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|This is the New King James text of the passages.|
Matthew 20; Mark 10:32-52 Listen
In this passage, we see the following in Jesus' ministry:
Hey! That's not fair! (Matthew 20:1-16)
|1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 and said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?’
7 They said to him, “Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
8 ¶ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’
9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.
11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner,
12 saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’
13 But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?
14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’
16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Jesus is closing out on a theme that emerged in Matthew 19:16-30 (see notes) regarding prominent positioning in the yet-future Kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, after Jesus gives the parable of the hired servants in this passage, he concludes with the same words as he restates his proposition of Matthew 19:30 here in Matthew 20:16 when he says, "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."
How much is a penny/denarius?
While the KJV consistently translates the Greek word, "denarius" as "penny," one might wonder about the buying power of a denarius. We see in Matthew 20:1-16 that a denarius was a reasonable unskilled laborer's wage for one day's (12 hours) work. The denarius (silver) was the most commonly used coin in the first century. The other coins used during that period are related as follows:
In light of those two verses, it seems significant that Jesus had declared in Matthew 19:28, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." That, of course, is a reference to his twelve Apostles. Before the earthly ministry of Jesus, they had no reason to suspect that they would ever have a position of authority in the Messianic kingdom of the future. Contrariwise, the contemporary Jewish leaders had every reason to believe that they would be filling those positions of authority. With that in mind, verses 19:30 and 20:16 fit nicely with Jesus' message: The "last" (12 Apostles) shall rule in the Kingdom of God (Messianic kingdom) while the "first" (contemporary Jewish leaders) will come in "last."
Just in case the reality of the-last-first-and-the-first-last scenario doesn't seem quite so fair, this parable addresses the fairness of laborers contracted during different portions of the work day, yet given the same amount of wages at the conclusion of the day. While it seems fair that the one who works the most should get the greater reward, Jesus makes the point that when what has been promised is given, what more can one properly expect? His point is that people tend to spend too much time comparing their dedication and accomplishments to others rather than focusing on the reward for service promised by the Lord.
Incidentally, we get a little bit of monetary-exchange information here in this passage. Verse 2 tells us that these first laborers were willing to work all day for one denarius. The Greek word is "denarion" - a Roman silver coin circulated during the first century. The KJV translates "denarion" as "pennyworth" or sometimes "penny" (as here) or sometimes "pence." Based upon its usage here in this parable, we can safely assume that a common laborer in the first century was willing to work for one denarius per 12-hour day.
The cross prophesied (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34)
|17 ¶ Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them,
18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death,
19 and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.”
|32 ¶ Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:
33 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles;
34 and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
|31 ¶ Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.
32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.
33 They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
34 ¶ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.
First, before the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Messiah must suffer as Isaiah (Isaiah 53, see notes) prophesied and be "cut off" as Daniel had prophesied (Daniel 9:24-27, see notes). Jesus outlines his imminent crucifixion to his disciples as they prepare to go to Jerusalem for the last Passover Feast. This Passover Feast will be different; Jesus will be crucified as our Passover lamb on the very day of the Feast. These verses put the discipleship comments of the preceding verses in clear focus. If you are to follow Jesus as his disciple at this point, it will be to the death.
Notice the specifics of Jesus' prophecy here regarding his crucifixion. Not only did he prophesy that he would crucified (Greek: "stauroo" means executed on a cross), but that he would also be mocked, scourged, and spit upon. But then...resurrection in three days. The disciples couldn't say that Jesus didn't warn them. He gave them a full overview of what was in store just a few days out.
James and John have an agent (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45)
|20 ¶ Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him.
21 ¶ And He said to her, “What do you wish?” ¶ She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
22 ¶ But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” ¶ They said to Him, “We are able.”
23 ¶ So He said to them, “You will indeed drink 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 is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
24 ¶ And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers.
25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
|35 ¶ Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 ¶ And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
37 ¶ They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”
38 ¶ But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
39 ¶ They said to Him, “We are able.” ¶ So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized;
40 but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.”
41 ¶ And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.
44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
So, what do the disciples glean from the comments that have just been heard indicating that the end is imminent? They clearly understand it's a Kingdom-of-God-on-earth proposition, and they think it is at hand. That's why the mother of James and John intercedes on their behalf as their agent, or should I say "power broker." The fact that Mark doesn't mention that they utilized the services of their mother as their agent is incidental to the event. On more than one occasion in scripture the thoughts and intents of one are relayed by another. In this passage, their mother serves as their mouthpiece, but the desires for these leadership roles are their own. Of course she is a willing participant on their behalf; she wants a prominent place in the leadership structure for her boys. What a mom! We see in Matthew 20:22 that she made this request in their presence.
To get the full impact of her request, we must go back to the comment made by Jesus at the beginning of this discussion in Matthew 19:28 (see notes), "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." So here's the picture: Jesus in the middle with six Apostles on his left and six Apostles on his right. Yeah...but who are the two seated on the two thrones right next to Jesus himself?
And what about the reaction of the other Apostles to this request? Matthew states their attitude like this, "they were greatly displeased with the two brothers." Mark wasn't actually there on that occasion, as was Matthew. Mark's information came from the other Apostles later on. He puts it more gently when he says of them, "they began to be greatly displeased with James and John." Oh, well...any way you say it, the request wasn't at all well received with the other Apostles. Jesus uses this opportunity to teach a valuable lesson, "A leader must first be a servant." Both Matthew and Mark convey the words of Jesus on this occasion as follows, "...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." As I said, "A valid leader must first be a servant."
