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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ, by the similitude of the labourers in the vineyard, showeth that God is debtor unto no man:

17 foretelleth, his passion:

20 by answering the mother of Zebedee’s children teacheth his disciples to be lowly:

30 and giveth two blind men their sight.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For the kingdom of heaven is like, &c. — That shall take place under the Gospel dispensation, which may be said to resemble the conduct of a certain man, the master of a family, ανθρωπω οικοδεσποτη .

Early in the morning. — Αμα πρωις , for αμα συν τω τρωι , with the morning; that is, at daybreak, which with the Jews was about six o’clock, and was called the first hour.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For a penny a day. — The Roman denarius, or about seven pence halfpenny, of our money. This was the usual rate of wages among the Romans, as appears from Tacitus, “denarius, diurnum stipendium.”

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

About the third hour. — Or nine o’clock; when he saw others standing idle, that is, unemployed, because not hired, in the market place, αγορα , where it was the custom for the labourers who wanted employment to assemble. And as it was the custom for the Jews often to hire day by day, and sometimes for a few hours only of a day, this was their daily place of resort at different hours.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whatsoever is right. — According to the number of hours they had to labour before the day should terminate. He promised only this just proportion of wages, though he might from his bounty give more.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The sixth and ninth hour. — Twelve and three in the afternoon; consequently, the eleventh hour mentioned in the next verse was five in the afternoon, and they who were then hired would have to toil but one hour, till six o’clock, at which time the day closed. To these also he promises to give whatsoever is right, that is, an hour’s wages for the hour’s work.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

His steward. — Τω επιτροπω , to his agent or manager.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Every man a penny. — All the labourers hired at the eleventh hour received the regular wages of a day, though they had wrought but one hour, and this contrary to the practice; for, as stated above, the rules of hiring and paying labourers, among the Jews were very exact and minute, as appears from a tract of Maimonides, written on that subject, and it was the custom to hire by the hour as well as by the day.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

They supposed that they should have received more. — The unexpected and unusual liberality of the master to those who had laboured but one hour, led those who had completed a full day’s toil to expect that they should receive in full proportion to this liberality; but they received the day’s wages at the usual and stipulated rate only; each a denarius.

Verse 12

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

These last have wrought but one hour. — Wetstein observes that they do not say ειργασαντο , but εποιησαν , speaking slightingly of the work which they had done; but in the Septuagint, Ruth 2:19, we have που εποιησας , “Where hast thou wrought?” Ποιειν , joined with words denoting time, signifies also to stay or spend; and so the words may be rendered, have spent but one hour.

Burden and heat. — The burden of the labour, and the heat of the sun, which through a great part of the day in Palestine, is very oppressive.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Is thine eye evil? — An evil eye is a Hebrew expression for envy, and has a tacit allusion to that peculiar expression of the eye by which that affection betrays itself. This is also intimated in the Latin term invidia.

Because I am good. — Αγαθος is here used in the sense of bountiful or liberal. In Sir_35:8 , we have “a good eye” in the sense of liberality.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

So the last shall be first, and the first last — Here the γνωμη or proverbial sentence is repeated from the beginning, to show what the parable was especially designed to illustrate; and to this is added a second, used on other occasions by our Lord, for many are called, but few chosen; which, as we shall shortly see, relates rather to the general conclusion of the parable, than to the parable itself; for the elucidation of which the following remarks may be offered.

1. Like all other parables, it is to be interpreted by its general design, and not resolved into allegory, thereby giving a spiritual meaning to every particular. This has been done by several commentators, with great though perverted ingenuity, and with as little judgment. With them, the vineyard is the Church; the master, Christ; the labourers, ministers; the vines, the plants of righteousness; the market place, the world, where, before their conversion, God’s elect idle about amid its pomps and vanities with many other puerilities which dissipate the sense, and destroy the dignity of holy writ.

2. The great points of the parable are, the fidelity of God in his dealings with all his servants, — he gives to every one what is right under the agreement or covenant promises he has made with them; the exercise of a free and sovereign grace grounded upon his own right to administer his bounty as he pleases, beyond what he has engaged himself to do by promise; the actual exemplification of this, in cases to which he refers; and the unreasonable murmuring excited among others by his goodness.

