Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (vs. 1-16)
(Peculiar to Matthew)
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."
For. The following parable is intended to illustrate the apophthegm at the end of
the last chapter, which is repeated almost in the same words at the close, “Many that
are first,” etc., and “The last shall be first,” etc. It taught the apostles a lesson in
answer to Peter’s question (ch. 19:27), “What shall we have therefore?” and the
primary lesson was that the reward of the kingdom is not of debt, but of grace.
There are many difficulties in the parable, which may be better noticed after
we have expounded its literal bearing and details. The kingdom of heaven
is like. That is, what happens in the kingdom of heaven is parallel to the
case of a householder, etc. The kingdom of heaven is the
whether militant on earth (when the laborers are hired) or triumphant in
heaven (when the reward is bestowed). We may refer to ch. 13:24, 45, where an
analogous comparison is found. Early in the morning (ἅμα πρωί
end of the last night watch; simultaneous morning (see on v. 3), wishing to secure
laborers, who at vintage time were probably in great request. Vineyard. The Church
is elsewhere so called by our Lord (ch. 21:28, 33, etc.), and in the Old Testament
(see Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1; Jeremiah 12:10).
2 "And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them
into his vineyard." When he had agreed with the laborers. With those first
hired he makes a special agreement for the pay of the day’s work; with the
others he acts differently. For a penny a day (ἐκ δηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν - ek
daenariou). The denarius (always translated “a penny” in our version) was a
silver coin about equal in value to the French franc, but of course in its
buying capacities worth in those days a great deal more. We learn from
Tacitus (‘Annal.,’ 1:17) that it was the usual pay of a Roman soldier. It
was equivalent to the Greek drachma, which Tobit (5:14) offered to
Azarias as daily wages. Our rendering of “a penny” conveys a very
erroneous impression to unlearned hearers, both in this passage and in
other places where it occurs.
Fair Labor Agreements (v. 2)
Van Lennep describes the Eastern customs to which our Lord alludes in
this parable. “During the whole season when vineyards may be dug, the
common workmen go very early in the morning to the sook, or
marketplace of the village or city, where foods are sold. While
‘waiting to be hired,’ they take their morning cup of coffee, and eat a
morsel of bread. The owners of vineyards come to the place and engage
the number of laborers they need. These immediately go to the vineyard,
and work there until a little while before the sun sets, which, according to
Oriental time, is twelve o’clock, so that the ‘eleventh hour’ means one
hour before sunset. We have often seen men standing in the marketplace
through the entire day without finding employment, and have repeatedly
engaged them ourselves at noon for half a day’s job, and later for one or
two hours’ work in our garden. In such a case the price has to be
particularly bargained for, but it is more often left to the generosity of the
employer to give what bakshish he feels disposed.” There is now a very
grave danger, of which we need to be on our guard. Men are talking as if
our Lord made Himself an authority on social questions. The truth is, that
He distinctly refused to bear any relation to social, political, and legal
disputes. He revealed unknown or hidden truths to men; He resettled the
great principles of morals; He quickened men with a new and Divine life;
but He refused to guide in detail the applications of the principles He taught.
In this parable, which seems to deal with the questions of capital and
labor, the thing our Lord teaches is that every man is a free man, but if,
voluntarily, he enters into engagements, he must loyally keep his
ENGAGEMENTS. Religion does not need to come in and say that he who
wants work done must offer fair terms for the doing of it. Common
humanity and honesty demand that. No man has any right to “go beyond,”
“take advantage of,” or “defraud” his neighbor in anything. (I Thessalonians
HIS ENGAGEMENTS. If he agrees for a penny a day, nothing can happen
to make that unfair. He may make a new bargain tomorrow, but he must
carry through his bargain today. Strikes are very often sinful repudiations
3 "And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle
in the marketplace," The third hour. It seems that at this time the Jews divided
the day, reckoned between sunrise and sunset, into twelve equal parts, the
length of these divisions varying according to the season. The day in
and at shortest of nine hours forty-eight minutes, so that the difference
between the longest and shortest division of the so called Jewish “hour”
was twenty-two minutes. It is usual to consider the Hebrew day as lasting
from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the sixth hour corresponding to our noon, the first
hour being 7 o’clock and the third 9 a.m. This estimate, though not
absolutely correct, is near enough to the fact to serve all expository
purposes. The four periods mentioned in the parable are quarters of the
working day, in which a proportional part of the day’s wages might be
earned. Standing idle in the marketplace. The Greek agora, the Roman
forum, and the Eastern marketplace, was the usual place where idlers and
expectant laborers gathered together. Such a scene may often nowadays
be witnessed in Oriental cities, and indeed at our own docks, and in many
of our small country towns. It must be supposed that the laborers now
hired either were not present when the householder first went forth, or that
they had then rejected his offer, but now thought better of it. And so, in the
case of the others later on.
4 "And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever
is right I will give you. And they went their way." Ye also; implying that he had
already set some to work at fixed wages. Whatsoever is right (δίκαιον - dikaion -
just; fair). He offers these no definite sum as remuneration, assuring them only that
he will deal equitably with them; i.e. doubtless, according to their view, that he will
give them three quarters of a day’s wages, paying them pro rata. But at the end he
treats them much more generously. Lightfoot notes that the Talmudists had
tracts on the payment and regulation of laborers, and in their canons
distinguished between being hired for a day and for some hours. They
went their way, quite satisfied to leave their remuneration to the
householder, with whom probably they were acquainted.
5 "Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise."
Sixth and ninth hour. At midday and 3 p.m., which would give respectively
about half a day’s and a quarter of a day’s work.
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 eleventh hour;
the hour before sunset, say about 5 p.m., leaving only one hour for work, when
it would be most unusual to engage laborers. Idle. The word is omitted in some
manuscripts. There is some reproach in the master’s question. Where were they
earlier in the day, when he was hiring labourers for his vineyard? Why were
they not in the marketplace, like their comrades, looking out for employment?
Such questions, like many, others in the parable, are left unanswered. We see
from the universal use of the term, “the eleventh hour,” to express the
close of the day of grace, how widely has prevailed the interpretation of the
parable which applies it to the various stages of the life of the individual.
(See on this below.)
The Eleventh Hour a Type of Old Age (v. 6)
This treatment illustrates the suggestiveness of Scripture figures. They start
thought on lines that lead away from their immediate connections.
DONE. Froude says, “Beautiful is old age — beautiful as the slow
dropping mellow autumn of a rich and glorious summer. In the old man
nature has fulfilled her work; she loads him with her blessings; she fills him
with the fruits of a well spent life; and, surrounded by his children and his
children’s children, she rocks him away to a grave, to which he is followed
with blessings. God forbid we should not call it beautiful! If old age were
only beautiful, it would be a power we could ill afford to lose. For all
beauty is akin to truth, and ALL TRUTH IS AKIN TO GOD; and so all
beauty is A SHADOW OF HIM, a message from Him, a help towards Him.
This sin-filled world wants:
Ø all the truth,
Ø all the love,
Ø all the beauty
it can get, in order to dispel:
Ø the darkness,
Ø the hate, and
Ø the ugliness of its evil.
We become as the things on which we look, and God keeps old men and
women among us in order that we may see, and feel, and be lifted higher
by their grace. The aged are kept among us because of the work they can do.
One thing — they can check our hurry. Young folk want everything at once.
The aged seem to say, “Quietly. One thing at a time. Good things are worth
waiting for.” And they are kept in order to link together the generations.
What a world it would be if the people came and went in complete
generations, and there was no blending of one with the other, so that
experience might tone ardor! And the aged among us witness for God.
They tell us of the God who “fed them all their life long; the God who
redeemed them from evil.” (Genesis 48:15-16)
SERVICE. He proves the riches of His grace in the conversion of old men
and old women. A marvel of grace, indeed, when all the long ten hours of
the day of life have been spent in the service of self, A saved old man is the
witness that God can “save unto the uttermost.” (Hebrews 7:25)
FOR BEGINNING A LIFE WORK. It is unsuitable for any beginnings.
The sun is in the wrong quarter of the heavens. “The night cometh when
no man can work.” (John 9:4) And the ability is low. The “eleventh hour”
s time to be weary, and go to the long rest. (Ecclesiastes 12:5)
The Social Difficulty of the Workless (v. 6)
Civilization works cruelly for some classes of society. It improves the
condition of the few; it multiplies the miseries of the many. One thing it
does — gathers great masses of people into the cities, where the demand
for workers must be limited, and the thousands must be “workless.”
Scatter the people over the land, and every man can find work which will
provide him with a simple living. Mass the people in a few centers, and, as
they cannot earn by work, all they can do is prey on one another, either in
the bad sense of criminality, or in the very doubtful sense of scheming to
take all advantage of philanthropy and charity.
Ø These include persons born into disability — blind, deaf and dumb, lame,
weak in intellect, etc. Of such it is only necessary to say that they are
society’s charge; and society is bound to provide for all who are
physically incapable of work. This is simple citizen duty, society
duty; it is the claim of the human brotherhood.
Ø These include persons who are able to work, but cannot find work to
do. They divide into:
o Skilled workmen, whose trade has become obsolete or has left the
o Unskilled workmen, laborers, only a limited number of whom can ever
be required in one district.
o Workmen whose trade is hopelessly overstocked, such as clerks, who
can do nothing but write and sum. These workless classes make the
problem of the day. Some would say that the
Christ must solve the problem. But it is not her mission; nor has she,
in any sense, capacity for so doing. It belongs to national government.
It is a society evil, with which society must deal. And in some way
the nation must find out how to turn the stream of population that
has long set strongly toward the great cities, and make it flow back
upon the land. Industrial centers provide the only hope for the
million jobless ones among us.
work, neither shall he eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) We might reasonably
desire that legislation should deal rigorously with all such. Every man who
can work and will not should lose his right of personal liberty, should be
treated as a lunatic, cared for by the state, and kept from all chance of
propagating his miserable species.
7 "They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto
them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that
shall ye receive." No man hath hired us. A poor excuse, because, had they
been at their post earlier, work would have been offered them. Go ye also into
the vineyard. The householder accepts the excuse, and, now that they are
desiring to labor, engages them as the others, promising to give them
what is fair. Their present willingness seems to compensate for their
previous tardiness. The clause, “whatsoever is right,” etc., is omitted by
some good manuscripts, the Vulgate, and other versions. Thus no mention
of reward is made to these — they were satisfied by being employed at all.
8 "So when even was come, the Lord of the vineyard saith unto his
steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from
the last unto the first." When even was come. According to Mosaic Law
(Deuteronomy 24:15), a hired laborer was to be paid his wages at
sunset, i.e. at the twelfth hour. Steward. The lord himself is said to have
hired the laborers, but he commits the payment of them to his steward, as
his representative, to whom such matters of detail were entrusted. From
the last. Those last hired were first to receive their hire (τὸν μισθόν - ton
misthon - the wages), that which it had been agreed to pay them, in one case
“a penny,” in the others “that which was just.” Why the last are rewarded
first is one of the difficulties of the parable. To say that this is done because
in their one hour’s work they did more than all the rest, is a solution which is
supported by nothing in the story itself. It should, in the primary interpretation,
rather be conceived as depending on the lord’s good pleasure.
9 "And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they
received every man a penny." They received every man a penny. The steward,
of course, was acting according to his master’s instructions (though nothing is
said of any previous orders on the subject) when he thus bounteously remunerated
those that had been hired at the eleventh hour. Some commentators have
endeavored to show that the “penny” allotted to each set differed greatly
in value; but this is an unwarrantable conjecture, and it is indispensable to
the purport of the parable that the wages should be alike to all.
10 "But when the first came, they supposed that they should have
received more; and they likewise received every man a penny."
The text varies between πλεῖον - pleion - (plus, Vulgate) and πλείονα -
pleiona - more - the former implying “a greater sum” than the stated hire,
the latter hinting indefinitely at “more” things, more in number. Seeing the
liberal payment given to the others, they expected some increase in the wages
offered to themselves, or an additional remuneration of some kind.
11 "And when they had received it, they murmured against the
goodman of the house They supposed that they should have received more."
They murmured. They complained aloud of the injustice to which, as they thought,
they were subjected. This is one of those traits in the parable which, whatever its
spiritual meaning may be, is most natural and life like.
12 "Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made
them equal unto us, which have born the burden and heat of the day."
These last have wrought but one hour; μίαν ὥραν ἐπσίησαν – mian horan
epsiaesan – one hour do - una hora fecerunt (Vulgate); have spent but one hour
(Revised Version). The verb ποιεῖν is used with nouns of time in the sense
of “spend,” “pass,” as in Ruth 2:19 (Septuagint); Acts 15:33, etc. They speak of
the late workers contemptuously (οὑτοι οἱ ἔσχατοι – houtoi hoi eschatoi – these,
the last ones; these fellows who are last) They do not allow that they labored —
they “made” one hour nominally. Equal unto us. Bengel notes, “Envy does not
demand more for itself, but wishes that others should have less.” Their
complaint is that others who have worked less are not docked of their
wages in due proportion. Burden and heat of the day; τό βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ
τὸν καύσωνα – to baros taes haemeras kai ton kausona - : the burden of the day
and the scorching heat (Revised Version). The latter word is used for the hot dry
wind which, blowing from the east, was fatal to vegetation and prejudicial to
human comfort, if not to life. The remonstrance of these men may be compared
with that of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29-30).
They show somewhat of the spirit of the apostles when they asked, “What shall we
have therefore?” (ch. 19:27).
13 "But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong:
didst not thou agree with me for a penny?" He answered one of them. The Lord
condescended to show, not to all the laborers, but to one of them — the ringleader
probably — the futility of the ground of his murmur. Christ often explains Himself
to His friends, while He refuses further elucidation to enemies and the hardened.
Friend (ἑταῖρε – hetaire - comrade). Not a term of affection, or special good will,
but one of indifference, addressed to an inferior. It was the word used to Judas
(ch. 26:50) when he came to betray his Lord, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?”
I do thee no wrong. The laborer had really nothing to complain of in strict justice;
he had received the full amount of the stipulated wages. But he very naturally felt
that he had not been fairly dealt with. He would say to himself, “If one hour’s
work, and that in the cool of the evening, is deemed worth a penny, surely a
whole day’s labor, in the full heat of the sun, ought to deserve a higher
remuneration.” The difficulty here must be felt by every one. Nor is the master’s
solution perfect; it would scarcely commend itself to the dissatisfied murmurer.
And doubtless it is not intended to be complete.
14 "Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as
unto thee." Take that thine is; thine own. Take your agreed wages, and
go; there is nothing more to be said. I will (θέλω δέ - thelo de – I am willing
yet) give; but it is my will to give. The lord defends his conduct on the ground
that such is his will and pleasure. By it he injures nobody, he benefits many; who
should presume to censure him?
15 "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye
evil, because I am good?" With mine own; ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς – en tois emois –
in the mine;in the case of what is mine own. These words are omitted by the
Vulgate, which has, Aut non licet mihi quod volo facere? Is thine eye evil?
The evil eye is here expressive of envy, as Proverbs 28:22. The Latin word
fortunam alterius.” For nimis Bentley conjectures limis, “with sidelong glances.”
The idea is the same, envy being indicated by the look of the eye. Good; generous.
Why should you view with disfavor my liberality? The master says no more; he
gives no further account of his determination.
Generosity May Go Beyond Agreement. (v. 15)
Business men are often misunderstood, because, while they are sometimes
nobly generous, they are also strict and precise in carrying out, and in
requiring to be carried out, all business engagements. A man does no
wrong to his fellow man who has made precise terms with him, if he deals
fairly with the man who has made no terms with him. In this case the sum
agreed was one penny for a day’s labor, and because the half-day man
received a penny, the whole-day man set up a claim to more than a penny.
the principle that every man is absolutely free to buy or to sell. There is the
open market for goods, and there is the open market for physical power,
and the open market for cultured skill. There should be no sort of
restrictions on free purchase and sale. Combinations to raise prices are
perilous, whether they belong to capitalist or workman, to buyer or seller.
They are, at the best, necessities of over civilization, which has disturbed
all natural relations. The man who has money to put to use has precisely as
great a right to make the best terms he can as the workman who has a
cunning right hand to sell. If social relations were more simple and natural,
it would be possible for the man with money, the man with brains, and the
man with hands, to meet and negotiate their conditions of mutual service,
making fair and honorable terms for each. All combinations are unhealthy
interferences with the markets that should be absolutely open and free to
he may accept less work for his money from some. If a man pleases, he
may pay for his work more than he agreed. If a man pleases, he may pay
for doing nothing. But no man has any claim upon his brother’s generosity.
It ceases to be generosity if he has claim upon it. This needs to be
vigorously asserted in our day, because a confused notion is growing up
that the poor have claims on a distribution of the money of the rich. (This
penned over 200 years agod – CY – 2017) A man has a right to be generous,
and an equal right to be ungenerous. He is only noble and Christlike as he
uses well his right to be generous.
