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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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Matthew 20:1-16 The parable of the labourers who were hired at different hours to work in the vineyard.

Matthew 20:17-19 Jesus foretells his own passion and resurrection,

Matthew 20:20-28 answereth the petition of the mother of Zebedee’s children, and checks the indignation of the other disciples thereat.

Matthew 20:29-34 He giveth sight to two blind men.

Verses 1-16

We find this parable only recorded by St. Matthew; nor have any thing to guide us in understanding the scope of our Saviour in it, but Acts 20:16, So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. Some here by first understand such as are of greatest repute and estimation in the world, or who have the highest opinion of themselves. By last they understand persons who are of meaner note and reckoning in the world, and have lowest opinion of themselves. The former shall be last as to the love and favour of God, and any reward from him; and the other shall be first. Others by the first understand the Jews, who were the first people God had in the world, and more dignified than any other by privileges: by the last, the Gentiles, who came last into the church of God. This seems to be directly intended by our Saviour, who perfectly knew the pride and invidious temper of the Jews, who valued themselves upon their prerogative, that they were the church of God, when the world lay in wickedness; and were apt to resent as an indignity that the Gentiles should be called into the church, and be made equally partakers of spiritual privileges with them. Having now fixed the scope of the parable, the interpretation is easy.

The kingdom of heaven, that is, the sovereign dispensation of God in calling nations or persons to partake of spiritual benefits in his church, and consequently of eternal blessedness, is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. The householder is God the Father, compared by Christ to a husbandman, with respect to the culture of vines, John 15:1; to one that hath a vineyard, Isaiah 5:1,Isaiah 5:2 &c. The vineyard is the church. The work is that which concerns eternal salvation, both of our own salvation, and of others that are committed to our charge, or that are within the compass of our activity to do them spiritual good. The labourers are, eminently, persons in office, and, generally, all that are called by the gospel. The hiring of them imports the gracious promise of the reward published in the gospel to those who will work. The penny is the reward, comprehensive of the spiritual privileges that persons in the church are made partakers of. Men standing idle in the marketplace, signifies their neglect of the great and proper work for which they came into the world, to glorify God and save their souls. His going out at several times, and calling in some to the vineyard at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, implies the calling of the Jews in the early age of the world, and his sending the prophets in sundry times, when they were degenerated, to return to his service. The calling some at the eleventh hour particularly respects the bringing in the Gentiles by preaching the gospel, who before were without the knowledge of God and the way to life. The even is the time of accounts and recompence. The murmuring of some that they received no more than those that came later into the vineyard, primarily and immediately signifies the envy and vexation of the Jews, that the Gentiles should be equal partakers of the grace of God with themselves, who for so many ages had been his peculiar people. The householder’s vindicating himself is from two considerations, wherein it appears that his liberality to some is perfectly consistent with his justice to all.

1. That he agreed with them for a penny, which they received: the Jews enjoyed those external privileges of God’s covenant, which they so much valued themselves for, till they cut themselves off by their obstinate rejecting his grace.

2. That he might do what he pleased with his own. He was master of his own favours, and it was malignity to tax his bounty to others, which was nothing prejudicial to what was due by agreement to them. Our Saviour concludes the parable, that the last shall be first; the Gentiles shall be made partakers of the gospel, with the blessed privileges attending it: and the first shall be last; that is, the Jews should deprived of those privileges.

And analogically in every age, some who are first, in presumption of their own merit, in profession, and reputation, but not in real holiness, shall be last in God’s account; and those who were sincere and diligent in the Christian calling, though not valued by the world, shall be preferred before them.

For many be called, but few chosen. This is the reason of what is said before. Many are called by the external preaching of the word into the visible communion of the church; this is the evident meaning by the reading of the parable, wherein it is said persons were called at several hours, comprehending the ministry of the prophets and the apostles, and all the succession of preachers in every age.

And few chosen; that is, by the free and unchangeable decree of God ordained to eternal life, and to partake of saving grace in order to the obtaining it. This is the main scope of the parable.

