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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 20

Verses 1-99

Ch. 20: 1 16 . The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. Peculiar to St Matthew

1 . For the kingdom of heaven , &c.] There are many possible applications of the parable, but the only true explanation of its meaning to the disciples at the time must be reached by considering the question to which it is an answer. The parable is addressed solely to the disciples. The thread of thought may be traced in this way: It is impossible for a rich man, one who trusts in riches, to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples, through Peter, say “We at any rate left all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” Our Lord’s answer is (1) partly encouraging, (2) partly discouraging.

(1) All who have in a true sense given up all for Christ shall have a great reward (ch. 19:28, 29).

(2) But ( v. 30) priority of time is not everything. The parable is given in explanation of this point. Not only will the disciples not be the only called, but they may not reach a higher place or a higher reward than some who follow them. Still all who work shall have their reward. But they must beware of a spirit very prevalent among hard workers, and not think too much of their own labours, or be displeased because others are equally rewarded.

labourers into his vineyard ] i. e. workers for the Church of Christ.

2 . a penny ] a denarius. See ch. 18:28.

4 . whatsoever is right I will give you ] The justice of the award is disputed v . 12, on the ground that those who were first called had borne the burden and heat of the day. Man does not here acquiesce in the Judge’s decision, as in the parable of the debtors, ch. 18. What is just does not at first seem just, but, as in science many things that seemed untrue are proved to be true, what seems unjust will be proved just when we know all. Further, time is not the only element in service. An act of swift intelligence or of bravery wrought in the space of a single minute has saved an army or a people, and merited higher reward than a lifetime of ordinary service.

6 . the eleventh hour ] The various hours may be referred in the first instance to the call of a Paul, a Barnabas, or a Timothy, who adopted the Cause later than the Twelve. In a secondary and less immediate sense they seem to indicate the successive periods at which the various nations were admitted to the Church of Christ. Was it unjust that European nations should have equal privileges with the Jews in the Church of Christ, or that Paul should be equal to Peter?

12 . which have borne the burden and heat of the day ] This may be regarded as man’s estimate of his own merits, which is not the divine estimate. The words echo the tone of “what shall we have?” ch. 19:27.

13 . Friend ] The Greek word is used of any temporary connection, without the idea of affectionate friendship. It is used by a master to his slave; by a guest to a fellow-guest; as a general address on meeting. Cp. ch. 22:12 and 26:50, where it is a term of reproachful rebuke.

15 . Is thine eye evil ] The belief in the evil eye still prevails in the East. The envious or malevolent glance is thought to have an injurious effect. Here the sense is: Art thou envious because I am just?

16 . for many be called, but few chosen ] This verse which occurs in a natural connection ch. 19:30, but is difficult to explain here, is omitted in the best MSS. The words are probably interpolated.

17 19 . Jesus going up to Jerusalem foretells His Passion for the third time

See chs. 16:21, 17:22, 23; and Mark 10:32-41.10.34 ; Luke 18:31-42.18.34 . St Mark and St Luke add “shall spit upon him” (Mark); “shall be spitted on” (Luke); St Matthew alone names “crucifixion;” St Luke, who mentions only the share which the Gentiles had in the Passion, adds “they understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”

The disciples, as Jews, still placed their hopes in the present world: “what shall we have?” They still thought Jesus might be using a figure of speech. Jesus was alone in the certainty of His awful secret. He had no sympathy from His followers.

18, 19 . Observe the exactness of the prediction; the Sanhedrin shall condemn but not kill, the Gentiles shall scourge and crucify.

20 28 . Salome’s Prayer for her sons, and the Answer of Jesus

Mark 10:35-41.10.41 . St Mark begins “And James and John the sons of Zebedee came unto him, saying, &c.” For once St Matthew is more graphic and true to detail than St Mark.

20 . the mother of Zebedee’s children ] Her name was Salome, as we learn by comparing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 .

“Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” Matthew 27:56 . “Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.” Mark 15:40 . worshipping him ] The act of prostration before an Eastern King though the word “crucify” might have suggested a slave’s death. The Kingdom of heaven introduces many such contrasts.

desiring a certain thing ] She dares not speak until her Lord addresses her.

21 . may sit, the one on thy right hand ] Cp. for the thought ch. 19:28.

