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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 20

 

 


Verse 1

§ 105. — THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD, Matthew 20:1-16.

1. For — This word indicates that the parable is intended to illustrate the principles inculcated at the close of the preceding chapter, on which see our notes. The parable indeed enforces the same principles as were brought to view in the whole passage from Matthew 19:16, namely, that we gain an inheritance in heaven not by payment for works done, but by the pure grace of God. No works of man can be an adequate equivalent for eternal glory. No works of man can confer a favour on God. Man cannot indeed be saved without becoming right and keeping right, by repentance of sin, and faith in Christ. But when he does by repentance and faith perform God’s conditions, and become right for receiving God’s favour and blessing, he has done God no favour, he has merited no eternal crown, he is an unprofitable servant, and he enters heaven by pure, abounding, forgiving, saving grace alone.

Kingdom of heaven — The divine administration. This parable is in close connection with the last four verses of chapter 19. The householder is God; the vineyard is the service of God on earth; the first labourers are servants of a hireling spirit; the second are unassuming sinners, who, upon being converted, serve at their master’s will, leaving the reward to his decision. The former incur rebuke, the latter are justified. Early in the morning — As all thrifty householders should, and as is specially necessary in warm climates.

To hire — God seeks men, not they him first. He calls and they refuse or obey. Labourers — God gives men a chance to labour, not because he needs their work, but because they need his reward. Peter and the apostles were such labourers.


Verse 2

2. Agreed with the labourers — Christ called Peter and the apostles, and sent them as labourers in his vineyard, early in the morning of the Christian dispensation. For a penny a day — A very exact price precisely stated. For Peter had, in the arithmetical spirit, asked in the last chapter, What shall we have therefore? (Matthew 20:27,) and our Lord had informed him what his penny was. Matthew 20:28-29. A denarius or penny is about fourteen cents. It was a liberal day’s wages.


Verse 3

3. Third hour — Nine in the morning. Marketplace — The forum, where marketings, lawsuits, public meetings, orations, and all general business were transacted. It was the place for idlers, newsmongers, and persons needing employment.


Verse 4

4. Whatsoever is right — You can trust my justice, perhaps my generosity, and serve from duty or from love. Went their way — To work without exacting a bargain.


Verse 5

5. Sixth… hour — Twelve o’clock.


Verse 6

6. Eleventh — Leaving but one hour for the next hired to labour in. All the day idle — And, therefore, busy serving the devil, or in danger of being so.


Verse 7

7. No man hath hired us — As the question implies a call, so this answer implies an obedient response. These are men of a receptive faith, ready to comply with the offer of grace; saying, like Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” To such men the call will come, and the path of duty will be made plain. Whatsoever is right… receive — These humble servitors do not, like Peter, ask, What are we to have? They go upon bounty, not upon wages. They know that it is grace that engages them, grace that sets any value upon their labours, and grace that at last gives rather than pays the result.


Verse 11

11. Murmured — The arithmetical spirit of Peter is close akin to quarrelling with Christ, if he, an apostle forsooth, should not be paid with a richer heaven than some Samaritan or Gentile converts. Christians may indeed be rewarded according to their works; but the spirit that sets high value on its work, and claims high pay over others, may find its works very lowly prized with God. That very spirit may destroy the reward; for our final bliss may depend more upon what we are than upon what we do, although what we do will have much effect upon what we are. Good man of the house — The householder.


Verse 12

12. Borne the burden — The weight of the whole day’s labour instead of a single hour. Heat — In the original, the καυσων or scorcher; which was the burning east wind coming at midday from the Arabian desert. They had toiled through this hot blast, while the others had laboured only in the one cool hour.


Verse 13

13. Friend — A term of cautious respect, with a reproving import. Didst not thou agree — The murmurer received all he had bargained for. Full justice was therefore done him. The lord had a right then to give his money where he pleased. We have no right to complain of bounties given to others, so long as justice is done to us.

It is not to be supposed, from this, that there will be murmurers among the finally saved. These murmurers are only supposed in the parable, in order to show their want of reason.


Verse 14

14. Go thy way — To a low reward or to none at all, for thy mercenary, exacting, heartless, graceless service.


Verse 15

15. Is thine eye evil — Evil passions, especially envy, appear in the eye.

Good — Bountiful, gracious.


