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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Matthew 20:0


The Workers in the VineyardThe Parable of the Workers in the VineyardLaborers in the VineyardThe Workers in the VineyardParable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
Matthew 20:1-16Matthew 20:1-16Matthew 20:1-16Matthew 20:1-7Matthew 20:1-16
Matthew 20:8-15
Matthew 20:16
A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and ResurrectionJesus a Third Time Predicts His Death and ResurrectionPassion Foretold a Third TimeJesus Speaks a Third Time About His DeathThird Prophecy of the Passion
Matthew 20:17-19Matthew 20:17-19Matthew 20:17-19Matthew 20:17-19Matthew 20:17-19
The Request of Jamesand JohnSalome Asks a FavorJames and John Seek HonorA Mother's RequestThe Mother of Zebedee's Sons Makes Her Request
Matthew 20:20-28Matthew 20:20-28Matthew 20:20-23Matthew 20:20Matthew 20:20-23
Matthew 20:21a
Matthew 20:21b
Matthew 20:22a,b
Matthew 20:22c
Matthew 20:23Leadership with Service
Matthew 20:24-28Matthew 20:24-28Matthew 20:24-28
The Healing of Two Blind MenTwo Blind Men Receive Their SightTwo Blind Men of JerichoJesus Heals Two Blind MenTwo Blind Men of Jericho
Matthew 20:29-34Matthew 20:29-34Matthew 20:29-34Matthew 20:29-30Matthew 20:29-34
Matthew 20:31
Matthew 20:32
Matthew 20:33
Matthew 20:34

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. In interpreting parables (see Special Topic in Introduction to Matthew 13:0) it is crucial to take the historical and literary context into consideration. In this particular parable the historical context is related to the closing phrase of Matthew 19:30, which is repeated at the close of Matthew 20:16. This literary parallel shows that the parable under discussion is primarily related to the subject of wealth and rewards. The larger literary context is seen in Matthew 20:1 and 20:20-21, 24, where the disciples were concerned about who was greatest among them.

B. Many have interpreted this parable as referring to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and, from the larger context of the entire New Testament (or when the Gospels were written), this is possible. But, from the immediate context, this parable has to do with the relationship between the disciples themselves. The kingdom of God has a totally different standard of evaluation than the world (cf. Isaiah 55:8-11; Matthew 5-7). God's new kingdom (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38) is based solely on grace and not human merit. This is not meant to depreciate or discredit an active life of religious discipleship; rather, grace is foundational to salvation and righteous living (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). Discipleship must be motivated by gratitude, not merit (cf. Romans 3:21-24; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9).

C. We need to be reminded that when interpreting parables, the central truth and context are far more important than pushing the details into a theological system. The key to parables is to look for the unexpected, or culturally shocking statement.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. In every context where Jesus foretells his death, what do the disciples discuss?

2. Where is the third day mentioned in the OT concerning Jesus resurrection?

3. Is James and John's mother related to Jesus?

4. Why is verse Matthew 20:28 so important?

5. Explain how "all" and "many" can mean the same.

Verses 1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:1-7 1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4and to those, he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.'And so they went. 5Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long? 7They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.'He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'"

Matthew 20:1 "For the kingdom of heaven" The parable was given as an example of how the material rewards offered by this world were totally different from the spiritual rewards of the kingdom of God. This parable is unique to Matthew. The "kingdom of heaven" was a central topic in Jesus' teaching and preaching ministry. It referred to the reign of God in human hearts now which will one day be consummated over the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10). The present yet future aspects of the kingdom of God are the origin of the "already" and "not yet" tension and paradox of the two comings of Christ and the Christian life.

"landowner" This is a compound term "house" plus " master" (despotçs). It translates a Hebrew phrase, "the owner of the land." Matthew uses this designation often (cf. Matthew 10:25; Matthew 13:27, Matthew 13:52; Matthew 20:1, Matthew 20:11; Matthew 21:33; Matthew 24:43).

In this passage it reflects the grace of God in dealing with His human creation. In Matthew 10:24-25 Jesus is the true "household master," but they call Him Beelzebub" (head demon or Satan).

Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 244 has an interesting comment.

"God appears in several fuises in the parables as king, father, landowner, employer, father and judge. Throughout, the picture is of one who graciously and mercifully offers forgiveness, but at the same time demands decision. . .salvation is present and insistently demanding response. God's rule is typified by grace but that grace challenges the hearer to recognize the necessity of repentance."

