“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:16 (NIV)

It was a chilly fall day in Maryland, and I was taking my first swimming class at a nearby high school. Unlike many of the kids at my elementary school, I hadn’t grown up in the area. In some ways, I was still the new kid, although it had been almost two years since I had moved to Adamstown. During the lesson, the opportunity came to jump off of the high dive, and I was the first person selected to jump. I remember the shouts of the other kids who were also there for swimming lessons.

“Jump! Jump!” they shouted.

My days of doing stunts and being like the daredevil, Evel Knievel, were still ahead of me, so I was scared. It was so high that I turned away and let the kid behind me go first. When he jumped, everyone cheered, and then I, seeing that he was still alive, jumped.

I don’t know how that brief moment of timidity shaped the person I would late become, but as I think about it today, I can’t help but think that all of the crazy stuff I later did as a kid and into my teenage years might have stemmed from the desire to prove to myself that I wasn’t afraid.

We make a big deal out of being first. First to the moon. First in this and that event. Amusingly enough, there are even people who proudly exclaim, “First!” when they’re the first person to comment on social media threads.

When Jesus told The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew, He finishes the parable by stating, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This parable is only told in the Gospel of Matthew, so we have don’t have any other Gospel to compare it to. What’s this parable about and why did Jesus teach it?

In Matthew 19, we are told about a rich man who approached Jesus asking Him, “‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'” (Matthew 19:16 NIV). Jesus and the man have a short discourse, and the man turns away from following Jesus because He’s rich and doesn’t want to do what he needs to do for eternal life. Jesus says that it’s hard for the rich to enter into Heaven (Matthew 19:17-24). The disciples are astonished at this newfound knowledge, and Peter says to Jesus, “‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’” (Matthew 19:27 NIV) This is the impetus behind The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

Before we take a look at who the characters are in this parable, we need to know that the interpretation of the parable defines the characters. There are a few different ideas about who is who in this parable, but I’m going to give you what I think makes the most sense. Let’s look at who the characters are in this parable according to their importance in the interpretation.

Landowner – God
The first workers hired – The Jews under the law
The last workers hired – The Gentiles

We can consider the vineyard in this parable to mean the earth and all that’s in it.

We could try and interpret this parable on an individual or on a national level. I’m looking at a national interpretation because it fits within the circumstances.

When Jesus told this parable, He knew what lay ahead for His disciples. He knew they would encounter a great deal of resistance from the established ruling body. The Jews, after all, were God’s chosen people, and later on, when it was revealed that the Gentiles would be allowed into the Kingdom, many would find this hard to believe.

Therefore, the Jews were the workers who labored for the heat of the day and did the most work. The work they did was following the law for so many years. The Gentiles, on the other hand, barely did any work, having been hired near the very end of the day. We know we are saved by grace and not by works. This truth was a stumbling block to the ruling religious body at the time because their hearts were hardened.

Therefore, this parable tells us that salvation and grace are equal gifts to both Jew and Gentile. The first who were offered the chance for salvation, the Jews, and the last, the Gentiles, are equal in God’s eyes.

Although the interpretation of this parable in context is national, I believe there’s also an individual application.

As long as we have breath in our body, and have the clarity of mind to make a decision, we can decide about Christ. The thief on the cross, who believed Jesus and ended up entering into paradise with Him, is a great example of someone living their entire life for themselves, only to be saved by grace, at the end (Luke 23:40-43).

While we might not be grumblers, like those in the parable who resented the grace of the landowner. We have to be mindful to not make it up in our minds that there are those not worthy of salvation. We also need to be careful to not give a special dispensation to those who have been in Christ longer than we.

This is why, as long as we have breath in our bodies, we need to discharge the duties of the ministry that God has given to us. Each step of this life needs to be continually run as the marathon of salvation that it is, knowing that it’s not how we place, but how we finish the race, that’s important.

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.