ephesians four, twenty-two, says that, in the new birth, the “old man” is put off, and the “new man” is put on (the old man being Adam, and the new man being Christ).  So, all things being new, the newborn no longer images his old father, but he is the image of the second Adam.  And the old Adam is “forsaken”.

And having been reborn into Christ, with a new heritage, the reborn babe recognizes and acknowledges his new heritage.  The prophet Hosea wrote,


“I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord”.


The purity, justice and all-sufficiency of God in His glorious perfections become evident in the new birth.  And there is fear of Him.  If there is not fear of God, then there is no recognition and acknowledgement of Him as Father, is there?  That fear is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the newborn babe (no ordinary change in attitude or code of living, but an awakening unto a new life).

What also becomes evident to a newborn is the great salvation which God has wrought in Christ!  All the excellencies and enjoyments of life become pale in comparison to being in Christ and living in Him though faith.  The resurrected Son of God becomes of superlative worth, because He faithfully accomplished all that the Father required in order for the newborn babe to be a newborn babe!  And there arises a hunger and thirst for all that is there in Him.  This is no ordinary “change” either, but all new affections.  For the just shall live through faith!

And, thirdly, a newborn babe becomes self-conscious of himself and his own sin.  The scales fall off of his eyes, and he sees what he is and what he has been.  The old, deformed monster called “self” has just worked-his-heart-out to be “as God” – and has actually hated God and offended Him; and the “destroyer” has been a friend and cohort in that effort!  And that realization produces sorrow and mourning and poverty of spirit and humility.  Neither is this some “change” in attitude or lifestyle, but an awakening unto the realities of God and Truth and life and death and judgment and eternity!  A regenerate man, woman or child can truly see the reality of his own condition; and, rather than trying to be as God, he now strives with all his heart to be like God, by faith!

And of course, along with that, there is this immediate, and growing, comprehension of all that accompanies that former life in Adam’s nature.  The self and its egocentricity and self-reliance, the attachments, the love of the world, the dependance on things, the importance placed on that which is insignificant, the envy and covetousness, and immorality – the entire corpus of that which is now known as the “world order”.  The new creation in Christ now sees all of that as senseless “vanity” and forsakes it.  And he turns himself toward “heavenly things” – those things which are new in Christ.  As the Scriptures say, “imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against God” is cast down, and the newborn babe receives the Kingdom of God as a little child – newborn.

And of course the new creation receives a new heart in place of the “stone” that was there; and he begins to receive the love of God and return it.  His heart and mind and emotions and body are turned from self unto Him and His glory; and toward all the others who are also new creations with him.  The bonds and chains of iniquity are broken, and God begins to work in him by grace, both “to will and to do His good pleasure”.  And that means to love the brothers, and to hate evil, and to obey the revealed will of God… all by grace.

And then, lastly, the newborn babe earnestly desires two things for the world:  that others might hear and receive the grace of God that he himself has received, so that the Church is perfected into one mature body; and, two, that the world might be saved in the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ.  Even though there might be some immature misconceptions about how all that is to take place, there is still that desire for completion in Christ –for the world to know about the salvation of God – for men and women and children to hear that there is release from the bondage of depravity in Adam, that there is atonement and forgiveness for sin, that Christ was raised up from the dead in order that God’s people might be reborn in Him, that men are set free in Christ to obey and glorify God.

These are the things that are so evident in the reborn babe.  These are “new creation” things.  Things “at cross purposes” with the former life in Adam.  The “antithesis” of the old man.  This is the new nature of one birthed in Christ – in opposition to the deadness of before.  “And behold all things are made new”.

But the rich, young man in our text didn’t recognize and acknowledge a new life with a new beginning.  The “fear” of God as his Father wasn’t the beginning of wisdom.  Instead, his old heritage, his old “father” Adam was more important.

Neither did he see the excellencies and virtue of life in Christ, preferring the delights of the world as he saw it and knew it.  For him, the old man in Adam did not pale in comparison to being reborn in Christ.

Nor did this young man see the horror and deformity of his own sin nature.  Instead, he saw himself as a law-keeper.  So there was no understanding of his enmity with God.  Therefore – no sorrow, no brokenness, no poverty of spirit, no hatred of self and the old man – no rebirth!

