Matthew 20
People's New Testament
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
20:1 The Laborers in the Vineyard; The Ambitious Mother


The Householder and the Laborers. Those Hired at the Eleventh Hour. The Recompense to All. The Lord's Sufferings at Jerusalem Portrayed. The Ambition of the Mother of Zebedee's Sons. The Baptism of Suffering. Two Blind Men Healed at Jericho.

For the kingdom of heaven. This parable is added to illustrate what was said just before, in the last chapter.

A man that is a householder. The householder represents God, the vineyard is the kingdom of Christ, the laborers his disciples.

Went out early in the morning to hire. Said to be a common custom in the East. Unemployed laborers gather in the market place of the villages, waiting for an employer.

And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
20:2 Agreed with the labourers for a penny a day. A denarius, about sixteen cents, the usual full price of a day's labor at that time. It would buy then more than a dollar will now.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
20:3,4 About the third hour. Nine o'clock. The hours were counted from six o'clock.
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
20:3,4 About the third hour. Nine o'clock. The hours were counted from six o'clock.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
20:5 Went out about the sixth and ninth hour. Twelve and three o'clock.
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
20:6 About the eleventh hour. Five o'clock.
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
20:7 Because no man hath hired us. These persons were idle, because they had no opportunity to work. This point must not be lost sight of. There is no promise here for willful idleness.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
20:8 Saith unto his steward. The steward, to whom the duty of paying the laborers is assigned, probably represents Christ.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
20:9 They received every man a penny. More than most of them expected. God does not measure our reward by the length, but by the faithfulness of service.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
20:11 They murmured. Those who had worked all day. Like the elder brother (Lu 15:28-30).
Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
20:14 Go thy way. The householder gave these all he had agreed. They had no ground of complaint but envy.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
20:15 Is thine eye evil? Envious.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last. A special lesson, first, to the Jews. They had been called first by God, but the Gentiles who heard the call should soon enjoy special privileges. They would even be first in the kingdom, because of their greater readiness to receive the gospel. Our duty in the vineyard is to go to work as soon as the Lord calls us, and to do what he tells us.
And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
20:17 Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart. For six months, ever since the confession at Caesarea Philippi, the Lord had been trying to prepare the twelve for his death. Compare Mr 10:32-52 Lu 18:31-43. He was now east of the Jordan, on his way.
Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
20:18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. They had gone to Jerusalem ofttimes before, but never on such a mournful errand.

Shall be betrayed. By Judas, who would lead the band sent by the Jewish rulers to seek him in the night.

Unto the chief priests and unto the scribes. The Jewish Sanhedrin. It included both the leaders of the priesthood, the leading scribes, or doctors of the law, and others. The great council of the nation condemned Jesus to die. See Mt 26:59-66.

And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
20:19 Shall deliver him to the Gentiles. The Sanhedrin could condemn, but had no power to inflict capital punishment, because the government had passed into the hands of the Romans--a Gentile race.

To mock, and to scourge. For comment on these words, see Mt 27:26-31.

The third day. This expression, which occurs often, shows the sense in which the Jews understood the corresponding phrase, three days and three nights.

Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
20:20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children. Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John, and supposed by many to be the sister of the mother of Jesus. Compare Mr 10:32-35 Lu 18:31-34.
And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
20:21 What wilt thou? We learn from Mark that they asked him to grant what they wished before they stated it, after the manner of Herod to the daughter of Herodias, but he forced them to state their ambitious desire (Mr 10:35-37). The mother speaks for them.

That these my two sons may sit, etc. They still believed that he would be an earthly monarch, notwithstanding that he had just told them of his speedy death.

But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
20:22 Ye know not what ye ask. An illustration, this of ignorant prayer. Within a month they saw the places on his right hand and left occupied by the two thieves in the crucifixion (Mt 27:38).

Are ye able to drink of the cup? The cup is an Old Testament image of a man's lot, or portion, as holding what of life God pours out for him. See Ps 11:6 16:05 23:05 73:10:00 75:08:00 116:13:00 Eze 23:33.

Be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? Baptism is the necessary condition by which one can enjoy the privileges of the church. The cup signifies suffering voluntarily taken, or drunk, and the baptism what is endured at the hands of others.

We are able. They no doubt thought they were. They loved their Lord, as well as pre-eminence, and felt that they were willing to go with him through suffering. They, however, overestimated their strength.

And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
20:23 Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. They cannot do it now, but in due time they shall follow him; they shall rise to their calling, and bravely meet all its risks and hardships. See Ac 12:1,2 Re 1:9.

Is not mine to give. The highest honors of his kingdom were not now to be disposed of by him to gratify the worldly ambition of any one.

For whom it is prepared. The Father had a plan in reference to the honors of the kingdom. The lowliest would be the loftiest. They who gave up most would get most.

And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
20:24 The ten... were moved with indignation. The indignation of the ten displayed the same spirit and motive as the request of the sons of Zebedee. It is very common that in the very act of condemning our brethren we are guilty of the same or worse faults than those we condemn.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
20:25 Jesus called them unto him. Evidently their indignation had been outspoken, but not in the immediate presence of the Lord.

The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion. In order to present the contrast between the kingdom as it would be and as they expected it, he pointed out the nature of Gentile rule. The princes lorded over the people.

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
20:26 It shall not be so among you. No such lordship, no such authority, can be tolerated in your fraternity. The case is a rebuke of unhallowed ambition. Men prominent in the church should be the first to heed the admonition. Such priestly despotism as the absolute rule of the Catholic, Greek, and of some Protestant churches is at variance with this principle.

Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. Your deacon, servant. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven consists in doing, rather than in being, and in doing for others, rather than for self. Greatness is to be found in service. Only those men are truly great who are the servants of their race, helpers of mankind.

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
20:27 Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. In the church, the greatest one is he who serves most and best.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
20:28 Give his life a ransom. Our Lord came to serve. He even gave his life. He became our ransom; that is, he redeemed us by his blood.
And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.
20:29 As they departed from Jericho. He had now crossed the Jordan. At Jericho he saved Zaccheus. Compare Mr 10:46-52 Lu 18:35-43. Jericho stood a few miles from the southern ford of the Jordan, on the road to Jerusalem, which was about eighteen miles distant. He left Jericho for Jerusalem on Friday, just a week before his crucifixion.
And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.
20:30 Two blind men. Mark and Luke name only one, blind Bartimaeus, probably well known and hence named (Mr 10:46 Lu 18:35).
And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.
20:31 Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David. This was virtually acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, who was to be the Son of David.
And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
20:32 Jesus stood still. He does not object now to this title. Compare Mt 9:27. He is now about to proclaim himself the Messiah.
They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
20:34 Jesus... touched their eyes. The faith of the blind men had saved them. Compare Mr 10:52 Lu 18:42. Faith saved. The blind Bartimaeus (1) asked about Jesus as he passed; (2) cried to him as the Son of David, the Messiah; (3) asked for mercy; (4) kept on crying when they tried to stop him; (5) when permitted, sprang up and hurried to Jesus; (6) asked of him to receive his sight. This is faith in action.
The People's New Testament by B.W. Johnson [1891]

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