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Bible: What Does Matthew 20 Teach Us About Honor in the Kingdom?

Updated on September 15, 2016

Jesus and His Apostles


Matthew 20: Jesus' Call to Total Commitment

Having spoken of how the kingdom champions the reversal of the world’s standard, Jesus now relates a parable that compares His reign to a landowner who hires laborers at various times of the day to work in his vineyard, and chooses to pay them all the same wage (vv. 1-16).

One group starts early (vv. 1-2); another set—a bunch of idlers—begins at 9 a.m. (vv. 3-4); others, once from the ranks of the unemployed, reach the field at noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. (vv. 5-7).

With the first group, he had immediately agreed on a wage—a denarius (v. 2); with the others, he merely said that he would give them “whatever is right” (vv. 4, 7).

At the end of the workday, the owner’s steward summons the laborers to pay them, beginning with those who worked only one hour (v. 8).

Seeing members of this crew receive one denarius each (a typical day’s wage)[v. 9], those who worked all day anticipate that they would earn a bonus beyond the agreed-upon wage (v. 10).

However, the steward hands them all a denarius and no more; incensed, they raise a stink (grumbled, NKJV) against the landowner, reasoning as any greedy person would (vv. 11-12). The owner calmly explains the following facts to the group’s spokesman:

(1) He and the first group agreed on a wage (v. 13);

(2) He, as the employer, wishes to give the same pay to the last crew as to the first (v. 14);

(3) He has the right to pay what he wishes (v. 15a); and

(4) He suggests that the first group might be envious (v. 15b).

Jesus concludes His parable by asserting that those who are last will come in first place, while the first will finish last (v. 16).

[In what sense did the last crew win and the first group lose? Is this the correct interpretation?

Ryrie cogently writes, “God’s grace and generosity know no bounds, and man’s ideas of merit and earned rewards are irrelevant” (New Testament Study Bible, 2).]

The Apostle John


Only One Not a Martyr

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Jesus' Death

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Before discussing more kingdom matters with His disciples, Christ foretells His betrayal, His condemnation, His scourging, His crucifixion, and His resurrection as they ascend to Jerusalem(vv. 17-19).

His prophecy of the explicit details of these events surpasses the previous two predictions (cf.16:21;17:22-23).

The text records no reaction from His disciples (cf.16:22;17:23); perhaps they have filled their minds with seeking their own glory in the kingdom that His dire words do not register with them.

James and John’s mother accompanies these apostles to ask Jesus if the latter may rule with Him from very prominent positions (vv. 20-21).

[Two points arise:

(1) Christ’s promise (19:28) may have prompted them to assert themselves in this matter;

(2) They bring their mother—is Zebedee dead, or is he not a believer?—to ask in their stead, perhaps thinking that Jesus could not refuse to grant a parent’s request for her boys.]

To rise to a position of “first honors” in the kingdom requires total sacrifice similar to that of Jesus (“to drink the cup (of suffering),” “to be baptized with the baptism”).

Christ knows that James and John cannot fully understand the difficulty of this commitment (v. 22a). The two men claim to be able to follow through with it (v. 22b).

His answer that they will experience suffering for His sake—NASB records that they will “drink the cup,” but omits the NKJV’s “be baptized with the baptism . . .”—indicates either His permission for them to suffer for Him or a revelation just received regarding their future (v. 23a).

[James died at the hands of Herod (cf. Acts 12:1-3), and Emperor Domitian banished John to the isle of Patmos (cf. Rev. 1).]

Their request He cannot grant, however, for this prerogative belongs to the Father (v. 23b).

[In the divine economy, the Father as the executive in the Triune Godhead apparently has the sole authority to assign people to different responsibilities in the kingdom.]

The brothers’ boldness irks the remaining apostles, who were probably kicking themselves for not approaching Jesus first about these coveted positions (v. 24).

Of course, their selfish attitude misses the point that Christ had made (and now makes again) about the way to greatness in His kingdom.

He first prefaces the way Gentile leaders exercise authority (specifically, by “lording it over” their subjects) [v. 25].

Then He asserts that Christian leaders, on the other hand, serve those under them (vv. 26-27).

Jesus provides Himself, the Son of Man, as the Example of One who had not only come to serve humanity, but also to “give His life a ransom for many” (v. 28).

[The latter purpose indicates, of course, that Jesus saw His sacrifice as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of His people.]

Jesus Heals Bartimaeus


While leaving old Jericho with “a great multitude” in His train, Jesus encounters two blind men who had been crying out for mercy from the Lord, whom they designate the “Son of David” (vv. 29-30).

[Bartimaeus was the spokesperson for his fellow blind companion (cf. Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43).]

While the multitudes rebuff the blind men, who, nevertheless, continue to cry out, Jesus calls them to Himself and asks how He may serve them (vv. 31-32).

[The Lord still asks them what they want, although it appears obvious what that is.]

He completely heals both of them, and they follow Him (vv. 33-34).

© 2013 glynch1


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