3. What the cases were to which the parable was designed to apply, may be discovered by inquiring who they were that, being considered last, w ere actually made first in “the kingdom of heaven,” of the administration of which he had been speaking. These were the apostles themselves; who, though inferior to the learned scribes and priests among the Jews; yet, by being chosen to the high honour of ruling in Messiah’s Church, and being constituted its only authorized teachers, were by the special grace of Christ made first. Then there were the publicans and sinners, who, being penitent, received forgiveness of sins, and had a fulness of grace and favour bestowed upon them, in the experience of which men of long continued and rigid virtue among the Jews did not exceed, even when they came in upon the call of the Gospel; for many of the priests, and some of the Pharisees, ultimately believed in Christ; but we find no intimation of a greater abundance of spiritual gifts and graces being showered upon such men as Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others of the same respectable and virtuous character, who subsequently received Christianity, and who, probably, long before they were acquainted with Christ and his Gospel; had been serving God in all sincerity. Lastly, and chiefly, the Gentiles were referred to. These were to be brought into the Church, and made “fellow heirs,” being placed on a perfect equality with Jewish believers, as to the privileges and the spiritual blessings of the Gospel; so that there should be “no difference:” and to this several of the parables of our Lord look forward, his design being to prepare his apostles for it, and gradually to undermine those Jewish prejudices against it which still held possession of their hearts. These Gentiles were last in general estimation, and in their destitution of instruction, and yet they became first; the Gentile Church, in fact, ultimately superseding not only the Jewish Church as it existed under the law, but the Churches of Jewish Christians, who, in a short time after the destruction of the Jewish polity, became extinct, by absorption into the Gentile Churches.

4. To all these cases the parable applies in the most natural and striking manner. The more respectable in rank, and the more learned in the law, who might then or afterward believe in Christ, had what was right, that which the covenant of grace had stipulated to bestow upon believers of every class; but to be made apostles and ministers was not a matter of promise or stipulation, and though some of them might have been labouring long and usefully in the service of religion without mixing their doctrines with the corruptions of other teachers, they had no claim to it.

This was it matter of grace, and Christ bestowed it upon the fishermen and publicans of Galilee according to the counsel of his own will. Some virtuous Jews, also, who had served God “in all good conscience,” believed in Christ, discovering the defects of their righteousness, and looking for salvation from him; and these received what the promise of his mercy had stipulated: but those whose more notorious offences had been repented of, and forgiven by the compassion of our Lord, received also the same salvation in all its fulness through faith: and if there was in this case a total oblivion of their former foul offences, so that they were treated on an equality with others, this also was a matter of grace, which implied no injustice done to the rest. Then, as to the Gentiles, though the believing Jews might naturally suppose that in consideration of their nation having been for ages the acknowledged Church of God, and the instrument of upholding truth and piety in the world, after the Gentile nations had departed from it, they ought to have eminence and distinction in the Church which Christ was about to set up, although other people might be called into it; yet they had no reason to murmur at God’s goodness to the Gentiles, in making them equal, and in some respects superior. The grace of the Gospel in all its fulness, as promised, was granted to them; there was in the case no breach of the covenant stipulation, but there was nothing in that to prevent the exuberant goodness of God from flowing forth to the Gentiles also. And if, in process of time, he should even make the Gentile Churches first in that instrumentality by which the world was to be illuminated and converted, this was a pure matter of grace and sovereign appointment not to be envied, but acquiesced in and adored.

With respect to the second moral attached to the parable, “for many are called but few chosen;” it is manifestly supplementary to the first or leading one, “so the last shall be first, and the first last;” which will account for its little apparent relevancy to be structure of the parable itself. This apparent want of connection led Bishop Pearce to consider it an interpolation from a subsequent chapter. But the great mass of the MSS., and those of the highest authority, all indeed but two, are opposed to this conjecture, which could never have been indulged if the true sense of the parable itself had not escaped that writer. When that is understood, the connection is traced without difficulty. It contains an incidental lesson arising, as above remarked, not directly out of the parable, but from its conclusion, which relates principally to the calling of all men, whether the publicans and sinners of Judea, or “sinners of the Gentiles,” to the full participation of the grace of the Gospel. But the persons thus called to this grace are not left without admonition. If murmuring was to be silenced on one part, presumption was to be rebuked on the other. The “called,” however great their privileges, would not in every case be “the chosen;” nay, the latter would be few in comparison with the former, as the final account would declare.