Verses 17-19

Both Mark and Luke give us account of this passage. Mark saith, Mark 10:32-34, And they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. Luke hath it, Luke 18:31-34, then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spit on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. Our blessed Lord was yet upon his road from Galilee to Jerusalem; we have here an account of some of his travelling discourse, to teach us to make use of all time for edifying and profitable discourse. Mark saith, that as they went Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. Mark gives us no account of any formidable object in their eye. Those that think they were amazed to see him make such haste to his death, forget that Luke saith, that after our Saviour had further instructed them in this, they understood it not; but probably they knew he was going into the nest of his enemies, and this made them afraid. He calls to him the twelve, (it was not a discourse fit for a multitude), and gives them an account very particularly of what he had twice or thrice before taught them: He had before told them of his death and resurrection, and that he should be betrayed to death; here he describes the manner, they should deliver him to the Gentiles (to Pilate and Herod); he describes his previous sufferings, he should be scourged, mocked, spit upon, and the kind of his death, he should be crucified; that when these things came to pass, they might be assured that he was God, who had so punctually foretold things to come, not existent in their causes, but mere contingencies. He comforteth them with two things:

1. That it was according to what had been foretold by the prophets.

2. That though he died, he should rise again the third day.

They had need of this forewarning for a forearming; for considering that they now looked upon him as the Messiah, it might well pose them to think how he should die; and when they had seen all these things come to pass, it might have shaken their faith; but being so particularly foretold, the coming of them to pass rather confirmed their faith in him as the Son of God than weakened it.

But Luke saith, they understood none of these things; that is, surely they believed none of them, the saying was hid from them. The words were plain enough, but they could not reconcile them to their reason, they could not conceive how he who was the Messiah could die; nor get over the prejudice of his being a temporal prince, and exercising a kingdom in this world. For his rising again the third day, they could not believe it.

Verses 20-21

Mark saith, Mark 10:35, And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, the other on thy left hand in thy glory. Matthew’s saying in thy kingdom, Mark, in thy glory, leaves us in some doubt whether these two disciples and their mother had here some carnal notion of the kingdom of heaven, because Christ had before spoken of some that should be first in it, and others last; or were in some expectation of some glorious secular kingdom, which Christ after his resurrection should exercise in the world; for that they had some such thoughts appears from Luke 22:24 Acts 1:6. This mother of James and John was Salome, Mark 15:40, a constant follower of Christ, Matthew 27:55,Matthew 27:56. Matthew saith she spake. Mark saith her two sons spake. They would first have had a general grant from Christ of whatsoever they should ask, or a certain thing. But wise men use not to grant such requests. Our Lord asks them what they would desire. Then do they betray their ambition. Was there ever a more unseasonable request, than for them to be suitors for great places to him, when he had but now told them he was going to be spit upon, scourged, condemned, crucified? Yet there was this good in it; they by it discovered a faith in him, that notwithstanding all this he should be exalted, and have a kingdom. But how carnal are our conceptions of spiritual and heavenly things, till we be taught of God a right notion of them!

Verse 22

Mark hath the same, Mark 10:38,Mark 10:39. Our Saviour gently reproves them for their unadvised petition, and again minds them, that he was first to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, and that by much tribulation they also must enter into the kingdom of God; which was a thing fitter for their present thoughts, than sitting at his right hand and left hand, for we must suffer with him, if we will be glorified together, Romans 8:17. How ready are we to ask we know not what!

Are ye able to drink of the cup, & c.: the sense is, Are you able to suffer what I am to suffer? Hereby our Saviour intimates that those who are the freest and greatest sufferers for Christ shall have the greatest rewards from him. Christ here expresses his sufferings under the notion of drinking of a cup, and being baptized with a baptism. A cup is an ordinary metaphor in holy writ, by which a man’s portion in this life is expressed, whether it be a portion of good things or evil, Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Lamentations 4:21; Matthew 26:39,Matthew 26:42; Job 18:11. Drinking of a cup is usually put for suffering, Jeremiah 49:12 Ezekiel 23:32 Obadiah 1:16. The metaphor being, as some think, taken from a custom in some nations, to put malefactors to death by giving them a cup of poison to drink; or, as others think, from the lewd custom, at competitions to force men to drink off their cups. To be

baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with hath the same import: see Luke 12:50. Afflictions are ordinarily compared in Scripture to waters: to be baptized, is to be dipped in water; metaphorically, to be plunged in afflictions. I am, saith Christ, to be baptized with blood, overwhelmed with sufferings and afflictions; are you able to be so?

