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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 20

Verse 1

20:1. Jesus was still talking to his disciples when he spoke the following parable. It was to illustrate the principle mentioned and commented upon in the last verse of the preceding chapter. The application of the parable will come in verse 16, but the whole story had to be told to bring out the point. A vineyard means usually a place where grapes are grown, but the word could be understood to denote any place where plants are cultivated. Early in the morning means the beginning of the day, for the next time he went out it was still only the third hour of the day.

Verse 2

20:2 The penny was equivalent to about 17 cents in our money. The value of the wages is not important in the parable as it was spoken for another purpose.

Verse 3

20:3 The householder found he needed more workers and went out about the third hour (9 A. 'M. our time) and found others unemployed which indicates he had secured the first laborers in this place. Marketplace is from AGORA and it is defined in the lexicon of Thayer as follows: "In the New Testament the forum or public place,--where trials are held, and citizens resort, and commodities are exposed for sale." It is easy to see why a man would go to such a place to hire workmen.

Verse 4

20:4 No stipulated amount was stated but the laborers were promised whatever was right. They evidently agreed with the terms for it states they went their way.

Verse 5

20:5 The householder went back for more men at noon and 3 P. M. and made the same bargain for it says and did likewise.

Verse 6

20:6 The last time he went was about the eleventh hour which would correspond with our 5 P. M., an hour before quitting time at least, depending on what part of the eleventh hour it was when he hired them.

Verse 7

20:7 He asked them why they were idle and they said that no man had offered them any work. That being a valid explanation, the house holder engaged them to work with the same promise he made the ones hired from the third hour and on through the day. The use that is made of the "eleventh hour" item is entirely off of the purpose of the parable, but because of the widespread idea existing concerning it, I think it will be well to give some notice to It. The error to which I refer is the doctrine that a person professing repentance on his deathbed should be compared to these men in the eleventh hour. There is no comparison for these men went to work as soon as they had an opportunity while the deathbed man had been offered work by the Gospel ever since he was of responsible age. Also, these men had whatever was left of the eleventh hour and all of the twelfth to work, while the deathbed man has let the whole day of life go by and he has no opportunity to work at all.

Verse 8

20:8 There is no special rule in business that caused the paymaster to begin with the ones hired last. However, by telling the parable in that order Jesus brought out the idea of the lesson which is in verse 16. These men were last as to time and the chronology of events but they were first or foremost in receiving the Lord's estimation.

Verse 9

20:9 These "eleventh-hour" men did not know how much they were to receive, only that it was to be "whatever is right." They made no complaint and hence showed a willingness to be fair and agreeable.

Verse 10

0:10 They supposed expresses the basis on which most of the erroneous doctrines of men are formed. There is no scripture for the theories hence they rely on their own judgment and it is usually along the line of what they were wanting to begin with. These "early" laborers did not complain when the wage rate was stated, and neither was the paymaster cutting it short at the end of the day. But they were measuring themselves by others in the laboring group which is an unwise principle to act upon according to Paul in 2Co 10:12.

Verse 11

0:11 They complained to the very man who made the bargain with them in the morning and with whom they found no fault when they hired to him.

Verse 12

0:12 Made them equal with us was a false accusation. The householder was only carrying out his contract as he had done with them. The "eleventh-hour" men had gone to work at the first opportunity and the others had done no better than that. When they accepted the offer of employment they knew they would have to do a full day's work which would extend through the hottest part of the work period.

Verse 13

0:13 I do thee no wrong was a truthful statement for the householder was living up to his contract made at the time of employment.

Verse 14

0:14 That thine is denotes that these men wanted more than was coming to them. When the paymaster put the penny into their hands he gave them all that was rightfully theirs. That means that had they obtained more than the penny they would have gone home with property that did not belong to them.

Verse 15

0:15 This householder could have given his money to anyone he chose regardless of all others and been within his rights since it was his own. Eye evil because means they had an envious eye when they saw the good favor bestowed upon the others.

Verse 16

0:16 This verse shows the point intended to be made by the parable. The ones who were first in point of time were the last (or least inclined) in showing an attitude of appreciation towards the householder, and Jesus made that application of the circumstances. While on the subject he added a statement that is not always made when the first clause is used. Many called, few chosen. The governments of the world call many men to appear for possible induction into the armed services, but when they are examined only a few pass the test and are chosen. All men are called by the Gospel and many accept the call. But only a few out of that group will qualify themselves for the final test at the judgment by a righteous life. That is why 2Pe 1:10 exhorts Christians to "give diligence to make their calling and election [choosing] sure."