16 "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but
few chosen." So the last, etc. The parable concludes with the saying with
which it began (ch. 19:30), but with some inversion in the order
of the words. There it was, “Many first shall be last; and last first;” here it
is, The last shall be first, and the first last. The circumstances of the
parable necessitate this change. The last called were first paid, and were
equal to the first in recompense; the first were behind the others in time of
payment, and in the spirit with which they received their wages; they were
also treated with less generosity than the others. For many be
called…chosen (ch. 22:14). This clause is omitted by א, B, and
other manuscripts; but it has good authority, and is most probably genuine.
It is added in explanation or justification of the preceding statement. From
not seeing its applicability, and regarding it as opposing the intention of the
parable, some transcribers and some editors have expunged it from the
text. But it would seem that Christ takes occasion from the particular case
in the parable to make a general statement, that not all who are called
would receive reward; because many would not answer the call, or would
nullify it by their conduct; not, as Theophylact says, that salvation is
limited, but men’s efforts to obtain it are feeble or negative. In other
words, many outwardly
members of the
and shall not share in, its spiritual blessings. Chosen. Many, that is virtually
all, are chosen; but there is an election within the election, and they only
who are of this inner circle shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
The interpretation of the parable. — As in all parables, so here, we are to
regard the general scope, and not lay too much stress on details, which
often, while adding to the vividness of the picture, contribute nothing to its
spiritual side. The explanation of this difficult parable has greatly exercised
the minds of commentators in all ages of the Church, and various have
been the views with which its bearing has been regarded. We may,
however, select two expositions which seem to embody most of the
suggestions advanced, and are in themselves most reasonable.
soul at different ages of life. Thus the householder is God, the marketplace
the world, the vineyard the visible Church, the laborers are men who have
to do their work therein, the steward is Christ, who superintends and
rewards the faithful workers. The hours of the day represent the various
periods of men’s life at which they hear and answer God’s call to a closer
walk with Him, when, as modern theology terms it, they are converted.
Some, at the first hour, from their very infancy, live a pure and holy life;
some at the third hour, in early youth, begin to serve God effectually;
others at midday, in full maturity; others at the ninth hour, when old age is
creeping on them; and lastly others obey the call only at the eleventh hour,
at the very approach of death. And all who have labored at all, without
regard to the length of service, receive the “penny,” i.e. not some indefinite
temporal benefit, but eternal life, which in a general sense (without
considering the difference of degrees which shall exist) is the same for all.
The apparent unfairness of this recompense, if we take a merely human
view of the transaction, is obvious. They who have lived a life of holiness,
and they who have given to God only the dregs of their ill-spent days,
receive the same salvation. The difficulty is removed in two ways. We may
say that the capacity for receiving and enjoying the reward depends on the
recipient, and that what to one would be infinite bliss and satisfaction, to
another would offer far inferior enjoyment. Or we may take refuge in the
mysteriousness of God’s arrangements, and hold that the considerations in
accordance with which God apportions His rewards are known only to Him,
and are truly, and are intended to be, BEYOND HUMAN UNDERSTANDING!
Further, if the hours represent the stages of human life at which Christians
are called, surely, to make the parable concinnous, they ought to be the
same persons who are invited on each occasion, not different ones. We
should be told, not that the householder found others wanting work, and
sent all thus found into the vineyard; but that some of those called at the
various hours refused the work and scoffed at his offer, while others after a
time accepted it, and at the approach of the night all the idle remnant
consented to labor, thankful at last to win wages for little trouble. But the
parable says nothing of all this, and would need much alteration to make it
speak so. There is another difficulty which has to be met, if the above
interpretation is adopted. How are we to explain the murmuring of the
discontented laborers? There can be no envy and displeasure in heaven. It
is not conceivable that any who have obtained the gift of eternal life should
be dissatisfied with their reward or jealous of others. This is not a mere
accessory which is outside the spirit of the story, and adds no item to its
mystical signification; it is really the leading feature, and the householder’s
own interference and reproof are based entirely on this behavior of the
first called. If the “penny” signifies eternal life, and the laborers are all the
called, there is no satisfactory explanation of this part of the parable. The
murmur is heard after the reception of the reward, and is censured
accordingly; these things could not be found in the Church triumphant;
none can murmur there; if they did feel envy and discontent, they would
not be worthy of a place in the kingdom.
importance to this detail of the parable. The only one that does this is that which
gives a national, not simply an individual, bearing to the story. According to this
exposition, it applies to the calling of the Jews and the Gentiles, though there are
still particulars which do not entirely or without some violence suit the
application. The “penny” which all receive is the favor of God, the
privileges that crown and reward the members of His kingdom. God’s
ancient people were first called to work in His vineyard. The various hours
of the day cannot be accurately explained. Many interpreters follow St.
Gregory in defining the first hour as extending from Adam to Noah, the
third from Noah to Abraham, the sixth from Abraham to Moses, the ninth
from Moses to the coming of Christ, the eleventh from the coming of
Christ to the end of the world. During all the day, up to the eleventh hour,
the call was confined to the Jews and their progenitors; in the eleventh
hour the Gentiles are called, and, accepting the call, receive the same
privileges as the Jews. It is better to forego any attempt to interpret the
various hours and the various sets of laborers definitely, except to observe
that the first called, with whom a covenant was made, plainly represent the
Jews, the people called under the covenant of works, who were to be
rewarded according to their service; the other workers are not paid
stipulated wages; they receive (“I will give”) reward of free grace in
accordance with God’s inscrutable appointment. That the Jews murmured
admission of the Gentiles to the
favor, we are taught in many places. The discontent of the elder brother in
the parable of the prodigal son is a case in point. So in Acts 13:45-46; 28:28 -
the Jews are filled with envy that the Word should be spoken to and
accepted by heathens, and Paul (I Thessalonians 2:16) complains
that the Jews forbade him and his fellow apostles “to speak to the Gentiles,
that they might be saved.” Our Lord looks forward to and prepares His
disciples for this envious and ungenerous behavior, as He continually
teaches that THE GOSPEL IS FOR ALL MEN EVERYWHERE, confined
to no people or country, but free as the air of heaven or the light of the all-
fostering sun. These Gentiles are the last in time, but by their willing service
and obedience in the faith are made first; while God’s ancient people, once the
first, become by their jealousy and hatred of others the last. “There (ἐκεῖ - ekei –
there) shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and
Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you
yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the
west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the
relation of the peculiar people to the rest of the world was thus foretold
and prepared for. And the lesson ends with the mournful fact, read by the
eye of the Omniscient, that though virtually all the Jews were called, yet
but a small remnant will accept the gospel — the elect of grace, a little
flock. By this parable, regarded in its primary application as a reply to
Peter’s question (ch. 19:27), “What shall we have therefore?” the
apostles are warned that they are not to expect as their due something
supereminent over those called later than themselves; that the reward is not
of merit, but of free grace. This last thought pervades the whole similitude,
and must be borne carefully in mind, whether we take the individual, or the
national, or any other mixed interpretation.
Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (vs. 1-16)
Ø The connection. The parable is very closely connected with the last four
verses of ch. 19. It is plainly intended to illustrate our Lord’s saying in
ch. 19:30, “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be
first.” Peter’s question in v. 27 contained an element of error. The
Lord had promised a great reward to His faithful servants, and He would
give it. It was their due, in a sense; but not as a debt, not as of merit (“the
gift of God is eternal life”), but only of promise, because God, in the free
bounty of His sovereign grace, has given unto us “exceeding great and
precious promises.” (II Peter 1:4) God will remember His holy promise;
He is faithful. But His people must understand that the rewards of His
kingdom are His to give — to give according to His own will. His will is
not arbitrary; it is holy and just and good. He cannot deny Himself
(II Timothy 2:13); the determinations of His will must always be in
accordance with His own infinite goodness, love, wisdom, justice. His people
must learn to say as Jesus, “Thy will be done.” They must trust
absolutely and wholly in His love and bounty. They must not prescribe their
own reward. They must not venture to estimate it upon the basis of so
much reward for so much work. They must not make jealous comparisons
of themselves with others. Each Christian man must do his duty, not
grudgingly, nor of necessity, BUT OUT OF LOVE, in simple trustfulness.
GOD IS FAITHFUL!
Ø The first hiring. The householder went out early in the morning to hire
laborers into his vineyard. The Householder is God; the vineyard is His
kingdom; the laborers are men called by Him to do His work. The parable
was addressed to the apostles, and was part of the answer to Peter’s
question; so it would seem that, in the first and strictest meaning, the
laborers first called must be the apostles themselves. The householder
went out early in the morning; the Lord came forth from heaven; it was to
hire laborers, to send forth men to carry on the great work which He
Himself began. He agreed with them for a penny a day. The penny must
mean the prize of the high calling — that treasure in heaven which the
Lord had offered to the young ruler, that eternal life which He promised to
all who deny themselves for His Name’s sake. The laborers hired later in
the day must, on this theory, be the holy men (such as Stephen, Paul, and
others) who were called to the work after the twelve, but still in
the apostolic times. Those called at the eleventh hour will be Gentile
Christians called later yet to the work, such as the fellow laborers of
Paul. The context seems to suggest this explanation as the first and most
obvious meaning of the parable. But it may be fairly understood also of the
Jews, God’s ancient people, who were first called into covenant with God;
and of the Gentiles, called in the last times into a covenant of grace. And,
again, the parable illustrates in a touching and striking manner the dealings
of God with individual souls; some are called in childhood like Samuel,
some in middle life, some in advanced age. They differ indefinitely from
one another in early training, in talents, in opportunities. But all have their
appointed work; all have the like blessed hope to cheer them on in their
daily task. Each must do his best according to his powers, according to the
time allowed him. All must trust in God. He is gracious and merciful, just
and large in his generous bounty. But He is sovereign in the exercise of His
goodness. None may presume to murmur; envies and jealousies are
excluded from the kingdom of heaven. The last shall be first. Paul, the
last of all, the least of the apostles in his own sight, labored more
abundantly than they all. “Yet not I,” he says, “but the grace of God which
was with me.” (I Corinthians 15:10) That is the true Christian temper, which
ascribes all its energy and all its labors to the assisting grace of God, which
never murmurs, which gladly recognizes the goodness, the work of others,
which rejoices with them that do rejoice, in the successes of others, in the
praises, the honors, the rewards bestowed upon them.
Ø The intermediate hirings. Again the householder went out when nearly a
quarter of the working day was gone; there were others standing idle in the
marketplace; he bade them go and work in his vineyard. He made no
definite agreement with them, as he had done with the first hired laborers;
they were satisfied with his promise to give whatever was right, and they
went their way. Again at noon, and again when only a quarter of the
working hours remained, he did the like. All went, none refused; none tried
to bargain with the householder; none asked, “What shall we have
therefore?” We must not stand idle when God calls us to work for Him. We
must go at once whenever we hear that gracious call, whether it be early or
late, whatever be our circumstances and employments; all other work is but
idleness in His sight, compared with the great work, the work which God
has given us to do. We must trust Him implicitly. We have the blessed word
of Holy Scripture, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be
saved.” (Acts 16:31) It is enough for us.
Ø The last hiring. The day was now nearly ended; only one hour remained.
For the last time the householder went into the marketplace. God, in His
long suffering mercy, calls us again and again, at different periods of our
lives, in different ways. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that
all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) The marketplace is the world;
it is a bustling, noisy scene; yet, alas! many stand there all the day idle. Their
idleness may be laborious idleness. There was one who said on his death
bed, “Heu! vitam perdidi laboriose nihil agendo.” Their life may be restless,
eager in the pursuit of pleasure or riches, filled every hour with this or that
engagement, this or that amusement. Yet, if the great end of life be
neglected, all is but a laborious doing nothing; for nothing real is gained.
“Man walketh in a vain shadow,” if he is not working for God; this life,
with all its varied occupations, is no better than idle play’, if it has no
conscious relation to the life beyond the grave. Men think that they are
working hard when, in the eye of God, they are standing idle all the day,
for they are not working out their own salvation, the only work that is real,
earnest, abiding. God doth not leave such idlers to perish. He calls them
again and again, by His Word, by His ministers, by His providence. He
calls then at the eleventh hour, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?”
“The night cometh, wherein no man can work” (John 9:4), and the work
to be done before nightfall is of momentous importance. They that then stood
idle gave a reason for their idleness, “Because no man hath hired us.” The
excuse was true in the mouth of those Gentile fellow laborers who were
gathered into the Church late in the apostolic times. God “in times past,” said
Paul (Acts 14:16), “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (compare
also Acts 17:30 and Romans 11.). They had not been called into the
Church, the kingdom of heaven. It can be true only in a very partial sense
of Christians now. Men do not heed the call; the loud noise and bustle of
the world drown the still small voice of the blessed Spirit. Their deafness is
willful; the voice comes again and again; they will not listen, and it becomes
fainter and less distinct. Sometimes it is unheeded to the end; sometimes at
last it swells into a trumpet note, and rouses the thoughtless to repentance.
Yet, alas! even in Christian countries there are many, brought up among
evil surroundings, in all the misery of godless training and wicked
examples, without instruction, without the means of grace; of whom (it
sometimes seems to us, when we face sadly and helplessly these perplexing
problems of life) those words may still be said, “No man hath hired us.”
But God, we know, is not willing that any should perish; we may not doubt
but that in some way His voice makes itself heard even to such as these, if
not earlier, yet at the eleventh hour, as life is drawing near to its close. “Go
ye also into the vineyard,” the householder, said, though so short a time for
work was left. No stipulation was made; perhaps, in this case, the reward
was not even mentioned; the promise of giving whatsoever was right is
omitted here in some of the most ancient manuscripts, which the Revised
Version follows. The men trusted the householder implicitly; they went
even at that late hour into the vineyard. There was yet work to be done;
and, if there was work, there was hope. They went, they worked; and, we
shall find, their trust was not in vain.
Ø The reward. When even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his
steward, “Call the laborers, and give them their hire.” Christ Himself is the
Steward, as a Son over His own house (Hebrews 3:6). All power is
given unto Him; it is He who will say to the redeemed, “Come, ye blessed of
my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world.” (ch. 25:34) The steward called thelaborers; he began, as his lord
had bidden him, with the last hired. They had wrought but one hour, and that
without any definite agreement. They knew not what to expect; they had done
their best, it seems; but the time was short, very short. What could they look
for? They came in doubt and anxiety. But they received every man a penny —
the full day’s wages. They were, we may be sure, full of joy and gratitude; it
was far more than they had expected. They had not earned it, they knew;
it was of grace, a free gift, a proof of the generous bounty of the lord of the
vineyard. The rewards of heaven are not calculated by the methods of earth.
Men called late into Christ’s service might rank with the first chosen twelve.
Paul the persecutor would sit on one of the twelve thrones; Judas the apostle
would forfeit his place in the apostolic hierarchy. Gentiles would be called into
the kingdom on an equal footing with God’s ancient people. Throughout the
history of the Church it would happen again and again that men called late
in life, sometimes on the very bed of death, would receive the full reward.
Work is not always measured by time; life itself is not measured by time. A
short life has sometimes far more of real living, more of deep spiritual
energy, and even sometimes of outward work, than a very long life spent
without earnest purpose (“He being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a
long time,” Wisdom of Solomon 4:13). We may well believe that in the
dying hours of the penitent thief there was concentrated a depth of repentance,
an intensity of love, an energy of victorious faith, which He marked and
rewarded who measures life, not by time, not by outward work, but by faith
and love. The laborers were called in order from the last unto the first. All
received the like reward — the penny, covenanted to the first called, given,
it seems, without covenant to those sent later into the vineyard. The parable
contemplates a portion only of God’s dealings with mankind; its point of
view does not extend to the disobedient, mentioned elsewhere, who went
not to the vineyard. Here all the laborers had worked, and all received
their hire. But that reward, though in itself the same, varies according to
the spiritual capacity of the receiver. Eternal life is promised to all the
blessed; GOD HIMSELF IS THEIR PORTION! Yet we read of ten cities
and of five (Luke 19:17, 19). There will be first and last, greatest and least in
from another star in glory. (I Corinthians 15:42) All the blessed will, by the
grace of God, be admitted into the exceeding great rapture of the beatific vision.
That vision of love and glory will fill every heart with unutterable gladness; the
saints will be changed into the same image from glory to glory, drawn ever
nearer, received into an ever-closer nearness, an ever-deepening
blessedness, increasing in proportion to the powers, the love, the fervor,
the devotion of each glorified spirit. All will receive the blessed promise,
eternal life; the realization of that promise will depend in some measure on
the capacities of the receiver. All will be blessed. Holy Scripture seems to
teach that there will be degrees of blessedness in heaven, as there are
degrees of holiness on earth.