For that our Lord refers to the day of judgment, appears from Matthew 22:14, where these very words occur as the admonitory moral of the parable of the man that had not the wedding garment. Notwithstanding, therefore, that all men, however sinful, and even the Gentiles themselves, would be called to an equal participation with the devout Jews in the benefits of Messiah’s kingdom, yet their actual salvation would not follow from that alone. The full submission of their hearts to Christ, the full acceptance of his offered grace, and perseverance in it when received, were all necessary to final salvation. Many in the day of account would be found wanting, and thus in another sense would the words be fulfilled among the Gentiles themselves, raised to these privileges; many of them thus constituted first would be last, and be utterly excluded from the kingdom of God. The custom upon which this proverbial expression was founded, is probably that of selecting from the mass of the Israelites, all of whom were enrolled to bear arms, those most fit for military service. All were called, but the most fit chosen. The expressions therefore of “chosen men,” and “choosing out men,” for warlike expeditions, frequently occur in the Old Testament. The Romans had similar regulations in their levies; but it is utterly improbable that the allusion made use of by our Lord was Roman, when the Old Testament made their own ancient practice so familiar to the Jews.

Other interpretations of this parable have been given, of which it is only necessary to notice three. The first is that of several of the fathers, who carry up the different times at which the labourers were called to the most ancient periods of the world. Thus Jerome, Hic non unius temporis, et unius ætatis homines describuntur, &c. — “Here we have not the description of the men of one time, but of mankind, from the beginning to the end of the world. Abel and Seth were called at the first hour; Enoch and Noah, at the third; at the sixth, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; at the ninth, Moses and the prophets; at the eleventh, the Gentiles.” In refutation of this, it is enough to say, that the transaction described in the Gospel is said to take place under the administration of “the kingdom of heaven.”

Whitby makes the first hour the commencement of our Lord’s ministry; the third, the first mission of the apostles to the cities of Israel; the sixth and ninth, their preaching to the Jews after the descent of the Holy Ghost; the eleventh the calling of the Gentiles. But these distinctions serve nothing for the illustration of the parable, the stress of the doctrine of which does not rest upon these particulars, and they suppose a meaning in its minuter parts which does not appear to have been intended. A third and more common opinion is, that the parable relates to the different periods in life in which men are converted to God, and embrace the Gospel in truth. But this is so foreign from the connection in which the parable stands, and the circumstances of those to whom it was addressed, that such an interpretation cannot be admitted. One part of its moral may indeed be applicable to those who from their youth have followed Christ, and may be tempted to hesitate, if not to murmur, at the great and distinguished grace sometimes showed at a late period, even the eleventh hour, to those who through a great part of life have lived in a state of alienation from God. They may be taught that grace is in its nature FREE, and that God can do what he will with his own; and that while he makes good his promises to them, he does them no injury by magnifying the exceeding riches of his grace to others. Still, though this lesson is deducible from the parable, and applicable to this and similar cases, the parable itself had no respect in its primary sense to such cases.

