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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-34

8. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

The Healing of the Two Blind Men.


1. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16 .) 2. The Third Prediction of His Death and Resurrection. (Matthew 20:17-19 .) 3. The Ambitiousness of the Disciples. (Matthew 20:20-28 .) 4. The Healing of the Two Blind Men. (Matthew 20:29-34 .)

The Lord had spoken about the rewards to be given at the time when the kingdom is to be established on the earth in power and glory, the time of regeneration. His last word in the nineteenth chapter was the statement, “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” If we turn to our chapter we find the same words again. “So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called ones, but few are chosen ones” (Matthew 20:16 ). It is evident by the word “so” that the Lord gives us the interpretation of this sentence in the first part of the twentieth chapter, and, as already indicated, the last verse of the nineteenth chapter belongs properly to the beginning of the chapter which follows. A parable it is by which the Lord continues to teach about the rewards of the kingdom. “But many first shall be last, and last first. For the kingdom of the heavens is like a householder who went out with the early morning to hire workmen for his vineyard. And having agreed with the workmen for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And having gone out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle; and to them he said: Go also ye into the vineyard, and whatsoever may be just I will give you. And they went their way. Again, having gone out about the sixth and ninth hour, he did likewise. But about the eleventh hour, having gone out, he found others standing, and says to them, Why stand ye here all day idle? They say to him, because no man has hired us. He says to them, Go also ye into the vineyard and whatsoever may be just ye shall receive. But when the evening was come the Lord of the vineyard says to his steward, Call the workmen and pay them their wages, beginning from the last even to the first. And when they who came to work about the eleventh hour came, they received each a denarius. And when the first came they supposed that they would receive more, and they received also themselves each a denarius. And on receiving it they murmured against the master of the house, saying, these last have worked one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the heat. But he, answering, said to one of them, My friend, I do not wrong thee. Didst thou not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is thine and go. But it is my will to give to this last even as to thee, is it not lawful for me to do what I will in my own affairs? Is thine eye evil because I am good? So shall the last be first and the first last; for many are called ones, but few chosen ones.”

This parable has difficulties to many readers of the Bible, and all kinds of interpretations have been attempted. Some of these are altogether wrong and contradict Scripture. Among them we mention the exposition of the denarius or penny to mean eternal life and salvation. Thus Luther states on this parable, and after him many other commentators, “the penny which each receives, whether he has labored much or little, is His Son Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, His Holy Spirit, and finally He gives eternal life.” That this is wrong needs hardly to be mentioned. The salvation of the sinner is here not at all in view. If it were true that the penny, which all receive alike, means salvation, then salvation would have to be worked for and earned by man as a laborer. This strikes at grace and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. No, the question of the parable is not the question of salvation.

Again, others, recognizing that it is about rewards in the kingdom of which the Lord speaks, have claimed that the teaching is that there will be no diversities or degrees of rewards in the kingdom, but all will receive alike from the hands of the Lord. This, too, is wrong, for it is in opposition to the teachings of the Scriptures. The difficulty of this parable will easily be overcome, if we take into consideration that a parable is an allegorical representation by ¦which a principle is demonstrated or a moral is drawn for instruction. It is, therefore, not at all correct to think that everything in a parable must have a specific meaning and must be spiritually applied. As soon as we enter into the details of this parable and attempt a detailed exposition and try to make an application of these, we shall miss the true lesson, and, perhaps, in the attempt, teach exactly the opposite from what the Lord teaches. We do not think that the penny, or, as it is correctly translated, denarius, has a special spiritual meaning at all. It simply stands for something received. Men have tried to ascertain the time when the laborers were hired, what is meant by the morning, by the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and the eleventh. Some have fixed these different hours and declare that the early morning laborers were the apostles, the early Christians, and the eleventh hour workers, the laborers living in our days. Now, if we are authorized to seek a meaning in all these terms and give it such an interpretation, then we must do so with every statement found here. According to this the early morning workers would murmur in the presence of the Lord of the vineyard, then there would be murmuring in the day when the rewards are distributed.

