Matthew Chapter 20: Parable of the Penny, John and James to Sit on the Right and Left

Dec 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Matthew, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Matthew Chapter 20: Parable of the Penny, John and James to Sit on the Right and Left

Matt. 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.

Note: An explanation of the Parable of the Penny (verses 1-16), with updated thoughts, is presented at length in the printed studies from past Future Events Conferences. Only a small portion of the thoughts from the 1983-1985 study is given here.

What “day” of 12 hours was Jesus referring to? What is the time setting of the parable? Since all of the laborers were on the scene contemporaneously, the parable covers a short period of time at the end of the age when the rewards are given. To make the parable begin at Pentecost, or even in 1874 or 1878, we would be forced to put the dispensing of the penny beyond the veil. This cannot be because there will be no murmuring in heaven. In fact, those who have a murmuring spirit will not be in the Church class.

Time helps to clarify prophecy somewhat. We have to make adjustments for the 1914 date— unless prejudiced views are so crystallized that this is impossible. The date 1914 is valid, but not all of the things that were anticipated to occur took place in that year. Therefore, time should stir up our minds to reexamine prophecy if all of our expectations do not materialize.

When does the parable begin? It is a little end time within a bigger end period. The Harvest is the end of the age, and the parable covers the end of the Harvest. The parable may have just begun, or it may still be future. Probably the beginning is a little future from today, that is, from 1984. At any rate, the time of payment is future and just before the completion of the Church. The parable could cover a ten-year period, an eight-year period, five years, or whatever. We do not know exactly, but the time will be very short.

Matt. 20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

Matt. 20:3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

Matt. 20:4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

Matt. 20:5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

Matt. 20:6 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?

Matt. 20:7 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.

Matt. 20:8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

Matt. 20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

Matt. 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

Matt. 20:11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,

Matt. 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

The lord of the vineyard instructed the steward to begin paying the last laborers first; that is, the penny went to the 11th-hour workers first. Almost all of the parables contain a startling revelation that runs counter to our reasoning. These statements are a deliberate shock treatment to alert us to a real meaning. What bothered the earlier workers most was not necessarily that the last laborers were paid first, but that they were paid a full day’s wage. From our human standpoint, this would seem to be unfair, especially for the first-hour workers, who went thorough the whole heat of the day, but also for the third-, sixth-, and ninth-hour workers. The 11th-hour workers came in during the cool late afternoon and yet got the same wage. We have to search our hearts to see if we would murmur under the same arrangement.

Many of us have false concepts of justice and grace, thinking something is ours by right. Suppose we were seriously unemployed, needing a job for our very survival and for that of our family. We would be thankful for any job and for getting a full day’s wage. We should start to reason from this standpoint, for otherwise, the view is distorted and disproportionate. It was grace that gave the laborers the opportunity to work in the vineyard and to receive payment. Had the laborers fully appreciated that point, the reward of the penny to all would not have been a sore point. The whole way through, the parable teaches grace, not merit.

Matt. 20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

Matt. 20:14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

Matt. 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

While multiple first-hour workers murmured (verse 11), the parable narrows down to one murmurer. One of the early (6 a.m.) workers was singled out for a reprimand, one who had agreed to a penny (verse 2). Who is this individual with the “evil” eye? Addressing him as “Friend” reminds us of Judas. Although the concept of a Judas class at the end of the age is hard to absolutely prove—it is like a cobweb—there are a number of innuendoes and allusions to such a class being right in the Bible Student movement at the very end of the age. Under the severity of the coming trials, these individuals will turn against the truth.

Let us consider the term “friend” in more detail. The Greek hetairos is translated “friend” only three times: in the Parable of the Penny (Matt. 20:13), in the Parable of the Wedding Garment (Matt. 22:12), and in Jesus’ words to Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:50). Hetairos is used only one other time in the Bible, and there it is translated “fellows” (Matt. 11:16).

According to Young’s Analytical Concordance, the word means comrade, companion, friend. The three-time translation as “friend” helps to pinpoint a Judas class or individual at the end of the age and gives a common denominator in each instance. Those of the Judas class may or may not be Spirit-begotten. Two groups will be culpable, as shown in the Epistle of Jude, which deals with conditions at the very end of the age. Judas probably went into Second Death before the Ransom price was paid, but certainly before Jesus ascended and presented his merit to the Father. Knowledge makes one culpable for Second Death.

Matt. 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

While all of the workers got the penny, even the murmurers, the last workers were honored with the privilege first. With the parable applying to the consecrated at the very end of the age, the meaning is not necessarily that the last will be the youngest because all of the workers were on the scene at the same time. Some were simply invited into the vineyard work ahead of others. The implication may be that the last workers are relatively new in activity.

When invited, all of the workers went into the vineyard, but notice that going into the vineyard is not equated to the penny, which is a reward or favor. That favor was extended first to the 11th-hour workers, the last ones. In fulfillment, those who enter last will have more zeal, enthusiasm, and joy to do the work. Of this last class, many may be young, although the parable does not emphasize age necessarily except that all of the workers were on hand for the entire time period. They stood idle until invited into the regular Harvest (“vineyard”) work. As an illustration, various groups such as the Herald, the Dawn, and the Divine Plan have come along at different periods of time and done publishing for witness activity with their own subscribers, literature, and Volume offerings. Thus various groups do independent Harvest work and activity. And there is a distinct “coming in” as a new group engages in the work.