And, too, this young man was egocentric and self-centered.  Rather than having been given a heart of flesh and a mind turned to God and His glory, his whole world was centered around him, and his life, and his land and his inheritance, and his country!  And there was no evidence of love for God, for he would not forsake it all for Christ.  Every high thing, and every vain imagination was exalted in his eyes, and he saw none of it as vanity.

And, lastly, he knew nothing of the two things that every newborn babe desires for the world.  For him everything was great; the only thing he couldn’t buy was immortality.  But since he knew nothing of being reborn from the deadness of depraved humanity, he certainly knew even less about the excellencies of life in Christ!  So he was totally unconcerned with the world and its salvation – unconcerned with others knowing of atonement and forgiveness – unconcerned with men and women and children being released from the bondage of depravity in Adam – unconcerned with the Kingdom of Christ and its completion.

All of these things are Biblical descriptions of the nature of those who are new creations in Christ.  But this young man just can’t be described by any of them.  In fact he was grieved by all of this, and he turned away!  Israel turned away from Christ.  Instead of dying the death, and becoming humiliated and lowly; instead of being debased and mortified in rebirth; instead of mournfully admitting its great need for atonement and forgiveness and rebirth, Israel exalted itself as God and killed the One Who sought to humiliate her.

And as Jesus spoke the truth unto this young, rich man, so I speak it unto you.  So what will you do with it?  Will you turn away from it all and be grieved by it?  Or will you repent and believe Jesus, and live in Him through faith and be rebirthed as a newborn babe through the narrow portals into the Kingdom of the Heavens?

Then having finished with this young rich man, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the rebirth, and about the roles that they will play in His Kingdom, and about the hundredfold that they will receive for having forsaken the old man and his world order to follow Christ in the new birth.

And he makes this grand statement to them, which he repeats in reverse order after the parable in the next chapter:


“But many firsts shall be lasts, and lasts firsts.”


Such a mysterious sounding statement, isn’t it?  It is repeated in the same context later on!  The words and sentence structure are also furtive and unusual as well.

In the first place, both firsts and both lasts are plural, which I’ve brought out in the translation; and all four words are in the masculine gender – not the neuter, which would indicate “things” or “events”.

Also unusual is the “case” (endings) of these words.  One would normally expect to see a subject and a predicate, and then a direct object in the accusative case.  “Many firsts (subject) shall be (predicate) lasts (object in the accusative case).  But such is not the case here!  Instead, the object is also in the case of the subject – the nominative case!  Very unusual Greek – or English or Latin or anything else!

And also interesting to note is the fact that the verb (shall be) is not in the future active mode – which then might be translated “shall become” – but is in the future middle mode, and, therefore is translated “shall be”.  “Many firsts shall be lasts, and lasts firsts.”

Also very important with regard to the interpretation of this strange-sounding statement is the double context.  The event of meeting the rich, young, self-centered man is contextual; and so is the question of the apostles.  Jesus is answering their anxious question, which is, in essence, “since, then, it is so difficult to enter the Kingdom, then what’s going to happen to us?!  We followed you!

And Jesus responds to their worry with the statement concerning the rebirth; and then with this statement about “the firsts shall be lasts”.  This is part of His answer about the rebirth!

Now let me give you some of the interpretations of this statement by the commentators – some of whom nibble around the edges pretty good, and others of whom just miss it entirely because of taking it out of context (as is so often the case).

But some would say that the verse simply says that some who thought they would be in the front ranks in the Kingdom would actually be in the rear ranks; and vice versa!  This is what you might call a hierarchical interpretation in which some would hold high exalted positions in the government of the Kingdom; and some, who thought they would hold those positions would actually have no rank at all!  But this interpretation of the statement doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the disciples of Jesus anticipated holding high rank in Jesus’ government of the world from Jerusalem.  And, yet, these are the men who, after two millennia, have, indeed, the highest rank in the Church!  They are the apostles, and the firstfruits of the resurrection!  And their preaching and teaching are the foundation of the Church built on the Rock!  So the hierarchical interpretation falls under its own weight.

