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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-16



Matthew 20:1-16 . “For the kingdom of the heavens is like unto a man who is a landlord, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.” The Jews counted the diurnal hours from six o’clock the year around. Hence this was the hour at which he hired the first lot. “And agreeing with the laborers for a denarion per day, he sent them into his vineyard.” “A penny a day,” E. V., is misleading, as alenation does not mean a penny, being a Roman coin, corresponding to the Grecian drachma, with no synonym nor equivalent coin in our currency. It was worth fifteen cents, and equivalent to about one dollar in our time and currency, as money at that time was worth about seven or eight times as much as it is now, because of its scarcity, the paucity of people, and the great productiveness of the earth. So these people received good wages.

“And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the market-place, and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and I will give you whatsoever may be right. And they departed.” This lot were hired at nine o’clock, the first having been laboring three hours. “And again going out, about the sixth and ninth hour, he did likewise.” So you see that he hired another group at twelve, and still another at three, and sent them into his vineyard. “And about the eleventh hour, having gone out, he found others standing, and says to them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say to him, Because no one hired us. He says to them, Go ye also into the vineyard. And it being evening, the lord of the vineyard says to his steward, Call the laborers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last until the first. And those having come about the eleventh hour, received each one a denarion. And the first having come, thought that they shall receive more; and they also received each one a denarion. But having received it, they began to murmur against the landlord, saying, These last wrought one hour, and thou didst make them equal unto us bearing the burden and heat of the day. And he, responding, said to one of them, Comrade, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a denarion?

Take thine own and go. But I wish to give unto this last one as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do that which I wish with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

This last statement, which is quite axiomatic, referring to the call of the Gentiles and the final conversion of the Jews, is only a single item in this grand and comprehensive parable, which really applies to all the people, in all ages, who ever have or ever will hear the call of gospel grace. “For many are called, but few elected.” While this statement really follows as a logical sequence from the entire parable, it is a very comprehensive epitome.

a. The denorion here is a formal stipulation of wages, being a logical item in such a business transaction, and a necessary constituent. As to the times at which the five different lots were hired, you must recognize the fact that they did not arrive in the market-place previously to those respective hours; e.g., those hired at twelve, three, and five o’clock, not having been on hand when their predecessors were called, had no offer nor opportunity. Therefore this parable can not be used as an apology for people in gospel lands who hear the gospel all their lives, but willingly and overtly procrastinate, thus grieving away the Holy Spirit. It applies to heathen, and all others, who do not receive the gospel till late at night.

b. Now, we see at the conclusion of the day, the steward i.e., the Holy Spirit calls all of the laborers, and pays them their hire. Of course, the denarion was the mere stipulation, occupying its place as a constituency of the business transaction. But what is the misthos, “hire?” This is what we all receive in the finale of probationary life, and is so variant and comprehensive in its adaptation to the infinite diversity of the countless millions who, in some mysterious way, will move on and finally get to heaven, that we may safely conclude the misthos i.e., reward of all the laborers is God Himself.

c. This parable teaches the unity of salvation, all alike receiving the denarion, which is a mere representation of the misthos i, e., the rewards which they will get through the denarion. Does not this prove that all are equal in heaven? We certainly must answer in the negative. Heaven is a place of endless diversity, like this world (1 Corinthians 15:0), differing either from other, “as one star differeth from another.” This misthos, which we all receive, is God Himself, who of course is a Unit, yet He is infinite and inexhaustible. Now, while in eternity we all receive God for our reward, yet there is an infinite diversity of capacity on the part of humanity for this reception. Therefore we all receive God to our utmost capacity, which is by no means a constant quantity, but will increase through the flight of eternal ages, as God is everything to every immortal, intelligent spirit which that spirit is competent to receive. Hence you see the unity of the reward is in perfect harmony with the infinite diversity, as we see revealed in the parables of the pounds and the talents.

d. But what about those murmurers? They are easily explained. Of course, murmuring is sin, and the idea of people in heaven murmuring against God is revolting to contemplate. You find the solution of the mystery in file concluding statement, “Many are called, but few elected.” This reveals the whole secret. “Chosen,” E. V., is eklektoi, from ek, “out of,” and lego, “to select.” Hence it means the elect. Now, the plain solution in reference to the murmurers is the simple fact that they heard the call, but were never elected.