They say unto him, We are able. This was as rashly spoken as the other. How little do we know our own strength! When Christ was apprehended, they all forsook him and fled, Matthew 26:56.

Verse 23

Mark hath the same, Mark 10:39,Mark 10:40. Our Saviour here tells them, that as he was first to suffer and then enter into his glory, so they that should be glorified with him should also first suffer with him; for none shall be crowned but those who strive lawfully, 2 Timothy 2:5; and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, 2 Timothy 3:12. But who should be highest in the kingdom of glory his Father must determine, upon whose will the disposal of his kingdom, and the preferences in it, depended. This text hath been abused by those who have denied Christ’s Deity, and equality to the Father, as if it served their purpose, because Christ here denieth it in his power to dispose of the kingdom of heaven; but besides that, he elsewhere asserts the contrary, John 10:28; John 17:2. Christ doth not here speak of what was in his power, but what was his office as Mediator; so his work was to encourage them to fight the good fight, not to dispense out crowns to them. Or else he speaketh of himself as man, as he speaketh, John 14:28. Nor indeed doth Christ here deny that it was in his power, but only that it was in his power to give this preference to any except those for whom his Father had prepared it. Note, the Greek is, ουκ εστιν εμον δουναι αλλ’ οις ητοιμασται, that is, is not mine to give, but to them for whom it is prepared; so that those words, it shall be given to them, which our translators put in, were better left out. All this was before ordered and determined by God, and he could only dispose of the kingdom of God according to the eternal counsel. ’Aλλα (which we translate but) hath here the force of ιε μη, (unless, ) as in Mark 9:8; 2 Corinthians 2:5. Besides that, to show the order of the Trinity in working, acts of power and providence are usually ascribed to the Father, though by other scriptures it appears that the Son in them cooperates with the Father.

Verse 24

Mark 10:41. Here is not yet a word of Peter’s primacy, or any claim he put in for it; nor, it seemeth, had the others any apprehension of such an establishment, for then neither would James and John have put in for it, nor would all the disciples (among whom Peter was one) have been so displeased at the ambition of James and John; yet they seem to be sick of the same disease, and to have been displeased only that they had the start of the motion, and had put in their petition first.

Verses 25-27

So Mark hath much the same, Mark 10:42-44. Luke hath also much the same, (but it seemeth spoken at another time), Luke 22:25-27. I shall not here intermeddle with the disputes some have founded on this text: Whether there may be a civil, magistracy amongst Christians; a thing undoubtedly foreign to the sense of this text. Or, Whether Christ here establisheth a party amongst ministers; which I do not think our Lord’s design here. Nor yet with that other question, Whether ministers of the gospel may take upon them the exercise of any civil power. That which our Saviour here intends is,

1. To distinguish his kingdom from the kingdoms of the world. Those kingdoms are over men’s bodies and estates; his was a spiritual kingdom, over the hearts and consciences of men. Or rather, his was a kingdom of glory, where there would be no need of rulers and magistrates, as in the government of the world, nor any such exercise of authority as is here exercised in the government of earthly kingdoms and politics.

2. To condemn ambition and pride in his disciples, as making them most unfit for this kingdom, which is a thing he had before taught them. The way to be greatest in heaven is to be humblest, to be low and mean in our own eyes. This I think to be the most proper interpretation of this text; our Lord by it correcting the erroneous opinion his disciples had of the nature of his kingdom, as also their pride and ambition, and pressing upon them other studies, than how to be the greatest in any earthly kingdom. If any do think that in this text our Lord hath some respect to the kingdom he hath upon earth, he rather checks ambition, and an affectation of superiority, than any thing else, and lets us know that such as love the preeminence are most unfit for it; that the work of heads of the church is but a ministry, not a domination; and that those who are fittest for it, and deserve most honour in the church, are those that least seek and affect it; and those most unworthy of that honour, who most hunt after it. But I prefer the first sense given of this text.