We have to pass over the details and look for the great lesson which our teacher desires to bring to our hearts in this parable. We have already shown how closely the parable is connected with the events recorded at the close of the previous chapter. There one, who was rich in himself and knew not his true condition, and rich in possessions, had gone away sorrowful from the Lord; and the Lord had declared, while salvation is impossible with men, all things are possible with God. Salvation is of God. It is grace which has saved us. “For ye are saved by grace, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8 ). That grace has brought salvation, what all is included in this we cannot follow here. But then one, a saved one, Peter, spoke and though it was self which uttered these words, the Lord gave Peter and the disciples a gracious answer. He assured them that there was a time coming when they should receive a reward and that He would not forget the service, self-denial and sacrifice of His own.

But with this declaration, so comforting to the hearts of the disciples, there is a great danger connected. The danger is that the believer may forget that he is a debtor to grace and to grace alone, that all he has, he is and he ever will be in all eternity is the result of grace. He may become occupied with his service, his sacrifice and expecting rewards, lose sight of grace and become thoroughly self-righteous. God does not want us to get our hearts away from His riches of grace in Christ Jesus. He is delighted with His children when they magnify that wonderful grace, when they cast themselves upon it; never can we make too much of grace. To keep the disciple from a spirit of self-righteousness as well as occupation with service and rewards, the Lord brings in this parable. The great principle which He teaches is, that God will give the rewards in His own sovereignty, as it seems best to Him, never out of harmony with His wonderful justice. “Should not the judge of the whole earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 ) “The principle is this, that while God owns every service and loss for the sake of Christ, yet He maintains His own title to do as He will.”

While we labor, our labor is not to be for the sake of reward, as one who is hired for a certain sum of money. We are to be laborers with no trace of legality about us. The servant, the laborer who has the thought before the soul to earn something by his service and sacrifice, lives but to himself, and would be only a hired servant, which the believer is not. Such a one, though he has stood the heat and burden of the day, would find the Lord acting on the principle expounded here by Himself. He will hear from Him: “Take what is thine and go. But if it is my will to give to this last even as to thee; is it not lawful for me to do what I will in my own affairs?” The Lord wants us to trust grace and trust the rewards, the recompense to Him and His own will to give as it pleases Him, and not think anything of our service. Thus the parable appears as a rebuke to Peter, who was occupied with what he had given up.

“The first shall be last;” thus the parable began, and it indicates the human failure. At the end of the parable the order is reversed, the last shall be first; the Lord, in His sovereign grace will lift up those who trusted in His grace. “Many are called, but few are chosen ones,” which has nothing to do with salvation, but is in connection with rewards.

And now we are told that the Lord went up to Jerusalem, and as He directs His steps there He announces once more the fact of His coming passion, death and resurrection. “And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples with Him apart in the way, and said to them, Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; and they will deliver Him up to the nations to mock and to scourge and to crucify, and the third day He shall rise again” (Matthew 20:17-19 ). And as He uttered these solemn words, His soul knew all what it meant for Him and the bitter cup He was to drink to the very last drop. Some have taught and teach that it dawned upon Him gradually and that He was not conscious of all which was before Him. But He knew everything which would happen to Him in Jerusalem, for His own Spirit had revealed these sufferings in the prophets (1 Peter 1:11 ). What awe and silence must have rested upon the disciples as He acquainted them with the path He was to go! In Mark we read that they were amazed, and as they followed they were afraid (Mark 10:32 ). In the Gospel of Luke the Holy Spirit gives additional information: “And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them; neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34 ). He alone knew the meaning of all before Him, and as the hour draweth near, for which He had come into the world, when He was to be delivered up and to die, we see Him setting His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem.