Consequently they never got into the kingdom. We are “elected through sanctification of the Spirit.” (1 Peter 1:2.)

Verse 9


Matthew 20:9 ; Mark 2:13-14 ; & Luke 5:27-28 . Mark: “And He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He continued to teach them. And passing along He saw Levi, the son of Alpheus, sitting at the toll; and He says to Him, Follow Me. And rising, he followed Him.” Luke: “And leaving all things, rising, he followed Him.” Matthew: “Jesus, going on from thence, saw a man sitting at the toll called Matthew, and says to him, Follow Me, and rising up, he followed Him.” This took place in the city of Capernaum, the home of Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew, who is also called Levi. Here we have the very brief account of the conversion and call to the apostleship of Matthew, one of the writers of our Lord's Gospel. He and John were apostles among the original Twelve, Mark serving as Peter's amanuensis and Luke that of Paul. Matthew's conversion, here so briefly given, is quite remarkable. He is not only in the bloom of youth, bat the incumbent of a lucrative office. He is no poor man, but he is rich, living in affluence, with the broadest possibilities of worldly aggrandizement spread out before him. He suddenly and unhesitatingly leaves all for a life of toil, poverty, and persecution, and a cruel death to wind up. Suddenly converted, we never afterward hear of his wavering. In the distribution of the world among the apostles, pursuant to the Commission, receiving Ethiopia as his field of labor, he faithfully went, and preached heroically till he sealed his faith with his blood, and flew up to join his Master in celestial glory.

We have now followed our Lord through the first year of His ministry, all of which He spent in Galilee, His home and favorite field, except about two months at the beginning. The Feast of the Passover, instituted and perpetuated to commemorate the Divine mercy shown to Israel the last night of their sojourn in Egypt, when the destroying angel came down and slew the firstborn in every house in all the land, but in mercy passing over the houses of Israel besprinkled with the blood of the slain lamb, symbolic of the “Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” Our Savior gave special attention and peculiar honor to this institution, beginning His ministry at a Passover, and winding it up at another three years subsequently, two Passovers intervening in the interim. Now, the first year of His ministry having passed away, the fame of His mighty works having filled Palestine and mightily stirred the Gentile world, till all eyes are turned toward Him, most momentous inquiries are everywhere ringing from the popular lip, “Is not this the Shiloh of prophecy, the Christ of God, the Savior of the world, and the Redeemer of Israel? If He is not truly the Messiah who is to come, He is certainly the greatest prophet whom God has ever given to Israel.”

Verses 17-19


Matthew 20:17-19 ; Luke 18:31-34 ; Mark 1:32-34 . “And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading them, and they continued to be excited, and following, they were afraid.” Our Lord is still over in Perea, east of the Jordan, walking along toward Jerusalem, accompanied by the vast multitudes. The disciples know that if He goes back to Jerusalem, something decisive will take place, as only a dozen days previously He had fled away from there for His life. As the Passover is now at hand, and the metropolis will be thronged with the people of Israel, not only from Judea and Galilee, but from their dispersions in all heathen lands, they know that His enemies are determined to do everything they can against Him. As it is said here that they were much excited and afraid, doubtless they were apprehensive that the thousands from Galilee, where He had spent by far the greater part of His ministerial life, would be at the Passover, and as His enemies were so hostile against Him, in all probability a bloody civil war would break out, in which they were all likely to lose their lives. Meanwhile the hopeful side of the matter was, that He would be crowned King there in Jerusalem, in the presence of the vast multitudes from all parts of the earth, who might fall in line and propagate His kingdom, and permanently establish Him on the throne of David.

