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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Matthew 20

Verses 1-34

THIS CHAPTER OPENS with the parable of the householder and his labourers, which in verse Matthew 20:16 brings us back with fresh conviction to just that point. The parable also has direct reference to Peter’s question, which asked for a definite promise of reward, since it contrasts the difference of treatment meted out by the householder between those who served him as the result of a bargain, and those who did so without any bargain, but with simple trust that he would give them “whatsoever is right.” We can all well understand the feelings of those earliest workers, and the complaint they lodged of unfair treatment since they had borne the burden and heat of the day. What workman is there who would not be inclined to reason just as they did? But the “goodman of the house” placed great value on that confidence in the rightness of his mind end faith in his word, which characterized the later comers. He had a right to do what he willed with his own money, and so highly did he rate faith that he gave to the last just what he did to the first. And in distributing the money he began with the last. Thus the last were first and the first last.

Here then is a lesson that we all take a long time to learn. The Lord will not undervalue work, but He will value even more highly the simple faith in Himself—His rightness, His wisdom, His word—which will go on serving Him, even though late in the day, without much thought as to reward, or any attempt at a bargain. The faith and love which would move any to serve Him thus is sweeter to Him than the actual work they may be able to accomplish. We shall profit if we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this parable.

Jesus was now on His way to Jerusalem for the last time, and He once more pressed upon His disciples His approaching death and resurrection.

As far as the record of this Gospel is concerned, this is the fourth time He did so since His great prediction as to building His Church, in Matthew 16:1-28. Here there is a wealth of detail in few words. He predicts His betrayal by Judas, His condemnation by the Sanhedrim, His being delivered by them to Pilate and his soldiers, the mocking, the scourging, the crucifixion, and finally His resurrection—all in the compass of two verses.

Yet the minds of the disciples were still filled with anticipation of the speedy establishment of the kingdom; so much so that James and John were brought by their mother with a request for places of prominence in it. Jesus answered by a question which indicated that honour in the coming kingdom will be proportionate to the measure in which one may have been identified with Him in His sufferings and rejection. At the same time He indicated that rewards in the kingdom were to be given according to the Father’s award. The Son of Man Himself is going to receive the kingdom from the hands of the Father, as had been indicated in Psalms 8:1-9, and Daniel 7:1-28, so the saints too will receive their place in the kingdom at the Father’s hand. The recollection of this will help us to understand the Lord saying of reward, it “is not mine to give.”

This is the only case, as far as we remember, where a parent came to the Lord with a request for a child and met with a refusal. But then here the mother was asking for a prominent place as a reward: in all the other cases the request was for blessing from His hands. That was never denied. There was evidently a spirit of competition amongst the disciples, for the ten felt that the two had stolen a march on them and were indignant. This led to one more beautiful lesson as to the humility that befits the kingdom. Even today we are very slow to recognize that the principles that prevail in the Divine kingdom are the opposite of those that prevail in the kingdoms of men. In the world greatness is expressed in dominion and authority: the great one is in a position to lord it over his fellows. Amongst the saints greatness expresses itself in ministry and service. The word for minister in verse Matthew 20:26 is “deacon?” and that for servant in verse Matthew 20:27 is “bondman;” the word which Paul uses for Timothy and himself in the opening verse of the Epistle to the Philippians. Paul was pre-eminently a bondman of Jesus Christ, and he will not be found small when measured by the standard prevailing in the kingdom of heaven.

On the other hand there were in Paul’s day men who aimed at dominion and authority by bringing believers into bondage, by devouring them, taking from them, exalting themselves and smiting others on the face. But such were false apostles and deceitful workers—see 2 Corinthians 11:13-20. There are people about in our day who assert their dominion in the same fashion, and we do well to beware of them. The Lord sets Himself before us as the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, though to be served was His right. Daniel 7:9-14 shows this in a twofold way, for Jesus may be identified with the “Ancient of Days” as well as the Son of Man. As Ancient of Days “thousand thousands ministered unto Him” before He descended amongst us. As Son of Man “all people, nations, and languages” shall “serve Him.” Yet between came the time of His humiliation when He devoted Himself to service; which went to the extreme point of giving His life a ransom for many. Thus for the fifth time since chapter 16 the Lord set His death before the minds of His disciples; and this time He spoke of its redeeming virtue. Thank God! that we are amongst “the many.”

The closing scenes of the Gospel begin with the incident concerning the two blind men as He departed from Jericho. Both Mark and Luke mention only one of them, whose name was Bartimaeus, but evidently there actually were two. The same feature is seen in the accounts of the casting out of the legion of demons, for at the end of Matthew 8:1-34 tells us of two men, where Mark and Luke mention one only. In both cases there were two witnesses of the power and grace of Jesus, and Matthew mentions it since it would be specially impressive to Jewish readers, accustomed to the stipulation of their law as to the validity of the witness of two, whilst one only might be disregarded.

The Son of David was now for the last time approaching His capital city. These men had sufficient faith to recognize Him and they received from Him the physical eyesight that they desired. With opened eyes they became His followers. This was symbolic surely of the spiritual need of the masses of Israel. If only their eyes had been really open they would have seen their

Messiah in Jesus in the day of their visitation. The situation today is similar. People often complain of want of light. What they really want is the spiritual eyesight—that is, faith—which would enable them to see the light, that has shone so brightly in Him.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.