Verse 16

16. Last… first — As he had warned Peter in the last verse of the last chapter. The arrogating spirit of the first may sink them to the last, and vice versa. Called — To labour for Christ. Few chosen — To the final reward; because few serve Christ in the right humble spirit.


Verse 17

§ 106. — HIS SUFFERINGS AGAIN FORETOLD, Matthew 20:17-19.

17. Jesus going up to Jerusalem — Our Lord has been for some months in Perea, the country beyond, that is, east of Jordan, teaching, and working miracles, and laying the foundations of the kingdom of God. The time is at hand in which, by the shedding of blood, there must be the remission of sins. Jerusalem is the place where for ages the typical sacrifices had predicted the real sacrifice which was now to be made once for all. He therefore crosses the Jordan, and begins to bend his way toward the memorable city. Here commences what we consider the Seventh Period of his ministry. See Hist. Synopsis. Imagining that he is on his way to erect his kingdom at Jerusalem, Salome prefers her ambitious request for her two sons. The two blind men at Jericho hail him Son of David, and are cured. Zaccheus entertains him, and Jesus pursues his way. See note on Matthew 20:34. Took the twelve disciples apart — Mark tells us that as they went their way Jesus went before them, and that they were amazed at his course and afraid for his boldness. At his last visit, at the feast of dedication, he had enraged the Jews, and their temper had by no means become mollified by subsequent events. Our Saviour leads the way, but his disciples reluctantly follow. He now stops, takes them aside, and gives them this third warning, more distinctly than either before, that he does indeed go to meet death. He reveals new points, and unfolds new facts. He will be delivered to the Gentiles; so that in the great transaction in which Jews and Gentiles are interested, Jews and Gentiles shall be actors. Then should follow the resurrection; and that resurrection should be on the third day.


Verse 18

18. Go up to Jerusalem — The word up is naturally used of Jerusalem, as being situated, like many great ancient cities, upon high grounds. But the term was habitually used by the ancients of any capital or great central town, although, like Babylon, situated in a plain.


Verse 19

19. The Gentiles — The English word is from the Latin gens, a race. The Greek term εθνος, ethnos, is the word whence comes our heathen. The Jews from their own standpoint called other peoples the Gentiles, that is, the nations. Here it specifically designates the Romans.

The parallel passage in Luke 18:33-34, gives the fullest detail of our Lord’s words. But Luke adds: “This saying was hid from them; neither knew they the things which were spoken.” It was a striking instance of the influence of will over the understanding. They wished it otherwise, and would believe it otherwise than our Lord predicted. They saw, and heard, and imagined a great many things that seemed to contradict the natural import of the Lord’s prophecies. They declined, therefore, to accept their literal interpretation.


Verse 20

§ 107. — AMBITIOUS REQUEST OF SALOME FOR HER SONS, Matthew 20:20-28.

20. Mother of Zebedee’s children — The mother of Zebedee’s children was Salome; and the children were James and John, the beloved disciple. Their residence was at Bethsaida, on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. The father, though named, never appears in Gospel history after their discipleship; from which it is inferred that he was either dead or of an insignificant character. From the silent agreement of all the evangelists in thus leaving Zebedee in the background, Mr. Blunt, in his book on the Undesigned Coincidences of the Gospels, draws a very ingenious and forcible proof of the truth of Gospel history. The tacit consent that there was a Zebedee, who did indeed exist, but was of no sort of consequence to the history, except as the husband of Salome and the father of James and John, can be explained only on the ground of its actual truth.

However faulty the conduct of Salome appears on this occasion, she manifested a true, undying love for the Saviour in the most trying times of his subsequent sufferings. She was not solely attracted to him by the ties of self-interest or hopes of royal bounty. She was among those who stood by him to the last at the cross, and among the earliest to embalm him at the grave. She listened to the testimony of the angel that he had risen, and was one of the women that saw the risen Saviour by the way, and bore the message to the disciples.

Came with her sons — Both mother and sons were inspired with a common ambition. Worshipping him — Doing him reverence as already a divine King, the Messiah. Her reverence is none the less profound from the fact that she comes to desire a royal favour.