It may finally be remarked that this parable of our Lord appears in a different dress in the Talmud. “To what was R. Bon Bar Chaija like? To a king who hired many labourers; among whom there was one hired who performed his work extraordinarily well. What did the king? He took him aside, and walked with him to and fro: and when even was come the labourers came that they might receive their hire; and he gave him a complete hire with the rest. And the labourers murmured, saying, ‘We have laboured hard all the day, and this man only two hours, yet he has received as much wages as we.’ The king saith to them, ‘He hath laboured more in those two hours than you in the whole day.’ So R. Bon plied the law more in eight and twenty years than another in a hundred years.” This puerile version of the noble parable of our Lord is here introduced, because it has been quoted in favour of the absurd theory held by some learned men, that our Lord often borrowed his observations and parables from the Jewish rabbins. Yet this Talmudical parable was not written till several hundred years after our Lord’s days, and bears upon it the most obvious character of plagiarism from the New Testament, but debased and spoiled by being accommodated to the poor style and feeble thoughts of some rabbinical doctor. It is, however, curious that the Jew has given precisely the same turn to the parable as some modern commentators, who make the reward to the labourers at the eleventh hour to rest upon the merit of their superior diligence, and the better spirit in which they engaged in their short service. So easily does Pharisaism invade both Jew and Gentile, and so difficult is it for man to submit to be dealt with in the way of pure grace and mercy.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Going up to Jerusalem, &c. — This was the last time of his going to this city; and St. Mark adds that the disciples “were amazed, and as they followed were afraid:” amazed at his boldness in going up again to Jerusalem, where the rage of the chief priests and rulers they knew was so extreme against him; and afraid of the consequences both to him and to themselves. Our Lord therefore takes the twelve apart from the other disciples, to show them that their fears were not groundless, and to point out to them that thus “all things written by the prophets concerning the Son of man should be accomplished,” Luke 18:31. The whole discourse is minutely prophetic, and shows that the scene of his sufferings was constantly, and in all its humiliations and most painful details, before his eyes. What stronger proof can we have that the death of Christ was voluntary? and if voluntary, it was then vicarious. How many particulars are here predicted!

1. That he should be betrayed;

2. Into the hands, not of the Roman governor, but of the chief priests and scribes, composing the great council;

3. That they should condemn him to death, under their law, as a blasphemer; yet,

4. That they should not stone him which was the Mosaic punishment, but should deliver him to the Gentiles, the Romans, to mock, and to scourge, and “to spit upon,” Mark 10:33, and to crucify, all which circumstances were most accurately fulfilled;

5. That on the third day he should rise again. St. Luke adds that “they understood none of these things; and this saying was hidden from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” They knew the meaning of the words, but probably thought that he was speaking in a kind of parable, and that the expressions carried with them a secret mystical meaning, to which as yet they had not the key. They apprehended, it is true, a powerful opposition, and great danger, but might suppose that this, when permitted to a certain extent, would only give occasion to their Master to display his power and to destroy his enemies. Yet they seem to have been agitated by very opposite feelings and views, rapidly succeeding each other, and producing both hope and fear; and in this state of mind were utterly disqualified to pay such an attention to the words of Christ as might have led to a clearer comprehension of his meaning, though he now only repeated what he had several times stated before, on the subject of his death, in the plainest terms. Still, however, in this perplexed state of mind they continued to follow him even to Jerusalem, and thereby proved the sincerity of their faith, and the strength of their honest and ardent attachment. The moral strength of the apostles is exhibited, perhaps the more forcibly, by that very infirmity of judgment which they displayed whenever the death of their Master was alluded to.

Verse 20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The mother of Zebedee’s children. — Her name was Salome; and as her husband does not appear to have been a follower of Christ, she has been supposed to be a widow. Her sons were James and John, already two of the most favoured disciples, which might have emboldened the request. The mother alone has been censured for this ambition; but by referring to the account in Mark, her sons were as much engaged in the affair as herself, for it is there stated that they made the petition; meaning that they made it through their mother. This request Grotius naturally conjectures arose out of the promise just made to the apostles, of sitting on twelve thrones; and it may be added that as the imagery in that passage is taken from the sanhedrim, the request had the same reference; for on the right hand of the Nase, or president of the sanhedrim, sat the Ab Bethdin, or father of the court, and on the left the Hacam or sage. There was nothing therefore in the request of the sons of Zebedee inconsistent, in their view, with the general promise that the twelve apostles should sit upon twelve thrones; but they desired the two most elevated places, the two offices under Christ of the greatest dignity. The request proceeded from a criminal ambition.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye know not what ye ask. — This not only reproves the request itself, but intimates that they were ignorant of the true nature of his kingdom, where the highest eminence was that of the severest labours and the most painful sufferings. Christ himself obtained not his crown by wars and victories, but by shame and death.

To drink of my cup. — It was anciently the custom, at great entertainments, for the governor of the feast to appoint to each of his guests the kind and proportion of wine which they were to drink, and to assign to every one his cup. Hence, both in sacred and profane writers the cup is metaphorically used for the portion of good or evil that befalls men in life; but is more frequently used to express an evil or afflictive lot. The allusion in some passages appears to be to the impoisoned cup given to malefactors. “Behold, they whose judgment was not to drink of the cup have assuredly drunken; and art thou he that shall altogether go unpunished? Thou shalt not go unpunished, but thou shalt surely drink of it,” Jeremiah 49:12. “O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury, thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out,” Isaiah 51:17.

