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Wednesday, April 24th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

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.

In the previous chapter, the rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking what thing he needs to do to inherit eternal life (19:16). Peter manifests a similar "meritorious attitude" by suggesting that because the disciples have "left all" to follow Jesus, they deserve some special reward (19:27). Jesus explains to the disciples that they will receive a reward, but it will be to sit on spiritual thrones.

Because discipleship is not simply a contract with God, the believer must be willing to leave the distribution of rewards in God’s sovereign hands. In the end, we are all unprofitable servants who merely fulfill our duty (Luke 17:10). Just because Peter and the other apostles are the first to follow Jesus does not mean they alone will receive a reward. Thus, the proverb: many who are first will be last, and the last first. As a gracious landowner, God has the right to distribute as He pleases. All who accept the call to work in the vineyard will receive a reward. This parable demonstrates that envying another’s reward is inappropriate because no one deserves the grace that God extends. God’s blessings are not quid pro quo. McGarvey says rewards are not distributed on the principle of a just compensation for labor performed because, in reality, all laborers receive far greater reward than they deserve (Commentary on Matthew 173).

For the kingdom of heaven: "For" serves to connect the parable with the preceding statement of verse 30. The break between chapters nineteen and twenty is artificial and interrupts the continuous flow of thought that begins in Matthew 19:27.

"The kingdom of heaven" refers to the Messianic reign and is the same expression found in chapter thirteen. The parable that Jesus tells comes from everyday Jewish life and serves to illustrate the reign of God with special focus on His goodness and grace.

is like unto a man that is an householder: The landowner (oikosdespotes—master of the house) hires workers for his vineyard. Jesus does not explain the nature of the work, but we know it is substantial because the landowner goes out five times to hire laborers. If the work involves new vineyard construction, many men will be required. First, the workers clear the ground of rocks. Since most vineyards are built on hillsides, the workers will also build small terraces and retaining walls to thwart erosion. Depending on the quality of the earth, workers might haul fertile soil from the valley below to fill the terraces. All of this is backbreaking labor.

If Jesus depicts an existing vineyard, the work would include pruning and tending of both old and new vines. Both of these jobs are labor intensive. Very likely, the picture is that of harvest time. Harvest occurs in late September while the weather is still hot and requires the services of many men.

which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard: These workers are unskilled men who work on a daily basis with no guarantee of tomorrow’s pay. Verse 3 indicates that early in the morning, perhaps before dawn, they gather in the city marketplace in hopes of hiring out for the day. Jesus depicts a typical twelve hour workday beginning around six o’clock in the morning and ending at six o’clock that evening.

Because unskilled workers lack the security of wealth or full-time employment, they often find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous landowners. Mosaic law regulates that employers pay their hired laborers at the end of each day, although many landowners ignore the regulation. Leviticus 19:13 states, "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning" (NKJV). Deuteronomy further instructs that wages are to be paid before sunset (24:15). These laws insure that a poor worker has money to feed his family the following day.

Verse 2

And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day: Since laborers hire out on a day-by-day basis, the workers want to discuss their salary before the day begins. To keep from being cheated by an unscrupulous employer, they agree on a predetermined wage. The relationship between worker and master is purely contractual, and both parties settle on a "penny." They want a contract before they will work. The exact modern equivalence of a "penny" is difficult to determine. It is best to define this term as the customary daily wage for a soldier or common laborer.

There are several points to note about this parable. First, the agreement these workers make seems to imply that some wage haggling occurs between worker and master. If this is the case, then we have here the same attitude Peter demonstrates when he asks, "What shall we have therefore" (19:27). Lenski believes this is the heart of a mercenary. He suggests Jesus lets this first group work the entire day because of their attitude (766). Perhaps Jesus’ description of this first group is really a picture of the disciples who, because they start at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, expect some extra reward.