But now we hear the silence broken. It is a woman who approaches Him. “Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, doing homage and asking something of Him. And He said to her, What wilt thou? She says to Him, Speak the Word that these, my two sons, may sit, one on thy right hand and one on thy left in thy kingdom” (Matthew 20:20-21 ). Self-seeking, the ambition of the flesh, is here again in evidence. Most likely the words of our Lord in answer to Peter’s words in chapter 19 prompted this desire. He had spoken of those that followed Him, that, in the regeneration, they should occupy twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This word impressed itself, no doubt, upon the mother of the sons of Zebedee, as well as upon the sons themselves, John and James. It was a custom of Oriental kings to have a person sit at their right hand and one on the left; and so the wish is uttered for places of honor in His Kingdom. The mother of Zebedee’s sons here leads; from the Gospel of Mark we learn that John and James made the request. This is no discrepancy, as often called by unbelievers in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Both mother and sons came together, having both the same wish. The mother’s desire and request was the desire and request of the sons. In Mark’s Gospel the sons are in the foreground, and in Matthew the mother. This is seen by the fact that the Lord does not answer the mother at all. And the ten were indignant about the two brothers. The parable the Lord had just given concerning the workmen in the vineyard was not understood by them all. The request is the manifestation of self. Peter had been uncovered in the presence of the Lord, and now we find that in the beloved disciple, in John and in James, the same evil thing is present. But all brings out His own perfection and His glory; the imperfection and selfishness of His disciples reveals His perfection.

“And Jesus, answering, said, Ye know not what ye ask. Can ye drink the cup which I am about to drink? They say to Him, We are able; He says to them, Ye shall drink indeed my cup, and to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but to those for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:22-24 ). (The words “and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” are left out, also the same words in the 23rd verse. They are an interpolation in Matthew.) How lovingly and with what patience He reproves her. There is no harshness about it, but it is all tenderness and grace. They did, indeed, know not what they asked. He asks them if they could drink the cup He was about to drink. A cup was to be drunk by Him, and this cup stands for all the agony He was about to suffer. They knew nothing of that cup He was about to drink; nothing of the suffering and the cross which was before Him. It was their own selfishness and a presumption that they answered in the affirmative. They think they are able without knowing what the cup was.

He tells them that they should indeed drink His cup. They were to be partakers of His sufferings and have fellowship with it. That this does not mean the sufferings our Lord had to undergo from the side of God is evident. He alone could suffer thus, and no human being could follow Him there. They would drink His cup, which not alone contained the suffering from God, but sufferings from men, rejection, reproach, and much else besides. In His rejection and sufferings from men they had to enter in. And to this we are also called. “For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ). Paul speaks of the sufferings of Christ. “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24 ). “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10 ).

And now we see the place the Lord Jesus Christ takes in His humiliation. He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. To say that He did not know to whom the places of honor in the kingdom belonged, or that He has no right to give these places and bestow these honors, would be dishonoring to His person. He both knew it, and had a right to place in the seats of honor whomsoever He chooses. He had humbled Himself and had come to exalt the Father, and here He shows forth His place He had taken. He declares in that perfect humiliation that it is not for Him to give these places, but for the Father. Here is a marvelous depth of precious truth. The One equal with the Father in all eternity, One with the Father, truly God in all eternity, without any beginning, came and humbled Himself, made of Himself no reputation. He came to do the will of the Father to the Glory and Praise of His name. He put Himself in the place of humiliation, under the Father, though ever Jehovah while in the earth. Raised from the dead, highly exalted, seated on the right hand of God, though absolutely and eternally one with God, the Father, He yet, as glorified Man, does the Father’s will, subject to the Father. When every knee at last bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, it will be to the glory of God the Father. It is the glory of the Father which is His aim. In this light 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 are correctly understood: “For He (the Father) hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is exempted, which did put all things under Him.” The Father is meant and the Son of God incarnate, as glorified Man is under Him, though as God the Son absolutely One with the Father. But still more: “And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him, that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” Such passages have ever been used by the subtlety of the enemy to rob the Lord Jesus Christ of His absolute Deity. So has the word in our chapter been construed to mean that the Lord is inferior to the Father.