Baptized with the baptism, &c. — The being immersed and overwhelmed with waters is a frequent metaphor, in all languages, to express the rush of successive troubles. — This repetition of the same term is not peculiar to the Hebrew style, but is found also in the ancient Greek writers. Griesbach leaves out this clause respecting baptism from his text; but it is found in the greater number of MSS., and not only coincides with the context, but is found in the parallel place, Mark 10:38, where he retains it.

We are able. — How rashly this was said appears from the sequel, when they all forsook him and fled.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye shall indeed drink, &c. — Both were to endure afflictions for the truth’s sake, and thus to drink of the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism, though in a lower measure; for the sufferings of Christ were in themselves, as in their design, peculiar to himself. They drank of the same cup, but he drained its bitterness. James, the brother of John, was put to death by Herod; and John, beside the ordinary persecutions which he endured with his brethren, was banished into Patmos.

It is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. — The words “it shall be given,” are not in the Greek, and have been unhappily supplied by our translators, as though there had been an ellipsis. But ουκ εστιν εμον δουναι , αλλ’ οις ητοιμασται υπο του πατρος μου , is to be rendered, is not mine to give, except to them for whom it is prepared by my Father; αλλα , but, being used for ει μη except. Thus ει μη , in Matthew 17:8, is expressed by αλλα in the parallel place, Mark 9:8: “they saw no man,” αλλα , “save,” except Jesus only. It is worthy remark, that in few of our English translations of the Bible, before that of King James, are there any supplied words. The Bishops’ Bible has, “is not mine to give but to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” — Thus the meaning is obvious; the passage neither states that the Son had no power to dispose of the honours of his own kingdom, nor that eternal glory is to be given only to the elect, chosen by the Father in Christ from the foundation of the world; but simply that Christ had no power, as Salome and her sons supposed, to grant the honours of his kingdom on the principle of favouritism, or from the interest which Salome might have in his regards from her assiduous attendance upon him, and ministering to him, or from the affection which might be thought to arise from the natural relationship between him and James and John, who are called the brothers of our Lord; but that he administers all the affairs of his kingdom, and assigns its offices and rewards, in perfect conformity to the will and counsels of the Father. Between the persons of the ever blessed Trinity there is a perfect consent, and the laws by which they will distribute the rewards of heaven are revealed. For it is to the final honours of eternity that our Lord must be considered as referring; since we know the fact that no superiority of one or a few was established among the apostles on earth. — But at his second coming he will reward every man according as his work shall be. The highest dignities are therefore prepared for those who are by holiness, zeal, and labour, best prepared for them. Thus is both the favouritism of earthly attachments, which might be supposed to exist between our Lord and Salome and her sons, and that which is supposed to arise from an eternal election of persons to eternal glory, equally shut out. The rule of distribution is fixed: he that by diligent “occupation” of his Lord’s goods makes his five “pounds gain ten pounds,” shall have “authority over ten cities.”

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Were moved with indignation. — St. Mark says, “were much displeased,” a strong emotion of anger having been excited in their minds; which our Lord calmly and with impressive dignity restrains by calling them unto him, and teaching them all a lesson of the deepest wisdom as well as piety, and which, if observed, would banish all ambition and all contentions from among the disciples of Christ for ever.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Exercise dominion over them, &c. — This passage sufficiently shows that Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world;” that is, it is not conformed, either in its SPIRIT, END, or FORM, to the civil governments established among men. It does not, however, follow from these words, that his Church is without government, or that it has not officers who are commissioned by him to bear rule. This conclusion would be contrary to his own act; for he gave “thrones” to his apostles, and appointed them to “judge,” govern, preside over “the twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel. See note Matthew 19:28. They too appointed presbyters or elders, to teach and enforce the laws of Christ in the Church, to “reprove the unruly,” and to reject obstinate offenders from the communion of saints. The meaning must therefore be collected from the occasion; and as it is clear that the request of the sons of Zebedee arose out of the notion, more or less still retained by all the apostles, that the kingdom of Christ, however spiritual in some respects it might be, yet, nevertheless, was to be embodied in the form of a civil government over the Jewish nation, so that it should regain its independence, and be ranked again among the kingdoms of the world; our Lord’s words oppose this earthly notion, by declaring that in his kingdom there should be no such dominion or authority as the princes and great men, the αρχοντες , and the μεγαλοι , of the Gentiles, the splendour and power of whose governments they envied, exercised among their subjects.

