Summary: Jesus said “many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” He meant to teach just one thing: That some who think they’re first in the world are going to find themselves last in heaven.
Parable: The Laborers of the Eleventh hour
1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.
The parable of the laborers is found only in Matthew. It is connected to the preceding chapter and appears to add to what Jesus said concerning the kingdom of heaven. At the close of the chapter He said that “many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” He may have given this parable to provide further explanation for that line of reasoning. In any event, Jesus meant to teach just one thing: That some who think they’re first in the world are going to find themselves last in heaven. He said that a number of times (Matthew 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30). Heavenly standards and earthly standards are so utterly different that many of the earth’s humblest Christians will have the highest places in heaven; and many of the churches great dignitaries will be under those who are the humblest believers.
The householder in this parable is Christ Himself, the Master of the vineyard, and the field of labor represents service to the world through His church.
It is harvest time and the Master of the vineyard needed more workers, and therefore, early in the morning, probably dawn; the first workers were hired.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
A penny represents a denarius, or a common day’s wage for an average worker. The wage offered doesn’t prove that the rewards of heaven are given in payment for works we have done or for a debt we are owed. No; it is all of grace; free grace signifies that there is a reward waiting for us and it is a significant one. Roman’s 4:4 says, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” In other words, if God’s rewards were payment for work we had done, then it would not be grace.
We can be sure that our reward will be “Whatsoever is right.” You will never lose anything by working for God: The crown set before us is a crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge shall give. The laborers were only hired for one day. It is only a short time that we have to work for the Lord, but the reward is for eternity. That thought should encourage us to use our time wisely and work hard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
The third hour, by the way we tell time today, would be 9am. The market place was where those who wanted to work waited to be hired. Some were hired early in the morning, but there were others still waiting and hoping for work, because they had to feed their family. These were not lazy men, but there was nothing to do except wait.
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
The master of the vineyard told all those who wanted to work to go work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. He must have been a man who was trusted in the community, since this group of workers never agreed with him on a certain amount for their pay. Instead, they relied on his reputation as a man of integrity, and each worker responded to the opportunity immediately.
The vineyard represents our world, and the Master has given us the Great Commission to take the gospel to the lost everywhere. God will not turn any away that are willing to be hired.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
The householder went to the marketplace at noon and 3pm and hired more workers.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
The 11th hour is 5pm when the day is almost gone. There were a few men just hanging around the market place, and probably none of them expected to be hired. They may have stayed just because they couldn’t go home and disappoint their hungry wife and children.
The master of the vineyard may have been surprised to see any one still there, and so he asked them, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” There is a message here that we should remember. Some enter into the kingdom of God in old age, at the eleventh hour, when life is almost spent. But none enter in at the 12th hour when life is done. You must enter in when there is still the opportunity to do so; while there is life, there is hope.