"vineyard" Many assume that this was a reference to the nation of Israel. It is true that a vineyard often stood for Israel in the OT (cf. Isaiah 5:0, Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 12:10; Psalms 80:8-13), but that does not mean it does in every context in the NT. In this context, it seems to simply be the setting of the parable and does not have major symbolic truth.

Matthew 20:2 "when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day" This first group of laborers was the only one for whom a set pay for a day's work was discussed. The term "denarius," like all monetary values in translations, is linked to one's own historical equivalent. It would be much better to see this monetary amount in light of its usage in the first century, as a day's wage for a soldier or an agricultural worker. It was enough money to provide food and the necessities of life for a day for a Palestinian family.

Matthew 20:3

NASB, NKJV, NJB" about the third hour" NRSV, TEV" about nine o'clock"

All of the designations (Matthew 20:3, Matthew 20:5, Matthew 20:6) for time in the parable are based on the assumption of the day beginning at 6 a.m. (Roman time); therefore, it was nine o'clock in the morning. The Jews began their day at 6 p.m. (i.e., Genesis 1:5).

One questions why the vineyard owner would hire so many people throughout the day. It has been assumed by scholars that it was the peak of the grape harvest and the Sabbath was close at hand; therefore, it was urgent that as many of the grapes as possible be gathered before they ruined.

Matthew 20:6 "found others standing around" Although in English this phrase sounds derogatory, as if the vineyard owner were chiding these people for not working all day, in reality he simply had found some workers who had not been hired earlier. There is no hint that these were lazy or indifferent workers, but ones who had not been able to find work for that day (cf. Matthew 20:7).

Verses 8-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:8-16 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.'9When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10When those hired first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.'13But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous? 16So the last shall be first, and the first last."

Matthew 20:8 "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages'" We learn from the Mosaic Law that laborers were to be paid at the close of the work day so that they could buy food for their families (cf. Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:15; Malachi 3:5). Often landowners tried to withhold the wages until the next day in order to assure that their labor force would return, but this was against the Mosaic Law.

Matthew 20:10 "When those hired first came, they thought they would receive more" The workers hired first were assuming that they deserved more money because those who worked less time received what they had contracted for (cf. Matthew 20:2). This parable shows how the ways of God are so different from the ways of this world. We see from Matthew 20:11 that when they did not receive more money, they grumbled continually. Their attitude of being grateful even to be employed turned to anger because they did not get all that they expected. They rationalized that because they had worked all day in the heat, they deserved more pay. The implication of this is striking in relationship to religious people and spiritual rewards (cf. Matthew 19:30; Matthew 20:16).

Matthew 20:13-15 The landowner answers with three rhetorical questions. The landowner has freedom to act as he will (cf. Romans 9:0), but he chooses to act in grace!

Matthew 20:15 This verse is the theological heart of the parable. God is sovereign and He has the right to act (i.e., Romans 9-10). He chooses to act in undeserved grace (cf. Romans 11:0). Can anyone fault Him for that? This is theologically parallel to the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15:11-32. Should God's mercy to some offend those who have also experienced His mercy?

NASB, NRSV"Or is your eye envious because I am generous" NKJV"Or is your eye evil because I am good" TEV"Or are you jealous because I am generous" NJB"Why be envious because I am generous"

This relates to the Ancient Near Eastern metaphor of "the evil eye" (cf. Deuteronomy 15:9; 1 Samuel 18:9). In this context it referred to jealousy or envy (cf. Mark 7:22). See Special Topic at Matthew 6:22-23.

Matthew 20:16

NASB"So the last shall be first, and the first last" NKJV"So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen" NRSV"So the last will be first and the first will be last" TEV"So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last" NJB" Thus the last will be first, and the first, last"

There is a phrase at the end of this verse "for many are called, but few chosen," which is found in the KJV, but is omitted in the NASB, NKJV, TEV, and JB. It seems to have been added from Matthew 22:14. It does not appear in the Greek manuscripts א, B, L, or Z. The UBS4 gives its exclusion an " A" rating (i.e., certain).

There is an obvious relationship between Matthew 19:30 and Matthew 20:16. Rewards are not based on merit but on grace. This has been understood in two ways.

1. All believers will not receive equal rewards, but equal standing in the kingdom. This is the biblical tension between a free salvation and Christ-like discipleship.

