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Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.


(1,) Christ illustrates the last verse of the preceding chapter by the parable of the labourers hired to work in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16 .

(2,) He again foretels his approaching sufferings and resurrection, Matthew 20:17-19 .

(3,) He sharply reproves an ambitious petition in favour of James and John, for distinguished honours in his kingdom; and allots them a conformity to him in suffering, Matthew 20:20-28 .

(4,) He hearkens to the request of two blind men, and opens their eyes, Matthew 20:29-34 .

Verse 1

Matthew 20:1. For the kingdom of heaven, &c. The manner in which the following parable is here introduced, (and it is the same in the original,) evidently shows that it was spoken in illustration of the sentence with which the preceding chapter concludes, and from which, therefore, it ought not to have been disjoined. The primary scope of this parable seems to be, to show that many of the Jews would be rejected for their disobedience to the gospel call, and many of the Gentiles accepted in consequence of their obeying it. The secondary, That, of the Gentiles, many who were first converted would be the last and lowest in the kingdom of glory, and many of those who were last converted, would be first and highest therein. The parable seems, also, to have a third intention, namely, to show that those Gentiles who should obey the gospel, whether sooner or later, should be admitted to privileges equal to those conferred on the believing Jews. The kingdom of heaven is like a householder That is, the manner of God’s proceeding in his kingdom resembles that of a householder, or master of a family, in the management of his vineyard. Which went out early in the morning Namely, at six, called by the Romans and Jews the first hour. From thence reckoning unto the evening, they called what is nine with us the third hour; twelve, the sixth; three in the afternoon, the ninth; and five, the eleventh. To hire labourers into his vineyard At the time when the vintage was to be gathered in. As the householder here represents Christ, so the vineyard signifies his church, in which, as in a vineyard, much work is to be done, for which labourers are wanted. With respect to the different hours here mentioned, by early in the morning, or the first hour, some of the ancient fathers understood the ages preceding the flood, in which Adam and Eve, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and probably some others, were called. By the third hour they understood the patriarchal ages succeeding the flood; and by the sixth hour, the times of Moses and the promulgation of the law, and of the establishment of the Jewish Church; by the ninth hour, the times of the prophets; and by the eleventh, those of the Messiah and the calling of the Gentiles. But Dr. Whitby justly objects that, as this parable is intended to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, or the gospel dispensation, and the state of things in the gospel church, that exposition of the fathers cannot be the true one. He therefore explains the first call, early in the morning, of the earliest days of Christ’s preaching, preceded by that of John the Baptist; that of the third hour, as referring to the mission of the apostles) when they were first sent forth to preach in Judea. By the call of the sixth hour, he understands their preaching after the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost, when the church was in its meridian glory; by that of the ninth hour, the preaching of the same apostles to the dispersed Jews in their synagogues, in different parts of the world; and that of the eleventh hour, to the calling of the Gentiles. This exposition, if it do not imply too great a nicety of distinction, seems very plausible, and might probably be intended, partly at least, by our Lord. But others of the ancient fathers, comparing human life to a day, considered the parable as referring also to the several periods of the life of man, namely, to those called and obeying the call in childhood, in youth, in middle age, in declining years, and in old age; and doubtless the parable is capable of, and probably was intended to receive, such an application.