Although all of the workers got the penny, not all were in the right heart attitude, the lesson being that it is one thing to get the penny but another thing to use it. At the end of the age, the feet members will be rebuking Jezebel. The Elijah class will (1) espouse unpopular truths and (2) expose popular errors. With the Bible Student movement containing both Elijah and Elisha, two classes, the espousing of unpopular truths and the exposing of popular errors will happen right within the movement; that is, it does not pertain to our relationship to the world. Thus will the Elijah class be distinguished. The Volumes teach this concept as a principle without any explanation.

The Pastor expected a great work at the end of the age. He also expected to die an untimely death through violence, by assassination, and thus told others to keep their distance from him. Actually, he died a natural death only because the end of the age had not yet come. The Scriptures show that the violence to the feet members is yet ahead, and it will translate them into the Kingdom. In truth, it would be a privilege to die to enter the Kingdom, to die for Christ’s sake.

Receiving the “penny” will be the right to do this last smiting work. However, one will not enter the work (and thus use the penny) unless he has the heart and the zeal to do it. The consecrated, the valid children of God, will get the penny (the right, the privilege), but those who are indifferent will not use it. In the Gideon picture, the 10,000 who went to drink water picture the consecrated all partaking of the truth, but only 300 drank in the proper way so that they were selected to fight with Gideon. The 300 scooped up water and lapped it like a dog, all the time looking forward; that is, they were zealous in the truth and looked forward to the coming battle. In other words, the 300 were handpicked to be with Gideon for that battle. All 10,000 were invited, but 9,700 did not have quite the right heart for the work because they lacked zeal. Stated another way, all 10,000 had the right to lap the water like a dog, but only 300 had the zeal. All will get the penny, but not all will participate in the work of smiting the Jordan, that is, in giving a strong, concentrated message against nominal Christendom. In fact, using the penny will be such a privilege when the time comes that some who now have that interest may lose out because of not being in the right heart condition at that time. Therefore, no one should be confident of being chosen. If faithful at the very end of the age, developed in character and ready, eager, and willing, one will be chosen.

Many will see the smiting activity taking place but will hold back. They will have the “penny”— the right or privilege to participate—and will see others giving the strong message, but they will hold back and “murmur” until it is too late.

One reason for holding back would be family. Down through the age, many had a very hard time giving their lives, for the persecutors would take another member of the family, even a child, and abuse the individual in front of the Christian to make him recant. The Christian had to make a decision: would he recant because of family? That was a hard decision but a necessary one to be of the Little Flock. Abraham had the desire and the will to sacrifice Isaac, and he would have carried out the sacrifice if God had not instructed otherwise following the test. The Little Flock will have the faith of Abraham. Abraham had a very real experience, and so will the feet members.

Others might hold back for reasons of employment if their job is in jeopardy, but the faithful ones will not get the mark of the beast in any sense. Those who do not get the mark will not be able to shop or sell in the mart, as it were. Yes, there will be a ban on spiritual things for “cults,” but the ban will extend to other areas as well. Even friendship and fellowship will be “weeding out” factors. In the final analysis, the Great Company will be faithful but not soon enough. The foolish virgins will get the oil but after the door is shut. They will get the zeal and come to their senses, but the momentary indecisiveness will cost them the chief prize. Eventually, the Great Company will get life as overcomers, not denying the Lord, but their response will not be quick enough to be of the Little Flock.

The dispensing of the penny is certainly still future because the setting has not yet occurred where this privilege is available. However, the parable can begin without our being fully aware of its start. Even if we recognize a change, we will not know whether it is the first, third, sixth, or ninth hour. The 12th hour, at “even,” when the penny is given, will be more obvious. If a persecuting experience is attached to using the penny, we should not murmur because the “goodman of the house” is giving us this privilege to really sever ourselves from earthly ties to prove our faithfulness.

Generally speaking, the majority of the penny users will be the last laborers to enter the vineyard, whereas the “group” thinking of the earlier workers will be murmuring. Basically, the 11th-hour workers will be more enthused, although of course some feet members will come from each group of laborers. The 11th-hour workers will be fresh and enthusiastic and want to do something for the Lord. To have “the faith of Abraham” means to be willing to forsake everything: husband, wife, children, home, lands, etc. That degree of faith and zeal is necessary for one to get immortality. The Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son, and we should have the same disposition. If we want to be like Christ, it must cost us more and more.

Certainly there have been trials down through the Gospel Age just as severe as what will take place at the end of the age. Hard persecuting experiences have come in waves over Christians.

In times of relative peace and prosperity, we study and try to develop our characters and get armed so that when the next wave of persecution occurs, we will be faithful with the Lord’s help. It is actually a privilege to be living now when we see so many prophecies being fulfilled, and it would be a great honor, as well as a joy and a privilege, if we could be so faithful in development as to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to use the penny when the time comes.