Allow me to put a contemporary face on Jesus' reply in this passage. One of the problems, as I see it, in churches today is a struggle to acquire leadership positions in local churches. It causes friction and injects politics into the assembly of God's people. Jesus is establishing a clear precedent here when he declares that leadership positions should follow clear demonstrations of actual personal ministry. Here's the problem: People who don't minister to other Believers as the natural process of their daily routine are not going to suddenly become those ministers when they are officially given a leadership position. In other words, in churches today, many people hold formal leadership titles within the local church who aren't really ministers at all. This creates a political environment, but not a ministry environment.
Healing of two blind men (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43)
|29 ¶ Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him.
30 And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”
31 ¶ Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”
32 ¶ So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
33 ¶ They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.”
34 So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.
|46 ¶ Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.
47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 ¶ Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 ¶ So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. ¶ Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”
50 ¶ And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.
51 ¶ So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” ¶ The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”
52 ¶ Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
|35 ¶ Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging.
36 And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant.
37 So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
38 And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 ¶ Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 ¶ So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him,
41 saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” ¶ He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
42 ¶ Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”
43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
You will notice from this passage that Matthew recalls both blind men on this occasion who were healed, but Mark and Luke only talk about the apparent spokesman for the two. According to Mark's account, he was known as " blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus" So, while two were healed, Mark and Luke only report on the one who was apparently well known, probably from activities later on as a disciple. Subsequently, these two blind men follow Jesus.
Zacchaeus - the little man makes a big decision (Luke 19:1-10)
|1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.
4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.
7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
8 ¶ Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9 ¶ And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;
10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Even though Zacchaeus is a Jew (verse 9), none of the Jews like him because he is a publican (tax collector). Tax collecting, we are told, was a contract job where contractors bid on the right to collect taxes from the Roman subjects of a particular region.They paid the bid amount to the Roman government and then collected from the citizens an amount that provided a handsome return on their investment. Luke identifies Zacchaeus as "the chief" among those tax collectors. In other words, he had people who worked under him in the business of tax collecting. Apparently the Roman government did not concern itself with how much the tax collector charged the subjects under his authority. He could use the full force of Roman law to collect taxes. By his own admission, he had thus extorted money from those over whom he had won the right to collect taxes. When Jesus spots Zacchaeus in the tree, calls his name and invites himself over for dinner, Zacchaeus is overwhelmed with emotion at this acceptance by someone as prominent as Jesus. Instantly he promises restitution to those he has wronged, and Jesus subsequently identifies Zacchaeus positively when he says, "Today salvation has come to this house," Jesus obviously knew what was in his heart.
Those influential Jews are not happy. As far as they are concerned, Zacchaeus is not redeemable; he's just a sinner. Making any attempt to redeem him, in their minds, was strictly out of the question. Moreover, any association with Zacchaeus by a "righteous" man would have been considered completely unacceptable. That attitude towards Zacchaeus by those who were offended sets up the next parable with verse 10, "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Zacchaeus was lost until Jesus found him.
They neglected their responsibility (Luke 19:11-28)
|11 ¶ Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.
12 Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.
13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, “Do business till I come.’
14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.’
15 ¶ “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
16 Then came the first, saying, “Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’
17 And he said to him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’
18 And the second came, saying, “Master, your mina has earned five minas.’
19 Likewise he said to him, “You also be over five cities.’
20 ¶ “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.
21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
22 And he said to him, “Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.
23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
24 ¶ “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’
25 (But they said to him, “Master, he has ten minas.’)
26 “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ”
28 ¶ When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
This parable is introduced by Jesus to add perspective to the Zacchaeus incident when we read in verse 11, "Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately." So, what's the linkage here? It appears to me that as these people believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is getting ready to establish the prophesied Kingdom on earth, Jesus is calling into question the activities of the schooled Jewish leaders of that day (aka Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes). They are looking for the return of the King and the Kingdom to Israel.
Now, does this parable deal with the time between the first and second advent of Jesus, or does it deal with the time between the demise of Judah in 586 B.C. and this day when Jesus is preparing to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah to restore Israel? Based upon the timing of this parable with the story of Zacchaeus, I believe Jesus is pointing out that the Jewish leaders of the day were making no attempt to win people to their version of righteousness. Instead, they flaunted their righteousness before the common Jew as though they themselves were members of an exclusive club. I believe this parable is an indictment against their selfish activities leading up to that day. They had taken the gift entrusted to their care (knowledge of the Word) and refused to use it to bring people to God. Not only so, they rejected Jesus who was about the business of making a positive impact on these common Jews. I'm convinced that the "wicked servant" of verse 22 is intended to be a reference to those Jewish leaders who did not invest their knowledge of God in the common Jew. Their self-righteous selfishness causes Jesus to reject them just as they had rejected Zacchaeus.
Incidentally, Jesus uses the parable again with a few minor variations to characterize those "wicked" Jews during the Tribulation who do not anticipate the return of the Messiah in Matthew 25:14-30 (see notes).
There's another interesting aspect to this parable: It appears that Jesus may have used a real-life scenario upon which he based it. When Herod the Great died (approximately 4 B.C.) he had willed his reign to his son Archelaus (aka Herod Archelaus). At a previous time, he had willed the same reign to his son Antipas (aka Herod Antipas). After Archelaus assumed authority over the territory of Judea and surrounding areas, Josephus writes that he visciously put down a rebellion of the Pharisees, killing some 3,000 of them. As a result, he gained the reputation of being a very cruel leader. Because of the dispute regarding who should have assumed Herod the Great's position after his death (Archelaus or Antipas), Archelaus made a trip to Rome to gain confirmation from Caesar. Archelaus received this confirmation and was appointed ethnarch over the region until he was deposed in 6 A.D. because of his cruel treatment of the Jewish people who cried out against him to Rome.
It is for this reason that many Bible scholars are convinced that the "certain nobleman" of verse 12 is based upon the real-life scenario of Archelaus.