For certainly what our Saviour here saith was not only occasioned by, but had a great relation to, the petition of James and John with their mother; and the bearing rule and exercising authority mentioned there relates to the kingdom mentioned in that petition; which I think cannot be understood of the church, which was a kingdom of Christ, which they as yet little understood: but they either meant the kingdom of glory, entertaining carnal conceptions of that, that there would be some superiority and inferiority there amongst the saints, which our Saviour here correcteth their mistake in; or else they fancied a secular kingdom, to be exercised by Christ on earth, after his resurrection from the dead. Our Saviour correcteth this mistake also, intimating that his kingdom should be of another nature, and the way to be highest in it was to be humble and low, and mean in opinions of ourselves.

Verse 28

So saith Mark, Mark 10:45. The apostle saith, Philippians 2:7 he made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant. Our Saviour had before taught them, that the disciple is not above his master. Such, saith our Saviour, as is the King in my kingdom, such must the rulers and great persons in it be. See what a kingdom I have; I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to serve the necessities of men’s and women’s souls and bodies; and to give my life a ransom for many, lutron, a redemption price. The apostle useth αντιλυτρον, which signifieth a price paid instead of another, 1 Timothy 2:6. So as there is no further satisfaction or price to be paid for any.

Verses 29-34

Mark repeateth the same story, Mark 10:46-52, with several more circumstances.

1. He mentions only one blind man, and nameth him Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. He saith, the blind man was begging.

Mark saith, when Christ called the blind man, they said unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. He further adds, that Christ said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. Luke relates the same, Luke 18:35-43. He saith, As he was come nigh to Jericho. He mentions but one blind man. In repeating Christ’s words he saith, Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God. Our Lord presently gives his disciples a demonstration of what he had said, that he came to minister, to serve even the poorest and most despicable creatures. Jericho was a city not far from Jordan, Joshua 3:16; it was taken, Joshua 6:1-27, and upon the division of the land fell within the lot of Benjamin, Joshua 18:21. Our Saviour took it in his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Probably these blind men, or Bartimaeus at least, who alone is mentioned by Mark and Luke, hearing Christ was coming, sat first on the side of Jericho next Galilee, and then got him on the other side, as our Saviour was leaving the town. Which makes Luke say, as he was come nigh; and the two other evangelists say, as he went out of Jericho, he sat begging. Bartimaeus being (as it should seem) the most known, and the most famous, is alone mentioned by Mark and Luke. Matthew (naming none) saith there were two; which Mark and Luke deny not, but knowing only the name of the one of them, they mention only one. They speak to our Saviour under the notion of the Son of David, by which they owned him as the true Messias; for that was a title by which the Messias was known amongst the Jews, according to the prophecies of him. They ask him for mercy; they continue in their cry, though the multitudes rebuked them, as possibly thinking they only came to ask some alms, and were too importunate, seeing our Lord seemed not to regard them. God sometimes trieth our faith by delays, how it will hold out, but he never frustrateth it. This minds us of our duty, to pray without ceasing. Christ stops, calleth them, asks them what they would have. They seem most sensible of their bodily wants, and answer, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. Jesus hath compassion on them, toucheth their eyes, (Christ sometimes, but not always in healing, touched the affected part), and (as Luke saith) he said, Receive thy sight. The miracle is wrought; they presently are able to see. Luke addeth, that Christ said, Thy faith hath saved thee. We have met with the same phrase before. I have made thee whole, but thy faith in me hath prevailed with me to do it. Their faith in his power was seen,

1. In their owning him as the true Messiah; so able to do it.

2. In their imploring his mercy, and going on in their cries of that nature, though they met with a rebuke.

Faith and fervent prayer do great things with God, because of his compassion. The prayer of faith shall save the sick, James 5:15. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, James 5:16. Nor is any man so mean and contemptible in the world, (these two blind men were beggars), but if they can believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, if they will lie in Christ’s way, if they will cry unto him, and not give over their cries, they shall obtain at our Saviour’s hands greater things than these. This miracle gains God glory from the multitude, and from the blind man not only praise, but a resolution to follow Christ. This should be the effect of all salvations wrought for us. Mercy is then duly improved, when it bringeth forth in our hearts glory and praise to God, and engages us to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Saviour had wrought his former miracles in Galilee, where the witnesses of them were remote; he hath now two witnesses in the province of Judea, who go along with him towards Jerusalem, where we shall find him in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 20". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/matthew-20.html. 1685.
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