Matthew 20:1-16 Part 2

First let me spend just a minute or two setting the context for you one more time.  Then, with that in mind, we’ll interpret the parable and then begin to address some of the good and necessary implications of what Jesus said.

But the context is this:  just before Jesus crosses the Jordan River to be the atoning sacrifice for the world, a rich, young Jew – representative of all Israel – comes out to Him, being concerned for his eternal life.  He is consumed with himself; he has a high opinion of his own goodness; he is attached to his ancestry, his inheritance, his family and status, his land and his nation.  In other words, he is the perfect example of Adamic, fallen man – earthy and worldly (just like everybody else), willing with all his heart to be “as God”, as his father Adam was.  In fact, if he could just find that one thing to do in order to know what God knows and to be as God is, he would have it all.

And without deception, and with great love, Jesus told him exactly what was required.  He had to forsake it all and follow Jesus in rebirth.  Being “of the first Adam” he could not have eternal life.  He had his reward – what he bargained for.  But if he wished to be perfect, then he must be reborn in the last Adam – the perfect Lawkeeper.  The young man went away distressed – understanding nothing.

Being very upset, the disciples questioned Jesus about their reward for following Him.  And He said to them:


“Those of you who follow Me in the rebirth, I will give to you what you did not bargain for – in the last Adam eternal life is your inheritance.  And to you I will give to be enthroned as judges over the twelve tribes of Israel.”


“And out of the mouths of babes shall come great wisdom.”


“And you shall be glorious stones in the foundation of the New Temple.”


“And whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall have already been bound in heaven….” Etc.


And so we have the great, inspired preaching and teaching and writing of the Apostles of Christ, which is the Sword of the Spirit for the conquering of the nations.

But the center of the Gospel, and the subject of this sublime passage of Scripture, is following Jesus in rebirth.  “You must be changed,” Jesus told His disciples in chapter eighteen, “in order to see the Kingdom of the Heavens.”  “You must become as the babes – newborn!”  You cannot have an ancestry and inheritance in Adam and also have eternal life, because the Kingdom is one of “newborns”!  You cannot have a nature which is ego centered and world-order centered, because the Kingdom is one of newborns who glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

Then Jesus says, in essence:  “Many of those in the first Adam shall be in the last Adam….”  And “those in the last Adam shall be firsts….”

And then we have the parable, which begins (as has already been mentioned) with “for…”.  So the parable is a continuation of the discourse in chapter nineteen; and, for example, a continuation of the subject matter.

And please notice once again, that at the end of the parable, verse sixteen of chapter twenty, the order of the words is reversed.  You see, at the end of chapter nineteen Jesus says, “and many firsts shall be lasts, and lasts firsts.”  But in verse sixteen of chapter twenty, He says just the reverse:  Thus shall the lasts be firsts and the firsts lasts.”  Either is true; but, in the allegory, the payment of the workers is reversed from the order of hiring, isn’t it?

If you don’t get this now, hopefully it will come clear shortly.  But the positions (status?) of those in the first Adam and those in the last Adam are reversed.  Many of those in the first Adam become newborns in the Last Adam.  And, as newborns, they become firsts!  That’s why the payment of the workers is reversed; and that’s why Jesus reverses the words in His two statements!  What a powerful illustration of the necessity for Adamic man to follow Jesus in rebirth – to become newborns in the Last Adam!

And that leads us to a little further examination of what Jesus means when He says, “like is the Kingdom to…” the following allegory!  And let me warn you one more time.  You must not say “this is too complicated to be in a sermon.  It’s too complicated for me – I can’t get it.”  But, do not tune it out!  This is the Word of God, and you have to get it!  You have no choice but to get it, because it’s the center of the Gospel of God!  And even if it’s delivered badly, you still must zero out everything else and understand this – right now.

“Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to…” the following allegory.  What does “like is” mean?  This is the same formula that is used in so many of the Kingdom parables, isn’t it? 


“Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to a man who sowed good seed in his field….”  (The parable of the zizanium in the field.) 


“Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to a grain of mustard….” 


“Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to leaven….” 


“Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to a treasure hid in a field….”


Now, the word “like” means that there is a correspondence.  In other words the Kingdom of the Heavens “corresponds” in some way to the allegory presented.  You’ll notice that I didn’t say that the allegory corresponds in some way to the Kingdom.  The allegory is not the original from which the Kingdom is patterned; but the Kingdom is the original from which the allegory proceeds!  Therefore we don’t begin with the allegory in order to understand the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is the reality, and it “corresponds” something of itself to the allegory!