Ø The murmurs. The first-hired laborers had borne the burden and heat of
the day; they now received the covenanted reward. It was their just due
according to the original agreement. But they murmured, not because they
had received too little, but because others, as they thought, had received
too much. These last had wrought but one hour, and yet the good man of
the house had made them equal to those who had worked from morning
until evening. The Jews showed this narrow spirit of unworthy jealousy
towards the Gentiles; we see it throughout the New Testament. It was this
that caused the
rejection of our Lord at
was this that excited the fierce wrath of the Jews against Paul (Acts
22:21-22). They were God’s chosen people; the adoption was theirs, and
the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of
God, and the promises (Romans 9:4). They could not endure the
thought that the despised Gentiles were to be admitted to an equality of
privileges. Peter had just showed something of this spirit in his
question, “Behold, we have left all, and followed thee; what shall we have
therefore?” The primary intention of the parable was, it seems, to teach him
and his brother apostles that the rewards of God’s kingdom are not of
debt, BUT OF GRACE; and to rebuke that desire of pre-eminence, those
jealousies and rivalries, which we meet with so often in the history of the
apostles, and, alas! in the whole history of the Church. There must be no
meek and lowly in heart” the great grace of humility; we must all learn “in
lowliness of mind to esteem others better than ourselves.” (Philippians 2:9)
We must learn this great lesson now; for murmurers have no place in the
kingdom of glory. Heaven is the home of love; no jarring notes of envy or
discontent may disturb its Divine harmonies. It is the home of blessedness;
there can be no complaints in heaven; for, if there are degrees of blessedness,
yet each redeemed soul is blessed to the full extent of its capacities, and is
disturbed by no unsatisfied longings. Then if we apply the parable to the
circumstances of individual Christians, and understand the penny as
meaning the unspeakable gift — Christ now, eternal life hereafter — we
must regard this portion as belonging to the scenery, so to speak, of the
parable, to its setting, as conveying a warning of what might happen on
earth, not a prophecy of what will happen hereafter. On earth the
murmurers receive the penny; they have worked for it. There is no
intimation in the parable that they worked less strenuously than those
called later; it would not be just to withhold it, though they marred their
industry by their envy and ill temper. In the world to come such men would
lose their reward; in this world they knew not how to value it. The reward
offered was the gift of Christ, Christ Himself (compare what God said to
Abram – Genesis 15:1), Christ present to His people’s hearts; but, alas!
though they seemed to begin well, they envied others who afterwards
outstripped them in the Christian race; and that envy of the progress, of the
successes, of the rewards of others marred their own religious service,
destroyed the value of their work, poisoned and killed out of their hearts
the holy life of faith and love. To such heaven would be no heaven if they
were allowed to enter there, for to the unloving there can be no joy in the
love of heaven. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
(I John 4:8)
Ø The reply of the householder. “Friend,” he said. The Greek word is not
one which implies affection or friendship, but only knowledge and
companionship; it is used by the king in the parable to the man who had not
on a wedding garment, and by our Lord in addressing Judas at
to the agreement; he had no right to more. The apostles would receive the
promised reward; but they ought not to seek great things for themselves;
they ought not to desire pre-eminence; they ought to trust the bounty and
the justice of God. They ought not to boast of what they had done; they
ought not to say, “Behold, we have left all, and followed thee;” but rather,
as Paul said afterwards, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded
that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against
that day.” (II Timothy 1:12) Implicit faith in God’s justice and love is the
proper attitude of the Christian soul. His will is sovereign; He distributeth
to every man severally as He will; but it is not arbitrary; it is holy and just
and good. He knows, as none else can know, all the circumstances, all the
surroundings, all the temptations, all the advantages and disadvantages,
which must be taken into consideration in any accurate estimate of
character. Without this knowledge it is impossible to weigh one man
against another, or to balance the relative preponderance of good or evil in
each. We cannot have this knowledge. God has it; we must trust His ruling.
We must not dare to complain if others, whom we regarded as our
inferiors, are put above us or on an equality with us. God has His reasons;
He doeth all things well. Perhaps the householder in the parable knew that
any addition to the stipulated reward was not deserved; perhaps he knew
that it would be misused, that it would in some way do harm rather than
good. God, who knows all things, certainly acts always for the best. The
Lord is loving unto every man. He maketh all things work together for
good to them that love Him. (Romans 8:28) This is enough for us to know.
We must learn the blessed grace of humility, the holy lesson of contentment.
Murmuring there must not be; it shows at once the unworthiness of the
murmurers. Envy is an evil thing; it comes from the evil one; it has no
place in the kingdom of heaven, for the law of that kingdom is love.
Ø The conclusion. The Lord sums up the parable in the words which He
had used before (ch. 19:30). The parable was intended to
illustrate their meaning. He now repeats them, “So the last shall be first,
and the first last.” He does not mean that it will be so in all cases; but that
the fact of being first called, or first in other senses, first in station, first in
the esteem of men, or even first in outward works, will not necessarily save
a man from being last at the end. “Many that are first shall be last.” The
first hired in the parable were last in several respects. They received their
reward last; that reward was least in proportion to the time of service; and
they were last in good feeling. All the rest were contented; they only were
dissatisfied and ungrateful. Then the first places in the kingdom are for
those who are first in humility, first in self-abasement, who are willing to be
last of all and the servants of all; who recognize their own sinfulness, their
unworthiness of the least of God’s mercies; who, far from putting forward
a claim to pre-eminence, are content to take the lowest place. Such men
may seem last in the eyes of men; they may have been called late in life;
they may be very inferior to others in showy qualities; but they are first
now in the sight of God; they will be first one day in the sight of men and
angels. If the last clause of v. 16 is genuine in this place, it cannot be
taken in the same sense as in ch. 22:14. There the guest who had
not on a wedding garment was called indeed to the marriage, but not
chosen unto life eternal; he was cast into outer darkness. Here all receive
the reward; but few are chosen out, as pre-eminent in holiness, for the
highest places in God’s kingdom, to sit on the right and left of the King, or
to occupy the
twelve thrones of the rulers of the spiritual
these highest distinctions to whom He will, to the lowliest and the most
self-denying. But there is no room for ambition in the kingdom of heaven;
all the faithful must be content, all will be content with the place assigned
to them, for the very lowest place there is a prize unspeakably glorious,
blessed above all that we can ask or think. (Ephesians 320)
Ø God’s rewards are of grace, not of debt.
Ø Christians must be humble and thankful, not jealous of others.
Ø The very lowest place in God’s kingdom is far higher than the best of us
Ø We must obey the calling of God. He has work for every one of us; let
us earnestly try to do it.
Ø Let us not despair if we are called at the eleventh hour. Only let us do
our best. The last may be first.
The Laborers in the Vineyard (vs. 1-16)
This parable is one from which we are liable to draw some erroneous
inferences unless we mentally hold it in strict connection with the
circumstances in which it was originally spoken. When the rich young man
turned away sorrowful, our Lord, sympathizing with the severity of his
temptation, said, “Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter
into the kingdom of heaven.” Peter, seeing that he thus appreciated the
difficulty of giving up property and detaching one’s self from the world,
suggests that those who overcome that difficulty are peculiarly meritorious.
“Behold,” he says, “we have left all, and followed thee; what shall we have
therefore?” But in so speaking, Peter revealed precisely that disposition
which most thoroughly vitiates all service for Christ — the disposition to
bargain, to work for a clearly defined reward, and not for the sake of the
work itself, and in generous faith in the justice and liberality of the Master.
Read in this light, it is obvious that the parable directs attention to the fact
that, in estimating the value of work, we must take into consideration, not
only the time we have spent upon it or the amount we have got through,
but the motive that has entered into it. An hour of trustful, loving service is
of greater value to God than a lifetime of calculating industry and self-
deceiving zeal. While men are applauding the great workers who
ostentatiously wipe the sweat from their brows and pant so that you can
hear them across the whole field, God is regarding an unnoticed worker,
who feels he is doing little, who is ashamed that any one should see his
work, who regrets he can do no more, who could not name a coin small
enough to reward him, but who is perfectly well assured that the Master he
serves is well worth serving. It is thus that the last becomes first, and the
first last. That we are meant to see this difference of spirit in the workers is
obvious from the terms of their engagement. Those hired early in the day
agree to work for the penny. At four or five in the morning no man in the
market engages without making his own terms, and striking hands with his
hirer as his equal. If he thinks one master’s pay too little, he waits for a
better offer; he is not going to work all day to oblige a neighboring
proprietor, but to make a good wage for himself. But in the evening the
tables are turned — the masters have it all their own way. Possibly these
men were the proudest in the morning, and missed their chance; but now
pride gives place to hunger and anxious thoughts of the coming night. In
no condition to bargain, they go, glad to get work on any terms, not
knowing what they are to get, but trusting and grateful; the others went
proud, self-confident, mercenary. This prepares us for the striking scene
which ensued at the close of the day. Those who had barely got their work
begun were first paid, and were paid a full day’s wage. There must, of
course, have been a reason for this; it was not mere caprice, but was the
result and expression of some just law. It could not be that these late-hired
laborers had done as much in their one hour as the others in twelve; for
the others are conscious of having done their work well. We are thrown
back, therefore, for the explanation on the hint given in the hiring, namely,
that the men who bargained are paid according to their bargain; while the
men who trusted got far more than they could have dared to bargain for.
The principle is more easily understood, because we ourselves so
commonly act upon it. It is work done with some human feeling in it that
you delight in; that of the man who works not for you, but for his wage, is
the work of a hireling, with whom you are quits when you pay him what he
contracted to receive. Our Lord does not affirm, however, that all the last
shall be first, and the first last, but only that many shall exemplify this
reversal. “Many are called, but few chosen.”
ESTEEM ARE LAST IN GOD’S RECKONING. We see plainly enough
that many who are most diligent in the Lord’s vineyard have a
complacency, a consciousness that they are the good workers, which does
not at all resemble the humble, trustful, self-ignoring spirit of these late-hired
laborers. Perhaps they have once in their life made a great sacrifice
as Peter had done, or perhaps they have quickly apprehended the duty
peculiar to their own generation, whether it be caring for the sick, aiding
the poor, or carrying the gospel to the masses, or subscribing liberally to
Church objects. Or perhaps they do the work, not for the sake of the
vineyard, but for their own sake — either that they may advance their own
spiritual state, or win a good reputation, or maintain in their own minds the
impression that they are indubitably good labourers. Now, if you deduct all
who are working in one or other of these ways, you will come to the
conclusion that “many are called, but few chosen;” many working hard,
spending and being spent, and yet withal few choice workers, few who
appeal to the Lord’s heart and draw out His affectionate response by their
lowly, unexpectant service.
Some at least of the best-known workers in the vineyard, some who
entered it early, and never left it, for an hour, some who scarcely once
straightened their backs from toil and dropped asleep as they came to the
end of their task, knowing nothing but God’s work their whole life
through, have also wrought in no bargaining spirit, but passed as humble a
judgment on their work as the least of their fellow laborers on theirs.
who do little do it well; not all who enter the vineyard late enter it
humbled. Mercenariness is not confined to those who have some small
excuse for it. Late entrance into the vineyard is to be on every account
deprecated, and receives no encouragement from this parable rightly read.
Do not think of the work of Christ as a mere extra, which can at any
convenient time be added to your other work. It covers the whole of our
life. All outside His vineyard is idleness. This parable may be viewed as
the great Physician’s prescription for envy in whatever sphere it is manifested,
and may be applied in two ways.
Ø Every man of us has as much at least as he deserves. Were God to say,
“Take that thine is,” in the strictness of just and exact retribution, which of
us would willingly stand upon our right?
Ø The second is found in these words, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I
will with mine own?” You are none the less because another is greater.
You are what God sees best to make you, and what the other is he is of
God’s goodness. It is at God’s expense, not at yours, that any man is
blessed. But the teaching special to this parable is that our Lord measures
our work, not solely by the amount done, nor by the skill we show in doing
it, but by the spirit we are of in the doing of it. Many of us are called. Many
of us are in the vineyard, and have long been so. In what spirit have we
The Laborers in the Vineyard (vs. 1-16)
This parable is closely connected with our Lord’s remarks in describing the
rewards of the kingdom, and it may have been intended to convey a mild
rebuke, or at least a gentle warning, to Peter, who had asked, “What
then shall we have?” The apostles are to receive great rewards. But those
who, like Peter, were called first, are not to assume that they will have
any more than those who came in later.
to be done in winning the world for Christ, and in training the Church that
its fruit may be brought forth in abundance. For this work our Lord
requires laborers. His servants are not to be satisfied with receiving His
grace. That grace is given for the express purpose of its being used in His
service. Christ calls us that we may serve Him.
“penny” was evidently the regular wages of the ordinary day laborer.
Although Christ might exact service on royal authority, He does not put
forth this authority. He accepts each laborer on the man’s free consent, and
He offers him all that he could ask for. We talk of the sacrifice and toils of a
Christian life. We should be honest to reckon up its gains on the other side.
Church did not start fully equipped. By degrees the requisite forces have
been drawn into the service of the kingdom. Those late hired may represent
Ø The later called apostles. Peter will not have pre-eminence because
he was called earlier than Jude. When Paul came his case would be
obviously met here. And yet the parallel is not exact, because the later
apostles did not have a shorter season of work.
Ø The Gentiles. These were called later than the Jews; but they were not
assigned an inferior place in the kingdom.
Ø The heathen. Even today; at the eleventh hour, some nations are being
Ø The aged. One who did not receive the gospel in youth will not
necessarily be lower than one who had the privilege of knowing it in
his early days.
have a description of an equality of payment. Elsewhere there is an idea of
diversity, e.g. Luke 19:24-26. Each representation has its own lesson.
In the case before us we learn that the final division may not be at all
according to our expectation. The obscure may be on a level with the
eminent — the Gentiles with the
Jews, the new mission Churches of
HAS ACTED JUSTLY. The payment looked unfair. But no one could
complain, because every one had what he had agreed to take, and because
no one had less than fair wages. Beyond this the householder was free to
be as generous as he pleased in the disposal of his own property. Still, one
can quite understand the dissatistaction. People are hurt when generosity
does not seem to be equal and fair. It should be noted, however, that the
later comers had excused themselves on the plea that no man had hired
them. Possibly they were as willing to work all day as those who had
done so. Now, Christ judges by the heart and the intentions.
The Astonishment of Precedence (vs. 1-16)
The text of this parable is found in the last verse of the preceding chapter.
The words are repeated as the conclusion of its argument (v. 16). Hence
the critics say the last verse of ch. 19 ought to have been the first of ch. 20.
Yet the last verse of ch. 19 is evidently connected with Christ’s discourse
upon the case of the ruler (compare Mark 10:31). Note :
Ø The Jews were the people of ancient privilege.
o Theirs was the “adoption.” Nationally they were separated from all
the peoples of the earth, and adopted by God as His peculiar treasure.
o Theirs was the “glory.” In the pillar of cloud. In the cherubim.
o Theirs were the “covenants.” The first from Sinai — the Law. The
Theirs was the “service of God.” For ages “
where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20) Levitical rites were
instituted and sanctioned against all Gentile abominations.
o Theirs were the “promises,” viz. on which the covenants were
established. They were given to the fathers, and renewed and
amplified by the ministry of the prophets. By these God, “rising up
early,” went into the marketplace to hire labourers for His vineyard
(compare Jeremiah 7:25). As the day of their visitation wore on, the
prophets invited the people at the third, sixth, and ninth hours.
o Theirs were the “fathers.” They were sprung from Abraham and
Isaac and Jacob. They were “beloved for the fathers’ sakes.”
o Theirs was “Christ, as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God
blessed forever” (Romans 9:4-5).
Ø Their presumption upon their precedence was rebuked
o They believed themselves by it secured against rejection. They
overlooked the conditions of their promises. They missed the lessons
of their history. They filled up the measure of their iniquity in
§ In His Person.
§ In His gospel offer of salvation.
Then Christ rejected them. Their place and nation were taken away
by the Romans; and they have ever since suffered in captivity.
(“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ........how often would I have
gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” – ch. 23:37)
o That the Gentiles should become “fellow heirs” with them so as to
leave no difference (compare Acts 15:1, 9; Ephesians 3:3-6), was a
mystery they would not comprehend. Their anger at the mercy of God
to the Gentiles is expressed in the murmuring and evil eye (see
Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 23:6; Mark 7:22) of the laborers
first called, against the lord of the vineyard, for his goodness to those
called at the eleventh hour. Note: The laborers first called bargained
(v. 13) for hire in the spirit of the Law; and the murmur was in keeping
with the spirit of the bargain. Those afterwards called worked in faith
and love, viz. in the spirit of the gospel (compare Romans 4:4-5).
God is now taking out of all nations “a people for His Name.”
but since the
in the Gentile Churches afterwards founded.
o Amongst the Gentile nations there is one destined in the order of
providence to stand out in contrast to the rejected Jewish nation
(see ch. 21:43). Can
Ø Consider the lessons of the marketplace.
o All sinners are “idle,” or do nothing to purpose, before God calls them
to work in His vineyard. Those who desire to labor in His cause should
be found in the marketplace where the Master seeks His laborers — in
the appointed means of grace. God does not commonly find His
laborers in the slums of the city. Another master finds his willing
slaves in the walks of wickedness (see Joshua 24:15).
o Some are called in the morning of their days, as the Baptist and
Timothy (see Luke 1:15; II Timothy 3:15). Some in the meridian of
life. Nicodemus may be born again when he is old.
o Let not the sinner plead to his distraction the mercy of the “eleventh
hour.” Can the pleader say, with the men in the parable, “No man
hath hired us”? The thief on the cross was a singular and
extraordinary example, and may be in his conversion accounted
with the miracle of the rending rocks and opening graves.