Regardless of whether the wage agreement materially affects the spiritual application of the parable, it is important to notice the marked difference in attitude between those hired first and those hired later. The first group appears willing to work only after certain rules are established. As will be seen, however, even at the end of the day, these mercenaries are dissatisfied. The workers who hire out later, however, go to work on faith after hearing only the master’s promise, "Whatever is right, I will give you." We are left to consider which group finds the most enjoyment in their reward—the ones who work with meritorious expectation or those who work out of gratitude of service? The answer is obvious.

he sent them into his vineyard: Having received an acceptable agreement, the workers obey the master and go into the vineyard.

Verse 3

And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

Apparently, the landowner’s vineyard is large because he needs additional workers, causing him to return to the marketplace about the third hour of the day. The Jews divide the workday between sunrise and sunset into twelve equal parts. The day begins with the first hour around six o’clock in the morning and ends with the twelfth about six o’clock in the evening. Because the length of daylight varies through the year, hours also vary in length (Broadus 412). According to Jewish reckoning, the sixth hour is always noon whereas the third and ninth correspond roughly to our nine o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon, respectively. The eleventh hour comes about sixty minutes before sunset.

Verse 4

And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

As noted in verse 2, these men seem to manifest a different spirit from those the master hired first. The former seem willing to work only after certain wage agreements are made. These men, however, go to work with only a promise of "whatsoever is right." The action of the first group requires no faith. The action of the second, however, is based on faith that the master will ultimately give them what is fair.

Verse 5

Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

Twice more the master repeats the process. Obviously, the master’s vineyard is large and the crop bountiful because he comes four times to hire additional laborers.

Verses 6-7

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? 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.

And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle: The "eleventh" hour of the day corresponds roughly to five o’clock in the evening. By this time the sun is beginning to set and the workers who have worked all day contemplate their return home. It is almost quitting time. At most, this new group will work only about an hour, and that labor will be during the cool of the day (see verse 12).

and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle: The workers’ idleness is not due to laziness but rather lack of opportunity. As soon as they are hired, they immediately go to work. Jesus does not say why no one has hired these men. The text indicates they have been waiting all day to be hired. Perhaps these men have been overlooked because they do not look as strong or suitable for hard labor. Nevertheless, the good master offers them a chance to work at this late hour in keeping with their ability.

These workers, like the previous group, go with only a promise of fair pay. They do not question or haggle with the master. At the end of the day, they will be pleasantly surprised.

Verse 8

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.

In accord with the Mosaic requirements to pay laborers at the end of each day, the master calls his hired servants (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:15). The order of payment is not the specific point of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 19:30; Matthew 20:16. As long as the master treats each party justly, it makes no difference who receives their pay first. By starting with the last, however, Jesus masterfully pushes His story toward its climatic conclusion. Jesus’ listeners probably eagerly wait to see who will receive more. Because the lesson is one about "reversal," He lets the payment order underscore the point.

Verse 9

And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

By human standards, these men do not deserve the same wage as those first hired. But God does not concern Himself with the standards of man. Fowler is right in observing that Jesus’ tone is aimed at correcting the calculating legalism that wants God’s pay scale to be prorated based on personal merits, seniority, or a strict counting of hours (895).

Those hired at the eleventh hour surely expect less than those hired at the first. They are pleasantly surprised the master awards them the same. Thus, their payment can only be seen as an act of grace on the part of the master. Those who have contracted with him for their pay will soon discover they have gained nothing by their haggling.

Jesus does not say what those hired at nine o’clock, noon, and three o’clock receive, but we can rightly assume that they also receive a penny for their efforts.

Verse 10

But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

Having witnessed the generosity of the master toward the eleventh-hour laborers, those hired first expect to receive a bonus for their labor. To their disappointment, however, they each receive only what they had bargained for. Their comment in verse 11 belies their jealousy and anger. They have not only been forced to stand in line and be paid last, but they are paid least in relation to their toil. With disgust they spout, "Unfair!" to the good master.