“And again taking the twelve, He began to speak to them the things which were about to happen to Him, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles, and they will mock Him, and will scourge Him, and spit upon Him, and will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise.” Luke says: “And they understood nothing of these things; and this word was hidden from them, and they knew not the things spoken.” This is the third time our Savior has told them plainly that He is going to be arrested, arraigned, condemned, scourged, crucified, and will rise the third day. Now you see that Luke here says that they understood none of those things, and we see in the subsequent history that they were utterly ignorant of His impending fate till it took place. Now why did Jesus tell them three times, and the Holy Spirit withhold it from them? N. B. The Holy Spirit is not only the Author of the Word, but the Revelator of that Word to every person who ever understands it. It was really important that Jesus should tell them all about it, as He did three times, distinctly, by way of emphasis. The importance of this revelation is seen in the fact that it was a most important item in the prophetical curriculum, which constitutes the basis of Christian faith in all ages.

Therefore it must be revealed. Now why must it be withheld from them till after His resurrection? Do you not know that if they had understood it, they would have mustered the countless hosts to whom He had preached during the three years of His ministry and have prepared for war, in order to defend their beloved Leader and preserve His life? Thus a terrible civil war would have broken out in Jerusalem while the city was thronged with the myriads from all parts of the earth attending the Passover, and a grand army would have rallied to prevent them from killing Him, thus defeating the great end for which He came into the world; i.e., to suffer and die to redeem the lost millions of Adam’s fallen race. Hence you see the pertinency on the part of the Divine administration, that the Holy Spirit should withhold these tragic, sublime, and wonderful events appertaining to their Master, so that they should not understand them till after they had all transpired. The same fact is true in all ages, despite all the efforts of human learning to fathom and comprehend the Bible. While these are not to be depreciated, it is an incontestable fact that we only know the Word as it is revealed to us by the Holy Ghost. After the Constantinian apostasy, during the Dark Ages, when the Church was monopolized by Romanism, and retrogressed into semi-paganism, every great, cardinal, spiritual truth having evanesced, and the Holy Spirit apparently retreating away and leaving her in the dismal midnight of ignorance and superstition, even collapsing so egregiously into human infatuation and folly as to become a secret society, like Freemasonry, her mystic rites only known to her muttering priests, and locked up in a dead language, incomprehensible by the laity, amid this dismal night of ignorance, superstition, and idolatry, she remained a thousand years, till the light again broke in, God raising up Wyclif, a Roman Catholic priest, justly denominated the Morning Star of the Reformation; followed by John Huss, of Bohemia, whom the Roman Catholics burned, and threw his ashes into the Rhine, on whose waters they floated down, impinging on many lands, germinating quite a crop of martyrs, who sprang up spontaneously, like mushrooms in the night; and like the armed men who sprang up from the dragon’s teeth which Cadmus sowed in Greece, so a magnificent crop of martyrs were soon testifying amid the flaming fagots in different European countries; finally, Luther comes to the front, the hero of the Reformation, the multitudes falling in line, getting their eyes open to the glorious truth of justification by the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith alone, independently of Church rites, priestly manipulations, and clerical absolutions, presenting a rank and file too formidable for the papistical power to overawe by thundering anathemas, bulls of excommunication, or the fires of Inquisition. We may here observe that during this long period of a thousand years, while the dismal Pagan night darkened the escutcheon of the historic Church, ignorance, superstition, priestcraft, prelacy, and popery, with their human institutions, autocracy, and tyranny having supplanted, and, to all human observation, obliterated every vestige of experimental godliness from the historic Church, yet God had a people in the world who knew Him experimentally, and walked with Him in the beauty of holiness, despite the terrible persecutions waged against them by the Catholic Church, A. D. 251. The Novatians, the holiness people of their day and time, withdrew from the Catholic Church on account of her corruptions. The same people in later centuries were denominated the Waldenses and Albigenses, and despite all efforts to exterminate them in blood, survived several centuries; and finally the movement received a new impetus under the leadership of the Moravians, who were instrumental in the sanctification of John Wesley, who, in the providence of God, became exceedingly prominent in the great holiness movement of his day. While Luther was evidently a sanctified man, yet he never gave the doctrine or the experience any especial attention, having all he could possibly do to rescue the primary truths of justification, regeneration, and adoption from the black grip of Satanic oblivion, long fastened on them by the tyrannical intrigues of Romanism. I am satisfied that God had His way with Luther and his compeers, using them, pursuant to His own will and purpose, in the restoration of these grand fundamental doctrines of experimental salvation. As Wycli¬£ was the morning star and Luther the rising sun of the great justification revival, in a similar manner George Fox, the founder of Quakerism; John Bunyan, the Baptist; and John Knox, the Presbyterian, were the morning stars of the great sanctification revival, whose sun arose with Wesley and his compeers. As the great doctrine of entire sanctification, so prominent in the apostolic age, had gone into eclipse with oncoming Romanism, and had slumbered in oblivion more than a thousand years, God raised up these mighty men to rescue from oblivion, formulate, and elucidate the profound and majestic-truth of Christian perfection. These heroic saints of bygone ages have faithfully and courageously done their work, and are now resting in glory. While experience is substantially identical in all ages, not so with exegesis. The Bible is our text-book, and the Holy Ghost our Teacher; but some of us are very slow scholars. The Holy Ghost is leading us on, and teaching us as we are able to receive it. Wesley and his coadjutors profited by the work of Luther, as Wesley was actually converted while listening to the reading of Luther’s preface to the Pauline Epistles; but the labor of their lives was not on justification, but Christian perfection.