Ø Consider the lessons of the vineyard.
o There is work in the Church for every qualified laborer. All are
qualified by accepting the Householder’s conditions.
o The work is pleasant. (ch. 11:28-30) We are called into the vineyard
of the Church to weed and dress, to plant and water, to fence and train.
The training of living growths is not dull work. The production and
maturing of immortal fruits for the service and glory of a gracious
Master is inspiring service.
o The time for vineyard work is short. One day, at most, to be followed
by the “night in which no man can work.” (John 9:4) The eleventh
hour of life may be earlier or later. It was early to Thomas Spencer,
Henry Martyn, Kirk White, Robert McCheyne.
o Every laborer has his hire.
Ø Consider the lessons of the reckoning.
o God gives to every one his right under the agreement he has made
with Him (see Romans 3:5-6). The heavenly reward will be given to
all who seek it in God’s way, without reference to time or accidents.
Further than this we must not insist upon the equality of wages
(see Luke 19:12; I Corinthians 3:8).
o God exercises a free and sovereign grace beyond His engagements of
promise. It would be sad for the best of us were He to limit us to our
merits. Then the highest creature must go away into nothing; the
wicked into misery.
o The goodness of God will astonish some who have come in late to
find themselves preferred before others who have labored long.
Some who followed Christ when first He preached afterwards
became offended and walked no more with him. Paul was as one
chosen out of due time, yet he came not behind the chiefest of the
apostles, and took the throne forfeited by Iscariot.
o Many who occupy the first rank here for culture, standing, and
influence, will there be last. Galilaeans, in these respects inferior to
the scribes and priests, were chosen to be the inspired teachers of
the gospel. The lowest will in many cases be preferred to the
self-righteous Pharisee (see ch. 8:11-12; 21:31-32; Luke 7:29-30;
13:28-30). The disciples evidently thought the advantages of the rich
in favor of salvation were such that if they should fail, there could be
little hope for the poor; but were “astonished exceedingly” to hear
the teaching of Christ (see ch. 19:23-26). John Newton said, “When
I get to heaven I shall see three wonders:
§ The first will be to see many persons there whom I did
not expect to see;
§ the second will be to miss many whom I did expect to see;
§ the greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there.”
A Great Reversal (v. 16)
This is an often-repeated saying of our Lord’s; perhaps He uttered it more
often than anything else — a fact which shows its importance and also the
difficulty people have in believing it and acting on it. We are not to
suppose that there is a Nemesis that mocks at good fortune and delights in
reversing it. Prosperity is not punished as such, for it is not in itself an evil
thing. God is gracious and generous. He would not torment His children
with needless disappointments. Let us, then, look for the causes of the
He does not punish rank. He takes no account of it, except in so far as it
brings with it obligations, etc. We see men in honor because of their
riches or their success. Such things mean nothing to God. He only looks at
the naked characters of the men themselves. These are all that He puts in
His scales. If these are found wanting, they are condemned, and no riches
or honors can be thrown in as “make weights.” On the other hand, poor,
obscure, oppressed, misunderstood, or persecuted people suffer nothing
whatever in God’s judgment on account of those circumstances which
bring on them the contempt of the world. If they have real worth they are
understood and appreciated in heaven.
FROM THOSE GRACES OF CHARACTER WHICH GOD VALUES.
Sometimes, indeed, it is the reward of real merit. But too often it comes
from most inferior qualities. The accident of birth confers the highest
honors and the greatest wealth by the artificial law of primogeniture.
Successful scheming and good fortune bring a man money and influence.
A Napoleon forces his way to the
enormous mind and will powers at the expense of every moral
INJURE THE BETTER QUALITIES OF THE SOUL. Christ spoke of
the difficulty of rich men in entering the kingdom of heaven (ch. 19:23).
Other forms of pre-eminence besides that of wealth also have their
difficulties. One great hindrance to spiritual progress is pride, and high rank
fosters pride. Self-will is incompatible with spiritual excellence, and the
great and exalted are tempted to indulge self-will. Lowliness and
obedience, unselfishness and a spirit of serving, are the qualities which
Christ honors. It is very difficult to cultivate these graces in high places —
difficult, but possible to those who seek the help of God — as we see in a
THEIR TRUE CHARACTERS. The irony of judgment will be terrible,
just because it will be just. At the great revelation the fictitious glory of
worldly pre-eminence will fade and all its tawdry tinsel will be shown in
hideous distinctness. Then true worth will shine as the sun bursting forth
from the clouds. That day is coming. Therefore let not the favored boast
of their temporary exaltation; and let not the lowly and oppressed despair.
There will be a great reversal.
Third and Fuller Prediction of Jesus’ Sufferings and Death (vs. 17-19)
(Parallels: Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34)
Jesus going up to
the way, and said unto them," Going up. This is the usual expression for traveling
to the capital, and was particularly appropriate to a journey to
was set among hills. This last journey of the Redeemer was indeed a steep ascent,
the end of which was
Himself; He took aside)… apart (κατ ἰδίαν – kat idian – according to own).
He was accompanied by many followers, but what He had now to impart was not
intended to be divulged to all, but was reserved for the chosen twelve. The mass
could not have heard it without offence. In the way. The Vulgate omits these words.
The Revised Version, on good authority, alters the received order, reading, and in the
way He said unto them. Thus Christ prepared the apostles for the HIS GODHEAD!
we go up to
betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall
condemn Him to death," Behold. This exclamation would seem to indicate that
the events predicted were very near at hand, as it were, already in sight. Shall
be betrayed; παραδοθήσεται – paradothaesetai - shall be delivered; shall be,
being given up - the same word as in the next verse. God “spared not His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). The special agent of this betrayal
is not here named. Of his future crime, Judas, one of the twelve, had probably no
thought, the devil not having yet put it into his heart. The chief priests
(see on ch. 16:21). Shall condemn Him. This was the act of the
Sanhedrin, who could doom, but could not execute (John 18:31). The
announcement of His death and resurrection had already been made at least
twice before — once after Peter’s great confession (ch. 16:21), and again at the
Transfiguration (ch. 17:12, 22-23, Mark 9:9, 12).
Anticipations of Betrayal (v. 18)
It is not often set out prominently that the chief ingredient in our Lord’s
sorrowful anticipations was His betrayal by one of His disciples. No
greater distress comes to us in life than the unfaithfulness of trusted friends.
The psalmist wails in this way (Psalm 4:12-14): “For it was not an
enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it... but it was thou, a
man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.” The dealings of our
Lord with Judas need careful study. Our Lord had to act so as not to
not be used to prevent it from happening; and yet that knowledge filled Him
with anxiety concerning Judas, and constrained Him to make attempts to
influence the man who, on the road of his covetousness, was fast hastening
to his crime.
Even that was in the Father’s will for Him. There could hardly be anything
in His cup of woe more bitter. Probably Judas had been chosen an apostle
because of his business capacity. Our Lord had trusted him. His face was
familiar to Him. He had grown interested in Judas, and it was hard indeed
to think he would, one day soon, turn traitor. Our Lord would not have
been fairly tested by all forms of human anxiety if He had not known failing,
forsaking friends. Could He take up, and bear, this yoke of the Father?
Knowing it was coming, could He go on, quietly, steadily, in the path of
duty? Could He bear to have Judas close beside Him day by day? This gives
us a deep sense of the reality and severity of our Lord’s struggle to
preserve a perfect, Son-like obedience and submission. Even here He won
and held His triumph.
must have led to heart-searching inquiries. Some, no doubt, felt our Lord’s
words more than the others. Some would think it only a melancholy mood
that the Master was in. Some would feel quite certain that the words would
never apply to them. What did Judas think about the possible betrayal? We
know well. The man who is deteriorating, as Judas was, becomes insensible
to such suggestions. None could have been more positive than Judas in
denying that the term “traitor” could ever apply to him. But Judas was the
19 "And shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to
crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again." The Gentiles.
Pilate and the Romans (ch. 27:2). This fact would show the treatment He was to
expect, and the death He was to die. To mock, and to scourge (see ibid. vs. 26, 28-30).
To crucify. This is the first time that Jesus distinctly announced His death by
crucifixion. The fact of His death He had impressed upon His apostles, but
the mode had not been mentioned; such an unexpected, awful, and
ignomiuious close was incredible and needed special preparation ere it
could be received as true. Intimations, indeed, of such a death had been
given darkly, when His disciples were told that they must take up the cross
and follow Him, or when He spoke of being “lifted up” like the serpent in
the wilderness (John 3:14); but His words were not understood; they
fell upon ears prejudiced to a certain erroneous conviction, which events
alone could eradicate. He shall rise again (see on ch. 16:21). It
seems to us almost incredible that, after all that Christ said here and
elsewhere, His resurrection should have come upon His followers as a
surprise which they could not believe without tangible proof. But when we
read of their dullness and unbelief; we are constrained to admire the
candor and sincerity of narrators, who record such facts to their discredit
without evasion or apology. As Luke says, “They understood none of
these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the
things which were spoken.” (Luke 18:34)
Predictions of the Passion (vs. 17-19)
Ø The Lord. He was going up now for the last time to the holy city. His
disappointment, His popularity was not what it had been; His enemies had
to a large extent succeeded (or seemed to have succeeded) in undermining
His influence. He was “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” A
few days of
thankless labor awaited Him at
cross. He knew it all. We cannot discern the secrets of the future; God has
mercifully shrouded them in darkness. The shadow of the cross fell along
the whole life of the Lord. And now He knew that His hour was come, that
He should depart out of this world unto the Father. The thought gave an
awful dignity to His mien, a Divine majesty to His figure, a strange
stateliness to every gesture (Mark 10:32). He was going to meet His
death. He saw it plain before Him in all its circumstances of shame and
anguish; but He shrank not. He went forwards with a sweet and holy
calmness, with a more than heroic courage, which shone through His
features and illumined those clear holy eyes with a light that spoke of
Ø The disciples. The Lord went before them, leading them to the fearful
conflict. They followed in silent awe; they watched the Lord’s demeanor;
they had never before seen such a strange high glory of steadfast resolve
even on that blessed face (Luke 9:51), and they were amazed, terror-stricken.
They regarded him with the deepest reverence — reverence not diminished
by daily familiarity, but constantly increasing; and now, it seems, they
feared to intrude upon His meditations; but they were troubled and anxious.
They felt that some momentous crisis was at hand. The Lord cared for
them. He was not so absorbed in the intense contemplation of His coming
sufferings as to forget His followers. He is our great Example. We think
that the excitement caused by the expectation of great joy or great sorrow
is an excuse for the neglect of our ordinary duties. It was not so with
Christ our Lord. “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved
them unto the end.” (John 13:1) He took them apart in the way. He would
in His loving tenderness prepare them for the dreadful trial. Twice already He
had predicted His death, but they seemed unable to take it into their minds;
He would tell them a third time, more plainly now, in greater detail. And so
He took them apart. Perhaps the roads were crowded; there were multitudes
going up to the Passover. He would not tell them the dreadful secret within
the reach of unsympathizing cars; they would best hear it alone, where
none were present save those that most deeply concerned the blessed Master,
and the little company who so dearly loved Him. Mark the tender delicacy
of His dealings with them.
Ø The betrayal. “Behold, we go up to
glad thought commonly. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go
into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O
It may be that the disciples, like other Jews, were looking forward to that great
festival with feelings of joy; and very probably they were cherishing the hope
that their Master would then manifest Himself openly as the Messiah, that He
would be welcomed as the great King, the Deliverer that was to come. He
was to be manifested, but upon the cross; He was to reign, but from the
tree. He told them calmly of the double betrayal that was coming, He
should be betrayed (He did not say by whom; they could not bear yet to
hear that) unto the chief priests and scribes. They would not acknowledge
Him as the Christ (as perhaps the disciples were hoping); they would
condemn Him to death, and betray Him to the Gentiles. His own disciple
would betray Him to the priests; His own nation, nay, the priests, who knew
where the Christ should be born (ch. 2:4), one of whom “prophesied that
Jesus should die for that nation” (John 11:51), would betray Him to the
Ø The manner of His death. He told them very plainly now. It would be the
act of the Gentiles, but the guilt would rest mainly with the Jews (John
19:11). He predicted the harrowing details of His Passion; He would be
mocked, scourged, crucified, He had mentioned the cross already
(ch. 10:38; 16:24), but it was in figurative language; the spiritual
cross of self-denial was to be the test of His true disciples. Now He told
them plainly what it was that was to give a new meaning to the hated
word, and make it another name for the holiest and loftiest self-sacrifice.
He Himself was to die upon the cross, not in figure, but in reality, He, the
Christ, the Son of the living God, He whom the three chosen apostles had
seen glorious with the radiance of heaven, He was to die that death which
hitherto had been regarded as of all things horrible the most horrible, of all
things ignominious the most intensely shameful. Yet the future was not all
dark; He was to rise again the third day. He had raised others already from
the dead: He Himself would rise, for He is the Resurrection and the Life;
it was not possible that He could be holden of the grave. It was now the
third warning; yet, Luke 18:34 tells us, the apostles “understood none of these
things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things
which were spoken.” It seems strange; but is it not much the same now? In
spite of warnings, men will not understand that their own death is at hand;
they think all men mortal but themselves; they will not speak of death; they
carefully avoid the subject. Christ teaches us a different lesson. We should
often think of death, we should often speak of it, of our own coming death,
and that calmly, with the Christian’s hope of a blessed resurrection.
Ø Mark the awe and reverence with which the apostles regarded the Lord,
though they loved Him so well. Reverence becomes the true Christian.
Ø How often, when we look for joy, there comes great sorrow! Let us be
Ø Think much of the cross of the Lord Jesus; it cannot be too much in the
Prophetic Anticipations (vs. 17-19)
The roads are now crowded with people journeying to
celebrate there the great annual Feast of the Passover (see
Deuteronomy 16:1-7). Jesus separated His disciples from the crowd,
probably by retiring into some sylvan shade to rest, that He might discourse
to them privately of His approaching Passion. His discourse evinces:
Ø It anticipated His betrayal.
o He was able to read its history in that of Ahithophel (compare
II Samuel 15:12; Psalm 41:9; 55:12,14,20; John 13:18).
o As yet He had not named Judas; but, had Judas already meditated his
infamous act, what must have been his feelings when Jesus now said
in his hearing, “And the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief
priests and scribes”? No disciple of Christ can apostatize from Him
Ø It anticipated the malignity of the rulers.
o Delivery “unto the chief priests and scribes” is a periphrasis for the
which sat at “
o The corporate conscience is proverbially elastic; yet who but God
could have foreseen that the Sanhedrin would agree to condemn
Jesus to death?
o The Sanhedrin might “condemn” to death under the Mosaic Law, but
the Romans had deprived it of the power to carry out the sentence (see
John 18:31). In this note a symptom of the departure of the sceptre or
Ø It anticipated the violence of the Romans.
o This is now the third time that Jesus clearly predicted His sufferings
(compare ch. 16:21; 17:22-23). But here, for the first time, the part the
Gentiles were to take in that tragedy is indicated. It was meet that the
Saviour of a sinful world should suffer from the combined malice of
Jew and Gentile (see Ephesians 2:16).
o “And shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock.” This was done by
Herod and his Roman soldiers (see Luke 23:11).
o “And to scourge.” This was done by Pilate (see John 19:1). And his
soldiers followed up the scourging with many dreadful insults.
o “And to crucify.” The punishment of the cross was Roman, not
Jewish. It was, originally considered, more probable that Jesus
should be privately slain or stoned to death in a tumult, as was
Stephen. And when He was delivered back to the Jews by Pilate,
with permission to judge Him according to their Law, it is wonderful
that He was not stoned. The foreknowledge that saw it otherwise was
manifestly Divine. How little did those cruel actors know that THEY
WERE OFFERING UP THE GREAT SACRIFICE FOR THE
WORLD’S SALVATION. How does God make the wrath of man
to praise Him!
Ø It anticipated His resurrection from the dead.
o No fact, originally considered, could be more unlikely than this; yet
it is circumstantially predicted, and fulfilled to the letter.
o This element in the prediction was assuring to Himself. The joy of its
anticipation sustained Him in His preparatory sufferings. In it he was
“straightway glorified” (John 13:31-32; Hebrews 12:2).
o It was also assuring to the disciples. When they heard of His
approaching sufferings they were “amazed” and “afraid”
(Mark 10:32), and the more so as they “understood none of these
things” (Luke 18:34). Yet afterwards they remembered them
as most memorable things.
Ø Jesus could have avoided His sufferings.
o He was not surprised into them. He foresaw them all. Every
thorn of His crown was fully in His vision.
could have avoided
amazed His affrighted disciples (Mark 10:32).
legions of angels” (ch. 26:53), any of which could have frustrated
the purposes of the Jews and the resources of the Romans.
