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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Matthew 20:1. A man that is a householder. The ‘householder’ signifies God; the ‘vineyard’ the kingdom of heaven (comp. Isaiah 5:1-7; Song of Solomon 8:12 ); the ‘steward’ (Matthew 20:8) Chris; the ‘twelfth hour’ of the day, or the evening, the coming of Christ; the other ‘hours’ the different periods of calling into service.

Labourers. Specially the Apostles, yet including all Christians.

Verses 1-16

The direct reply to Peter’s question is found in all three accounts; the parable is peculiar to Matthew. It loses most of its seeming difficulties, when connected with the previous conversation. The question of Peter had reference to a preeminent reward, and after the promise to them (which is changed immediately into a promise to all) this parable teaches that this reward is of free grace, and that the Apostles themselves, though first called and first to forsake all, should not on that account expect a preeminent reward. Self-sacrifice for Christ, not priority in time, is the ground of preeminence. Chap. Matthew 19:30, introduces a statement to be illustrated (‘But many,’ etc.); chap. Matthew 20:16, repeats it as enforced (‘So the last,’ etc.).

Verse 2

Matthew 20:2. For a penny, or ‘shilling’ (denarius). Between 14 and 15 cents, the usual pay for a day’s labor. Explanations: The general idea is of reward, but with a special reference to temporal rewards, which may be received while eternal life is lost. Inconsistent with the dignity of the parable; and inapplicable to the Apostles. Besides the penny was paid at the close of the day, i.e., at the end of man’s life or the day of final account, just when the temporal reward ceases. Eternal salvation is meant; for while the idea of reward is present, the whole drift of the parable teaches us that God’s grace is free (Matthew 20:15). The mercenary spirit of the first laborers has a primary reference to the Jews and their prejudice against the Gentiles. This envious disposition is thus rebuked. The Gentile converts went to work as soon as they were called, without a definite agreement as to price, trusting in the justice and mercy of the householder. They are commended, and to them was given far more than they could ask or deserve. Those first called represent nationally the Jews, called with a definite covenant; individually, those called in early life and who have spent their days in God’s service. Such are warned against feasting, or claiming of higher reward than those called afterwards; a necessary caution.

Verse 3

Matthew 20:3. Third hour. About nine o’clock in the morning, when the market-place would be full.

Idle. ‘The greatest man of business on the market-place of the world is a mere idle gazer’ (Stier). On the special interpretations of the different hours, see the close of the section.

Verse 4

Matthew 20:4. Whatsoever if right I will give you. The wages promised indefinite; the correct reading in Matthew 20:7 omits all promise of reward. The parable illustrates the truth that salvation is of grace.

Verse 7

Matthew 20:7. Because no man hired us. The eleventh hour laborers are accepted, but they were mainly those who had no opportunity at an earlier period.

Verse 8

Matthew 20:8. His steward. Christ, the overseer of the house of God, entrusted with the whole economy of salvation including the distribution of the final reward (Hebrews 3:6; John 5:27.; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:28, etc.). It was the Jewish custom to pay laborers at the close of the day.

Verse 9

Matthew 20:9. They received every man a penny, or ‘shilling.’ More than they expected. God does not measure His reward by the length of man’s life, but by the fidelity of his services, for the labor is not to earn the reward but to prepare for it.

Verse 12

Matthew 20:12. These last spent one hour, etc. A well-grounded complaint, if salvation were of works.

Verse 13

Matthew 20:13. Didst thou not agree with me? The legal claim is answered in a legal way.

Verse 14

Matthew 20:14. Go thy way. This does not necessarily imply that the first were finally rejected, receiving only the temporal good they bargained for.

I will give ‘it is my will or pleasure to give.’ The ground is the wish of the householder.

Verse 15

Matthew 20:15. Or is thine eye evil. Envy was the real motive, and the envy was occasioned by the kindness of the householder: because I am good, or ‘kind.’

Verse 16

Matthew 20:16. The proverbial expression of chap. Matthew 19:30, recurs with a different order. The parable, therefore, illustrates the truth that the order in the calling of individuals and nations will in many (not all) cases be reversed in their final position in heaven. An encouragement to those called late in life; a solemn warning to those called early, urging them to be humble, and ever mindful of their unworthiness before God, lest they be overtaken by others or forfeit their reward altogether. The admonition was intended, first, for the Apostles, especially for Peter, whose question called forth this parable; then for Jewish Christians generally, in their feelings to the Gentile converts, and in their legal tendency; and lastly, for all Christians who enjoy special spiritual privileges and the great blessing of an early acquaintance with the Saviour.

‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ This is to be omitted, though found in many authorities. If genuine, it means, many are called to be heirs of salvation, yet few chosen to be preeminent. Free grace within the Church is thus indicated.