22 . Ye know not ] Observe, Jesus addresses the sons, not the mother.

what ye ask ] There is some force in the middle voice of the original, “ask for yourselves,” or “cause to be asked.”

the cup that I shall drink of ] “The destiny in store for me.” Cp. among other passages, Isaiah 51:17 , “Thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out,” and Psalms 75:8 ; the idea of vengeance, of God’s wrath against sin, is paramount in the prophets. When the disciples afterwards recalled the image it would signify to them the mediation of Christ, who by His passion and death drank for man the cup of God’s wrath. Maldonatus suggests the thought of “the poison cup,” the cup of death. For the image, cp. “quot bella exhausta canebat.” Verg. Aen. iv. 14.

and to be baptized , &c.] These words are omitted in the most ancient MSS. They are probably an insertion from St Mark. The crucifixion was the baptism through which Jesus passed to the new life after the Resurrection. Our Christian baptism is a crucifixion by which the old man dies that the new man may live. See Romans 6:6 ; Galatians 5:24 ; Colossians 3:3 , Colossians 3:5 , Colossians 3:10 .

23 . Ye shall drink indeed of my cup ] James was slain by the sword of Herod Agrippa I. (Acts 12:2 ). John suffered many persecutions, but died a natural death. The rebuke of Jesus is very gentle; His soul knew what suffering was in store for the two brothers.

it shall be given ] These words are not in the Greek text, but may be understood from the infinitive “to give” in the first clause. By another interpretation “but” = “except,” and the sentence would run, “it is not mine to give except to those,” &c., but it is more than doubtful whether the Greek word can have this meaning.

24 . they were moved with indignation ] The indignation of the “Ten” displayed the same spirit and motive as the request of the sons of Zebedee. It seemed as if the jealousies and intrigues of an earthly court were breaking out among the disciples of Jesus.

25 . Jesus called them unto him, and said ] Jesus points out the inversion of earthly ideas in the Kingdom of heaven. The gradation and contrast of the original are hardly brought out in E. V. In the Kingdom of heaven the ambition must be to serve not to reign; that Kingdom is in every way the reverse of the kingdoms of the world. In the latter the gradation of rank is (1) the supreme prince; (2) the nobles (the great); (3) the ministers or attendants; (4) the slaves. In the Kingdom of heaven he that will be the noble must be the minister or attendant; he that will be the monarch must be the slave. What Jesus teaches is the dignity of service in the Kingdom of heaven.

The bearing of such passages as this on the alleviation of slavery in the ancient world should be considered. The influence of this towards the abolition of slavery in modern times might have been still greater if the translators had used the word “slave” rather than “servant” in the E. V.

28 . a ransom ]=the price paid for the redemption of a captive from slavery. For the thought cp. Romans 3:24 ; 1 Corinthians 6:20 ; 1 Peter 1:19 . The English word is derived through the French rançon from Lat. redemptionem .

for many ] Cp. 1 Timothy 2:6 , “Who gave himself a ransom for all .”

for ] Not ὑπέρ , ‘on behalf of,’ but ἀντί , ‘in the place of.’

29 34 . Two Men cured of Blindness

Mark 10:46-41.10.52 .Luke 18:35-42.18.43 .

There are remarkable divergences in the Synoptic accounts of this miracle. Some indeed have supposed that different miracles are related by the Evangelists. St Mark speaks of one man, “blind Bartimæus, the son of Timæus.” St Luke also mentions one only, but describes the incident as taking place “when Jesus came nigh unto Jericho,” whereas St Matthew and St Mark state that the miracle was wrought “as they departed from Jericho.”

It is of course possible that St Luke narrates a separate miracle. The only other solution is to suppose an inaccuracy in an unimportant detail.

29 . a great multitude ] The caravan of Galilæans and others going up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Their numbers would protect them from attack in the dangerous mountain defiles leading to the capital. Jericho was at this time a flourishing city. It was opulent even in the days of Joshua from the fertility of the surrounding plain, its extensive commerce, and from the metals found in the neighbourhood. Levelled to the ground and laid under a curse by Joshua, it was afterwards made a fortified city by Hiel the Bethelite, and regained a portion of its former prosperity. At this period the balsam trade was a principal source of its wealth.

Herod the Great beautified the city with palaces and public buildings, and here he died. After Herod’s death Jericho was sacked and burnt, but restored by his son Archelaus.

“Jericho was once more a ‘City of Palms’ when our Lord visited it. As the city that had so exceptionally contributed to His own ancestry; as the city which had been the first to fall, amidst so much ceremony, before ‘the captain of the Lord’s host and his servant Joshua,’ we may well suppose that His eyes surveyed it with unwonted interest.” Smith’s Bib. Dict. Art. “Jericho.”

31 . thou Son of David ] An appeal which reflects the thought that especially signalizes this period of our Lord’s ministry, the Son of David entering upon His kingdom.

34 . they followed him ] It is probable that very many of those who had received sight and soundness of limb by the word or touch of Jesus followed Him to Jerusalem.

followed ] Jesus Himself leads the procession. See Luke 19:28 .

Nisan 9 ( Palm Sunday ).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 20". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.