Ø But He resolutely faced them.
o Because He would fulfill all righteousness. (Just as at His baptism –
ch. 3:15) He must therefore keep the Passover; and He must go to
consequences must never be considered in competition with
the will of God,
o Because He would fulfill all benevolence. He went up to that
Passover that He might Himself become the world’s salvation.
o This the multitude could not see. Note: The action of Jesus was
allegorical, when He separated His disciples from the crowd on
their way to the legal Passover, that He might unfold to them the
mysteries of His Passion. The spirit of the Law is a special revelation.
o What the disciples had heard they were in due time to testify. Not yet;
as events were not ripe. Hence also their separation from the crowd on
the road (compare ch.10:27; 17:9).
o The Scriptures must be fulfilled (compare Luke 18:31-33). The
Divine power of Jesus in fulfilling the predictions uttered by Him
is as conspicuous and real as the Divine prescience which prompted
Ø It is good to converse with Jesus in the way.
Ø It is good to anticipate so as to become familiar with our dying.
Ø It is good to connect with our meditation upon death the matter
of our resurrection.
Ambitious Request of the Mother of the Sons of Zebedee (vs. 20-28)
(Parallel: Mark 10:35-45.)
20 "Then came to Him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons,
worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him." Then. The incident
seems to have arisen from the promise of the twelve thrones in ch. 19:28, and is
significant as showing how utterly misunderstood was the true nature of the
Messianic kingdom. The mother of Zebedee’s children. The mother of James and
John was named Salome (ch. 27:56 compared with Mark 15:40; 16:1); she had left
her husband Zebedee (Mark 1:20)
terms in which she is introduced, he was now dead), and followed Jesus in the band
of holy women who attended on Him and ministered to Him of their substance. Some
have thought that she was the sister of the Virgin Mary, so interpreting John 19:25.
Mark makes the two apostles present their own request; and doubtless they put their
mother forward, coming with her to the presence of Jesus, and using her agency in
this somewhat delicate matter. Our evangelist was present on the occasion, and his
precision may be relied on in this detail. Worshipping Him, making the customary
prostration before a superior. A certain thing (τι – ti - something). She did not at first
make any definite request, but endeavored to get Jesus to promise to grant her what
she asked. According to Mark 10:35, the sons say plainly, “We would that thou
shouldest do for us whatever we shall desire.” Thus Bathsheba addressed David.
“I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay” (I Kings 2:20).
Salome is plainly intending to ask some great thing.
Motherly Ambition (v. 20)
It is certainly surprising to find James and John presenting such a request
as this. We cannot but think that they ought to have known their Lord
better. If any of the apostolic company had insight of their Master’s
spiritual mission, it surely was the first group, which included James and
John. Perhaps Matthew lets the light in when he explains that they were
prompted by their mother. “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s
children with her sons worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of
him.” If it was her idea, we can understand it. Woman-like, she was
practical; she understood only the material aspect of Messiah’s mission;
and she had not come into such association with Christ as served to correct
and spiritualize her ideas; and she knew the value of forethought, of
“taking time by the forelock,” and so she schemed to secure an early
promise of the best places in the new kingdom for her sons. A motherly
great men, in all the various spheres of life, have been dependent on their
mothers. Explain the ambition in the heart of every Jewish mother to
become the mother of Messiah. A possible poet, artist, thought leader,
statesman, age reformer, hero, is in every child that lies on woman’s
bosom; and she is a poor mother who does not look into her child’s face,
and dream for him high position and ennobling influence in the days of
unfolded manhood. But ambitions are not worthy that rest with worldly
success. True motherhood is more anxious that the child shall be worthy
of success, than that he should win success. Character alone is the worthy
ambition. Mothers aim at nobility and piety.
passage before us. This mother wanted office, rank, and wealth. In these
days motherhood often aims at imperfect and unworthy things. Illustrate by
the modern despising of trade, and pressing of the sons into overstocked
professions; despising of retail trade, and pressing into overstocked
wholesale commerce; or by anxiety to secure advantageous marriage
settlements. A child’s material well being is a proper subject of motherly
concern; but moral and spiritual character and health ought always to be
held as the supreme things.
21 "And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant
that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the
left, in thy kingdom." What wilt thou. Jesus will make no unconditional promise;
He compels her to formulate her petition. Grant; εἰπέ - eipe – command; be saying.
These my two sons. She points to them, as they stood or knelt behind her. May sit…
in thy kingdom. The right and left hand would be the places occupied by those next
to the sovereign in dignity and consideration. There is here no thought of Peter’s
pre-eminence (compare I Kings 2:19; II Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 45:9; 110:1). The
petition was urged at this moment, because it was felt that a great crisis was at hand.
This visit to
His throne; now was the moment to secure the highest places in his court. He
had announced His death; He had also announced His glory; they balanced
one declaration against the other, and seized on that which was most
consonant to their national prejudices and their own ambitious views.
Probably they interpreted the unintelligible resurrection to mean the
establishment of the
imminent, no time was to be lost in making their claims known. So thought
the “sons of thunder,” and acted with energy and haste.
22 "But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye
able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with
the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able."
Ye know not what ye ask. Jesus addresses, not the mother,
but the two brothers who had prompted and virtually made the request.
They indeed merited a rebuke for their preposterous demand; but the
Saviour deals mildly with them. They had spoken ignorantly, perhaps
fancying that some favor might be shown to them on the ground of their
relationship to the Virgin Mary, or because of their nearness to Jesus, and
certainly not in the least realizing the nature of the kingdom, the
qualifications of its inheritors, or the difficulties that have to be surmounted
by those who would win eminent positions therein. Things that we deem
most desirable would often be the very worst for our spiritual progress;
and in praying for really good things, we are apt to forget to count the cost
we must pay for their attainment. Jesus sets before the ambitious brethren
the obstacles that would meet them. Are ye able to drink of the cup? Joy
and sorrow, blessing and affliction, in Holy Scripture are often denoted
under the metaphor of a cup (compare Psalm 11:6; 23:5; Isaiah 51:17;
Jeremiah 25:15). Here the cup signifies the internal, mental, and spiritual
sufferings which Christ endured (ch. 26:39, 42). That I shall drink of;
ὃ ἐγὼ µέλλω πίνειν – ho ego mello pinein - which I am about to drink; or am
purposing to drink. Christ expresses His voluntary intention of suffering
bitterly, and asks if they are prepared to do the same. To be baptized, etc.
The baptism is significant of the external pains and persecutions, in the sea
of which He was to be sunk (compare Psalm 69:2, 15). The cup and the
baptism foreshadow the two sacraments by which we are made one with
Christ. Many of the best manuscripts, the Vulgate and other versions, omit
this last clause, and the corresponding one in the following verse; and many
modern editors, with the Revised Version, expunge it also. It is supposed
to have been introduced from the parallel passage in Mark. There it is
undoubtedly genuine; so we have good warrant to believe that our Lord
spoke the words, whether Matthew really reported them or not. We
are able. They came forward now and answered in simplicity, not
understanding that to which they pledged themselves. They loved their
Master, they knew that trials awaited Him, and they were willing to share
His lot. Ere long they were put to the proof, and in the end came out
Ignorant Prayers (v. 22)
“Ye know not what ye ask.” If some one were to say to us, as we rose
from our knees or after public worship, “What is it that you now expect to
receive? Of all the blessings men have been known to receive at the hand of
God, which have you been asking for?” should we not frequently be forced
to own, “I know not what I asked”? We seem to expect little more than
that somehow our tone may be elevated and the temper of our spirits
improved by our worship. But communion with God can never supersede
simple prayer; so long as we are encompassed with infirmities we must ask
God’s help, and when we do so we should know what it is we ask. There
are four ways in which the text pointedly rebukes us.
ATTACHING. ANY MEANING TO IT. We do not dream of waiting for
an answer, because we have no desire to receive one. Aim at such
definiteness that if, when you say, “Forgive me my sins,” God were to
say,” What sin?” you would be able without hesitation to name those
transgressions that are written on your conscience. Be as sure what you
have to complain of as when you go to consult your physician.
DESIRE, NOT SO MUCH FROM A PERSONAL APPRECIATION OF
ITS WORTH, AS FROM THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS ONE OF
THE THINGS GOD IS MOST READY TO GIVE. These sons of
Zebedee named the precise boon on which their hearts were set, and yet
what could they have told you of the real purport of their request — of the
requirements of the position they aspired to? No one who prays can acquit
himself of this very charge. Take so common a request as that for the Holy
Spirit: have you thought that you were inviting a Person, and that Person
absolutely holy and almighty, to dwell within you? We are to covet
earnestly God’s best gifts, but we are to limit ourselves by His promises,
and to learn the meaning of these promises as far as we can. By asking
such things as we know our need of, even though they be less valuable than
some other gifts, we may be led on to richer blessings than we looked for.
WOULD BE EVIL. If God, who sees the effect these things would have
upon you, were to translate your prayer, it might be, “I beseech thee grant
me complete delight in this world, and forgetfulness of thee; I pray thee
humble me no more, but grant me of thy mercy vanity and pride of life; I
pray thee increase to me the cares of this life, so that I may not be disposed
to worship thee nor to remember my own need of thee. Send me no more
chastening and discipline, remove from me all restraints and crosses, and
graciously suffer me so to fall away from thee, that I may be in danger of
everlasting woe.” Yet this is not a reason for restraining prayer, but for
laying each of our petitions before God with an accompanying resignation
of our will to His.
TAKING ACCOUNT OF WHAT WE MUST DO AND SUFFER IN
ORDER TO OBTAIN IT. Many of the gifts we ask at God’s hand are such
qualities of soul as can only be produced by long and painful processes.
You ask for humility: do you know that herein you ask for failure,
disappointed hopes, mortified vanity, the reproach of men, and the feeling
that you are worthy of deeper accusations than any they can bring against
you? You ask to be like Christ: but can you drink of His cup, and be
baptized with His baptism? These words of your Lord are not spoken to
dishearten you, to discourage you from high aims; but He would have you
pray with deliberation, with a mind made up, with a devoted and solemn
apprehension of the difficulties before you.
Two remedies may be suggested for this evil of vagueness and ignorance in
prayer, the first connected with the form, the second with the matter, of
Ø It seems to have been the practice of the devout in all ages to use the
voice in their private devotions. Where it is possible, speech is a great help
to an orderly method of thinking. Besides, so long as we merely think, we
fall into the idea that it is only a frame of our own spirits we have to do
with; and speech, the ordinary mode of realizing another’s presence,
enables us at once to realize the presence of God.
Ø The great remedy against ignorance in prayer is to be found in
meditation. And no man will ever make much of meditation who does not
make much of THE WORD OF GOD! Realize that this is not just a book to
read, but a voice speaking to you, that it has a Person behind it addressing
you. This, without any mystic influence, but on the most natural principles,
works a change in our devotions. This gives us a real communion with
Inconsiderate Prayer (v. 22)
“Ye know not what ye ask.” That is, you have not thought seriously about
it; have not looked it well round, so as to be quite sure what your petition
means and involves. One is a little surprised to find James and John acting
so impulsively. It is the sort of thing that better suits Peter. “Boanerges” is
a strange name for John; perhaps it was specially adapted to James, the
elder brother. This James seems to have been somewhat of a zealot, and he
paid the penalty by becoming the first apostolic martyr. (Acts 12:2)
idea of Christ’s mission than that He had come to found a temporal
kingdom. They asked an impossible thing, simply because they did not
know how impossible it was. If they had spiritually entered into the
teachings of Jesus, they never could have asked it. Their request lacked
“humility” because it lacked “thought.” Prayer is a serious thing. It is the
approach of the erring creature to the All-holy, if All-merciful, One; it can
never be undertaken lightly. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; the place
whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) We should “take with
us words” (Hosea 14:2), carefully chosen, when we “turn unto the Lord.”
Prayer may lose tone by its frequency, and become unduly familiar. So
often we go to God with nothing special to say. We go because it is time
to go; the hour of prayer has struck. Distinguish between:
Ø acts of adoration;
Ø acts of communion;
Ø acts of petition;
Ø acts of intercession.
Our daily spiritual converse with God is only in a conventional sense called
“prayer;” for there need not be any element of petition in it. How many of
our prayers would have been offered, if we had seriously thought about
them beforehand? Thought takes in what may be right for us to ask, and
what we may suppose God can give.
answered kindly, but firmly. James and John were wrong, and must be
shown that they were wrong. Our Lord endeavored to quicken thought,
and so help James and John to correct their own mistake. And their great
mistake was that they had misapprehended His royalty. He was to be King
of the obedient, who would be willing to suffer for their obedience. If they
had known what they asked, they, would have seen that they asked a
special share with Christ in His sufferings.
Imperfect Self-Estimates (v. 22)
“They say unto Him, We are able.” The words of our Lord “come to us as
spoken in a tone of infinite tenderness and sadness. That nearness to Him in
His glory could be obtained only by an equal nearness in suffering. Had they
counted the cost of that nearness? There was enough to lead them to see in
their Master’s words an intimation of some great suffering about to fall on
Him, and this is, indeed, implied in the very form of their answer. ‘We are
able,’ say they, in the tone of those who have been challenged and accept
the challenge. That their insight into the great mystery of the Passion went
but a little way as compared with their Master’s, lies, of course, in the very
nature of the case” (Dean Plumptre). Over a Greek temple was placed the
inscription, “Know thyself;” but every man finds that to be the very hardest
work ever given him to do.
EXCELLENCES. Vigorous as he may be in criticizing the virtues of
others, a man is weak at self-criticism. There is a fondness for his own
things which prevents his appraising them aright. He judges others by a
standard, but, unfortunately, the standard is his own attainment. It is only
when he is willing to take Christ as the standard of moral excellence that he
discovers the imperfection of his self-estimates. “Let another praise thee,
and not thine own self.” (Proverbs 27:2)
DEFICIENCIES. They loom large to the sincere man, because they are
his; he knows them so well, and he feels so keenly the difficulties and
troubles into which they bring him. “Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” (Psalm 19:12) There are some
types of religious thought which exaggerate the sense of deficiency,
frailty, and sin; and make forced and manufactured confession a
sign of piety. There is as much real pride in exaggerating deficiencies
as in exaggerating excellences. He must be taught of God who would
know his own sinfulness aright.
ABILITIES. Because, while he can form a good idea of the ability, he
cannot estimate the demand that is made on the ability. It may seem a big
ability, but it may be very small as seen in its relation to the claims coming
on it; as in this case of James and John.
23 "And He saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be
baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my
right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given
to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." Ye shall indeed drink, etc.
Jesus accepts their venture of faith, and prophesies its fulfillment. James first
shared in Christ’s baptism of blood, being murdered by Herod (Acts 12:2). He
was a martyr in will and deed. John did not, indeed, undergo a violent death,
but he stood by the cross and felt his Master’s sufferings; he lived a long
life of persecution, banishment, and distress; he saw all his companions
drop off one by one, till in extreme old age he was left solitary, with
nothing to comfort him but the memory of vanished years, and the hope of
an eternal future. Truly he was a martyr in will, if not in deed. The story
that he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil by Nero’s command, and
that, coming forth unhurt, he was afterwards banished to
which, except as regards the banishment, has not been accepted by modern
criticism. The event is mentioned by Tertullian (‘De Praescript.,’ 36.),
Jerome (‘Adv. Jovin.,’ 1:26; and ‘Comm. in Matthew’ 20:27), and is
commemorated in the Church Calendar on May 6, under the title of “S.
appeared in Tertullian’s work, and was copied from him by other writers
without examination. Is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for
whom (ἀλλ οϊς – all hois – but to whom) it is prepared. The Authorized Version
inserts δοθήσεται – dothaesetai - the Revised,” But it is for them for whom it hath
been prepared.” The Vulgate has, Non est meum dare vobis, sed quibus paratum
est a Patre meo. Probably ἀλλὰ - alla - here is equivalent to εἰ μὴ - ei mae –
if no, as in ch. 17:8 and Mark 9:8, and means “except,” “unless.” The
Lord does not mean that He was not able to give it, if so He thought fit, or
that the boon was solely at His Father’s bestowal, not His (which He might
have said, speaking in His human nature). What He affirms is this: The prize
is awarded, not by favor or on any earthly considerations, but by absolute
justice, and only to those who prove themselves worthy to receive it.
Christ assigns to the Father the revelation of mysteries and the election to
eternal life (see ch. 11:26; 16:17). It is prepared; it hath been prepared (ch. 25:34),
according to certain impartial laws ordained by God, who is no respecter of persons.
“The throne,” says St. Bernard, “is the price of toils, not a grace granted to ambition;
a reward of righteousness, not the concession of a request.”
A Mother’s Ambition (vs. 20-23)
In Mark we are only told that the two sons of Zebedee came, asking for
the first places in the kingdom. Matthew’s account shows that the
request originated with their mother. It is natural that a mother should
dream of a great future for her children. The mother’s ambition is an
inspiration for her training of them. In the present instance it seemed to
overstep the bounds of modesty. Yet when we consider all the
circumstances, we shall see that there was something really grand about it.
