"THE PARABLES OF JESUS"
The Laborers In The Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16)
1. In our previous study in "The Parables Of Jesus"...
a. We saw that "an unforgiving spirit" has no place in the hearts of
those who would make up the kingdom of heaven
b. Cf. "The Unmerciful Servant", Mt 18:21-35
2. Our next parable identifies another attitude of heart that has no
place in the kingdom...
a. This parable is known as "The Laborers In The Vineyard"
b. Found in Mt 20:1-16 , we should begin with a careful reading of it
3. The meaning of this parable has challenged many expositors, and
explanations offered have been varied
[While admittedly difficult, the main point can be determined with a fair
degree of certainty. Especially if we begin by taking into consideration...]
I. THE SETTING
A. THE CONVERSATION WITH THE RICH YOUNG RULER - Mt 19:16-22
1. Jesus had been approached by this man with a question
concerning eternal life
2. In the course of their conversation, Jesus challenged the
young man to give up all and follow Him
3. The man went away sorrowful, unable to accept the challenge
B. THE DISCUSSION WITH THE DISCIPLES - Mt 19:23-26
1. Jesus used this opportunity to teach how difficult it is for
the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven
2. This causes the disciples to wonder who then could be saved?
3. Jesus' response is that with God all things are possible
C. THE QUESTION RAISED BY PETER - Mt 19:27
1. Unlike the rich young man, Peter and the other disciples had
accepted the challenge to give up all and follow Jesus -
cf. Mt 4:18-22
2. So he asks: "Therefore what shall we have?"
3. It appears that Peter is wanting to know...
a. If the rich can be saved (though barely, and with the help
b. What more will those receive, who have given up all to
4. Peter's question could be viewed as coming from a commercial
or mercenary spirit...
a. I.e., having some sort of personal profit as a chief aim
b. I.e., motivated solely by a desire for personal gain
5. Peter's motive may have been pure, in which case Jesus'
complete answer may have been designed to be a "pre-emptive
strike" against any improper motives
D. THE REPLY GIVEN BY JESUS - Mt 19:28-30
1. First, an assurance...
a. Specifically, to the apostles - Mt 19:28
1) In the "regeneration", they will be judging the twelve
tribes of Israel
2) This promise could refer either to:
a) Their role as apostles in the gospel age following
Pentecost - cf. Mt 16:19
b) A special role following the return of Christ when He
comes to judge the world - cf. Mt 25:31 ff
b. Generally, to all disciples - Mt 19:29
1) In this life, a "hundredfold" houses, brothers, sisters,
2) In the age to come, "everlasting life" - cf. Mk 10:29-30
3) I.e., those who give up all will receive more than
enough in return
2. But then, a warning - Mt 19:30
a. "But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
b. A rather cryptic warning, one repeated again in Mt 20:16
[Since this warning both precedes and follows the parable we are
studying, it is evident that the parable was told to explain the
warning! And since the warning was first given in response to Peter's
question, any explanation of the parable should be based upon the
setting that preceded its telling.
With this in mind, let's proceed to consider...]
II. THE PARABLE AND ITS MESSAGE
A. THE PARABLE SUMMARIZED...
1. Early in the morning, a landowner hires laborers to work for
an agreed upon wage - Mt 20:1-2
2. Later, at different hours of the day, he finds more and hires
them also, for a fair but unspecified wage - Mt 20:3-7
3. At the end of the day, they are all paid equally, which
irritates those who had worked all day - Mt 20:8-12
4. The landowner responds to the complainers...
a. I treated you fairly, for you received according to our
agreement - Mt 20:13-14a
b. I wish to pay the others the same - Mt 20:14b
1) Do I have not the right? - Mt 20:15a
2) Are you envious, because I am gracious? - Mt 20:15b
5. Jesus concludes by repeating the warning - Mt 20:16 (some
manuscripts add another warning: "For many are called, but
B. THE MESSAGE OF THE PARABLE...
1. Many and varied have been the interpretations; for example...
a. The various bands of workers are the Old Testament saints;
those called at the eleventh hour are the apostles
b. The workers first called are the Jews, those called last
are the Gentiles
c. The parable represents the whole gospel age up to Christ's
return, and the workers are groups saved at various periods
d. It refers to different periods of a person's life in which
he may respond to the Lord: some responding early, others
late in life
2. Since this parable is in response to Peter's question, it
a. That the first workers represent the apostles and others
1) Who are called by Christ through the gospel early in
2) And who therefore may labor long and hard in the
"vineyard" (i.e., the kingdom of God)
b. The other workers represent those who are called by Christ
via the gospel at various times
1) Some of whom are called late in life
2) Who do not have opportunity to do as much for the Lord
3. In light of this interpretation, the main point of the parable
a. What everyone receives will be more than "fair" ("Did you
not agree with me...?")
b. No one has the right to question the "generosity" of the
Lord ("Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my
c. Those who may serve long and hard should not be "envious"
if others receive the same reward ("Is your eye evil
because I am good?")
d. Therefore no one should serve the Lord with a commercial or
1) Peter was close to falling into that danger by virtue
of the very question he raised!
2) A danger to which we are all susceptible!
4. We should stress that this parable is NOT saying that
those who purposely put off obeying Christ until the last
moment can be saved!
a. If that were the point, the parable would have been worded
1) Notice that those who responded at the late hour of the
day had not been working "Because no one hired us" - Mt 20:7
2) They accepted the offer as soon as they heard it, though
late in the day
-- They were not people who turned down many opportunities
to accept the offer to labor, only that they accepted
at the last hour!
b. Whether one can be saved at the last moment after lifelong
rejection of the gospel is another question
1) One which only the Lord can rightfully answer
2) However, notice what is said of those who remain in a
condition of rejecting the gospel:
a) They judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life
- cf. Acts 13:46
b) They are storing up for themselves wrath in the day
of wrath - cf. Rom 2:4-11
3) No one is guaranteed tomorrow. To wait until another day is
placing your eternal soul in jeopardy. People die suddenly all
a) Auto accidents;
b) Lightening strikes;
c) All manner of illnesses come upon people. While lying
there waiting to recuperate their soul suddenly passes
on to God's judgment.
-- What is one to say to God at that point? "I intended to accept
Christ's salvation but was having too much fun partying. But I
really did plan to do it, "someday." Is there any doubt
as to God's wrath at that point?
1. Our understanding of the proper application of this parable
a. When we are called by the gospel, we should respond at once!
1) For some, we may hear the invitation early in life
2) Others may not hear the invitation until late in life
b. As laborers in the vineyard (i.e., the kingdom), we should work
diligently in whatever time we may have left
1) We may be blessed to offer a full life of service to the Lord
2) Or we may only have a short time
c. We should do whatever we can without a commercial or mercenary
spirit (e.g., "Do I get more because I gave more?")
2. With this parable, we learn more about those in the kingdom of
a. Just as the parable of "The Unmerciful Servant" teaches us there
is no place in the kingdom of heaven for "an unforgiving spirit"...
b. So the parable of "The Laborers In The Vineyard" teaches us there
is no room in the kingdom of heaven for those with either "a
mercenary spirit" or "an envious spirit"!
3. My fellow pilgrim, what is your attitude toward service to Christ?
a. One of gratitude?
b. Or one of commercialism?
-- There is only one attitude that is acceptable!
4. For those who are not yet Christians...
a. Why not let the gracious spirit of the "landowner" revealed in
this parable encourage you to accept the grace of God in humble
obedience to His gospel?
b. Why not live out the rest of your life in grateful service to
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