To illustrate that, consider the creation of man.  Man was made in God’s image.  But man is not the original, is he?  God is the original, and man was imaged after Him.  So we wouldn’t want to examine man in order to understand God, would we?  What we must do first is explore the nature of God; and then we proceed to the image (man).  Well, the same is true of the parable.  Something of the nature of, or of the existence of, or of the activity of the Kingdom is corresponded to the allegory!

Let’s take just one of the former parables as an example – the one about the zizanium in the field:  “Like is the Kingdom to…” farm hands discovered one morning that noxious weeds (zizanium) were growing among the good crop, and they wanted to know if they should cull it out?  But the owner said no – wait until the harvest when the good crop is mature.  Then the zizanium will be cut, bundled and burned.  Now, the aspect of the Kingdom which is corresponded to the parable is the fact that Israel, except for the remnant of God’s elect, had become degenerate.  And, in the fullness of time, at the great culmination of the age (70 AD) she would be dealt with in the wrath and judgment of God!

And now, seeing it in retrospect, we know that that indeed did happen!  So the parable of the zizanium in the field mysteriously reflected what was going on as the Kingdom proceed in history.

And please remember again what Jesus said about why He spoke in parables (Matthew thirteen, verses thirteen through fifteen).  They are “dark sayings” designed to promote the blindness of the blind!  But for all newborn babes in Christ, the Kingdom in which we exist is no longer such a mystery!  It is our new home and our new inheritance; and, by the Spirit of Christ, we can now see and understand the aspects of the Kingdom which have been corresponded to the allegories!

So, as we come back to our parable this morning, something about the Kingdom is corresponded to the allegory in which men are hired all during the day, but are paid the same – but in reverse of hiring!  And it’s all set in the context of following Christ in rebirth!  I’ll come back to that.

Now, the first part of the allegory, verses one through seven, has to do with the hiring.  The owner, verse one, goes out at daybreak to secure people to work in his vineyard.  In verse two we see that there was bargaining for the day’s wage.

But the next four times he goes out, verses three through seven, the owner retrieves idle people without any bargaining!

The second half of the allegory, verses eight through sixteen, has to do with the payment of the wage – in the reverse order of hiring (as verse eight says)!  In verse nine, the lasts were paid first; and they received what the owner considered “just”.  But, in verse ten, the firsts were paid last; and they received just what they bargained for.

Then, in verses eleven and twelve, the firsts (who bargained for the wage) lodge a complaint of injustice against the owner!  And in verses thirteen through fifteen the owner summarily dismisses the charge, saying that it’s his money to do with as he wills, and that they got everything they bargained for!

Even though they received everything they wanted, they’re still self-willed, covetous and profane with regard to what the owner has done!  (Much has been said about the “eye of envy” in the literature – reflecting what the owner here says about their “eye” being wicked.)  Maybe we can take a little side-trip through Scripture some time about the “eye”.

But then Jesus says, in verse sixteen:  Thus shall the lasts be first and the firsts lasts” – just the reverse of the way He said it just before He spoke the allegory!

Now, it’s obvious that the reversal of hiring and paying, considering the reversal of Jesus’ statements concerning the firsts and the lasts, is the central issue of this allegory, because the theme of the statements themselves, which introduce and close the allegory, have to do with the reversal of fists and lasts.

Put that central issue into the context, which is “forsaking the first Adam and following the last Adam in rebirth”, and the parable becomes easy to interpret.

The aspect of the Kingdom which corresponds to the allegory (and in this case we’re dealing with the very center of the Gospel; that’s why this passage is so important and so grand) is that man in the first Adam must follow Jesus in rebirth and become newborn in the last Adam.  And any man who will not forsake his life in the first Adam has his just reward!  By his own nature that’s what he chooses to do, and, although in bitterness and gall, he has no complaint against the justice of God!  The Owner!

The text concerning the rich, young man, you remember, said that he went away from Jesus being grieved.  And now we know what his distress was all about, don’t we?  It was about the injustice of God requiring him to forsake his life and follow Christ in rebirth!