“And the ten, having heard of it, were indignant about the two brothers” (Matthew 20:24 ). This is a verse which tells us much. One could easily draw a picture of the ten Jews, how they gesticulated and showed their indignation by looks and words. What kind of an indignation was it? Did perhaps Peter say, “too bad for John and James to intrude thus upon the Lord, and after He made such an announcement to disturb Him; and then the mother came also; what do they mean anyway by such a selfish desire?” did he speak thus? We think not. Most likely Peter was very much occupied with his own case, and the words, “keys of kingdom,” were ringing in his ears. The pride in these two they most likely recognized, as well as the forwardness of the mother. It was, however, their own pride which moved them to indignation. And thus it is repeated over and over again. The fault-finding spirit is rarely anything less than the manifestation of the same evil. What often a brother accuses his brother of is just that what he himself does.

This indignation of the disciples brings out another gracious instruction from the Lord. Once more he teaches in perfect patience His poor erring ones. And oh! Praise to His name! He is ever the same. We are all His dull and weak disciples, and the graciousness and patience He manifests here He has manifested towards us a thousand times. And still He teaches; He bears us and treats us with such loving tenderness. Why do we not learn from Him how to deal with a weak and erring brother?

“But Jesus, having called them to Him, said, Ye know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great exercise authority over them. It shall not be thus amongst you, but whosoever will be great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever will be first among you, let him be your bondman; as, indeed, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28 ).

The mistake the disputing disciples had made was to think of His Kingdom, like the kingdoms of the nations. He dispels this conception; it would be the very opposite from what it is in the kingdoms of the nations. The greatest in His Kingdom are those who are servants and the bondman is the first. He Himself, the Son of Man, came to serve. Blessed words are these indeed, lowering all that is of self, dethroning pride and ambition, teaching us to let this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.

The closing scene of this chapter is the healing of the two blind men. The Lord is departing with His disciples from Jericho, followed by a great multitude, going up to Jerusalem to fulfil all that which was written concerning Him. The incident before us is the beginning of the end and one of the last miracles of healing recorded in this Gospel.

“And as they went out from Jericho a great multitude followed Him. And lo, two blind men, sitting by the wayside, having heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David. But the multitude rebuked them, that they might be silent. But they cried out the more, saying, Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David. And Jesus, having stopped, called them and said, What will ye that I shall do to you? They say to Him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. And Jesus, moved with compassion, touched their eyes, and immediately their eyes had sight restored to them, and they followed Him” (Matthew 20:29-34 ).

We had before a similar miracle in this Gospel. In the ninth chapter, when Jesus departed, two blind men followed Him, and they, too, cried to Him as Son of David, and He touched and healed them (Matthew 9:27-31 ). The miracle there preceded the sending out of the twelve to preach that the kingdom of the heavens is at hand. Here the healing of the two blind men stands at the close of the Galilean ministry and precedes His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

It has significance in different directions. These two men were witnesses to Him. They cried to Him as Lord and Son of David. When in Caesarea-Philippi He had asked His disciples what men say of Him. The answer showed then that His own knew Him not. None said that He is the Son of David, His messianic title. Before a Gentile, the Canaanitish woman, had called to Him as Lord, Son of David, and He had not answered till she had dropped “Son of David.” There was no confession from the side of the multitudes of Him as Son of David, no appeal to Him as such. This fully shows the condition of the people, the great multitude who had seen Him, beheld His miracles and heard His words. They did not believe on Him as the promised One, the Son of David, the King and Redeemer of Israel. Quite true we read in the next chapter that the multitudes who went before Him and who followed cried, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” But this never came from the heart. It was the temporary enthusiasm of a great multitude of excitable Jews. Soon their cry changes and they say: “This is Jesus the prophet, who is from Nazareth of Galilee!”