Ø Its selfishness. This is the first thing that strikes any reader of the
narrative. On a mother’s part it is not so selfish, however, as if the two
brothers had come alone. Yet there is a family selfishness. Moreover, the
brothers shared in their mother’s request.
Ø Its naturalness. These two disciples belonged to the most intimate group
of the friends of Jesus. Possibly the request was only that there might be a
continuance in heaven of the privilege already accorded on earth. We know
that one of the brothers, John, sat on the right hand of Jesus on earth
(John 13:25); it is not at all unlikely that James sat on the other side
of the Master. If so, the request is for the continuance of a present
privilege. Will Jesus, when in glory, abandon His old friends? or will He
own the fishermen and honor them in proportion to their present privileges?
Ø Its faith. This daring request was made just after Christ had spoken of
His approaching death. The gloomy prospect might have checked the hopes
of the most ardent. Nevertheless, Zebedee’s wife is sure that Christ will
triumph and reign in His glorious kingdom. In full view of the greatest
approaching disaster, she speaks of the division of the spoil after the
ultimate victory. Here is a marvel of faith!
question. Only they can receive the heavenly privileges who attain to them
in the right way. Are the two brothers prepared for this?
Ø Prayer is often offered in ignorance of what it involves. These simple
people had little conception of the road to greatness in the kingdom of
heaven. We may seem to be uttering most harmless requests, yet we know
not what we ask. Therefore prayer should be submissive. It is well to leave
our prayers to God’s discriminating judgment.
Ø They who would reign with Christ must suffer with Him. It is vain to
think of sharing the final victory if we will not share the previous conflict.
The two brothers assent to the condition. In doing so they atone for much
of the selfishness of their request. They had their grand destiny of suffering.
o James drank of Christ’s cup in being the first martyr apostle;
o John in enduring longest, and in suffering exile and other hardships
for his Lord’s sake on the Isle of Patmos.
There is no escaping this condition, although it may assume various forms.
Ø The ultimate destiny of souls is with God alone. It is not for Christ to
settle on grounds of friendship or favor. It belongs to the awful and
mysterious counsels of God. Here we see the secondary rank of the Son
compared with His Father. (“For He hath put all things under His feet.
But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He
is excepted, which did put all things under Him. And when all things
shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject
unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be ALL IN ALL!”
(I Corinthians 15:27-28) Yet the main lesson is not one concerning the
nature of the Trinity. It is to teach us to renounce even the highest selfish
ambition. That cannot help us. THE FUTURE IS WITH GOD!
24 "And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the
two brethren." Were moved with indignation against (περί - peri – concerning).
“The ambition of one creates envy in others who partake of the same
feeling” (I. Williams). The displeasure of the ten arose from their sharing in
the ambitious desires which had prompted the request of the brothers.
Peter does not appear prominently here, as guarding the position which
Romanists assign to him.
25 "But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes
of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great
exercise authority upon them." Called them unto Him. The two had stood
apart when they made their request, but the ten had overheard it, or judged of
its nature from Christ’s answer and their own feelings. Jesus now gathers them
all round Him, and gives them a lesson which they all needed, first, concerning
worldly greatness and pre-eminence, and secondly (v. 26), concerning
Christian greatness and pre-eminence. Ye know. He appeals to common
experience. Exercise dominion over them; i.e. over the Gentiles.
Κατακυριεύουσιν – katakurieuousin - are lording it over — significant of
an absolute and oppressive domination. Exercise authority upon them; i.e.
over the Gentiles (κατεξουσιάζουσιν – katexousiazousin – are coercing); use
authority harshly and severely. The heathen, when they are raised to pre-eminence,
employ their power cruelly and in order to gain their own ends and purposes, and
aspire to superiority only with such objects in view. Such ambition is essentially
A HEATHEN PASSION and wholly alien FROM THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST!
26 "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you,
let him be your minister;" It shall not be so among you. There is good authority
for reading “is” instead of “shall be.” The new order of things was already
prepared. In Messiah’s kingdom a contrary rule holds good. There the
governors rule solely for the good of the flock, with no self-seeking, and
serving no private interests. Whosoever will be (ὃς ἐὰν θέλη... γενέσθαι –
hos ean thelae....genesthai – who if ever would be willing.....to be becoming;
whosoever would fain.... become) great among you… minister (διάκονος –
diakonos - servant). Taking for granted that there will be ranks and gradations of
office in the Church, Christ lays down the rule that men become governors
therein in order that they may serve their brethren, be the ministers of those
who are subject to them. So the pope, in his official documents, with a
verbally proper humility, terms himself, “Servus servorum Dei.”
27 "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:"
Whosoever will be (θέλη ... εϊναι – thelae...einai – may be willing...to be) chief
(first, πρῶτος - protos)… servant (bondservant, δοῦλος - doulos). The
characteristic of the Christian ruler should be humility. Christ enforces the
teaching of the previous verse more emphatically by altering the terms in which
it was stated. “Great” now becomes “first;” “minister,” “slave.” Of these two
We do not gather from this passage that the Christian minister, called by God,
is to take his doctrine from his congregation, or to be directed by them in
his labors; but he is to devote time, talents, faculties, to the good of his
flock, to spend and be spent in their service, to let no private interests or
pursuits interfere with his manifold duties to those whom he oversees. The
same sentiment is found in Matthew 23:11.
True Greatness (vs. 25-27)
The daring request of the mother of Zebedee’s children roused the jealousy
of the other disciples. This was natural, and quite in accordance with the
customs of the world. Nevertheless, Christ disapproved of the feeling. It
showed something of the same selfish ambition that the two brothers had
ALLOWED IN THE
Ø The necessity of this rule. It springs from the essential characteristics of
o Brotherhood. In Christ rich and poor, high and low, are brothers,
members of one family. We are to call no man master in the Church,
because we are all brethren. No institution of man is more democratic
than the Church of Christ — when it realizes His idea.
o The Supremacy of Christ. One is our Master, even Christ (ch. 23:8).
For a man to exercise lordship is to usurp the kingly office of Christ.
Not only is He supreme; He deals directly with every soul in His
o The worthlessness of external pre-eminence. Christ cares for nothing
of this sort. Of titles and offices He takes no account. Character and
conduct are the only things that He observes and judges us by and
character and conduct are quite independent of official position and
Ø The application of this rule. It has been and it is now so grievously
neglected and outraged that we ought to expose the wrong with a
o In hierarchical pretensions. The papal claims are here out of court.
Therefore the friends of the papacy do not favor the reading of the
New Testament by the people. But all domineering priestliness is
o In worldly position. Differences of rank that have nothing to do with
ecclesiastical order are also quite out of place in the Church. They
may have their use in the world. But they cannot confer any
privileges in spiritual and religious matters.
hierarchical power and dignity. It is not secular wealth and titles. It is a
purely moral greatness — the result of conduct. They stand highest in the
kingdom of heaven who best serve their brethren.
Ø The grounds of this greatness.
o It is Christ-like. They will be most honored by Christ who best
resemble Him; they will come nearest to Him in rank who follow
Him most closely in conduct. CHRIST WAS THE SERVANT
o It is inherently excellent. God honors Christ Himself for this very
reason. He humbled Himself and took on Him the form of a servant
— “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9).
To serve is to manifest energy in unselfishness and kindness —
the best of all things witnessed on earth.
Ø The pursuit of this greatness. The words, “and whosoever would
become great among you shall be your servant,” are not the threat
of a punishment for ambition. They are an indication of the way to
TRUE GREATNESS. This is not, like worldly greatness, reserved
for the privileged. IT IS IN THE REACH OF ALL! If any wish to
approach the honors coveted for the brothers James and John,
THE WAY IS OPEN! It is:
o to be first in service, and
o to excel in self-sacrificing toil for the good of others.
The Moral Greatness of Service (v. 27)
There was nothing more characteristic of the teaching of Jesus, perhaps we
may even say, nothing more novel in His teaching, than His reversion of the
common notions of service. All the world over, and all the ages through,
the ordinary man has seen dignity in “being served,” and has seen a kind of
indignity in “serving.” This has come about in two ways.
1. Through the exaggerated importance given to self. A man has come to
be of more interest to himself than his brother can ever be to him. Yet God
made man male and female in order to prevent this egoism, and start man
upon working the altruistic principle, each finding his or her own best
blessing in caring for the other. Christianity is the recovery of the primary
altruistic principle, and the mastery of that egoism which has proved the
prolific parent of all the vices.
2. Through the absorbing interest of appearances; of material things —
state, wealth, luxury, show of greatness. TRUE GREATNESS LIES IN
CHARACTER, let us once see this clearly and receive it fully, and then
the kindliness and thoughtfulness which sweetly blend with humility, and
ever make us ready to serve, will seem to be surpassingly valuable. The moral
greatness of service may be seen if we consider:
GOD. Thoughts of majesty, dignity, authority, are properly encouraged;
but we must have felt, as the psalm writers felt, that only when we
conceive of God as the all-ministering One do we bow in fullest reverence
of love before Him. “The eyes of all wait on thee. Thou givest them their
meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfieth the desire
of every living thing!” (Psalm 145:15-16)
charm of Christ would be gone forever if any one could show us that He
ever got anything for Himself. “He came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister.” (ch. 20:28) He was among us as “One that serveth.” (Luke 22:27)
His character is the ideal character; His life was the ideal life; but its glory
lies in its self-denying service — its all-ruling “altruism.”
MEN. The man who lives to get is despised. The man who lives to give
and serve is commended. Christ has affected the standard of moral
greatness. We are no longer dazzled by appearances. Service to our
human brother is now the only true nobility.
28 "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister,
and to give His life a ransom for many." Even as. Christ adduces His own
example as a pattern of profound humility. To minister. By His incarnation
Christ assumed the lowliest life of man. He took upon Himself the form of a
servant, and was ever active in ministering to others’ wants, going about doing
good, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons; always accessible,
sympathetic, merciful; never weary of teaching, however fatigued in body;
A SERVANT TO THE RACE HE CAME TO SAVE! A ransom for many;
λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν – lutron anti pollon - ransom instead of many. The crowning
example of His humility is that HE GAVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR
THE SOULS OF MEN! THIS IS THE ATONEMENT, the sacrificial act,
which (as the Mosaic sacrifices did in a partial and temporary manner) reconciled
God and man. Whatever may be the way in which this atonement acts on the
Divine mind, the expression here shows that it was vicarious and propitiatory,
energizing, not by example, as an effort of superhuman self-denial, courage,
and patience, but by an inherent power, as mysterious as it is efficacious. We
can only say that, being the act of one who is God, its effects must necessarily be
INCOMPREHENSIBLE and INFINITE. The difficulties that beset this doctrine
are increased by the fact that Jesus himself says little about the atoning nature
of His sufferings and death — a topic which would not at this time have
been properly received by friends or enemies, the former refusing to credit
His approaching death, the latter being totally unable to conceive how such
death could supersede Jewish sacrifices AND RECONCILE THE WHOLE
WORLD TO GOD (Sadler). Christ certainly DIED FOR ALL, as Paul says,
“He gave Himself a ransom for all (ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων – antilutron
huper panton – correspondent ransom for the sake of all)” (I Timothy 2:6),
but all do not accept the offered salvation; hence arise the two
expressions, “all” and “many,” referring to the same object; “not,” as an
old Father says, “that salvation is limited, but men’s efforts to obtain it are
limited.” The same expression was used by our Lord at the Last Supper,
when He said, “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for
many for the remission of sins” (ch. 26:28). A comparison of the
passages in which the death of Christ is connected with the salvation of
men would show a similar interchange of terms, depending on the view
which the writer is taking of the doctrine, whether an objective one or a
subjective. In the former case we may cite Romans 5:15; II Corinthians 5:14;
I Timothy 2:6; I John 2:2; in the latter, Romans 3:24-26; Ephesians 5:2.
Salome and Her Sons (vs. 20-28)
Ø The request. Salome was one of the Lord’s most faithful followers; she
was present at the cross; perhaps she was his mother’s sister. Her sons had
been admitted into the innermost circle of the apostles; they with Peter
were the three nearest to the Lord. But even the chosen three could not
receive the Lord’s predictions of His death. Their hearts were so
preoccupied with thoughts of the kingdom, the twelve thrones, the coming
glories, that they seemed quite unable to take the thought of the cross into
their minds. They had seen the grandeur of the Transfiguration; like Peter,
they recoiled in horror from the prospect of the cross. They could not think
that that height of glory and that depth of shame could meet in one Person;
they could not believe it at all; and, as men do still, or try to do, they put
away such distressing thoughts. And now Salome came, doing lowly
reverence to Jesus as to the King Messiah, and making her request. She
prayed, not for herself, but with a mother’s love for her sons, that they
might sit, the one on the Lord’s right hand, the other on the left, in His
Ø The Lord’s reply. “Ye know not what ye ask.” They thought of an
earthly kingdom. He knew what they would not know, though He had told
them thrice. Salome would soon see, one at least of her sons would see,
the Lord not sitting on a royal throne, but hanging on the cross. They
would see on the right hand and on the left not two great officers, two
ministers of state, but two crucified malefactors. We often know not what
we ask when we seek in our folly great things for ourselves. We do not
know the future; we do not know ourselves. The best prayer is the Lord’s
own prayer, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” “Not my will.” We wish for
this or that honor, this or that post of pre-eminence for ourselves, for our
children, for those nearest and dearest to us. We know not what we ask;
we do not rightly estimate our own powers; we do not think of the dangers
and temptations which lie before us, the envies and the jealousies which we
provoke. Ambition is rash always; most perilous is its rashness when it
aspires to the highest places in the Church. “Are ye able to drink of the cup
that I shall drink of?” None can tread safely in those places save those who
can drink of the Saviour’s cup; none can endure those tremendous
responsibilities save those who have been baptized with His baptism. And
that cup is the cup of self-denial, and that baptism is the baptism of blood,
the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanseth from all sin, which maketh those
only white and clean who have come out of great tribulation, the spiritual
tribulation of contrition and self-abasement, if not the outward tribulation
of suffering for the sake of Christ. “We are able,” said the sons of Zebedee.
They were true and faithful; it was not a mere vulgar ambition which
prompted them; they were devoted, heart and soul, to the service of their
Lord. They were ready to follow Him through danger and through
suffering, though now they failed to understand the meaning of that
kingdom which was so much in their thoughts. The Lord recognized their
truth and loyalty; they had the high courage which they professed; they
should be united very closely with Him by the sacraments of suffering and
martyrdom in deed or in will. But those highest places in the kingdom of
glory were not to be given by partial love, at the request of mother or of
sons; they were to be bestowed according to the eternal election of God
the Father upon those who were nearest to the Lord in lowliness and entire
self-sacrifice. Let us pray for the holy courage of the sons of Zebedee. “We
are able.” It is a noble word if it issues out of a true and real faith, if it is
uttered in humility and dependence upon Christ; it is a pure and holy word
when it is spoken by Christ’s faithful followers. “I can do all things through
Christ that strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) Otherwise it is presumptuous
and profane. “Without me, ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Ø Their indignation. Salome and her sons had, it seems, approached the
Lord privately, without the knowledge of the other apostles. When they
heard of the request that had been made they were much displeased. The
two had sought pre-eminence over the rest, even over Peter. Peter does
not, as at other times, put himself prominently forward; possibly the twice
repeated warning of our Lord, “Many that are first shall be last,” kept him
back. The displeasure of the ten was natural, but it was wrong. They had
forgotten the lessons of the eighteenth chapter; they still harbored those
unworthy jealousies which ought to have no place among the disciples of
Ø The Lord’s warning.
o The commandment. The Church must not imitate the world. The rulers
of the nations lord it over them; but (as Peter wrote afterwards, echoing,
it seems, the Saviour’s word) Christian presbyters must not lord it
over the charge allotted to them. The way to true greatness is lowly
service. He is greatest in the Christian ministry who realizes most the
meaning of the word “minister,” as Paul understood its meaning and
illustrated it in his life (compare II Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:23-30). He is
greatest who stands waiting day and night on Christ, who follows Him
most closely in self-denying ministrations. He will be first in the great
day who is willing now to be the last of all, who regards himself as the
servant of Christ, and as the servant of all men for Christ’s sake; as
Paul made himself the servant of all that he might gain the more. He
will be chief then, who, though his labors may be abundant, like the
labors of Paul, yet, like Paul, owns himself to be the least of all,
seeking no pre-eminence over others, but simply and unaffectedly
attributing all that is good in himself or in his work to the grace of
God: “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
(I Corinthians 15:10)
o The great Example. The Lord does not only teach; He illustrates His
teaching by His life; especially when He gives the most difficult
lessons, He calls our attention to His own example. He bids us become
the servants of all; He took upon Him the form of a servant. He bids us
minister to others; He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
He came from heaven, from His true home, to this lower earth of ours,
and that not to display the glory of His majesty, not to be ministered
unto as Messiah the King. Angels did minister unto Him, so did holy
women and others; but that was occasional, incidental. The purpose
of His coming was to minister — to minister to the deep wants of
humanity, to the cravings of those who hungered after God, to the
mortal sickness of countless dying souls. He came to feed the hungry
with the Bread of life, which is Himself; to cleanse the sin defiled
with the fountain opened for sin and for iniquity, which is his
precious blood; to heal the broken hearted, to give rest to all that
labor and are heavy laden, — for He is the great Physician; He is
our Peace, the only Rest of the weary soul. He came to minister;
those who would be nearest Him in His glory must be nearest Him in
His ministry. His ministers must imitate Him who was “a Minister
of the circumcision for the truth of God.” (Romans 15:8) But He
came to do more than to minister — He came to do that one great
deed which stands alone in the world’s history, which none could do
save only the Son of God, who became for our sake the Son of man. He
came to give His life a ransom for many. He gave it; it was His free
gift, a spontaneous act of mysterious love and bounty, generous above
the reach of human thought. What He gave was His life — that human
life which He hath taken into His Divine Person. That human life was
pure and holy; the one only human life that came not under the curse
of the Law. “The soul [the life] that sinneth it shall die.” (Ezekiel
18:20) He needed not to die; but in His generous love He gave that
pure and holy life as a ransom for the many sinful lives. He gave
“Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice unto God” (Ephesians
5:2). The ransom was given to God. The atonement belongs to the
region of very high and sacred mysteries; its reasons, its necessity, its
wide-reaching and awful meaning, are high above us. Human words
are inadequate to express it; human illustrations at the best are partial
and incomplete; human thought cannot grasp it in its fullness. It
becomes us to speak of these high mysteries with reverence and
solemn reticence. “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore
let thy words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2) But thus much we know for
certain, and that from the Lord’s own lips, His death was a sacrifice,
and it was vicarious. He gave his life a ransom for many, in their
place, in their stead. Such is the only possible meaning of the words;
He took upon Him our punishment, He suffered in our stead,
BLESSED BE HIS HOLY NAME! ONE DIED FOR MANY;
BUT THAT ONE WAS GOD, God and Man in one Person,
infinite in love and power, as that sacrifice was infinite in
preciousness. For many, and yet for all, as Paul says, when he
repeats the precious words (I Timothy 2:6); for all who will believe
and come to Him in faith; for He is the Saviour of the world,
“the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.”