The expectation of preferential treatment is groundless. These men have previously bargained for a "penny," and a "penny" is what they receive. The master is neither unfair nor dishonest in his dealings, for he has complied with the terms the workers agreed to. The morning bargaining was based on "merit," and the workers appeared satisfied. Not until they witness the unexpected generosity of the master do they grumble. Nevertheless, the master is not legally or ethically bound to offer more than a penny.

Like these workers, many today expect to negotiate with God for their reward, assuming the greater the length of spiritual service, status, or achievement, the greater their compensation. They are unhappy when God generously accepts the sinner whose past is far blacker than their own. Fowler says, "To them, Jesus can hobnob with sinners if He likes, but He has no right to treat them as if they had earned what it has taken the ’righteous’ many years of hard striving to attain!" (897). Such an attitude misses God’s graciousness and sounds similar to Peter’s comment, "…what shall we have therefore?" (19:27).

Verse 11

And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,

These ungracious workers cannot contain their disappointment. Much like the elder son in Luke 15:25, they begin to grumble and protest as if they have been mistreated.

Verse 12

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.

These last have wrought but one hour: Since those hired last started to work at the eleventh hour (five o’clock in the evening) and quit with the rest of the crew at the twelfth hour (six o’clock), they worked only a fraction of the time of those hired first. Moreover, the last have worked under the ideal conditions of the cool of the evening. Why should they receive the same pay as those "which have borne the burden and heat of the day"?

and thou hast made them equal unto us: This is more of a jealous accusation rather than simply stating a fact. If the heat and exhaustion are factored in, then the eleventh-hour laborers actually receive more than those hired first. In fact, the hourly wage of those hired last would be several times that of those hired first. But God, like the master of the vineyard, does not reward on the basis of human merit and achievement but on the basis of a working faith in Him.

which have borne the burden and heat of the day: This phrase possibly refers not only to the actual temperature but also to the hot east wind that often accompanies Palestinian summers. Broadus suggests that mere heat in and of itself is so common in Palestine that it is scarcely worthy of note (413). He further says that the word used here (kauson—heat) is frequently used in the Septuagint to refer to the burning east wind. It is this kind of wind that blasts the grain in Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:6), withers Jonah’s gourd (Jonah 4:8), and blights the vine of Ezekiel’s parable (Ezekiel 17:10). If this condition is what Jesus has in mind, the conditions under which the first workers labor are intense and painful. If, however, as Lenski believes (775), all that Jesus has in mind is general summer heat, the difficult toil is still arduous. Depending on geographic location, elevation, and the exact time of the year, summer temperatures in Palestine can range from the upper 80’s to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For other biblical references to Palestinian heat and its effects, see Genesis 18:1; 1 Samuel 11:11; Psalms 91:1; Psalms 121:5; Luke

12:55; James 1:11; and Revelation 7:16.

Verse 13

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

But he answered one of them, and said, Friend: The term "friend" (hetaire) should probably be interpreted in a conciliatory fashion to mean "comrade" (Robertson 160). The master seeks to reason with the disgruntled workers by reminding them of the very standard for which they bargained. Their pay reflects nothing but his honesty since he fully meets the terms of their contract.

didst not thou agree with me for a penny: With legalistic fervor, the workers forged a contract. Now, at the end of the day, they still demonstrate their love for "justice" by expecting to receive more than the eleventh-hour workers. They contend that if the eleventh-hour workers receive a penny for one hour’s work, justice demands they receive twelve times that amount. They fail to realize that with the exception of their case, the master bases his pay on mercy and grace (the things they disdain) not justice. By demanding justice, these workers bargain right into their one penny. Their merciless, mercenary spirit has determined their own pay.

Verse 14

Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

Take that thine is, and go thy way: Robertson says the term "take that" (aron) indicates the workers refuse to take the wages from the table or have contemptuously thrown their money to the ground when the master tries to pay them (160). Had the master paid them first, they would have been gone before the eleventh-hour workers were paid, and there would have been no confrontation. Jesus is masterful in building His parable to its natural climax. The first are paid last, and the last end up receiving the most. This fact demonstrates the point of Matthew 19:30; Matthew 20:16.