Those who take the compound verbs, κακακυριευω , and τετεξουσιαζω , to have more force than the same verbs in their simple form, suppose them to indicate the tyrannical and arbitrary power which the Gentile rulers usually exercised; but they do not seem to have considered that the fair inference from this would be, that the same KIND of dominion and authority might, for any thing our Lord says to the contrary, be set up in the Christian Church, provided it were not carried to the extent of severity; in other words, that the same kind of coercion and compulsion might be applied to spiritual matters as to those of civil life. — But the fact is, not only that these verbs, in their compound form, are frequently used in no stronger sense than when simple; but that St. Luke, in the parallel place Luke 22:25, uses them only in the simple form to express the very same thing, which is decisive of the question. It is not, therefore, merely the DEGREE but the KIND of dominion exercised by the princes of the Gentiles in their kingdoms, which our Lord excludes from his Church. And when it is considered that the government which Christ and his apostles have established in the Church is wholly adapted to it as a spiritual society, and consists, —

1. In direction;

2. In brotherly reproof when a fault has been committed;

3. In faithful but patient admonition when it is persisted in; and,

4. In exclusion from the table of the Lord, the visible sign of communion, but with no infliction of civil disabilities or penalties; — nothing is more different in kind than this species of government from that exercised in a civil community, and which in its mildest form must accomplish its ends by the threat or by the actual infliction of fines, imprisonments, or corporal chastisement. By virtue of this power operating upon the fears of men, civil rulers acquire authority, and effect the ends of the institution of civil government. But it shall not be so among you; you are to obtain authority in the Churches, and to effect the ends of their institution, by MORAL influence: whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, διακονος , coadjutor or helper; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, δουλος , or, as St. Mark expresses it, “servant of all.” In this passage our Lord, according to the style frequently used by the Hebrews, expresses himself in parallelisms, where the second clause is exegetical of the preceding one, with which it corresponds, and expresses the idea with greater force.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, &c. — Ωσπερ , in the same manner as, the Son of man came not into the world to exercise power and dominion, to rule over men and to be served by them; but by laborious and unintermitted application, by “going about doing good,” to serve and benefit them.

And to give his life a ransom for many. — The doctrine of the atonement, the great foundation and top stone of the Christian system, is here most clearly laid down. That which was given by Christ was his life, upon that great principle which runs through all the dispensations of revealed religion, that, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission: that which man had forfeited by his sin was life; “for the wages of sin is death;” and that which alone could free him from this penalty was the substitution of a NOBLER LIFE in place of his own, to which all the sacrifices of animal life under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations looked forward as instituted types. Christ is said to GIVE his life; which not only intimates that his sufferings and death were voluntarily undergone, but that he had a power over the disposal of his life which no merely human being is invested with. “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again,” are words which no man but our Lord ever used; and they prove that his humanity was impersonated in a higher nature, possessing a sovereign authority, and having life and death at command. The precise nature of the act by which Christ, who might have prevented it, submitted to die, is expressed by the term λυτρον , a ransom, or price of redemption, whether from death, captivity, or any other state of misery.

In the Septuagint it generally corresponds with the Hebrew כפר , which signifies a piacular sacrifice; in which sense it, or some word derived from it, is constantly used in the New Testament with reference to the death of Christ. “In whom we have redemption, την απολυτρωσιν , through his blood,” Ephesians 1:7. “Ye were not redeemed, ελυτρωθητε , with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a LAMB without blemish and without spot.” Thus that deliverance of man from sin, misery, and all other consequences of his apostacy from God, which constitutes our redemption by Christ, is not granted without a consideration as an act of mere prerogative. The ransom, the redemption price, was exacted and paid; one thing was given for another, — “the precious blood” of Christ, “as of a lamb,” that is to say sacrificially offered for captive and condemned men. In this manner, “he gave himself a ransom, αντιλυτρον , for all,” so that there is no farther satisfaction or price to be paid by any.