An exclusive meaning is not to be pressed upon the various times of hiring, which show the repeated call. At these quarters of the natural day, laborers would be waiting. Special applications: The rooming, the age from Adam to Noah; the third hour, from Noah to Abraham; the sixth hour, from Abraham to Moses; the ninth hour, from Moses to Christ, and the eleventh hour, from Christ to the end of the world. The different ages in the life of individuals: childhood, youth, manhood, old age, and the years of decrepitude. Lange: the first laborers, Jewish Christians generally, who were characterized by a mercenary spirit; the Apostles are included as a warning to them; the second class, ‘standing in the marketplace,’ the Jewish proselytes; those hired at the sixth and ninth hour, the Gentile races; ‘the eleventh hour’ laborers, the fruits of missionary labors in latter days.

Verse 17

Matthew 20:17. And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. Mark (Mark 10:32) is more graphic. He hastened before them, arousing their amazement and fear.

He took the twelve disciples apart. Referred, incorrectly, by some to the retirement to Ephraim (John 11:54).

Verses 17-34

CHRONOLOGY. The final journey to Jerusalem begins. The approach of His death calls for a third prediction to the Twelve, more specific in its details. The crucifixion is mentioned only in Matthew’s account. On the way from Perea (see note at the beginning of chap. 19 ) to Jericho, Salome, the wife or Zebedee, prefers an ambitious request in behalf of her two sons. This was probably occasioned by the prediction, and leads to further instruction. Reaching Jericho about a week before the Passover, our Lord performed the miracle mentioned in Matthew 20:30-34. Matthew mentions two blind men, Mark and Luke but one, the former giving his name. Matthew and Mark say that the miracle occurred as they went out of Jericho; Luke ‘as He was come nigh unto Jericho.’ He also narrates the interview with Zaccheus and the parable of the ten pounds, as following this miracle and immediately preceding the journey to Jerusalem. Accepting Luke’s order, we suppose that our Lord remained for a day at Jericho, and that the healing occurred during some excursion into the neighborhood.

Verse 18

Matthew 20:18. We go up to Jerusalem. On the Journey to death which He had previously predicted (chap. Matthew 16:21).

Delivered onto the chief priests. More detailed than chap. Matthew 17:22: ‘into the hands of men.’ A double betrayal is implied: first by His professed friends to His declared enemies; then by His own people to the Gentiles.

They shall condemn him to death. A reference to the judicial condemnation on the part of the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1).

Matthew 20:19. And shall deliver him unto the Gentiles. Comp. chap. Matthew 27:2 ff.

To mock, and to scourge, and to crucify. Mark and Luke add: ‘spit upon.’ Fulfilled in every detail.

And the third day he shall be raised up. This is added as before. The request of Salome indicates that the disciples did not understand the prediction as a whole (Luke 18:34), plain as it is to us.

Verse 20

Matthew 20:20. The mother of the sons of Zebedee. Salome, according to an ancient tradition, the daughter of Joseph by a previous marriage; more probably the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus. Comp. John 19:25, and notes on chap. Matthew 4:21; Matthew 10:2; Matthew 13:55. The request was suggested by her sons (comp. Mark 10:35), James and John, who were called Boanerges (Mark 3:17) and had been with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (chap. Matthew 17:1).

Worshipping him, i.e., saluting Him with reverence, as was usual in asking favor of a king.

Asking somewhat. She asked a favor but did not at once tell what it was, probably because doubtful of the propriety of the request.

Verse 21

Matthew 20:21. One on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand in thy kingdom. The highest places of honor, implying special authority also, as is indicated by the answer (Matthew 20:25). The request was based upon ignorance (comp. Matthew 20:22), and prompted by ambition (comp. Matthew 20:25-27), however natural it may have been.

Verse 22

Matthew 20:22. Ye know not what ye ask. Addressed to James and John, who had prompted their mother. The request could scarcely have been occasioned by jealousy of Peter. Had he been appointed ‘primate,’ this would have been an opportunity for upholding him in that position. When John saw the crucified thieves on the right and left hand of his dying Lord, he knew what he had asked.

To drink the cup? A frequent Scriptural figure for the Providential portion assigned to any one; especially for a suffering lot. It refers to inward anguish here. ‘With the baptism,’ etc. Omitted by the best authorities. It occurs in Mark, referring to the outward persecutions.

We are able. They were not the least courageous of the Twelve (comp. John 18:15), but they also forsook Him and fled (chap. Matthew 26:56) in the hour of trial.

Verse 23

Matthew 20:23. My cup indeed ye shall drink. James was the first martyr among the Twelve; John died a natural death at an advanced age, but in a spiritual sense his was the longest martyrdom.

Is not mine, etc. Either, it is not a boon to be gained by solicitation; or, it is not in my power, but it will be assigned to those for whom it has been prepared, according ‘to the eternal predestination of eternal positions in the kingdom of God.’ Yet these two might occupy the position. Christ affirms that His will as Ruler in His kingdom accords with the eternal purpose of God; a purpose which forbade their ambitious solicitation, because its individual objects were as yet concealed.