Verse 21

21. My two sons — James and John, with Peter, had been permitted to witness the transfiguration, and justly understood it to be an exhibition of Jesus in his royal glory as Messiah. They now perceive that he is going up to Jerusalem, and that the final crisis is approaching. They understand that somehow, through some terrible ordeal, he is to attain to the glorified kingdom which the transfiguration exhibited. Now, then, is the proper time to secure their elevated position in that new coming kingdom of glory. And who should more properly aspire to that position than those two disciples who had on so many occasions been distinguished by the Saviour’s particular preferences? Sit… right hand… left — Just as in the Sanhedrim, on each side of the high priest there sat the next highest dignitaries. In thy kingdom — In that transfiguration kingdom which thou art now going up to Jerusalem to assume. One at least of these brethren saw the Lord on his cross — on his right and left hand the crucified thieves. Bitter indeed must the remembrance of this ambitious prayer have been at that moment!


Verse 22

22. Ye know not what ye ask — How often is it that our desires, and perhaps even our prayers, would ruin ourselves if granted. Hence Christians are generally, with much justice, careful how they specify before God in prayer the particular blessing they desire. They may in their ignorance ask things that God sees not best. So the prayer of Salome and her children was a prayer for unfitting objects lying in an imaginary future. Are ye able to drink — To attain an important place in my ascension glory would require an immediate suffering of my cross; are ye able to encounter it? The half unconscious yet presumptuous reply, “We are able,” was no doubt uttered under the impression that the struggle was to take place at Jerusalem, in which, perhaps, they were to fight by his side, and they profess themselves willing for the trial. Drink of the cup — A common image in the Bible, especially for encountering any bitter trial or suffering.

So our Lord himself prayed: “Let this cup pass from me.” Matthew 26:42. Baptized with the baptism that I am — It utterly mistakes the force of this expression to make it mean immersed with the immersion that I am immersed with. To be baptized by suffering is to be purified with suffering. It is more nearly cognate to the baptism by fire than by water. Suffering purified and consecrated the Saviour to his glorified royalty. So was Isaiah baptized with the touch of fire; that is, purified and consecrated to his prophetic office. And so the Saviour asked of these ambitious brothers whether they were able to undergo the same terrible purgation to be consecrated to the same glorification. We are able — Not ignobly did these two sons of Zebedee fulfil this daring profession. James early underwent the “baptism of blood” by martyrdom at the hand of Herod. Acts 12:1. John indeed survived all the apostles; but all antiquity ascribes to him the glory of living in the spirit of heroic martyrdom. But this present expression, “We are able,” was simply the language of human firmness apart from the divine aid. and therefore deeply defective, compared with the Christian heroism of these holy apostles after the pentecostal day.


Verse 23

23. Ye shall — Ye shall undergo sufferings patterned after mine. Not mine to give — As a matter of present favour, apart from the divine plan of human redemption. To them — The faithful believers. For whom — Upon condition of their faith, it is prepared, in the plan of salvation, of my Father. The kingdom of heaven is a reward, prepared by God for his faithful children. The assignment of its abodes is fixed by the laws of the kingdom itself. It was not, therefore, to be settled by Christ on mere human favour, as caprice or affection might dictate. So, though he loved the rich young ruler who asked the mode of earning eternal life, he could not therefore save him.


Verse 24

24. The ten… with indignation — The same emulation that prompted the two to ask prompted the ten to be angry. Our Lord soothed their jealousy by assuring them that in his kingdom there were no lordships.


Verse 25

25. Princes of the Gentiles — Especially of the Romans. Exercise dominion — Authority for authority’s sake. Obtain power to enjoy power. They exercise dominion to gratify their love of rule.


Verse 26

26. Shall not be so among you — Our Lord does not here mean that there shall be no orders in the Christian Church, or even in heaven. But these Church orders are founded on the principle of service rather than lordship.

The officer of the Church is truly the servant of the Church; and if he exercise authority from any other motive he is guilty of worldly ambition. He is repeating the misdoing of James and John.


Verse 27

27. Will be chief — The only superiority here to be sought is superiority in labours and sufferings for the common good. If any would be great let him be the greatest servant.