Notice the distinction between "that thine is" in this verse to "mine own" in the next verse. Having met their contractual arrangement, these workers now own their pay and can do with it as they please. In similar fashion, the landowner owns his wealth and can use it as he desires. The unthankful workers have no right to challenge the master’s use of his own money.

I will give unto this last, even as unto thee: This point further underscores the master’s fairness and sovereignty. He can and will do as he pleases because his wealth is his. Undaunted by the attacks on his generosity, he pays the last man the same as the first.

Verse 15

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own: The question is rhetorical.

Is thine eye evil, because I am good: This question refers to their jealousy. They look at the situation through eyes filled with jealousy and covetousness while the landowner’s eyes are filled with grace. He is generous and kind, but they are not.

Notice that the master does not withhold pay after these workers barrage him with complaints. He simply reminds them by gentle rebuke that his fairness is above question. Why does the master not punish these workers for their attitude? First, there is no legal grounds upon which to punish these men. Despite their bad attitude, they have met the terms of their contract and are not in contempt of any work agreement. Ironically, these disgruntled workers actually punish themselves. Plummer notes that although they get the reward promised, their attitude prohibits their enjoyment of it:

The discontented are never happy, and jealously is one of the worst of torments. Heaven is no heaven to those who lack the heavenly temper; and these murmurers will have no pleasure in their reward, until they can accept it with thankfulness. From this point of view the first and the last may be said to have changed places. Those who came first to the vineyard had the least joy, and those who came last had the most joy, in the reward given to all (274).

Verse 16

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Jesus laces this point throughout the parable. Those last hired receive the most pay and are paid first. Those first hired are actually paid least in proportion to their labor and receive the least pleasure from their pay.

The axiom of this verse and of chapter nineteen, verse 30, sets the tone for Jesus’ entire ministry and the church. Peter boasts of leaving "all" to follow Jesus as if this somehow earns him some special reward (19:27). The parable sets about to correct this misguided notion. Jesus instructs His little band that discipleship is never designed as a quid pro quo formula of compensation. The true disciple is motivated by love not lust. The true disciple rests easy in the assurance that because his pay is from a Master of grace, it will be gracious. Not only will it be fair, it will be generous beyond expectation. The true disciple does not begin his work in the master’s vineyard by first calculating his own value. He realizes he offers nothing special to the Master, and the skills he has are but gifts from the Master.

Verse 17

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem: The previous events that begin in chapter nineteen, verse 1 occur on the eastern side of the Jordan in the region of Perea (see comments on 19:1). Now Jesus prepares to leave this region and journey up to Jerusalem. He soon passes over the Jordan and enters Jericho (20:29). While en route, Jesus needs to discuss some important matters.

Jesus speaks of His death for the fourth time. He has made similar predictions near Caesarea Philippi about six months earlier—twice to the entire group (16:21; 17:22) and once to Peter, James, and John as they descended the mount of transfiguration (17:9).

took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them: Mark says Jesus has gone ahead of them (10:32). It is not uncharacteristic for Jesus to walk ahead of His disciples, but on this occasion the disciples are amazed because of His unusual demeanor. Perhaps it is the resoluteness of His step as He again prepares His disciples for His death.

Since the Lord always has crowds around Him, and since this is a time for pilgrims to be journeying toward Jerusalem for the Passover, He draws His closest companions aside for a private conversation about His death. Context indicates that Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, is probably in the crowd. She and others like her need to be shielded at this moment. Some believe that at this point Jesus may be surrounded by Galilean sympathizers on their way to the feast who, had they learned of Jesus’ murder, might have been incited to riot and hinder God’s plan. In any event, Broadus is correct: "Only the twelve were in the least prepared to understand such predictions concerning the Messiah" (415).

