Matthew 20:1–16: The Last Will be First

by Mar 11, 2024Premium, The Gospel of Matthew

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It is an extraordinary thing that Jesus would make the first to be last, as Jesus said in the previous passage (Matt. 19:30). Even a rich man in the vibrance of youth—someone who possesses everything that this world insists upon as essential—only holds those gifts for a period of time. Today, two thousand years afterward, his riches have rusted and his once-young body has rotted. The first have been made last. Yet, in Matthew 20:1–16, Jesus now fills out the rest of this idea. Not only does he make the first last, but Jesus makes the last first.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the little word “for” in v. 1 tell us about the connection between this passage and the preceding one? How does Jesus character the “first” laborers to be called into service? What agreement do they strike with the master of the house (v. 2)? What agreement does the master strike with those hired at the third, sixth, and ninth hours? What agreement does the master strike with those whom he hires at the eleventh hour (v. 6)?

2. Why have those hired at the eleventh hour been “idle” all day until the very last hour for working (vv. 6–7)? How, then, does Jesus characterize those who are “last”? How does the master reward those who are “last”? What do those who are “first” deduce from the lavish reward that the master gives to those who are “last”? Why do the “first” grumble at the “equal” treatment that the “last” receive?

3. What should we make of the master’s word, “friend” (v. 13)? Why is the master justified in giving those workers only a denarius (v. 13)? How forceful is the master’s insistence that the “first” should take what belongs to them “and go” (v. 14)? What does it mean when the master suggests that the men “begrudge his generosity” (v. 15)? In what way does Jesus now teach that he makes the last first and the first last?

4. Where do you have an entitled, “me-first” attitude? How does this parable confront your pride? Where do you need to repent from despising God’s generous, lavish love towards others by elevating them so that they are “equal” with you? What kind of joy awaits those who willingly embrace being last? Why does the gospel demand that we entrust ourselves to God’s promises rather than to our performance?