Our holiness brethren who would confine our investigations and elucidations to sanctification, make a great mistake. The Holy Spirit is still opening the Scriptures, and revealing them more and more, to the saints of God. If we should stop with sanctification, we would make no progress beyond our predecessors, whereas the school of Christ is the most progressive institution in all the world. The notable fact that the Holy Spirit is so wonderful opening the Scriptures revelatory of the Lord’s second coming, is to me an auspicious omen that the time is at hand. We are now living in the last century of the world’s six thousand years, the millennium being the seventh thousand. As the popular chronology is believed by the ablest critics to be too long, many authorities expiring the six thousand years already, we have many reasons to open our eyes to the incoming light shed by the blessed Holy Spirit on those numerous Scriptures revealing the return of Jesus to this world. During the last year I have traveled twenty thousand miles in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. In all lands, and upon all seas, I met the Lord’s dear people, looking out for His coming, and believing Him to be very nigh. The Holy Spirit is wonderfully lighting up the Scriptures on the coming of the Lord, Divine healing, and woman’s ministry. We so much need the ministry of the sisterhood to help us carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, and expedite the return of our glorious King. It is very pertinent that we should all sit, meek and lowly, at the feet of Jesus, perfectly appreciative and acquiescent in the teaching of the Holy Ghost. If we refuse to move forward responsive to His leadership, we will certainly grieve Him.

Why did He not reveal the great doctrine of sanctification to Luther? Because he and his generation had enough to do to teach and establish justification. Why did He not lead out Wesley to elaborate the coming of the Lord? Because he had all he could do, in his long, laborious, and useful life, to expound and establish the great doctrine of entire sanctification. Now, with the full benefit of the proficiency achieved by our predecessors, shall we make no decisive process in the school of Christ? Shall we stand still, or go round like the blind horse in the treadmill? God’s commandment to Israel is, “Go forward.” This will be true indefinitely in the department of Biblical exegesis, which, like God its Author, is absolutely illimitable. We will not only learn during this life, but on through all eternity, and more rapidly after we get to heaven than ever before. God forbid that we should command Israel to stand still when He says, “Go forward!”