Verses 18-19

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, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

This prediction is similar to the one found in chapter sixteen, verse 21. Here Jesus describes in perfect detail the things that will soon occur. Such accuracy is proof of Jesus’ deity.

While Jesus honestly portrays His suffering and death, He also promises His disciples that He will rise again. Jesus never omits foretelling victory while predicting His passion. The disciples do not understand how Jesus’ candor serves to brace them against the gale force storm of opposition that will soon lead to His death (Luke 18:34). Jesus leads His disciples into the evil streets of Jerusalem with ample warning yet with the hint of victory. Neither the gates of Jerusalem nor the gates of hades will prevail against Jesus (16:18).

Verse 20

Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons: Mark 10:35-45 indicates that James and John make this request. Most likely they prompt their mother to ask the question. As Lenski notes, she is the "prime mover" (783). Matthew adds the expression "with her sons," which indicates the men are by their mother’s side. Therefore, Mark is accurate in mentioning only the sons.

Most scholars identify the mother of Zebedee’s sons as "Salome" and perhaps the sister of Mary. If this conclusion is accurate, this is Jesus’ own aunt (27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25) who makes the request on behalf of Jesus’ cousins. Perhaps she thinks her kinship will persuade Him to keep Messianic cabinet positions within the family.

Note, too, that because she is called the "mother of Zebedee’s sons" instead of "Zebedee’s wife," it is possible that Zebedee has died since his two sons left the family fishing business. Some even conjecture that the disciple who sought to go and bury his father (8:21) is one of these two sons.

worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him: Broadus says the idea here is that of "homage" as to a king (416). Salome’s acknowledgment of Jesus’ "kingship," however, may be based on the misconception that His will be a physical kingdom. Clearly, this is a misconception that plagues the thinking of the twelve throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6).

Verse 21

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.

Mark 10:35 records the sons’ precursory statement leading to the real issue at hand. "Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire." To this Jesus responds, "What would you that I should do for you?"

The request seems simple enough, but it is one that neither Salome nor her sons comprehend. Jesus has previously promised that His twelve disciples will sit on their own thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (19:28). Very likely James and John discuss this idea with their mother. In their minds, the next natural step is to approach Jesus and ask for the two chief positions—a throne on the right and left of the King Himself.

There are several problems with their appeal. First, Jesus has just warned His bickering disciples that they achieve greatness through humility (18:1–5). Salome’s request rekindles old fires of jealousy (20:24). Second, Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 about "thrones and judging" refer to spiritual positions of authority (see comments). Jesus never promises literal thrones or an earthly kingdom. Furthermore, to gain a throne, the King will first suffer and die (20:18–19). Clearly, Salome is not willing to put her sons through such suffering. Finally, as Jesus notes, such positions are not His to grant anyway (20:23).

Matthew’s expression is "in thy kingdom" whereas Mark says "in thy glory." These two statements are synonymous because a kingdom without glory is no kingdom at all. When Jesus enters His glory, He also enters His kingdom as reigning monarch. By Pentecost, both of these have taken place (compare Luke 24:26 and Acts 2:32-36). The notion is untenable that Christ is king but will not establish a kingdom until some future "millennial reign." Jesus currently reigns in His kingdom and glory!

Verse 22

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.

But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask: This statement serves as a mild rebuke to these self-centered apostles. Because Salome’s and her sons’ minds are set on the rewards of the kingdom, they fail to count the cost. Little do they understand that "kingdom greatness" requires service and suffering. One must be willing to wet his lips with the bitter cup of suffering and soak his body with the bloody baptism of martyrdom.

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: "To drink a cup" is a metaphor for experiencing its contents, good or bad. Here, as in Matthew 26:39, the expression is an image of great suffering. (compare John 18:11) (see also Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Lamentations 4:21; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:6).

"To be baptized…" means to be immersed in pain and agony. Because "baptism" is a total covering or immersion, Jesus is referring to complete and overwhelming suffering.