Now there’s also the interpretation that says that Jesus is referring to “events” here.  That by “the firsts”, Jesus means “former things”.  And the “lasts” means “later things or events”.  This is a cyclic view – what goes around comes around; but we’ve already disproved it by saying that the “firsts” and the “lasts” are masculine in gender, and not neuter (as would be the case if things or events were the subject matter).  So, this statement is salvific in nature, and it refers to people – not things or events!  (They didn’t look at the language!)

The third interpretation is the purely eschatological one, which admittedly has some attractions.  James chapter five, verse one reads this way:


“Go to, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver are rusted; and their rust shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire.  You have heaped up treasure together for the last days.”


The connection that is made here by James between the riches of the rich man and the last days before the judgment of Jerusalem is, as I said, very attractive.  But the usual eschatological interpretation by evangelicals centers around an imminent return of Christ in our time (not the judgment of Israel), and the unwillingness of the wealthy to be ready for it!  So these who are wealthy will be the last to enter the Kingdom upon the return of Christ!  So the purely eschatological is totally misinterpreted.

Now, Calvin is one who nibbles at the truth here.  He says that Jesus is referring to the superiority of the apostles in the Kingdom.  When He says to them, “but the first shall be lasts, and the lasts firsts”, it is a warning to them, says Calvin, of the consequences of being carried away by ambition!

I like what he has to say here, but it doesn’t capture the essence of Jesus’ statement.  It doesn’t deal with the rebirth!  While it is true that the apostles, later on, were very specific about their lowliness of heart and their least honorable status while being servants of Christ’s Church and His people, and even though Jesus warns His apostles later on that if they wish to have authority then they must become servants, there is still more here than that!  All these things are true, true, true; the prominent ones (the firsts) must be servants (lasts), and the servants (lasts) will be prominent (firsts).  I have no doubts about these things.  But it’s not all.  Not nearly all!  Calvin was right about what he said, but he didn’t exegete the passage!

You see, Jesus is answering a question about the Kingdom – as the apostles conceived it then!  And His answer has to do with the rebirth into the Kingdom! – being new creation babes and forsaking everything having to do with life in Adam!  His answer doesn’t just deal with the Kingdom, and the prominence of the apostles in the Kingdom, and the benefits of the Kingdom; the answer begins with the rebirth!  And then He says, “But the firsts shall be lasts, and the lasts firsts”.  That’s the full context, you see.

And the one place where all of that is taken into consideration, and the one place that gives us full Bible explanation of this statement, is the apostle Paul in First Corinthians chapter fifteen, verse forty-five.  Listen very carefully”


“So also it has been written, the first man, Adam, was born into a living soul; the last Adam a life-giving Spirit.  But not firstly the spiritual body, but the soulish body – afterward the spiritual.  The first man from the earth – earthy, the second man from Heaven.  Such the earthy man, such also the earthy ones; and such the heavenly man, such also the heavenly ones.  And as we bore the image of the earthy man, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly man.”


Now Jesus has answered the disciples’ question like this:  Those of you who follow Me in the rebirth….”  “The firsts shall be lasts, and the lasts first….”  The ones who have a soulish existence (a psukikos body) after the first Adam will be lasts; and the ones who have a spiritual existence (a pneumatikos body) in the rebirth of the last Adam will be firsts!  So you see!?

The first Adam was earthy, and man with the first Adam’s soulish body shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  “The firsts shall be lasts!”  But you must be reborn!  The last Adam was from Heaven, and those who follow Him in the rebirth are raised a “spiritual body”.  They shall be firsts in the last Adam!  “The lasts shall be firsts.”  You see, this mysterious statement has to do with the rebirth.  Forsaking the first Adam to be reborn in the last Adam!

Now, there are all kinds of implications from this – for the apostles; for eschatology; for Israel; for Gentiles; for the rich and prominent, as well as for the poor and weak; for Church government and all other kinds of government.  And all those (implications) have their source and beginning in following Jesus in the “rebirth”.  Remember… it is the center of the Gospel!

We’ll begin to expound on some of those implications next time as we introduce chapter twenty.