Ø Seek not great things for yourselves, for your children; pray for humility.
Ø Try more and more to work into your heart that holiest prayer, “Not my
will, but thine, be done.”
Ø Abase yourselves. The lowliest here shall be the highest there.
Salome’s Petition for Zebedee’s Sons (vs. 20-28)
This strange petition must have operated in a twofold way upon our Lord.
On the one hand, it must have made it more clear than ever to His mind that
nothing but His death and departure from this earth could dissipate the
hopes of an earthly kingdom cherished by even the best of His followers.
On the other hand, it gave Him a most melancholy exhibition of the kind of
men whom He must leave behind Him to found His Church. Yet in our
Lord’s reply there is no trace of anger, of contempt, or even of
disappointment, but only of tenderness. It is the language of a father to his
child, who begs to be allowed to go with him on a perilous expedition. No
man can by any possibility make this life easy to himself and yet find
himself next to Christ in all that constitutes the glory of His character and
work. Nothing daunted, the two brothers promptly declare that what Jesus
can endure they also can endure. They were prepared for any risks such as
they considered were inevitable in a popular rising; they had made up their
minds to follow their Master to the end. Our Lord’s answer might seem to
imply that; it is possible for men to share His experience here, and yet not
be with Him eternally. Manifestly this is an impossible meaning. What our
Lord meant was merely to direct the thoughts of His disciples to the fact
that He was not an arbitrary Prince who might rule as He pleased, advancing
His own favorites to high posts, and bestowing large rewards on those He
loved, but was rather the Administrator of an inflexibly righteous and
impartial government, in which all things were regulated according to fixed
law. He has in His gift all that is worth working for; but all He has He must
give to those who in the judgment of the Supreme (that is really) are
worthy of them. No doubt He was exceptionally attached to James and
John; all that friend can ask of friend He was delighted to give; but He could
not reverse moral law and upset moral order in their favor. We argue as
these men did: “Christ loves us; all will be well. He wishes to honour us;
we shall be honoured.” We refuse to consider that in God’s government
high position simply means high character, and nearness to Christ is but
another name for likeness to Christ. A father may desire nothing more
earnestly than that his two sons take their places in life at his right hand and
at his left; but he knows perfectly well that this can only be if his sons fall in
with certain conditions. So Christ cannot promote you irrespective of what
you are. Our neglect of this law appears in our prayers. Character has an
organic integrity and a consecutive growth as a tree has. But we ask God
to give us fruit without either branch, blossom, or time. We wish ability to
accomplish certain objects before we have the fundamental graces out of
which that ability can alone spring. When we are suddenly put to shame
through our lack of Christian temper, courage, or charity, we as suddenly
ask Christ for the grace we need, apparently supposing that we have just to
give the order and put on the ready made habit. In such a case we might
hear our Lord’s voice saying to us, “Ye know not what ye ask. These
things I can give only to those who are prepared for them, and for whom
they are prepared.” (vs. 22-23) Can you endure all that is required for the
formation of these habits? You ask for humility: do you consider that in doing
so you pray for humiliation, for failure, mortified vanity, disappointed hopes,
the reproach of men, and the feeling that you are worthy of darker accusations
than any that men can bring against you? You ask to be useful in the world:
but can you drink of Christ’s cup? can you take your stand by His side,
abandoning your own pleasure and profit for the sake of the ungrateful?
And yet He does not daunt you with impracticable requirements, He would
not discourage you from high aims, but would have you count the cost, so
that, understanding something of the difficulties before you, your resolve to
succeed may become more determined and eager, your prayer more real
and urgent. In our prayers we are sometimes too general. Through
indifference or want of thought, we pray in general terms for blessings
which are recognized by all as the proper subjects of prayer. The fault of
the sons of Zebedee lay in an opposite direction; and yet with all this
definiteness of naming the precise posts they aspired to in the new
kingdom, they had not been at pains to fathom the real purport of their
request. We also have sometimes the appearance of definite knowledge
without the reality. But our Lord takes occasion further to tell His disciples
(vs. 25-28) that greatness in His kingdom consists not in getting service,
but in doing service; not in having servants, but in being servants. In the
humiliation and most devoted service of men which gave Christ His true
power over us all. The greatness He won for Himself, and to which He
invites us, is power to do without the things we naturally crave; to forego
worldly honor and the applause of men, to hold comfort and ease very
cheap, and to make nothing of money and possessions; it is power to put
ourselves at the disposal of a good cause, and to be of service to those who
need our service.
Distinction in the Kingdom (vs. 20-28)
In the company of Jesus and His twelve apostles, as they went up to
and friends. For here is “the mother of the sons of Zebedee,” who came
“worshipping, and asking a certain thing” of Jesus. The reply and discourse
DISTINCTION OF LORDSHIP.
Ø This is the distinction of earthly kingdoms.
o “The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them.” They have titles,
insignia, robes, retinues, and ceremonies, to invest them with an air
of superiority. The spirit of the world is:
§ vanity and
o “Their great ones exercise authority over them.” Their distinction is
more than pageantry. They wield power civil and military. This they
often use tyrannically.
o “They are called benefactors” (see Luke 22:25). Their patronage is
courted. Their favors are applauded. They are worshipped and
imitated by courtiers, sycophants, and slaves.
Ø Christians sometimes mistake it for the distinction of Christ’s kingdom.
o These, however, are imperfect Christians, as the apostles were before
the Day of Pentecost. The sons of Zebedee were evidently of this way
of thinking when they sought places of distinction. For degrees of
dignity in Eastern customs were denoted by proximity to the throne
(see I Kings 2:19). They still cling to the notion of an earthly
monarchy. Note: To desire to be preferred before a brother
is to reflect upon him. Their fellow disciples were no less vulgarly
ambitious. Ambition was the source of their indignation against the
sons of Salome.
o Christ discerns the subtle pride that eludes the vision of its subject. On
an earlier occasion Jesus rebuked James and John, and said, “Ye know
not what, manner of spirit ye are of” (see Luke 9:55). Here again,
“Ye know not what ye ask.” Ye know not the true quality of my
kingdom (see I Peter 5:8). Neither know ye what is prerequisite.
“Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be
baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (v. 22).
We know not what we ask when we desire the glory of the crown
without the grace to bear the cross.
o Ambition may too much presume upon influence. The mother of the
sons of Zebedee was probably a near relative of our Lord; some think
she was the daughter of Cleophas or Alphaeus, and sister or first
cousin to Mary (compare Mark 16:1; John 19:25). They
availed themselves, therefore, of their mother’s influence. They may
have encouraged their ambition also by the favors they had already
enjoyed. Jesus had called them “sons of thunder” (see Mark 3:17);
and with Peter they were on three occasions specially favored (see
ch. 17:1; 26:37 Mark 5:37). Yet were none so reproved as these.
Whom Christ best loves He most reproves (see Revelation 3:19).
o In the reproof there is still recognition of distinction proper to the
understood of a kingdom of the earth. He had already promised to
His apostles the distinction of the twelve thrones. There is a
“measure of stature of the fullness of Christ” both of grace and
glory (Ephesians 4:13).
o The whole passage may be taken as a prophetic allusion to and
condemnation of that spirit of domination which so early
manifested itself in the Apostasy (see II Thessalonians 2:4).
DISTINCTION OF SERVICE.
Ø The service of suffering.
o This is implied in the question, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I am
about to drink?” Christ obtained not His crown by wars and victories,
but by shame and death. Very different from the sons of Zebedee were
those whom our Lord was first to have on His right hand and on His
left (see ch. 27:38).
o “We are able.” This was the language of self-confidence; its vanity was
soon made manifest (see ch. 26:31,56). Christ did not rebuke
that self-confidence then; He left the rebuking to events. History has its
admonitions as well as its revenges.
o “My cup indeed ye shall drink.” Here note the spirit of prophecy.
James suffered martyrdom from Herod (see Acts 12:2). John was
Jesus in His suffering. Religion, if worth anything, is worth
everything; and if worth everything, then it is worth suffering for.
“Christ will have us know the worst, that we may make the best of
our way to heaven” (Matthew Henry).
o Yet did not this drinking of the Redeemer’s cup of necessity entitle the
sons of Salome to the distinction corresponding to that which they had
sought. The other apostles shared with them in the suffering. So did the
noble army of the martyrs. The lowest place in heaven is a full
recompense for the greatest sufferings on earth.
o For the more worthy the higher distinctions are reserved. And who but
God can distinguish the most worthy? Obedience is perfected in
suffering. So was the obedience of Christ perfected (see Hebrews
2:10). So is that of His followers (see James 1:4). Who but God
can distinguish among the perfected? But CHRIST IS GOD!
Ø The service of ministry.
o The theory of this service is here propounded (v. 27). The minister of
Christ must not lord it over God’s heritage (I Peter 5:3). Even Paul the
apostle disclaims dominion over the private Christian’s faith
(II Corinthians 1:24). Christians should serve one another for mutual
edification (see Romans 14:19; 15:2; I Corinthians 9:19; I Peter 5:5).
In such loving service lies the truest dignity.
o The practice of this service is encouraged by the most illustrious
example (v. 28). Jesus in His youth and early manhood appears to have
been familiar with labor (see Mark 6:3). The years of His public
ministry were years of self-sacrificing toil for the good of others.
This also was the end FOR WHICH HE DIED!
o Note here especially that Jesus speaks of Himself as a piacular
(making or requiring atonement) Victim. This is the first instance
in which He is reported by this evangelist to have done so; though
John shows that He had done so earlier both publicly and privately
(see John 3:14-15; 6:51). The sacrificial nature of the death
of Christ was shadowed forth in sacrifices from the beginning (see
Genesis 4:4; 8:20; 22:7-8). In after times it was yet more largely and
significantly prefigured in the Mosaic ritual (see Leviticus 17:11;
Hebrews 9.). Still later it was foretold by the prophets (see Isaiah 53;
Daniel 9:26). Then by John the Baptist (see John 1:29). By Jesus
Himself. Ever since it is the fundamental truth of the gospel preached.
CHRIST’S ONE SACRIFICE once offered was to supersede the
many sacrifices of typical anticipation.
o By His dying “for many” we must not infer that He did not die for all,
for that would be to contradict other Scriptures (see Ezekiel 18:23;
33:11; I Timothy 2:4-6). The One for “many” sets forth
THE INFINITE NOBILITY OF THE ONE!
Christ the Servant and the Ransom (v.28)
The immediate application of these words is to confirm the previous assertion of the
nature of true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. But they are so intensely significant
that they claim our attention on their own account.
suggested even in the Old Testament, in the latter part of Isaiah. Jesus
realizes the singular prophecy in deeper humility and self-denial. In the
prophet the Messiah is the “Servant of the Lord.” In the life of Jesus we
see Him as this, but also as the Servant of man. Consider the negative and
positive aspects of this wonderful fact.
Ø Its negative aspect. Christ did not come to be ministered unto. He did
not ask for a prince’s courtly rights; He did not expect them. He came
in lowly guise. Although a few obscure friends delighted to give Him
the means of support in their gratitude, the great world’s ministry of
honor was never His.
Ø Its positive aspect. Jesus came to minister. Service was an object of His
life, not an accident that came upon Him with surprise. He speaks of His
coming into the world as though this had been deliberately fixed and the
service of man part of its great purpose. Here we see the humility, the
unselfishness, the love, and the practical spirit of our Lord. In this
o He deserves our adoring gratitude;
o He invites our trustful confidence, — for it is on our behalf; and
o He is the example for our diligent imitation.
darkness that broods over the cross. Previously, Jesus had spoken of His
approaching death; now He suddenly reveals the purpose of it. It was more
than a necessity resulting from faithful living, more than a martyrdom. It
was the paying of a ransom.
Ø The price paid. Jesus gave His life. He came for the express purpose of
doing so. One object of His birth was that He might be able to die. It is to be
observed that our attention is always directed more to the fact of Christ’s
death than to the pain He suffered — to His cross rather than to His Passion,
though doubtless both were of value in the great redeeming work. “The
wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Jesus tasted death for every man.
(Hebrews 2:9) He gave all he could give — HIS VRTY LIFE BLOOD!
Ø The liberty effected. Men ransomed from captivity. What was the captivity
from which Christ brought liberty? Origen and other Fathers regarded it as
bondage to Satan, and they thought the ransom was actually paid to the
devil. This is a coarse way of regarding a great truth. The ransom could not
have been paid to the devil, because Christ fought the prince of evil as a
deadly foe; He did not bargain with the fiend. But He came to deliver from
the power of Satan, i.e. from sin, and that object involved His death. He
died to save us from sin.
Ø The people freed. The ransom is for “many.” It is a harsh, ungenerous
criticism that would fix on the apparent limitation of the word “many” —
many rather than all. There is no such antithesis here. The many saved are
contrasted with THE ONE SAVIOUR! His life blood is so valuable a
ransom that it purchases, not the liberation of one or two captives of sin
only, but a large multitude — the host of the redeemed.
Healing of Two Blind Men at
(Parallels: Mark 10:46-52;Luke 18:35-43.)
The miracle narrated in this passage is common to the three synoptists, but with
some remarkable differences, not one of them agreeing altogether in details.
Matthew speaks of two blind men, Luke and Mark of one only, and the latter
mentions this one by name as Bartimaeus. Matthew and Mark make the miracle
performed as Jesus quitted
Thus the number of the cured and the locality of the miracle are alike variously
stated. It is an easy solution to say, with
Greswell, that two, or perhaps three, distinct facts are here related; and it is
not absolutely impossible. though altogether improbable, that in the same
locality, under identical circumstances, like sufferers made the same
request, and received the same relief in the same manner. But we are not
driven to this extravagant hypothesis; and the unity of the narrative can be
preserved without doing violence to the language of the writers. As to the
number of the blind men, we have seen the same discrepancy in the case of
the demoniacs at
more remarkable and better known than the other. Hence, in this incident,
the tradition followed by some of the synoptists preserved the memory of
this one alone, who may have become known in the Christian community
as a devoted follower of Jesus, the other passing into obscurity and being
heard of no more. Another hypothesis is that a single blind man first
addressed Christ as He entered
Jesus passed that night in the city at the house of Zacchreus Luke
19:1-10); and on the morrow, when leaving Jericho, was again entreated
by the blind man, who meantime had been joined by a companion, and
healed them both. There are other solutions offered, e.g. that there were
two Jerichos — an old and a new town — and that one blind man was
healed as they entered one city, and the other as they left the other; or that
the term rendered “was come nigh” (Luke 18:35) might mean “was
nigh,” and might therefore apply to one who was leaving as well as to one
entering the city. But we weary ourselves in vain in seeking to harmonize
every little detail in the Gospel narratives. No two, much less three,
independent witnesses would give an identical account of an incident,
especially one which reached some of them only by hearsay. Inspiration
extends not to petty circumstances, and the credibility of the gospel
depends not on the rectification of such minutiae.