They say unto him, We are able: Not until years later do the apostles learn what Jesus means. Imprisonment, torture, exile, and even the sword lie ahead. For now, however, far from harm’s way, these two apostles are eager to agree with Jesus: "Yes, we can go through whatever you go through." Fowler says:

They had come to Him with their request for a blanket promise of honor. Now He hands them HIS blank check of suffering, asking them if they are willing to sign it without knowing precisely what lay in their own future (920).

Verse 23

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.

And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: James drinks the cup of martyrdom at the hands of Herod Agrippa and becomes the first to die (Acts 12:2). According to tradition, John outlives all of the other apostles and finally dies a natural death, but he drinks deeply from the cup of exile and persecution (Revelation 1:9). The legend that John was made to drink poison and was plunged into boiling oil may have come from Jesus’ comment in this verse (Broadus 417).

but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give: Even though Jesus looks into the future and sees their faith will bring them suffering, He cannot capriciously grant them the positions they seek. Kingdom honors are not given because of friendship, politics, or nepotism. God honors those who obediently and faithfully serve Him.

but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father: The "predestination" that Jesus mentions here is the same as in other places in the New Testament. He is not saying God "prepares" individuals to be saved or lost. Instead, God prepares a "class" for salvation. This class consists of all who exercise their free will and follow Christ. Fowler observes, "It is then up to men to take Him at His word and qualify for the honors by rendering the most useful service in Jesus’ name… God determined what class of people are going to be saved and we determine to be in that class" (924) (see Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 2 Peter1:3–11).

Verse 24

And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

Nothing destroys peace between disciples more quickly than jealousy. When the other ten disciples hear what James and John want, they are visibly upset. Matthew uses the word "indignation" (eganaktesan), which carries the idea of "angry resentment" (Robertson 162).

The anger of the ten is no more justified than the request of James and John. Greed motivates both groups. Each of the ten disciples probably wishes that he were the one making the request (compare Mark 9:33-34; Matthew 18:1). Being outmaneuvered by the two brothers, however, the ten cannot contain their jealous resentment. Their lust for the top of the hierarchical pyramid comes shining through. Unfortunately, this attitude will plague the apostles throughout Jesus’ ministry. Even at the Last Supper, there is rivalry among them about who will be the greatest (Luke 22:24).

Verse 25

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.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said: Again, Jesus intervenes to mediate between and instruct His disciples. Since they are acting like power hungry heathen, Jesus uses their attitude as the basis for His teaching. In the same way as a father gathers his bickering children, Jesus gathers the twelve around Him to admonish them.

Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them: Almost every worldly government of Jesus’ day is based on some form of dictatorship. In many cases, kings act like tyrants as they grab as much power as they can. Even the Jews have their "Pilates" and "Herods." Many of these rulers are evil, selfish, oppressive men. In turn, these great men have even greater and more powerful rulers over them. It is a hierarchical system fueled by pride and cunning ambition. Is this what the disciples expect Jesus’ kingdom to be like? Do they want the Messianic kingdom to be a hierarchical system of over lords and under lords? Do they want the kingdom of heaven to have the same kind of power play that plagues earthly kingdoms?

It should be obvious that Jesus’ kingdom is not like this. For almost three and a half years He has served the people. Never once has He tried to overthrow the Romans, whose power system so starkly contrasts His own. This fact alone should teach the apostles that the Messianic kingdom is different. The apostles do not learn their ambitious pride from their Rabbi.

Verse 26

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

Jesus tells the disciples what they should have known already. He turns their selfish ambitions upside down, explaining that one does not achieve greatness in His kingdom through proud exaltation but rather through selfless servitude.

Jesus does not condemn being great or discourage His disciples from seeking greatness. Instead, He defines greatness in a way that disrupts their worldly thinking. True greatness is inseparably linked to service. This is one of the greatest of the spiritual paradoxes: the way up is down and the way down is up.