Verses 2-4

Matthew 20:2-4. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day “A denarius, or Roman penny, in value about seven and one half pence sterling, which it seems was the usual price of a day’s service among the Jews, as Tacitus tells us it was among the Romans, ( Annal., Matthew 1:17.) It is therefore justly mentioned, Revelation 6:6, as a proof of the great scarcity of provisions, when a measure, or chœnix of wheat, which was the usual allowance to one man for a day, and was about an English quart, was sold at that price.” Doddridge. He sent them, into his vineyard Many obeyed the call given them by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus at the first introduction of the gospel dispensation, and many have been called in childhood in every age of the church. He went out about the third hour, about nine, and saw others standing idle Many were standing idle, and doing nothing either for the glory of God or the salvation of their own souls, in all parts of Judea, when the apostles were first sent forth, during the time of our Lord’s personal ministry, to call them to repentance, and to do works meet for repentance. And many young persons in every age and nation have been, and still are, standing idle in the same sense; and that in the market-place, as it were, offering themselves to be hired to any master that might be disposed to engage them: and too many have continually been, and still are, hired by Satan; and, like the prodigal in the parable, (who was sent into the fields to feed swine,) are daily employed in the drudgery of sin; or are engaged by the world, and occupied in the pursuits of its vanities; or by the flesh, in the filthy lusts of which they wallow, as swine in the mire. And said, Go ye also As well as those who have been called before you, or are called at an earlier age: and whatsoever is right Δικαιον , just, reasonable, I will give you. And they went their way To their work, without any further, or more particular agreement, placing an entire confidence in the promise of the householder. Thus many were obedient to the call given by the apostles in their first mission, and to that given by the seventy disciples: for they returned to Jesus, saying, Lord, the very devils are subject to us through thy name. And many young persons in former ages have obeyed, and many in the present age now obey, the gospel, wherever it is preached with clearness and power.

Verse 5

Matthew 20:5. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour At noon, and three in the afternoon; and did likewise Sent others to work on the same general promise of giving them as much as they could reasonably expect. Thus many of the Jews were brought into the Christian Church, the Lord’s vineyard, by the preaching of the apostles, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, first in Judea, and afterward in different parts of the world; and many in a state of manhood, and some in declining years, have in former ages obeyed the gospel call, and not a few, at the same periods of human life, obey it in the present age in this country, and in other parts of the earth, where the gospel is preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.

Verses 6-7

Matthew 20:6-7. And about the eleventh hour About five in the afternoon; he went and found others standing idle Others are hired into the vineyard in old age, when the day of life is almost wholly spent, and there is but one hour of the twelve remaining. “None are hired at the twelfth hour: when life is done, opportunity is done; but while there is life, there is hope. There is hope for old sinners; for, if in sincerity they turn to God, they shall doubtless be accepted: true repentance is never too late. And, 2d, There is hope of old sinners, that they may be brought to repentance. Nothing is too hard for Almighty grace to do, that can change the Ethiop’s skin and the leopard’s spots. A man may be born again when he is old; and the old man which is corrupt may be put off. Yet let none, upon this presumption, put off their repentance till they are old. These were sent into the vineyard, it is true, at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them, or offered to hire them before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour, but it was because the gospel had not been preached to them. Those that have had gospel offers made them at the third and sixth hour, and have resisted and refused them, will not have that to say for themselves, at the eleventh hour, which these had, No man hath hired us: nor can they be sure that any man will hire them at the ninth or eleventh hour. And therefore, not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation: and, if we will hear his voice, it must be today.” Henry.

Verse 8

Matthew 20:8. When even was come Then, as usual, the day-labourers are called and paid. Faithful labourers shall receive a portion of their reward when they die. It is deferred till then, that they may exercise patience in waiting for it; but no longer. As soon as Paul, that faithful labourer, departs, he is with Christ. The general time of reckoning, indeed, and the full payment, will be after the resurrection, in the evening of the world. Then every one will receive according to the deeds done in the body. When time ends, and with it the world, then the state of retribution commenceth. Then it will be said, Call the labourers, and give them their hire. Observe, reader, ministers call them into the vineyard to do their work; death calls out of it to receive their penny: and to those to whom the call into the vineyard is effectual, the call out of it will be joyful. Observe again, they did not come for their pay till they were called: we must with patience wait God’s time for our rest and recompense.