29 "And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed Him."
death which He was willing to undergo, and to win the victory which He
was by this path to accomplish. His route lay through Jericho, as the march
of His forerunner Joshua had led. Joshua had set forth to conquer the
promised land; Jesus sets forth to win His promised inheritance by the
sword of the Spirit. “The upland pastures of Peraea were now behind
them,” says Dr. Geikie, speaking
of the approach to
Christ,’ 2:384), “and the road led down to the sunken channel of the
most luxuriant spot in
the Dead Sea, 1350 feet under the
of the hills of Quarantana, it
had the climate of
the vegetation of the tropics. Its fig trees were pre-eminently famous; it
was unique in its growth of palms of various kinds: its crops of dates were
a proverb; the balsam plant, which grew principally here, furnished a costly
perfume, and was in great repute for healing wounds; maize yielded a
double harvest; wheat ripened a whole month earlier than in
innumerable bees found a paradise in the many aromatic flowers and plants,
not a few unknown elsewhere, which filled the air with odors and the
landscape with beauty. Rising like an amphitheatre from amidst this
luxuriant scene, lay
eight miles distant from the
above the bed of the river, from which its gardens and groves, thickly
interspersed with mansions, and covering seventy furlongs from north to
south, and twenty from east to west, were divided by a strip of wilderness.
The town had had an eventful history. Once the stronghold of the
Canaanites, it was still, in the days of Christ, surrounded by towers and
castles. A great stone aqueduct of eleven arches brought a copious supply
of water to the city, and the Roman military road ran through it. The
houses themselves, however, though showy, were not substantial, but were
built mostly of sun-dried bricks, like those of
similar case of
trace of them remains.” A great multitude. A vast crowd of pilgrims,
disciples. The number of people that this great festival attracted to the
central place of worship seems to us incredibly large.
Jud.,’ 6:9. 3) reckons them at three millions. Doubtless our Lord was
followed by many of those whom He had benefited, and others whom He
had won by His teaching; and these, at any rate, would witness the ensuing
30 "And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they
heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O
Lord, thou son of David." Two blind men. Matthew is doubtless accurate in
this statement. Tradition might easily drop one of the sufferers in the course of
time, but it is not likely to have multiplied one into two. These sufferers
had heard of the miracles of healing performed by Jesus in His various
circuits, and especially of the late cure at
they were ready to believe in HIS POWER and to profit by HIS MERCY.
Heard. The beggars (Mark 10:46), debarred from sight, had their attention
aroused by the tread of numerous feet, and the voices of the excited crowd,
and naturally asked the bystanders to tell them what it all meant. When
they heard THAT JESUS WAS THERE, the hope of relief immediately
rushed into their mind. Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!
“O Lord” is only the usual respectful address of an inferior to one in higher
station; but to call on Jesus as “Son of David” was virtually to acknowledge Him
to be THE MESSIAH, who, as old prophets foretold, was to open the eyes of the
blind (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5). The same cry had been raised by the blind men who
were cured earlier in the ministry (ch. 9:27), and by the Syro-Phoenician woman
(ch.15:22, where see note), How these men had learned the truth we know not;
they could not see or read for themselves; their faith must have come by hearing
(Romans 10:17), and the inward illumination of THE HOLY SPIRIT!
31 "And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their
peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord,
thou son of David." Rebuked them, because (ἵνα – hina - in order that) they
should hold their peace. The motive of the crowd, in thus silencing the blind
men, has been explained in two ways — either they grudged that Christ should
be addressed by the high title of “Son of David;” or they desired to spare
Him unseemly importunity and unreasonable interruption in His journey. As
the multitude show no signs of hostility at this time, the latter suggestion
seems most probable. They cried the more. The attempted check only
made them more earnest in their entreaty. The opportunity now offered
might never present itself again. The officious interference of
unsympathizing bystanders was at once brushed aside. They could attract
Christ’s attention only by their passionate cry, and this they continued to
utter with renewed energy. Faith resists opposition and triumphs over all
Importunity Revealing Character (v. 31)
Eastern beggars are very clamorous and persistent. But there seems to
have been something unusual in the energy and determination of these blind
men. They had their opportunity, and they made the best possible use of it.
There are many cases which indicate that our Lord was a keen and skilful
observer of character. The actions, movements, expressions, and words of
men and women revealed to Him the measure of their receptivity for that
double blessing — temporal and spiritual — which He was prepared to
bestow. One of the most striking instances is the response He made to
those four friends who carried the paralyzed man, and broke up the house
roof in order to get Him into the presence of Jesus.
their act, “seeing their faith,” Jesus gave the sufferer a higher blessing than
they sought, but included with it what they asked. (Luke 5:20 – I remember
Seigel Sears preaching on this over a half-century ago. He named the four
friends something like Hope, Faith, Love and I don’t remember fully all
the details but it made a long lasting impression on me! CY – 2017)
have their real cause in “weakness of will.” Men cannot decide. If they
decide, they cannot do anything with their decisions. No doubt many
sufferers lost Christ’s healing because they were too weak of will to seek
Him or cry to Him. The man who can keep on is the man who has made a
firm resolve; who means something; who has an end before him. This
“weakness of will power” may be a natural infirmity; but it is largely
remediable by skilful educational influences; and yet to this precise work,
“strengthening the will power,” how few parents, and how few teachers,
bend careful attention! The world yields its treasures to those who show
they have wills, by keeping on, fixing firm hold; and refusing to let go.
Illustrate Jacob, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
way of treating such incidents as this of the text. What Jesus noticed in
such cases was “faith.” If these men had not believed that He could heal
them, and if their faith had not blended with hope that He would heal them,
they would have been repressed by the rebukers, and would have ceased to
cry. The man in earnest is the man of faith, who is open to receive.
32 "And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I
shall do unto you?" Jesus stood still. He acknowledged the title of “Son of
David,” and, as the blind men could not follow Him, He stopped His
progress; their perseverance won His acceptance; He was ready to listen to
their appeal and to grant their request. Called them. The gracious
summons left them in no doubt as to the happy issue of their prayer.
Mark 10:50 speaks of the joyful readiness with which the blind man obeyed the
call; how he “cast away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” What
will ye that I shall do unto you? The Lord knew the desire of their
hearts, but He wished to draw forth the public confession of their needs,
and the distinct blessing which they craved, that all the bystanders might
acknowledge the miracle, and the sufferers themselves might be incited
more vehemently to urge their plea, and thus become more worthy of
relief. So God knows all our necessities before we ask, but He will have our
prayers, that we may cooperate with Him in the work which He purposes to
33 "They say unto Him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened."
That our eyes may be opened. So another blind man said,
when asked the same question (Mark 10:51). They had at first asked
vaguely for mercy, now they prayed definitely for sight — an example to
all to make their supplications for particular graces and mercies, and not to
be content with general terms which do not describe their special wants.
34 "So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and
immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him."
Touched their eyes. Only Matthew mentions this action of our Lord; but
in all other cases of the cure of blindness the healing touch of the Man
accompanied the word of the God (compare ch. 9:29; Mark 8:23; John 9:6),
and Christ did not now depart from His usual practice. Thus, as we have
noticed before, He connected the cure with Himself. He proved that His flesh
taken unto the Godhead was:
and He confirmed the faith of the sufferers and bystanders by showing that there
was no deceit or collusion. The other synoptists give Christ’s assurance to the
men, that the restoration of their sight was the reward of faith — a faith exhibited
by the invocation of Jesus as “Son of David,” by continued importunity amid
surrounding difficulties, by confidence in His power and willingness to heal
brought to a point by Christ’s question, “What will ye that I shall do unto you?”
They followed Him. A fact only less remarkable than the miracle that led to it.
The impulse of a grateful heart drew them along the road which the Saviour
traveled. They may have accompanied Him to
applauding multitude which escorted Him to the holy city, and employed
their new power of sight in observing that wonderful spectacle which the
next few days afforded. One, at any rate, of these men, Bartimaeus, seems
to have become known in the early Church as a devoted follower of Christ,
and hence his name is recorded for all time in the sacred narrative.
The Two Blind Men (vs. 29-34)
trees, the first city taken by Joshua in his career of conquest. Now in
good news of peace and reconciliation with God to the house of the
publican; and from
foe than any who ever fell before the sword of Joshua — to triumph over
sin and Satan by the power of the most holy cross.
Ø The prayer. Two blind men sat by the wayside. One was Bartimaeus, the
son of Timaeus. He was well known in
long, perhaps for years. They heard the multitude pass by; they asked what
was the meaning of the crowd, the tramp of many feet. It was Jesus, they
were told — Jesus of Nazareth. They had heard of Him; every one had
heard of Him. He had given sight to the blind; nay, He had opened the
eyes of one who was born blind. They begged for the like mercy now:
“Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!”
Ø The rebuke of the multitude. There was a brief revival of the Lord’s
popularity; men hoped that He would at last openly announce Himself as the
Messiah, and claim the throne of David. A vast multitude attended Him in
His royal progress. The crowds, absorbed in great expectations, cared not
for the blind beggars. They were disturbed by their cries; perhaps they
thought that the interruption would annoy the King. They rebuked them,
that they should hold their peace; but they cried the more, saying, “Have
mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!” Christians meet sometimes with
similar difficulties now, when they first wake to the sense of their spiritual
blindness, when they first begin to follow Christ in earnest supplication.
Others, who are content with a mere formal religion, find fault with their
earnestness; it is felt by the indifferent and apathetic as a reproof to
themselves. They must not be discouraged; they must cry the more, “Have
mercy on us, O Lord!” The Lord will listen; the Lord will save.
Ø The Lord’s compassion. He heard the cry of the supplicants through the
noise of the multitude; it arrested His attention. He stood still and called
them. He could think of the wretched even now, surrounded as He was by
an applauding crowd, on His way to His last dread conflict, the shadow of
death gathering round Him. He will listen to us when we pray. He seems,
perhaps, to be passing by; but the cry of earnest supplication will detain
Him. Only let us pray, as the blind men prayed, with all intensity of
entreaty, not ceasing till He hears us, and stands still and calls us. He is
passing by; a crowd of worshippers follow, gazing on Him in adoration. He
will listen to those who feel the misery of spiritual blindness, and weep for
their want of faith. Only let them persevere in their prayer, “Lord, increase
our faith” (Luke 17:5), lest He pass on out of the reach of their cries.
Ø The answer. “What will ye,” He said, “that I should do unto you?”
“Lord,” they said, “that our eyes may be opened.” At once the Lord had
mercy. He touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight,
and followed Him. His touch hath still its ancient power; still He can open
the eyes of the blind; and still they who with eyes opened by His touch look
up upon the Lord, must follow Him on the way that leadeth to the cross.
Ø The Lord opened the eyes of the blind; He will open our eyes if we
come to Him in faith.
Ø We must not heed the objections which men make to religious
earnestness. We need Christ; we must find Him!
Ø The Lord is ever passing by, EVER READY to hear the prayer of
Ø His touch can shed the light of heaven upon our souls. Shine into
our hearts, O Lord!
The Blind Men of
Jesus is now at
the sacred city a few months before, He cured a blind man, and the miracle
led to an important investigation and vindication of the powers of Christ
(John 9.). It is likely that the fame of it reached to
inspired the faith and hope of the blind beggars. Let us follow them
through the course of the incident.
Ø These afflicted men were “sitting.” They could but grope about when
they attempted to walk. The glad activities of life were not for them. They
sat apart in their misery.
Ø They were “by the wayside.” Mark tells us that one of them, at least,
was begging (Mark 10:46). While the throng of country pilgrims
passed by on their way to the Passover, a harvest of charity might be
reaped. Yet at best this was a wretched way of gaining a livelihood.
Ø They were together. Mark only tells us of one man — Bartimaeus
(Mark 10:46). Probably he was the more energetic and the better
known of the two. Yet his obscure friend is with him. Sufferers can
sympathize with their brothers in suffering. The more active and
confident should bring their shy friends to Christ.
Ø They acknowledged Christ. They named Him “Son of David.” Thus they
anticipated the hosannas of Palm Sunday. Perhaps they helped to inspire
Ø They cried for mercy. Mercy was all they could seek, for they could not
afford to pay an oculist’s fees. When we come to Christ the richest among
us must approach Him as beggars. The only plea of the sinner is in THE
MERCY OF THE SAVIOR!
Ø The multitude rebuked them — as the disciples rebuked the Peraean
mothers (ch. 19:13). Their eager cries were irritating. They were
but beggars; any one could take it upon him to reprimand such humble
creatures. They who would come to Christ are sometimes discouraged by
the servants of Christ.
Ø Jesus did not respond immediately.
o Perhaps He did not hear.
o Perhaps He was occupied with some important teaching.
o Perhaps He would try the faith of the poor men. The answer to
prayer is sometimes delayed.
Soon Jesus will have passed, and it will be too late for them to seek His aid.
Yet great is their need. So eagerly do they long for sight, that no
discouragement of impertinent strangers shall hinder them. It is the
persevering faith of such men as these that conquers in the end — like the
perseverance of the Syro-Phoenician woman in ch. 15:22-28.
Ø Jesus asked what He should do for them. This shows willingness to help.
But He must have a clear statement of need. Perhaps He spoke with a smile
of amusement at the intensity of their eager cry. As though there were any
doubt as to what they needed! His question will calm them.
Ø They answered promptly and without hesitations. They know what they
want. We should know what we want from Christ.
Ø It sprang from the compassion of Christ. The blind men asked for
mercy. They got more — deep sympathy. This is the root and source
of Christ’s saving grace.
Ø It was immediate. There was delay in finding Christ; there was no delay
when He was found.
Ø It was just the thing required. They asked for sight, and they received it.
We do not always get exactly what we seek for, but if we seek aright we
get its better equivalent.
Community and Unity (vs. 29-34)
disciples following, was also followed by a crowd. This grew into “a great
multitude” as He
moved out from the populous town of
scene here described we may study:
Ø We see it here in excitement.
o “A great multitude.” In numbers there is a strange sympathy. This
occasions the panics which frequently occur in crowds. They are also
subject to fits of passion — sometimes generous, sometimes violent,
often insane. We should beware of the spirit of the crowd.
(“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” – Exodus 23:2)
o The presence of Jesus was the occasion of this excitement. The
multitude “followed Him.” Christ is followed from various motives.
Some follow Him from love: His apostles and disciples were moved
by this holy inspiration. Some follow Him from curiosity: the mixed
multitude had heard of His character, claims, teaching, and miracles.
Many still follow Him for the loaves and fishes.
Ø We see it here also in suffering.
o “Two blind men” — Bartimaeus and a companion in affliction.
Friendships spring of community in suffering. The multitude who
enjoyed their vision had little sympathy with those who were
deprived of it.
o They are sitting by the wayside, viz. in company, and for the same
purpose, viz. to beg (see Mark 10:46). The privation of sight reduced
them to this dependence. Sufferings bring with them entailments of
suffering. Partnerships come with the entailments.
o But privations have their compensations. These blind companions had
the use of their ears. Blind persons generally enjoy acute hearing and
sensitive touch. We do well, when we meditate upon our afflictions, to
meditate also upon our mercies.
Ø And we see it in contention.
o The blind men cried to Jesus for mercy. Affliction has a voice to
o But “the multitude rebuked them, that they should hold their peace.”
Probably they thought the cry for mercy was an appeal for alms, and
that the blind men might be troublesome to Jesus. Men too readily
judge of Christ by themselves. The multitude will ever rebuke those
who cry after the Son of David.
o But the blind men “cried out the more.” So must all who would not
come short of a moral cure. We must never heed the counsel that
would KEEP US FROM CHRIST! When a true sense of misery
urges, neither men nor devils can stop the cry for mercy.
o In the prayer of these men we note:
§ Importunity. The stream of fervency, if stopped, will rise and
swell the higher.
§ Humility. They sought not gold, but “mercy.” The cry for
mercy disclaims all merit (see Psalm 130:7; Hebrews 4:16).
§ Faith. They called Jesus “Lord” (see I Corinthians 12:3).
They identified the Messiah (compare ch.12:23; 21:9; 22:44).
§ Persistency (see Luke 18:1). NOW or NEVER: Jesus is
soon have passed. Christ did not return to
“Now is the accepted time.” “Today is the Day of Salvation!”
§ Here was that concurrence in prayer which is especially
pleasing to Christ (see ch.18:19).
Ø One leading many.
o “A great multitude followed Him.” Note here the ascendency of a
o Note here also the subordination of the physical to the spiritual.
The multitude, as compared with Christ, were as an aggregation
of physical units.
Ø One compassionating suffering.
o “Jesus stood still.” His standing rebuked and silenced the thoughtless
clatter of the unsympathizing throng. Wherever there is suffering
there the BLESSED ONE stands.
o He “called” to the blind. What a contrast to the multitude who would
have silenced their cry to Him for mercy! Jesus invites those whom
the world repulses.
o The one condition of mercy, viz. to those who are prepared for it, is
— Ask. “What will ye that I should do for you?” Like as the
waterman in a boat who hooks the shore does not so much draw
the shore to him as himself to the shore, so do we in prayer draw
ourselves to the mercy of the Lord.
Ø One wonder-worker.
o The blind men raised their voices, not to inquire who was with