Verses 20-28


Matthew 20:20-28 ; Mark 1:35-45 . “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to Him, saying, Teacher, we wish that You may do to us whatsoever we may ask. And He said to them, What do you wish Me to do for you? And they said to Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory.” Matthew says their mother, Salome, made the request for them. There is no disharmony between Matthew and Mark in this matter, as Qui facit per alium, facit per se, that old Roman law, transferred to England and then to America “What any one does by another, he does by himself” is not only recognized among all nations, but was so recognized by the inspired writers. At that time none of the disciples had any idea that Jesus was going to die and leave the world, but were on the constant lookout for Him to ascend the throne of Judea, and establish a kingdom, in glory eclipsing that of David and Solomon. The mother and the young men had considerable reason to believe that they would stand a good chance for the prime ministry in the coming kingdom, as He had repeatedly shown them and Peter extraordinary courtesy, permitting them to be present when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, and in the glorious scene of the transfiguration. They all, however, in this matter abundantly evince their need of entire sanctification, which they all received about two months from that date, when the Pentecostal baptism fell on them, consuming all their ambition.

“Jesus said to them, You know not what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup which I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? And they said to Him, We are able. And Jesus said to them, You shall drink of the cup which I drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give, but theirs for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus here alludes to the baptism of bloody martyrdom, which then awaited Him in about eight days. Baptizo means to purify. (John 3:26, andLuke 11:38; Luke 11:38.) Jesus took on Himself the sins of the whole world, an awful mountain of dark pollution. This was all purified away when He died on the cross, thus perfecting the vicarious atonement. It is quite significant that James was the first one of the Twelve to seal his faith with his blood, John outliving all, but suffering so much toil and persecution, even miraculously delivered from the caldron of boiling oil in Rome, that he would justly rank along with his brother, pre-eminent in martyrdom.

“And the ten, hearing, began to be displeased about James and John. Jesus calling them, says to them, You know that those seeming competent to rule the Gentiles, have the dominion over them, and their great men exercise power over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whosoever shall wish to be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever shall wish to be first among you, shall be the servant of all. For the Son of man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Our Savior here elucidates the difference between His kingdom and the secular governments, as in the latter there is such a thing as official emolument, remuneration, aggrandizement, and honor; whereas in the former the whole trend of the matter is diametrically opposite, the officer being a waiter, administering to the interest of others; and the chief officer actually being the servant of all the members of the kingdom, having the most laborious place, constantly encumbered with toil and labor in the interest of others, a grand spiritual truth, so little understood and realized by the people, and even Church officials, who are prone to look upon ecclesiastical offices in the light of the secular. Here we have a deep and comprehensive signification in our Savior’s statement, “To give His life a ransom for many.” Did He not die for all? He certainly did. Then why did He not in this passage say, “Give His life a ransom for all,” instead of “many?” N. B. “All” has an objective signification, while “many” is used subjectively. Now what is the difference? “All” means the whole human race, for whom Jesus died objectively; while “many” means the elect, in the broad sense, including every human being, of all ages and nations, who, in the infinite mercy and goodness of God, may, in some way, effect an entrance into heaven at last.

Verses 29-34


Matthew 20:29-34 ; Luke 18:35-43 ; Mark 10:46-52 . “And they are coming into Jericho. And He and His disciples and a great multitude going out from Jericho, blind Bartimeus, the son of Timeus, was sitting by the wayside begging. And hearing that it is Jesus the Nazarene, began to cry out, and to say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me! And many continued to rebuke him, that he must keep silent; and he continued to cry out much more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!