Verse 28

28. Give his life — Even as the Son of man showed himself greatest of all by the greatest sufferings and sacrifices of all. Give his life a ransom — An atonement — an atonement by death, an atonement by substitution — is here briefly but powerfully expressed. The Saviour will give his life as a ransom for the souls of many. Now a ransom is always a substitute. The price paid is put in the place of the bondage of the ransomed person. If a sum be paid to ransom a slave, the money goes to the master, in the place of the slave’s servitude. If the ransom goes to redeem a captive, the ransom is placed to the conqueror, in the room of the captive. If a Damon gives his life to ransom Pythias from the scaffold, Damon’s death is the substitute for Pythias’s death. And so if Christ’s death be given to ransom sinners from death, his death must be a substitute for their death. He dies in their stead. His death is temporal, and theirs is eternal. So that if they by faith accept his death in place of their own, they may be saved from that impending doom.


Verse 29

§ 108. — THE HEALING OF THE BLIND MEN, Matthew 20:29-34.

29. From Jericho — He has left Perea, crossed the Jordan, and is again in Judea. See note on Matthew 20:17, and consult map. From the Jordan he goes up by a desert path until, in a green spot lying like an island in the surrounding waste, he finds the ancient town of Jericho, or “city of palm trees.”

Jericho was a stronghold of the Canaanites, and was the first city subdued by Israel after the crossing of Jordan and entering the Holy Land. At the time of our Saviour it had been lately enlarged and beautified by Herod the Great, who often made it his residence. Departed from Jericho — Luke says, “He was come nigh unto Jericho.” On this celebrated discrepancy of language between the two evangelists, a full discussion belongs to a comment on the passage in Luke. But we may here say, that there were more than one Jericho, namely, an old and a new. If our Saviour was really leaving one and approaching the other, both expressions would be literally true.


Verse 30

30. Behold, two blind men — Mark mentions but one, and tells us his name. He was Bartimeus; and the very fact that he so names him seems to indicate that he was a well-known person at the time. As his was the case of special interest, whose cure Mark wishes to narrate, so he omits to state that another man was healed at the same time. It is very possible that Mark was not informed of that fact. Inspiration does not imply omniscience. One inspired writer may be more fully informed than another. Both may be perfectly true, so far as they go. But the naturalness of the picture of the two blind men, sitting by the road side, leaves but little doubt that Matthew, who was a disciple, (as Mark was not,) wrote as an eye-witness of the miracle. Heard — Of course they could only learn the fact from hearing and not from sight. That Jesus passed by — The “prophet of Galilee,” the raiser of Lazarus from the dead, the teacher and miracle worker of Perea, is not unknown by fame to these poor men. To the sufferers throughout the land that name would have a special interest. Its report would have a rapid circulation among the sons and daughters of affliction. They would somehow know more about him, and have more inclination for faith in him, than anybody else. Son of David — Modern commentators have much difficulty with the genealogy of our Saviour in the first chapter of Matthew, by which he is shown to be the son of David; but these two blind men have not. They confess his pedigree. They believe that the true descendant of the ancient king of Israel is now approaching, and that he is the promised one for whom Israel is looking.


Verse 31

31. Multitude rebuked them — At this time the multitude are respectful to Jesus. It is plain until after his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the Lord has the hearts of the people with him. Because they should hold their peace — That is, in the opinion of the multitude, not of the evangelist, they ought to keep silence. But they cried the more — With the blind men it is too serious a matter for nice decorums. The multitude can afford to stand upon etiquette, but with them it is a matter as important to them as their own eyes. Jesus the healer is now passing by, and now or never is their chance. So should the sinner improve the gracious hour of mercy and revival, when Jesus, in pardoning power, is revealed as near. Son of David — Again do they proclaim our Jesus as the son of the royal line of Israel kings. The same appellation was applied by other petitioners for relief; the blind in Matthew 9:27, and the Syrophenician woman in Matthew 15:22.


Verse 32

32. Jesus stood still — Above the respectful clamour of the multitude, the voice of earnest prayer reaches the ear of Jesus. Called them — That was a call they were ready to obey. Mark, who mentions but one, describes him as flinging off his loose outer garment, (see note on Matthew 5:40,) which might impede his running, to come up with the Lord before he should depart. What will ye — Before, they had uttered a more general cry for mercy. Now, they must frame their wants to a specific petition. Not that Jesus is ignorant of their real need, but that he will develop their want into special prayer, and thus make their faith and appeal for mercy all the more definite. So, although God may know our wants, yet for our own sakes, and that we may stand in proper relations of dependence and faith towards him, he requires us to shape our needs into verbal prayer.