For many. — Here αντι signifies not merely for the benefit of many, but in their stead, in their place, which is the strong and original sense of this preposition, as in the following passages: — 2 Samuel 18:33, “Would to God I had died, αντι σου , for thee,” in thy stead. “Archelaus did reign in Judea, αντι , in the room of, his father Herod.” “If he ask a fish, will he, αντι , for a fish, in place or instead of a fish, give him a serpent?” But because πολλων is here used without the article, it has been argued that the sense is, that Christ gave his life a ransom instead of many ransoms, that is, instead of the numerous and frequently repeated oblations of the Mosaic law. But however true it is, that the one sacrifice of Christ took the place of the many typical sacrifices previously instituted, this important doctrine is nowhere expressed in such terms as occur in the text, which by a Jew accustomed to sacrificial phrases would be understood to enunciate the unmeaning proposition, that the death of Christ was a price paid to redeem the sacrifices of the law! Besides, in the sense of abolishing the Mosaic sacrifices, the words are broken off from the scope and intent of the passage, which is to show that Christ not only came to minister to others, but to do even more than this for others, namely, to give his life for them. Nor is there any weight in the argument from the absence of the article, still persons, not things, are intended, as in Matthew 26:28, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many, περι πολλων , for the remission of sins.”

“Christ was once offered to bear the sins, πολλων , of many,” Hebrews 9:28. Some, however, who admit that the text signifies that the Son of man gave his life a ransom for many persons, deny that πολλοι , without the article, is equivalent to παντες all, though they acknowledge that οι πολλοι has that import; while others again contend that neither with nor without the article is it to be taken in that extensive sense. In answer to the first it may be observed, that the text before us, and 1 Timothy 2:6, are in their sense strictly correspondent, and that, in the latter, the apostle declares that Christ “gave himself αντιλυτρον υπερ παντων , a ransom for all,” thereby showing that he understood πολλοι , as used by the evangelist, to be fully equivalent to παντες . In like manner, in the Septuagint version of Daniel 12:2, πολλοι without the article is used for all mankind: “And many, πολλοι , of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” With respect to those who deny that οι πολλοι ever signifies all mankind, it is sufficient to quote Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many, οι πολλοι , were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many, οι πολλοι , be made righteous.” The text, therefore, not only expressly lays down the doctrine of the atonement, but extends its intent and design to all mankind.

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And as they departed from Jericho. — St. Mark says, “As he went out from Jericho;” but St. Luke, according to our translation, “As he was come nigh to Jericho.” This apparent discrepancy altogether arises from a wrong rendering of εν τω εγγιζειν , which ought to be translated indefinitely, while he was near, that is, before he had gone far from the city.

Verse 30

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Two blind men. — The evangelists Mark and Luke mention but one, whom the former calls, “Bartimeus, the son of Timeus;” and as the name is particularly mentioned, we may conclude that, either from his family or some other circumstance, he was a well known character, which may account for his case only being noticed. He was also, probably, the speaker both for himself and companion.

Verse 31

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace. — This is both an awkward and an obscure rendering. Επετιμησεν αυτοις ought to be rendered, charged them, and ινα , not because but that. The parallel place, Mark 10:48, is, “Many charged him that he should hold his peace.”

These blind men, having heard of his character and works, believed him to be the Messiah, and therefore address him as “the Son of David,” the common title of the Messiah among the Jews; they earnestly implore his mercy; and, though charged by the multitude to hold their peace, as thinking perhaps they were clamouring for alms, they cry out the more. Our Lord at first appears not to regard them, intending to try their faith, and pursues his way; but at length he stood still, and granted their request, thereby encouraging, as in other instances, importunate and persevering prayer. Mr. Baxter here remarks, “Bodily calamities are easily felt, and bodily welfare easily desired; but though Christ most values those who prefer spiritual mercies, yet he hath compassion also on men’s bodies, as serviceable to their souls, and to his glory.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 20". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-20.html.
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