While then the great mass of people presses around Him, following Him from Jericho, there comes the voice of the two blind men, moved, no doubt, by the Holy Spirit, and they confess Him as Son of David. Had they cried to Him as Jesus of Nazareth or simply as “Lord” their witness would have not fitted into the scene at all. But as Son of David and Heir to the Throne of David, He was to be presented to Jerusalem, and ere this takes place He has the witness of two witnesses that He is the Son of David. According to the law the testimony of two witnesses was necessary. The Holy Spirit here supplies these in the cry of the two blind men at the wayside. This is the reason why two blind men are mentioned exclusively in the first Gospel, the Jewish Gospel, while Luke and Mark speak of only the one. And so while the Lord is on His way to Jerusalem and no voice from the multitude is heard declaring Him and confessing Him as Son of David, and therefore as the King, a confession from these two sitting in darkness is heard.

That these men had heard of Him is evident, that their chief desire was to be healed is equally certain; and they had faith in Him, that He could do it, but it was the Holy Spirit who put that confession and cry in their hearts and lips: “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David.” And the multitude rebuked them that they might be silent. Surely this is proof enough of the unbelief and condition of this great company of people following Him. Why should they have rebuked these men, commanding them to be silent, if they had shared the faith of these two? The confession of this Jesus as “Son of David” was obnoxious to the multitude. But they could not be silenced. The Holy Spirit had moved them, and as they are rebuked they cry the more with their solemn witness, “Son of David.”

And full of compassion He touched them, and their sight was restored. We have learned before the typical meaning of healing by touch in this Gospel. Whenever the Lord heals by touch it has reference, dispensationally, to His personal presence on the earth and His merciful dealing with Israel. When He heals by His Word, absent in person, as it is in the case of the Centurian’s servant, and the Canaanitish woman, or if He is touched in faith, it refers to the time when He is absent from the earth, and Gentiles approaching Him in faith are healed by Him.

Now here we have a dispensational foreshadowing, the importance of which should not be overlooked. These two blind men sitting at the wayside, groping in the dark, crying to the Son of David for deliverance, are types of the poor and feeble remnant of Israel in the end of this age, after the testimony of the church for Christ the Son of God by resurrection from the dead, has been finished and the church is no longer upon this scene. That remnant of Israel will cry to Him as Son of David and call upon Him for deliverance. The entrance of Jerusalem, which follows in the next chapter, foreshadows also that coming of the Son of David to Jerusalem, when He comes as King crowned with honor and glory. And as the two blind ones called upon Him when He was on the way to Jerusalem, and He heard and delivered them, so will that remnant of His earthly people seek Him, and in that darkness which precedes His return to Jerusalem cry to the Son of David, without seeing Him in person, though they believe on Him, that He is the promised One. And as the cry of the blind men was the work of the Holy Spirit, so will the seeking, the longing, the prayer of that future remnant be produced by the Spirit of God.

The multitudes which rebuked the two at the wayside and tried to silence them foreshadows that part of the people of Israel, which in that great tribulation remains in unbelief and which hates their own brethren, who are expecting the Coming of the Messiah and cry to him for deliverance. In Isaiah 66:1-24 we read of this: “Hear the Word of the Lord, ye that tremble at His Word. Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let Jehovah be glorified, and let us see your joy! But they shall be ashamed” (Isaiah 66:5 ). Those in Israel, who at the end time tremble at His Word are the godly remnant. They are hated by their own brethren and are cast out. They also mock at them and their expectation; but they shall be ashamed.

The two blind men were healed and followed Him. Their eyes were suddenly opened. So shall the remnant behold Him, and as, no doubt, these two were witnesses of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and shouted out the Praise and Glory of His name, so will the delivered remnant of Israel sing forth His Praises.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/matthew-20.html. 1913-1922.
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