Verse 33

33. That our eyes may be opened — Our eyes are thirsty for the light. Long years, perhaps, have passed, and the wonderful realities of creation that surround us have been to us a dark and dismal blank. Thine is the power that can again reveal them like a new creation to our view. How many are the confessions that the blind men make of Jesus as Lord, Son of David, the King that should come, author of mercy, possessor of power divine. So can sorrow make us humble and docile to the truth. Had Israel, her priesthood, her religionists, her rulers, but been blind, physically blind, needing the Saviour’s restoring power, how quickly would they have yielded their faith to receive their sight. So truly is wicked unbelief the offspring of a proud and wicked will.


Verse 34

34. Touched their eyes — To show that the miracle was no coincidence or accident, but the immediate effect of divine power. His finger was the visible conductor of invisible omnipotence. Mark says that our Lord uttered the words “Go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole.” Some miracles early in his ministry, our Lord performed before their faith, in order to create faith; other miracles he performed subsequent to their faith, to reward and thus increase faith. And they followed him — He had bidden them “Go thy way;” but with an affectionate disobedience they followed their benefactor. Perhaps they concluded that their “way” was to follow his footsteps.

We may suppose, that as our Saviour crossed the Jordan, and came across the desert tract between the Jordan and Jericho, he walks at the head of his train of twelve disciples. As he departs from Jericho, his fame and the idea that he is on his way to Jerusalem attract the multitude to follow him. Matthew 20:1. From Jericho he mounts the ascending hills of bleak limestone rocks, celebrated at that time as a route of danger from robber hordes, and characterized from that time to this as a scene of desert dreariness. It was the scene of the parable of the good Samaritan. By the same route that the men went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, did our Lord go up from Jericho to Jerusalem. Some miles he walks, when Bethany appears in a distant view, a little wide-spread village, perched upon a shelf of the eastern side of the Mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem. He arrived at Bethany, according to John 12:1, six days before his last passover; the six days of what has been called in the Church, with true propriety, THE PASSION WEEK. Of the events of that week Matthew now proceeds to furnish a narration.

THE DAYS OF THE PASSION WEEK.

The events of the Passion Week are copiously detailed, and the successive days somewhat distinctly marked. Yet there is much difference of opinion among commentators in regard to the particular days of the part preceding the Lord’s supper of Thursday evening. The main proof text is John 12:1 : Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany. And John 12:12, shows that the day after was the triumphal entry. But it is utterly uncertain how John reckons his “six days before the passover.” It may be exclusive or inclusive of the extremes; or it may include one and exclude the other. (See note on Matthew 17:1.) This being the case, I see no good ground for adopting any other than the scheme of the ancient Church, sanctioned by Olshausen, Tholuck and others. It supposes the triumphal entry to have been on Sunday, hence called Palm Sunday.

SCHEME OF DAYS.

SUNDAY, (reckoned from Saturday sunset.) Triumphal entry, Matthew 21:1-11. Clearing of temple, Matthew 21:12-16. Return to Bethany at night, Matthew 21:17.

MONDAY. The barren fig tree withered, Matthew 21:18-19.

TUESDAY, (from Monday sunset.) Disciples marvel at the withered fig tree, Matthew 21:20-22. Replies of Jesus to the demand for his authority, Matthew 23:1 to Matthew 22:14. Discussions and discourses in the temple, Matthew 15:1 to Matthew 23:39. Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem, and distinguishes it from the judgment day, Matthew 25. Assembling of conspirators, Matthew 26:1-5.

TUESDAY NIGHT. Supper in Bethany, Matthew 26:6-13.

WEDNESDAY, (from preceding sunset.) Judas bargains with the Jews, Matthew 26:14-16.

THURSDAY, (from preceding sunset.) Preparation and supper, Matthew 26:17-35.

Gethsemane, arrest, arraignment before Caiaphas, Matthew 26:36-68. MIDNIGHT, (between Thursday and Friday.) Peter’s denial, Matthew 26:69-75.

FRIDAY MORNING. Arraignment of Jesus before Pilate, and suicide of Judas, Matthew 27:1-10. Barabbas released, and Jesus crucified by Pilate, Matthew 27:11-56. Entombment, Matthew 27:57-66.

[image]

SATURDAY. Repose in the tomb. SUNDAY MORNING. Resurrection.

MOUNT OF OLIVES — KEDRON — EASTERN MARGIN OF JERUSALEM, FROM THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE MODERN WALL

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-20.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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