In this verse, Jesus begins a two-part contrast that continues into verse 27. First, He says that if one will be great (megas), he must be a "minister" (diakonos). The Greek word for "minister" is the same from which we derive the English word "deacon." It depicts a domestic servant. Lenksi says that a diakonos is one who is intent on the service he is rendering to others (791). In the next verse, Jesus uses an even stronger term that suggests "slavery."

Verse 27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Jesus continues the thought of verse 26. To be "first" (protos), one must become a "servant." This time He uses the Greek word doulos, suggesting the idea of "bondservant" or "slave." This word differs from the term "minister" in verse 26. MacArthur notes that while a diakonos (minister) is poor and often owns little more than the clothes on his back, he is still his own man and can work as he pleases. The doulos (servant), however, is the personal property of another and is compelled to serve in whatever capacity the master directs (242). It is this latter term that Paul uses in several of his epistles to describe himself (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1). Like a slave, Paul sees himself as belonging to Jesus Christ. Whether he lives or dies, he is the Lord’s (Romans 14:8). Because he has been bought with a price, Paul relinquishes ownership of himself (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23).

Verse 28

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister: There exists no more beautiful description of our Lord’s ministry than this one. Although as a King, Jesus deserves to be served, He chooses to serve. With profound love, He gives up His own life so others might gain theirs. With His blood, Jesus pays the ransom of those bound by sin (1 Peter 1:18-19; Romans 3:24-26).

and to give his life a ransom: The word "ransom" (lutron) is a common term referring to the price paid for a slave who is then set free by his new master. What a wonderful thought that Jesus ransoms us from Satan so that we might be free from sin. Here we find another divine paradox: Jesus frees us from sin so that we might become the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). One might ask, "If we are truly ransomed, how then are we obliged to serve again?" But this question overlooks the natural response of the one so purchased under God’s divine scheme of redemption. Once freed, we owe our life, liberty, and new happiness to Jesus Christ. Since we own nothing yet owe everything and since we cannot repay our debt of gratitude, the only legitimate expression at our disposal is personal service. Having been bought at a price, we serve willingly and joyfully.

for many: The word "for" in the Greek is anti and denotes an exchange or substitution. In other words, Jesus exchanged His life for many. He took the punishment we deserve (Romans 5:8). In potential, the "many" of Jesus’ statement means "all" because He died for the whole world (1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 3:16). In actuality, however, the "many" ends up being only a "few," for Jesus says, "…few there be that find it" (7:14). This situation occurs not because God prefers it, but rather because the masses refuse to obey the Master (2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 5:9).

Verse 29

And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.

Jesus has finished His work in Galilee and ministered for a time in the region known as Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan (19:1). Now He crosses back over into Judea and begins His westward journey toward Jerusalem. Because this is springtime and near the Passover, the river will likely be high and swift. Broadus suggests the multitude probably does not ford the river opposite Jericho but crosses by boat at a safer place upstream (420). Soon afterwards, they enter Jericho. Matthew says a "great multitude" follows Jesus. Passover always produces great throngs on their way to Jerusalem, as we find here.

The city of Jericho provides a welcome sight for the weary travelers bound for the Passover. Situated near the Dead Sea, this "City of Palms" is an oasis in the barren wilderness that surrounds it. Even today one finds bubbling fresh water springs, citrus trees, fig trees, and other delicious crops.

Verse 30

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.

The account of the miracle Jesus performs is also found in Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43 with significant differences. Luke indicates the healing takes place as the group draws near Jericho. Matthew and Mark suggest the event occurs as they are leaving Jericho. Also, Mark and Luke mention only one man, whom Mark identifies as the son of Timaeus (Bartimaeus).

Commentators offer several explanations for the differences in the narratives. Some suggest that in Jesus’ day, an old and a new Roman city of Jericho existed side by side, meaning the healing occurs as Jesus passes out of one and into the other. This is entirely possible as even today ruins of an ancient Jericho still stand along side the modern city. Others believe Bartimaeus approaches Jesus on His way into the city (Luke); but to develop Bartimaeus’ faith, Jesus does not heal him until the multitude has reached the other side and are leaving the city. Others suggest Jesus is on His way out of the city when He encounters Zacchaeus in a tree. Thus, the healing occurs on their way back into the city en route to Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19:1-10).