Verse 9

Matthew 20:9. They that were hired about the eleventh hour Either the Gentiles, who were called long after the Jews into the vineyard, the Church of Christ; or those in every age who did not hear, or at least understand and obey, the gospel call, till their day of life was drawing to a period. Some circumstances of the parable seem best to suit the former, some the latter of these senses. All, whether of Jewish or Gentile race, on believing in Jesus, with their hearts unto righteousness, are admitted to the same gospel blessings of justification, adoption, regeneration, and communion with God on earth; (which, perhaps, may be first and principally intended by the penny a day, given to all that obey the call of God’s messengers, and enter the vineyard:) and all that by a patient continuance in well-doing, after their justification, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, shall undoubtedly obtain eternal life, Romans 2:7; not indeed as wages for the value of their work, but as the gift of God. Though there be degrees of glory in heaven, yet it will be to all a complete happiness. They that come from the east and the west, and so come in late, that are taken from the highways and the hedges, yet shall sit down with Abraham, &c., at the same feast, Matthew 8:11. Every vessel will be full, though every vessel be not alike large and capacious. The giving of a whole day’s wages to those that had not done the tenth part of a day’s work, is designed to show that God distributes his rewards by grace, and not of debt.

Verses 10-12

Matthew 20:10-12. When the first came, they supposed that they should have received more The first, here seems to mean the Jews, who always supposed that they should, in every thing, be preferred before the Gentiles, and were provoked to jealousy by the admission of the Gentiles into the gospel church, and to the free enjoyment of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, which they considered as being confined to their nation. As the elder brother, in the parable of the prodigal, repined at the reception of the younger brother, and complained of his father’s generosity to him; so these labourers first called in, found fault with their master, not because they had not enough, but because others were made equal to them. Thou, say they, hast made them equal to us So indeed St. Peter says, Acts 15:9, God hath put no difference between us (Jews) and them, (Gentiles,)

purifying their hearts by faith. And not only are believing Gentiles admitted to equal privileges with believing Jews in the Christian Church on earth, but those who become equally holy here, whenever they were called, will be equally happy hereafter. Who have borne the burden, &c. Who have long toiled under the grievous yoke of the ceremonial law, obeyed its numerous precepts, and performed the various difficult duties and services required by it: fifty expressed by bearing the burden and heat of the day.

Verses 13-15

Matthew 20:13-15. And he answered one of them Who spoke in the name of the rest; Friend, I do thee no wrong It is most apparent that I do not, in any degree, injure thee or any of thy companions. Didst thou not agree with me for a penny? Didst thou not consent to obey the gospel, to enter the vineyard of the gospel church, and work diligently therein, on condition that thou wast admitted to a share of the blessings of it here, and to eternal life hereafter? If thou hast received what thou didst agree for, thou hast no reason to cry out of wrong. Though God is a debtor to none, yet he is graciously pleased to make himself a debtor by his own promise; for the benefit of which, through Christ, believers agree with him, and he will stand to his part of the agreement. Take that thine is, and go thy way If we were to understand this of that which is ours by debt or absolute property, it would be a dreadful word; we should be all undone, if we should be put off with that only which we could call our own. The highest creature must go away into nothing, if he must go away with that only which is his own. But understood, as it ought to be, of that which is ours by gift, the free gift of God, it teacheth us to be content with such things as we have; and, instead of repining that we have not more, to take what we have and be thankful. If God be better in any respect to others than to us, yet we have no reason to complain, while he is so much better to us than we deserve, in giving us our penny, though we are unprofitable servants. I will give unto this last That is, last called, namely, among the heathen; even as unto thee First called, namely, among the Jews, yea, and unto the last converted publicans and sinners, even as to those who were called long before. Observe, reader, the unchangeableness of God’s purposes in dispensing his gifts should silence our murmurings. It is not for us to gainsay what he does; and is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Yea, doubtless, to give either to Jew or Gentile a reward infinitely greater than he deserves. But can it be inferred from hence, that it is lawful or possible for the merciful Father of spirits to

“Consign an unborn soul to hell!