Verse 24

Matthew 20:24. The ten, including Matthew who writes the account. A proof of humility and truthfulness.

They were sore displeased concerning. This displeasure was no more praiseworthy than the ambition of the two, and was speedily discountenanced (comp. Mark 10:41-42).

Verse 25

Matthew 20:25. The rulers of the Gentiles, i.e. ‘ secular princes.’ The Jewish form of government, as ordained by God, was designed to exclude tyranny.

Exercise lordship, lord it, over them, i.e., exercise tyrannical and arbitrary power.

Their great ones. Either conquerors and usurpers, or the officers of state.

Verse 26

Matthew 20:26. But not to shall it be among you. To maintain superiority of rank by force is not Christian, even if encouraged by ecclesiastical organizations. It is worst of all in such organizations, for freedom in the Christian communion is necessary to true civil freedom.

But whosoever would become great among you, i.e., great in the next life, let him be your minister, i.e., in this life. Deep humility manifesting itself in a service of love is the measure of Christian greatness, actually constituting it here, but acknowledged hereafter. This does not forbid official orders in the Church, but real greatness is independent of such orders. However necessary, they are intended to advance the liberty of the Church. Office in the Church is to be a service.

Verse 28

Matthew 20:28. Even at the Son of man. What He asked of them was what He did Himself.

Came. His appearing in the world was not to be ministered unto, not to be personally served by others, nor to exercise an external authority for His own external interest, but to minister, to serve others, as His whole ministry showed. Christ’s example enforces the lesson of humility, but a deeper truth is now for the first time declared

And to give his life. The crowning act of His ministering to others.

A ransom for many. ‘Ransom’ may mean only the payment for a life destroyed (Exodus 21:20), the price paid for the redemption of a slave (Leviticus 25:5). As however it also means ‘propitiation’ (Proverbs 13:7), and the word translated ‘for’ means ‘in the place of,’ this passage affirms that our Lord’s death was vicarious; by His death as a ransom-price the ‘many’ are to be redeemed from the guilt and power of sin. As soon as the disciples could bear it, they were taught this central truth of the gospel, to which they gave such prominence, after the Holy Ghost came upon them. This tender rebuke of their ambition bases the cardinal grace of humility upon the cardinal doctrine of the Atonement.

Verse 29

Matthew 20:29. And at they went out of Jericho. Comp. Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35. Probably after the conversation just mentioned our Lora entered Jericho, and meeting a multitude there passed out of the city with them and returned again to encounter Zaccheus (Luke 19:2-10). On this excursion He passed the blind men. He left Jericho for Bethany on noon of Friday ( 8 th of Nisan), a week before the crucifixion. On Saturday He was in Bethany (John 12:1). Jericho was in the tribe of Benjamin on the borders of Ephraim, about two hours journey from the Jordan, and the road thence to Jerusalem was difficult and dangerous (Luke 10:30-34). The district was a blooming oasis in the midst of an extended sandy plain, watered and fruitful, rich in palms, roses, and balsam: hence probably the name (‘the fragrant city’). Built by the Canaanites, and destroyed by Joshua (Joshua 6:26), it was rebuilt and fortified at a later day, and became the seat of a school of the prophets. Herod the Great beautified it, and it was one of the most pleasant places in the land. In the twelfth century scarcely a vestige of the place remained, there is now on the site a wretched village, Richa or Ericha, with about 200 inhabitants. Robinson, however, locates the old Jericho in the neighborhood of the fountain of Elisha (two miles northwest of Rich).

Verse 30

Matthew 20:30. Two blind men. Mark and Luke mention but one (‘blind Bartimeus, the son of Timeus’), probably a well-known person, and hence especially mentioned.

Lord, have mercy on us, thou Son of David, the better supported order.

Verse 31

Matthew 20:31. That they should hold their peace. The multitude did not object to the title, ‘son of David’ (comp. chap. Matthew 21:9), but thought the cry would annoy our Lord.

But they cried the more. In persistent faith.

Verse 32

Matthew 20:32. And Jesus stood still. He now allows Himself to be publicly called: ‘Son of David;’ comp. His previous conduct in a similar case (chap. Matthew 9:27-28). Mark adds that those about the blind man said: ‘Be of good courage, rise; He calleth thee,’ showing that they too responded to the Lord’s compassion.

Verse 34

Matthew 20:34. Touched their eyes. Peculiar to Matthew: the other Gospels insert : ‘Thy faith hath saved thee.’ The question of Matthew 20:32 was designed to call forth an expression of this faith. ‘Thousands have read this simple and touching story as a truthful history of their own spiritual blindness, and its removal through the abounding grace of Jesus Christ’ (J. J. Owen).

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-20.html. 1879-90.
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