And Jesus, standing, said that he should be called. And they called the blind man, saying to Him, Take courage, arise; He calls you. And laying aside his cloak, rising, lie came to Jesus. And responding, Jesus says to him, What do you wish that I shall do to you? And the blind man said to Him, Master, that I may look up. Jesus said to him, Go, thy faith hath saved thee; and immediately he looked up, and follows Jesus in the way.” As you see, Matthew, Luke, and Mark all give this narrative. However, it is pertinent to observe that Matthew says He healed two blind men as He came out from Jericho, while Luke speaks of but one, whom He healed as He was coming into Jericho; Mark alone giving us the name of Bartimeus, the son of Timeus, and stating that he was sitting by the wayside begging as the multitude passed out of Jericho. Doubtless his home was near by, and he made his living by begging of the travelers along the highway from Jericho to Jerusalem. On hearing the tread of the multitude, and learning that the Prophet Jesus is passing by, and as he had heard so much about His wonderful miracles, restoring sight to multitudes of the blind who had been enabled to reach His ministry in His peregrinations through Galilee, Judea, Perea, Samaria, and other countries, and having determined to avail himself of the opportunity if He should ever pass that way, and doubtless already having information that He had crossed the Jordan, out of Perea into Judea, the day preceding, and was traveling toward Jerusalem, and would certainly come that way, the only great road leading through the wilderness of Judea from Jericho to Jerusalem, he now cries aloud incessantly, “O Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” As the prophecies revealed that the Messiah was to be the Son of David, in this appellation He really acknowledges His Christhood.

I always met many beggars in that country. While they all have their places, and unhesitatingly speak out in their language, asking for a contribution, I never heard one scream and roar as this one did. Luke uses the word eboese, which is from boao, which, you observe, if you will pronounce it loudly, makes a noise like the lowing of an ox. Hence we see that this man threw his mouth open, and roared aloud, refusing to be quiet, though many of the multitude rebuked him for his impetuosity and disorder. Jesus, however, gives His fur approval to his persistent roaring by calling him to Him unhesitatingly. Consequently, throwing aside his outer garment for the sake of expedition, rising, he hastens to Jesus, who immediately opens his eyes, certifying to him, “Thy faith hath saved thee;” thus laying an illimitable emphasis on the grace of faith, as Jesus is accustomed to do. O how wonderfully does Jesus preach salvation by faith! Blind Bartimeus not only received his eyesight, but the salvation of his soul, through simple faith in Jesus. Therefore we are not astonished that, having now become a disciple, he falls in with the crowd, and follows Jesus, doubtless, the remnant of his life, and is now playing on his golden harp. This is a notable case of whole-hearted, importunate seeking of Jesus. When they did their utmost to moderate him, telling him that screaming and roaring in the presence of that great multitude was so indecorous, you see he only roared the louder. Find a penitent on that line, and look out! something wonderful is going to happen.

Now, as you see, Matthew tells of two blind men restored as Jesus passed out of Jericho; Luke speaking of but one, and that one as he entered into the city; while Mark tells us of Bartimeus as he came out. How do we reconcile this apparent disharmony? There is no need of any reconcilement. I have no doubt but He did, as Luke says, restore a blind man as He went in, and, as Luke says, two as he came out, of whom, doubtless, Bartimeus was one; as you must remember that many of our Lord’s great miracles are not found now in the inspired records, but only a few salient ones.

The Jericho so celebrated in the days of Joshua stood on the plain of the Jordan, near the base of the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted by Satan, and ten miles from the ford of the Jordan where Israel crossed over and Jesus was baptized. You know when this city was destroyed, Israel having shouted down the walls, God forbade its rebuilding. So it has never been rebuilt. However, they built a new city, two miles south, where the road from Jerusalem reaches the foot of the mountain and proceeds out, crossing the plain of the Jordan. This was the Jericho in the days of Christ. In the desolation of Judea by the Roman armies, soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, Jericho was destroyed. When the Crusaders conquered and took possession of the Holy Land, A. D. 1099, they rebuilt Jericho, about two miles farther east, along the road to the Jordan ford. This Jericho is still standing. I lodged there during both of nay visits in that country.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/matthew-20.html.
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