Or damn him in his mother’s womb?”

Is thine eye evil because I am good? Art thou envious because I am gracious? Here is an evident reference to that malignant aspect which is generally the attendant of a selfish and envious temper.

Verse 16

Matthew 20:16. So the last shall be first, and the first last The Gentiles last called, and last in advantages and privileges, not having been favoured in that respect as the Jews were, and despised and looked down upon with contempt by the Jews; shall be first Shall more readily, and in far greater numbers, embrace the gospel than the Jews, and shall far exceed them in knowledge and wisdom, holiness and usefulness, and make abundantly greater progress than they in true religion. And many, whether Jews or Gentiles, that were called long after others, and even late in life, yet being more zealous and diligent in the use of means, and in the exercise of every grace and virtue, and the employment of every talent intrusted with them, shall, in every branch of godliness and righteousness, far excel others who set out in the ways of God long before them. See note on Matthew 19:30. For many be called Even all who hear the gospel, whether Jews or Gentiles; but few chosen Only those who obey it; and even many who do for a time obey it, and that in reality, and are therefore, οι κλητοι , the called of Jesus Christ, Romans 1:6; yet not persevering to give diligence to make their calling and election sure, by adding to their faith every grace, as directed by St. Peter, 2d Epist. Matthew 1:5-10, are not finally chosen to everlasting life, but excluded the marriage-feast for want of a wedding-garment: for without holiness no man shall see the Lord, and only he that is faithful unto death shall receive the crown of life. It seems necessary, before we dismiss this parable, to caution the reader against concluding, from any part of its contents, that the rewards to be conferred after death, or at the day of judgment, will be equal in all that receive them. For this would be to make the parable contradict a vast variety of the plainest passages of the New Testament, which assure us, in the most positive manner, that when our Lord cometh, his reward is with him, to give unto every man according as his work shall be, that is, in proportion to the degree of the inward and outward holiness which he had attained in the days of his flesh, and according to the efforts he had made and the diligence he had used to glorify God, and serve his generation in obedience to the divine will: and according to the sufferings which he had patiently endured. For, as one star differeth from another star in glory, so shall it be with the saints at the resurrection of the dead.

Verses 17-19

Matthew 20:17-19. Jesus took the twelve disciples apart in the way See note on Mark 10:32-34. And said, The Son of man shall be betrayed, &c. This is the sixth time that Jesus foretold his own sufferings; see John 2:19; John 2:21; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:12; Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 17:25; and the fifth time that he foretold his resurrection. And the particular manner in which he signifies how he should suffer; that the Jews should mock him, as if he were a fool; scourge him, as if he were a knave; spit upon him, (Mark 10:34,) to express their abhorrence of him as a blasphemer; and crucify him as a criminal slave, is a “remarkable proof of the extraordinary measure of the prophetic spirit which dwelt in him. For, humanly speaking, it was much more probable that he should have been privately assassinated, or stoned, as was before attempted, by some zealous transport of popular fury, than that he should have been thus solemnly condemned, and delivered up to crucifixion; a Roman punishment, with which we do not find that he had ever been threatened. Indeed, when the Jews condemned him for blasphemy, for which the punishment appointed in the law was stoning; and Pilate, at last, gave them a general permission to take him, and judge him according to their own law, (John 18:31; and John 19:7,) it is wonderful they did not choose to stone him; but all this was done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” Doddridge.

