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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

People's New TestamentPeople's NT

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SUMMARY.--The Householder and the Laborers. Those Hired at the Eleventh Hour. The Recompense to All. The Lord's Sufferings at Jerusalem Portrayed. The Ambition of the Mother of Zebedee's Sons. The Baptism of Suffering. Two Blind Men Healed at Jericho.

Verse 1

For the kingdom of heaven. This parable is added to illustrate what was said just before, in the last chapter.

A man that is a householder. The householder represents God, the vineyard is the kingdom of Christ, the laborers his disciples.

Went out early in the morning to hire. Said to be a common custom in the East. Unemployed laborers gather in the market place of the villages, waiting for an employer.

Verse 2

Agreed with the labourers for a penny a day. A denarius, about sixteen cents, the usual full price of a day's labor at that time. It would buy then more than a dollar will now.

Verses 3-4

About the third hour. Nine o'clock. The hours were counted from six o'clock.

Verses 5-6

Went about the sixth and ninth hour. Twelve and three o'clock.

About the eleventh hour. Five o'clock.

Verse 7

Because no man hath hired us. These persons were idle, because they had no opportunity to work. This point must not be lost sight of. There is no promise here for willful idleness.

Verse 8

Saith unto his steward. The steward, to whom the duty of paying the laborers is assigned, probably represents Christ.

Verse 9

They received every man a penny. More than most of them expected. God does not measure our reward by the length, but by the faithfulness of service.

Verses 10-12

They murmured. Those who had worked all day. Like the elder brother (Luk 15:28-30).

Verses 13-14

Go thy way. The householder gave these all he had agreed. They had no ground of complaint but envy.

Verse 15

Is thine eye evil? Envious.

Verse 16

So, etc. A special lesson, first, to the Jews. They had been called first by God, but the Gentiles who heard the call should soon enjoy special privileges. They would even be first in the kingdom, because of their greater readiness to receive the gospel. Our duty in the vineyard is to go to work as soon as the Lord calls us, and to do what he tells us.

Verse 17

Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve apart. For six months, ever since the confession at Cæsarea Philippi, the Lord had been trying to prepare the twelve for his death. Compare Mark 10:32-52; Luk 18:31-43. He was now east of the Jordan, on his way.

Verse 18

Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. They had gone to Jerusalem ofttimes before, but never on such a mournful errand.

Shall be betrayed. By Judas, who would lead the band sent by the Jewish rulers to seek him in the night.

Chief priests and unto the scribes. The Jewish Sanhedrim. It included both the leaders of the priesthood, the leading scribes, or doctors of the law, and others. The great council of the nation condemned Jesus to die. See Mat 26:59-66.

Verse 19

Shall deliver him to the Gentiles. The Sanhedrim could condemn, but had no power to inflict capital punishment, because the government had passed into the hands of the Romans--a Gentile race.

To mock and to scourge. For comment on these words, see Mat 27:26-31.

The third day. This expression, which occurs often, shows the sense in which the Jews understood the corresponding phrase, "three days and three nights."

Verse 20

Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children. Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John, and supposed by many to be the sister of the mother of Jesus. Compare Mar 10:32-45; Luk 18:31-34.

Verse 21

What wilt thou? We learn from Mark that they asked him to grant what they wished before they stated it, after the manner of Herod to the daughter of Herodias, but he forced them to state their ambitious desire. The mother speaks for them.

Sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. They still believed that he would be an earthly monarch, notwithstanding that he had just told them of his speedy death.

Verse 22

Ye know not what ye ask. An illustration, this of ignorant prayer. Within a month they saw the places on his right hand and left occupied by the two thieves in the crucifixion.

Are ye able to drink of the cup? The cup is an Old Testament image of a man's lot, or portion, as holding what of life God pours out for him.

Be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? Baptism is the necessary condition by which one can enjoy the privileges of the church. The cup signifies suffering voluntarily taken, or "drunk," and the baptism what is endured at the hands of others.

We are able. They no doubt thought they were. They loved their Lord, as well as pre-eminence, and felt that they were willing to go with him through suffering. They, however, overestimated their strength.

Verse 23

Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. They cannot do it now, but in due time they shall follow him; they shall rise to their calling, and bravely meet all its risks and hardships. See Act 12:1-2.

Is not mine to give. The highest honors of his kingdom were not now to be disposed of by him to gratify the worldly ambition of any one.

For whom it is prepared. The Father had a plan in reference to the honors of the kingdom. The lowliest would be the loftiest. They who gave up most would get most.

Verse 24

The ten . . . were moved with indignation. The indignation of the "ten" displayed the same spirit and motive as the request of the sons of Zebedee. It is very common that in the very act of condemning our brethren we are guilty of the same or worse faults than those we condemn.

Verse 25

Jesus called them to him. Evidently their indignation had been outspoken, but not in the immediate presence of the Lord.

The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion. In order to present the contrast between the kingdom as it would be and as they expected it, he pointed out the nature of Gentile rule. The princes "lorded over" the people.

Verse 26

It shall not be so among you. No such lordship, no such authority, can be tolerated in your fraternity. The case is a rebuke of unhallowed ambition. Men prominent in the church should be the first to heed the admonition. Such priestly despotism as the absolute rule of the Catholic, Greek, and of some Protestant churches is at variance with this principle.

Whosoever will be great . . . let him be your minister. Your deacon, servant. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven consists in doing, rather than in being, and in doing for others, rather than for self. Greatness is to be found in service. Only those men are truly great who are the servants of their race, helpers of mankind.

Verse 27

Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. In the church, the greatest one is he who serves most and best.

Verse 28

Give his life as a ransom. Our Lord came to serve. He even gave his life. He became our ransom; that is, he redeemed us by his blood.

Verse 29

As they departed from Jericho. He had now crossed the Jordan. At Jericho he saved Zaccheus. Compare Mar 10:46-52, and Luk 18:35-43. Jericho stood a few miles from the southern ford of the Jordan, on the road to Jerusalem, which was about eighteen miles distant. He left Jericho for Jerusalem on Friday, just a week before his crucifixion.

Verse 30

Two blind men. Mark and Luke name only one, blind Bartimæus, probably well known and hence named.

Verse 31

Have mercy on us, thou Son of David. This was virtually acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, who was to be the Son of David.

Verse 32

Jesus stood still. He does not object now to this title. Compare Mat 9:27. He is now about to proclaim himself the Messiah.

Verse 34

Jesus . . . touched their eyes. The faith of the blind men had saved them. Compare Mark and Luke. Faith saved. The blind Bartimæus (1) asked about Jesus as he passed; (2) cried to him as the Son of David, the Messiah; (3) asked for mercy; (4) kept on crying when they tried to stop him; (5) when permitted, sprang up and hurried to Jesus; (6) asked of him to receive his sight. This is faith in action.

Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pnt/matthew-20.html. 1891.
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