2. The Jews who received the promises of God first will not receive greater rewards or blessings than Gentile believers (cf. Luke 13:30).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What are the guidelines for interpreting parables? (See How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, by Fee and Stuart, p. 135-148)

2. What is the literary context of this parable?

3. What does this parable have to say to the relationship between God's children and rewards?

4. What do you think is the relationship between this parable and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:0)?


A. The parallel of this account, found in Mark 10:32ff., sets the stage for the attitude and actions of the disciples.

B. It is obvious from this account that the disciples still had a fundamental misunderstanding of the Messianic kingdom. This was possibly related to Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:28.

C. This is the third and most detailed prediction of Jesus' death and resurrection to the disciples (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:9, Matthew 17:22-23). He knew why He came! He controlled His own history (cf. John 10:17-18)!

Verses 17-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:17-19 17As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, 18"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, 19and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up."

Matthew 20:17 "as Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem" Mark 10:32 says He had set his face toward Jerusalem and was walking out ahead of the disciples.

Matthew 20:18 "the Son of Man" See the note at Matthew 8:20.

"the chief priests and scribes" This was a reference to the Sanhedrin. It was made up of 70 leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The full title was "the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders," (cf. Matthew 16:21). This was the final authority in religious and political matters for the Jews, although it was extremely limited in a political sense by the Roman occupation forces.


Matthew 20:19 "and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him" This was a reference to Jesus' humiliation and abuse by the Roman authorities. The soldiers took out their animosity toward the exclusivism of the Jewish population by transferring it to Jesus.

This verb "hand over" (paradidômi) often refers to Jesus being given into the legal authority of a group or person for judgment.

1. to the high priests and scribes, Matthew 20:18

2. to men, Matthew 17:22

3. to the Gentiles (ethnç), Matthew 20:19

4. to Pilate, Matthew 27:2

5. for crucifixion, Matthew 26:2

Because of Jesus' statement of Matthew 10:24-25, believers will also be "handed over" (cf. Matthew 10:17; Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12).

"crucify" The horror of this form of execution was not only in its public humiliation and pain, but in its relation to Deuteronomy 21:23; according to the rabbis of Jesus' day "the curse of God" was upon those who are hung upon a tree. Jesus became "the curse" (Leviticus 26:0; Deut. 27-28; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 2:14) for sinful mankind!

"on the third day" In 1 Corinthians 15:4 Paul mentioned that this was an essential element of the gospel. However, when we look at the OT, it is difficult to find an allusion to the "three days." Some try to use Hosea 6:2, but this seems extremely doubtful. Because of Matthew 12:38-40 many use Jonah's time in the belly of the great fish (cf. Jonah 1:17). This seems to be the most appropriate.

For the Jews of Jesus' day any part of a day was counted as a full day. Remember Jews start their day at twilight (cf. Genesis 1:5). Therefore Jesus' death late Friday afternoon (3 p.m.) and burial before 6 p.m. was counted as one day. Friday at twilight until Saturday at twilight (the Sabbath) was the second day; from Saturday at twilight until sometime before sunrise on Sunday was the third day. See note at Matthew 16:21.

"He will be raised up" Usually the resurrection (see Special Topic at Matthew 27:63) is spoken of as an act of the Father's will which showed His approval of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. However, in John 10:17-18 Jesus asserted His own authority in His resurrection. Romans 8:11 says the Spirit raised Jesus. Here is a good example of all the persons of the Trinity involved in the acts of redemption.

Verses 20-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:20-23 20Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left." 22But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We are able." 23He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."

Matthew 20:20 "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" From Mark 10:35 we learn that James and John were also active in this request. When one compares Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 and John 19:25 it is quite possible that Salome, Zebedee's wife, was the sister of Jesus' mother.

"bowing down" This was not an act of worship but an act of selfish family ambition. How often do Christians kneel before God just to get what they want? They try to trade faith for favors (cf. Job 1:9-11)!

"making a request of Him" Mark records "do for us whatever we ask of you." This sounds like the request of an immature child.

Matthew 20:21 "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left" Every time Jesus tried to discuss His death, the disciples began to argue over who was greatest. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding not only of the person and work of Christ, but of the Messianic kingdom (cf. Luke 18:34).

Matthew 20:22 "but Jesus answered, 'You'" The "you" of Matthew 20:21 is singular, addressing the mother, but in Matthew 20:22 it is plural, addressing James and John.

"Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink" The term "cup" was used in Ugaritic literature to mean destiny. In the Bible, however, it seems to mean the experiences of life whether good or evil. It was usually used in the sense of judgment (cf. Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:15-28, Jeremiah 49:12, Jeremiah 51:7; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezek. 22:31-34; Habakkuk 2:16; Zechariah 12:2; Revelation 14:10, Revelation 16:19, Revelation 17:4, Revelation 18:6). However, it was also mentioned in a few passages as blessings (cf. Psalms 16:5, Psalms 23:5, Psalms 116:13; Jeremiah 16:7).

The added phrase found in the King James Version (KJV) referring to Jesus' baptism is simply not a part of the original Greek text of Matthew, nor the ancient Latin, Syriac, or Coptic translations. It came from Mark 10:38 and Luke 12:50, which was later inserted into Matthew by copyists as is the same addition in Matthew 20:23. The UBS4 rates their exclusion as "A" (certain).

Matthew 20:23 "My cup you shall drink" James was the first martyr of the apostolic band (cf. Acts 12:2). John lived long enough to be exiled by the Roman government to Patmos (Revelation 1:9) and died of old age in Ephesus (according to church tradition).

The KJV adds a phrase, "and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with," but it is an addition from Mark 10:39. Scribes tended to make the Gospels parallel!

"for whom it has been prepared by My Father" This is perfect passive indicative. Here is another example of Jesus' submission to the Father's will and purpose. The Father is in control of all things (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28).

Verses 24-28

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:24-28 24And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Matthew 20:24 "And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers" They were angry because they did not ask first! But they also put on a show of anger as though they knew the question was out of place but secretly wanted to ask the same question.

Matthew 20:26 "whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave" Jesus did not condemn their ambition for greatness, but defined its true parameters in light of one's commitment to Him. In Jesus' kingdom leadership is servanthood (cf. Matthew 23:11; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:43)! Believers are saved to serve! Believers are saved from the service of sin to the service of God (cf. Romans 6:0)!

Matthew 20:28 "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" Here is the practical truth of who is greatest (cf. Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10). Jesus knew that He came to (1) reveal the Father; (2) give mankind an example (i.e., selfless service) to follow; and (3) die a substitutionary death

"and to give His life" There is a price to be paid for spiritual greatness and it is in service-even sometimes ultimate service, which is laying down your life for a friend (cf. John 15:13; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 3:16).

"a ransom" This term (lytron) found only twice in the NT, here and Mark 10:45, implied a price paid to purchase the freedom of a slave or prisoner of war. It is used in the LXX to translate koper (BDB 497 I), which denotes a life given to cover sin (i.e., Numbers 35:31, Numbers 35:32). Jesus did something for believers that they could never have done for themselves. The price was paid to reconcile the justice of God and the love of God (cf. Isaiah 53:0; 2 Corinthians 5:21).


"for many" This is an allusion to Isaiah 53:11-12. The term "many" was not used in a restrictive sense of a special few, but the natural result of Christ's work. The rabbis and the Qumran community used the term "many" for the community of faith or the elect. By comparing Isaiah 53:6c with 53:11d and 12e, we can see the central play between "all" and "many." This same play is used by Paul in Romans 5:17-19. Verses Matthew 20:18 and 19 are parallel, which means " all" and "many" are synonymous. This cannot be a proof-text for strict Calvinism! See discussion in NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 96-97.

Verses 29-34

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 20:29-34 29As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. 30And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" 31The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" 32And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 33They said to Him, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened." 34Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

Matthew 20:29-34 This was another healing miracle of Jesus that displayed His compassion and power. Again characteristically for Matthew there were two blind men healed (and not only one as in Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-43).

Matthew 20:29 "as they were leaving Jericho" It is interesting that both Matthew and Mark (10:46-52) place this healing as Jesus left Jericho, while Luke (18:35-43) places it as He was entering. There was an old Jericho and a new Jericho. It is possible that both accounts are accurate.

"two blind men" The healing of the blind was an OT Messianic sign (cf. Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 42:18). Jesus had compassion on those who others regarded as "throw-away" people (cf. Matthew 20:31).

Matthew 20:30 "Son of David" See note at Matthew 9:27. Matthew records the use of this Messianic title often (cf. Matthew 1:1; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30; Matthew 21:9, Matthew 21:15; Matthew 22:42, Matthew 22:45).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/matthew-20.html. 2021.
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