A further aspect of the Kingdom which is corresponded to this allegory is that many of those in the first Adam are reborn in the last Adam – simply because of the Goodness and justice of God!  And those who choose to remain in the first Adam have no complaint against them either!  They are envious and covetous and full of hatred toward them, but God says to them, “Pick up and go your own way.  You bargained for your own wages; you chose your own inheritance!”

Now.  The allegory says, “Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to…” the following.  (The intrinsic nature of the Kingdom which is corresponded to the parable is….)  The owner goes out to hire workers, and the first ones he finds strike a bargain for pay.  These are the ones who chose their own inheritance (like the rich, young man) and are later on paid their just reward – which is to retain their inheritance in the first Adam.

But then the owner goes out several more times and sends idle people into the vineyard (who didn’t know there was anyone hiring) and who made no bargain for pay!  They were hired last, but paid first.  The positions are reversed, you see?

Now, the reality of the Kingdom which is conveyed, or corresponded, to the allegory here, is that there are many in the first Adam who know nothing of the last Adam, but who are freely given to follow Him in rebirth!  And there’s no murmuring or complaint against the justice of God either; they just receive what has been given.  And in the last Adam they become firsts (as indicated by their being paid first (even though they were hired last).  So, “Many firsts shall be lasts, and lasts firsts.”

Now, in the parable, when the first hirees are paid last, they murmur against the owner and accuse him of injustice.  As we’ve already seen, that’s the nature of man in Adam.  He despises the last Adam and all of those reborn in Him.  He knows that they are now “firsts”, and he hates that.

And there’s a curious envy associated with this (covetousness).  Although he himself has chosen to remain in his inheritance from the first Adam, and although he has been paid his full inherited reward for that, he still doesn’t like it that those in the second Adam are now firsts in a new inheritance!  He doesn’t want them to have it (which is the nature of covetousness – envy), and he rails against God as unjust!  (After all, he was there from the beginning!)

But God says to him, “Fellow, I do you no injustice.  You got what you bargained for.  Take it and go.  It is permitted Me to do whatever I will with what is mine.”  “Thus shall the lasts be firsts and the firsts lasts.”

The reality corresponded to the allegory here is that God chooses to be merciful to whomever He wishes to be merciful.  If He willed to dismiss every man, and to leave every man to his chosen inheritance in the first Adam, He would still not be unjust!  For every man born on the earth is earthy, born of the first Adam, dead in sin, a son of rebellion, a son of perdition, cursed of God.  So God is absolutely just to reward us all accordingly.

But in His mercy and goodness and justice, God has freely chosen to forgive the sin and remove the curse by rebirthing some into the second Adam – thereby creating a new humanity in Christ; a humanity not descended from the first Adam.  And God did not play favorites; for all men are cursed and dead in Adam.  So how could there be favorite dead, cursed men?  How could there be anything in any of us to favor?

But, displaying His Goodness, and for His Own Glory, God chose to make some who were dead in the first Adam alive in the last Adam – to make them “firsts” in a new inheritance in Christ.  And how can the clay say to the potter, “Why did you make me this way?” Or, “How could you do that for them, when we suffered the whole burden and the heat of the day?”

Can God’s righteousness be impugned by those who have chosen their own inheritance and have received their full reward?  Can those who have received the grace of God in Christ be hated and persecuted justly by those who have not chosen to follow Christ in rebirth?  “Many first shall be lasts, and lasts firsts.”  “Thus shall the lasts be firsts and the firsts lasts.”

There’s the center of the Gospel and the grand theme of this “mighty” passage of Scripture.  What is left for you now is not in any way limited to knowing the technicalities of the doctrine or the allegory; but now you are required to deny your self and forsake the world to follow Christ in rebirth.  If you will not, then you have received your reward for choosing to be a son of Adam.  You have your preferred inheritance, so do not rail against the justice of God.

Now.  Since we have the full meaning of the allegory, which has been conveyed to it from the reality of the Kingdom itself, (and an interpretation which fully fits the context), what is left for us is to explore all the good and necessary implications and consequences.  In Sunday School I might inquire of you what you think some of those might be.  But since we’re about out of time now, we’ll leave the preaching of them until next Lord’s Day.

But the reality of the Kingdom of the Heavens which is corresponded to the allegory is, that God, in all His goodness and mercy, has chosen to take many of us from our deadness in the first Adam and rebirth us into life in the last Adam;  And He is perfectly just to make us “firsts” in a new humanity by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.