Verses 20-23

Matthew 20:20-23. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children Instigated, it seems, by them. See Mark 10:35. With her sons James and John; worshipping him That is, falling down before him; and desiring a certain thing of him, &c. Considering what he had just been speaking, was ever any thing more unseasonable? See also chap. Matthew 18:1; Mark 9:34; where a similar spirit of ambition manifested itself among the disciples on a similar occasion, Christ having then also just foretold his sufferings. Grant that these my two sons may sit, &c., in thy kingdom Still they expected a temporal kingdom. Jesus answered, Ye know not what ye ask Ye are not aware what is implied in being advanced in my kingdom, and what is necessarily prerequired in order thereto. All who share in my kingdom must first share in my sufferings. Are you able and willing to do this? Both the expressions here used, the cup and the baptism, are to be understood of his sufferings and death. The like expressions were common among the Jews. They say unto him, We are able Not knowing, it appears, what they said. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup “Accordingly it is observable, that this James was the first of all the apostates who suffered martyrdom for Christ, Acts 12:2; and John was scourged by the Jews, Acts 5:40; and afterward banished by Domitian into the isle of Patmos, where he speaks of himself as a companion in Christ’s tribulation: (Revelation 1:9:) not to mention Tertullian’s tradition, that at Rome he was plunged into boiling oil; by which, it is said, instead of being destroyed, he was sensibly refreshed; nor what the pretended Prochorus says of the attempts made by some heretics to poison him, which is generally referred to in the pictures of this apostle, where the venom is ridiculously represented as coming out of the cup, in the form of a serpent, to signify, that the poison did not take effect.” Doddridge. To sit on my right hand, &c., is not mine to give; but it shall be given, &c. These words, but it shall be given, are not in the original, but are supplied, and that unnecessarily, by our translators. The original words, ουκ εστιν εμον δουναι , αλλ ’ οις ητοιμασται , should be rendered, It is not mine to give, unless to them for whom it is prepared of my Father; αλλα being here put for ει μη , as it is also Mark 9:8. That is, I can give the chief places in my kingdom to none but to those who, according to the immutable laws of my Father, are capable of occupying them. He applies to the glories of heaven what his disciples were so stupid as to understand of the glories of earth: but he does not deny that these are his to give. They are his to give in the strictest propriety, both as God, and as the Son of man. See John 10:28; Luke 22:29. He only asserts, that he gives them to none but those for whom they are originally prepared, namely, these glories, to those who endure to the end in the faith that worketh by love, and the chief places to them who are most eminent for their graces, according to the unalterable laws of the divine administration.

Verses 24-28

Matthew 20:24-28. And when the ten heard it It is likely they overheard the conversation; they were moved with indignation Being not only equally desirous, but in their opinion equally deserving of the principal posts, they took it exceedingly amiss that Zebedee’s sons should have been so arrogant, and, it seems, expressed their resentment in words. But Jesus called them unto him, &c. Jesus, being solicitous to cure that pride which made some of them ambitious and others jealous, called them unto him, and told them that his kingdom was not, as they imagined, of the same nature with the kingdoms of this world; and that the greatness of his disciples was not like the greatness of secular princes, which consists in reigning over others with absolute and despotic sway; but that the greatness of his disciples would consist in doing men all the good they possibly could by a continued course of humble laborious services, in imitation of their Master, whose greatness consisted, not in being ministered to by men, but in ministering to them as a servant, by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, instructing the ignorant, and laying down his life a ransom for the sins of many. This being the highest dignity in Christ’s kingdom, he might well tell the two brothers that they did not know what they were asking, when they begged the honour of filling the highest station in it. See Macknight.

Verse 29

Matthew 20:29. And as they departed from Jericho As he went out of Jericho with his disciples: (Mark,) behold two blind men Mark and Luke mention only one of them, blind Bartimeus, who, it seems, was far the more eminent of the two, and spoke for both. These blind men, hearing the multitude pass by, asked what it meant, (Luke 18:36,) and being told that Jesus of Nazareth passed by, they cried, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. The multitude rebuked them, because, &c. The original words in this place, επετιμησεν αυτοις ινα σιωπησωσιν , should rather be rendered, charged them to hold their peace And so they will rebuke and charge all who begin to cry after the son of David: but let all those who feel their need of him, and want help from him, imitate these blind men, and cry the more, otherwise they will fall short of a cure.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/matthew-20.html. 1857.
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