Whatever the explanation, the integrity of the gospel writers remains. Each writer explains the events from a different point of view. None claims exhaustive presentation of the details so we must be careful not to draw hasty conclusions. However one interprets the minutia, the miracle stands in testament to Jesus’ compassion even while traveling to His own death.

And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side: Luke 18:35 adds that they are "begging." Blindness, a common problem in the ancient Near East, is caused by accident, battle, infection, or other diseases. With the ailment comes loss of employment and extreme poverty. Unless one has family gracious enough to provide for him, his only option is to beg. It is not uncommon for beggars to line the road in hopes of a passing traveler dropping a few coins. Historians note that growing in Jericho was a special balsam bush used in treating eye problems. It is likely, therefore, that Jericho had an unusually high ratio of blind persons living there. Nevertheless, no salve can heal the blindness of these men. Their only hope is Jesus.

when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David: Upon hearing the multitude passing by and learning that it is Jesus of Nazareth, the men begin to cry out for mercy (Luke 18:36). The word "cry out" (from the word krazo) denotes loud screaming or anguish. MacArthur notes that it is used of the ranting of insane people and of a woman’s cries at childbirth (249). Obviously, these men have not seen Jesus’ miracles, but they have heard about them and are convinced He can cure them as well. In calling Him "Son of David," they acknowledge Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. "Son of David" is a common epitaph among the Jews for the long awaited redeemer of Israel.

Verse 31

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.

It is obvious that the multitude views these sightless men as little more than an eyesore. Broadus notes that beggars in the East are often so offensive and disgusting that it is hard to have compassion on them, even though they are blind (422). The crowd attempts to silence these noisemakers by rebuking them. Not to be deterred in their quest, and determined not to let their only chance of salvation slip from sight, the men cry out to Jesus with increased fury.

Verse 32

And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?

The truth of the axiom "Seek and you will find, knock and gain entrance" is demonstrated here. The blind men’s persistence brings reward as Jesus halts His travels and addresses them. When Matthew records Jesus’ question, "What will ye that I shall do unto you?" the question is not for information’s sake. He who can plumb the depths of a man’s heart can also read his mind. Jesus knows what they want, but His words cause them to acknowledge what they believe the Messiah can do for them.

Mark notes that before Jesus asks His question, He apparently calls for the blind men to come: "Be of good comfort: rise, he calleth thee" (10:49). On hearing this invitation, Bartimaeus becomes so excited that he casts aside his garment, springs up, and bounds to Jesus (10:50). MacArthur might be correct in suggesting that Bartimaeus is so certain of being healed he figures he can always come back later and find his cloak by himself (251).

Verse 33

They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.

Their request is simple, but one that will forever change their lives. What they want more than coins from travelers is eyesight from Jesus. Through eyes of faith, they have seen the power; and now through eyes no longer blinded, they will see the Person.

Verse 34

So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.

Once again we see the loving compassion of our Lord. Although He is busy with the final days of His earthly ministry and His impending crucifixion weighs heavily on His mind, Jesus takes time to extend a loving touch to others. Mark and Luke record that Jesus sends them on their way saying, "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." Matthew adds that Jesus touches their eyes and they immediately receive their sight and follow Him.

There is no conflict between Jesus’ command, "Go thy way" and the fact that they follow Him instead. This is not disobedience but rather appreciation. Jesus heals them because of their faith and presents them with the option of going about their former lives. But instead of pursuing their own interests, at least for the time, they choose rather to bask in the presence of the Messiah. Luke says they follow Him, glorifying God. So infectious is their praise that all of the people join in (Luke 18:43).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-20.html. 1993-2022.
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