Verse 17

0:17 The twelve disciples always means the twelve apostles.

Verse 18

0:18 This is the second time that Jesus made this sad prediction (chapter 16:21). No reply was made by the apostles this time, the rebuke from Jesus to Peter on the other occasion evidently not being forgotten.

Verse 19

0:19 The Jews could condemn a man to death but they did not have the authority to execute it (Joh 18:31). That is why they had to take their cases to the Roman or secular courts (here called the Gentiles) to get such a sentence carried out.

Verse 20

0:20 In Mar 10:35 these brethren are identified simply as the sons of Zebedee as they would also be recognized to be in our verse. The reason for the seemingly unnecessary phrase mother of Zebedee's children is that she spoke for her sons, whereas the account in Mark tells us only of their desire. The woman first worshiped Jesus before asking her favor. (See the long definition of "worship" at chapter 2:2.)

Verse 21

0:21 Since Jesus knew what, was in man's mind it was not necessary for him to ask this question for information. However, it is the will of the Lord for his creatures to show their confidence in Him by asking, although he knows what they need before they ask (see chapter 6:8). The woman's request was based on the same erroneous idea of the kingdom of heaven that people generally had while Jesus was on earth. She thought it was to be in the nature of an earthly kingdom, and that the persons who were permitted to occupy seats nearest the king would have some special advantages.

Verse 22

0:22 There was more than one reason for saying they did not know what they were asking for, one of them being their ignorance of what was in store for Jesus. But they thought they were prepared in mind to take whatever might come in their association with the king and doubtless they were sincere in their answer. While they had riot asked for that experience, Jesus asked them the question and got an affirmative reply.

Verse 23

0:23 The cup and baptism are used figuratively and refer to the persecutions that were destined to come upon Christ and his followers. They indeed were to have that experience as Jesus informed them. Since Jesus was to be the king it would naturally fall to someone else to do the seating of him on the throne. That is why he said of it that it is not mine to give. However, he did say that the Father would give the honor to them for whom it is prepared.

Verse 24

0:24 This conversation between Christ and the two brethren was heard by the ten other apostles. We are not told why they were indignant, but evidently it was because of the ambition of the two in wanting to be seated above the others in places of authority. Jesus had already told them (chapter 19:28) that all of them would have important positions in the kingdom which should have made them grateful and satisfied.

Verse 25

0:25 It was necessary so often for the apostles to be corrected in their erroneous notion of the kingdom of heaven, because they thought of it in the same light as the governments of the world. Jesus reminded them that in such kingdoms a person who is great is the one who has the most authority, and such a man often uses that greatness to impose upon his fellow citizens.

Verse 26

0:26 In the kingdom that Christ was going to set up, phases that would involve greatness and popularity were to be opposite those in worldly kingdoms; in the institution of Christ true greatness was to consist in service to others. Minister is from DIAKONOS and one meaning of the word in the lexicon is "servant."

Verse 27

0:27 Servant is from a different word than minister in the preceding verse. It is a stronger term and is compared to a slave. Such a word was used because the apostles were so much in the dark as to the character of the coming kingdom that it took unusual language to get them to see the point.

Verse 28

0:28 As a proof that the kingdom of Heaven was to be different from others, Jesus cited his own example of condescension. Although he was to be its king, he came among men as the greatest of servants, and crowned that service by giving his life.

Verse 29

0:29 As a rule there were many people following Jesus as he went from place to place but they were not all going with the same motive. Some were sincerely seeking for more teaching, some were interested in his miraculous cure of their diseases, and others were following with selfish interests in the temporal favors (Joh 6:26).

Verse 30

0:30 For the significance of .on of David see comments at Mat 15:22.

Verse 31

0:31 The multitude (lid not want the journey interrupted. Because, etc., expresses the motive of the multitude and not the opinion of the inspired writer. The persistence of the blind men was like that of the woman of Canaan in Mat 15:22-28 and it showed their great faith as Jesus said about the woman.

Verse 32

0:32 Jesus halted and asked the blind men what they wanted. He did not ask them to come in to him since they were blind and that would have been a hardship on them.

Verse 33

0:33. A man's eyesight is one of the most precious faculties he possesses, and it was the one thing that was uppermost in the minds of these unfortunates.

Verse 34

0:34. When Jesus so willed it he made bodily contact with persons he wished to favor. These men showed their appreciation by joining the group following Jesus.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/matthew-20.html. 1952.