If we consider the subject from a negative standpoint, it would not be very pleasant to live into the great Time of Trouble, which the Great Company will do. Their experiences in the trouble will be just as severe as what the Little Flock suffers earlier. The difference is that the Little Flock will voluntarily suffer earlier. And the world, too, will go through dreadful trouble in the great tribulation.

Matt. 20:17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,

Matt. 20:18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,

Matt. 20:19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

In the Gospels, the apostles are usually called “disciples” because Jesus was instructing them to be teachers, but they were not really teachers until he departed. When Jesus was with them, they were listeners, and later they instructed others.

This was at least the third occasion that Jesus told the Twelve he would be killed. Each time he ended with a note of hope: that he would be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:18,19).

“Gentiles” were the Roman soldiers who scourged Jesus when Pilate thought such action would soften the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees to change the death sentence to just a punishment. However, the scribes and Pharisees still wanted blood. Many abused Jesus, including the high priests and the Roman soldiers. He was taken to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, and to Herod.

Verses 17-19 show that Jesus knew quite a bit about what he would suffer. Even before he came down here, the Father would have told him of the plan and what had to be endured.

Thus the Logos intelligently volunteered to come to earth, having advance knowledge of the terrible ordeal he would have to experience. He knew he would be crucified. Of course there was a time—from his transference to Mary’s womb up until his baptism—when this information was “blanked out,” but at Jordan, the heavens were opened to him and his mind was flooded with knowledge of his preexistence. The knowledge of his death was withheld from his apostles, however, until he approached the end of his ministry.

Matt. 20:20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

Matt. 20:21 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.

Matt. 20:22 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.

Matt. 20:23 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.

Matt. 20:24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

How like a mother to want the best for her children! For the mother to come with John and James Zebedee (“sons of thunder”) to make this request shows her great faith, too, that Jesus would have a Kingdom (Mark 3:17). The request was for John and James to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in his Kingdom. The other Gospels indicate that John and James had this desire, but the request was implemented with the mother along and participating. In other words, John and James were responsible for the request, for it was their desire.

Of course the other disciples were upset, but actually, this desire was laudable. It is not wrong to love Jesus so much that we want to be as faithful as possible in order to be as close to him as possible in the Kingdom. Granted, Jesus used this incident to teach humility, but we should all have this desire. The principle is similar to a brother’s wanting the office of a bishop (elder),which Paul said is desiring a “good work” (1 Tim. 3:1). However, after a brother attains that office, then what? How does he discharge the responsibility? And why did he want the office in the first place? What was his motivation?

Verse 23 shows that not all judgment has been given to the Son. The Father has reserved certain privileges for Himself, one being the placement of the members in the body. With matters pertaining to the Church, the Father has almost all the say. The call or invitation, who will comprise the Little Flock and their positions, etc., are prerogatives of the Father. With regard to the world, Jesus will have almost all the say.

Trinitarians would have a hard time explaining verse 23. From their standpoint, this request to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand would really be a request to sit on God’s right and left hand, yet Jesus sits on God’s right hand (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1). How would Trinitarians answer that dilemma? Obviously, God and Jesus are two separate beings.

Notice that Jesus’ answer was directed to the two brothers: “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” Jesus must have looked at James and John in a way that made it clear whom he was addressing. His reply showed that great responsibility was attached to the initial question with regard to sitting on Jesus’ right and left hand.

It is interesting to realize that the Father grants the positions of honor. It is also interesting to see how readily John and James said, “Yes, we are able to drink of your cup and to be baptized with your baptism.” In Luke 12:50, Jesus spoke of his own baptism: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” “Straitened” means constrained (RSV), pained (KJV margin). We should have the same attitude in taking the cup of suffering. Originally, in the enthusiasm of youth, a Christian wants everything to happen all at once. He is ready to die and go into the Kingdom that very year. But the years go on, and certain complexities and sensitivities develop with regard to life. The decision to consecrate and submit all to the will of God is very important, but we need to mature through testings over the years.

Although youth is idealistic, it needs maturity, which should be gained as time goes on. This process happens faster with some than with others.

Jesus did not reprimand James and John for their desire, but he did show them the cost that is involved and that the Father makes the selection. Based on other hints in Scripture, Paul and Peter will probably sit on Jesus’ right and left hand.

We are all called to be of the Little Flock. Thus, in the beginning, we are greatly encouraged, and the enthusiasm of youth, good health, and idealism all tend to make the goal seem very attainable. However, as time goes on, we begin to see that very few will make the grade. The stark facts are that in the final analysis, it does not depend on how enthusiastic we are but on how obedient. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). We should aim for the Little Flock, but life in the Great Company will be a blessing too—and much superior to life here on earth.

The words of verse 23, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with,” can be said to anyone who makes a full, unreserved consecration. We all get to drink of Jesus’ cup, but whether or not we attain the prize of the high calling depends on how faithfully we drink of it. However, only the Twelve were eligible to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom. Jesus said specifically to the apostles, “Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Judas would have made the grade if he had been faithful.

“When the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation” against John and James. The ten were probably quite stirred up, especially Peter, a leading spirit.

Matt. 20:25 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.

Matt. 20:26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

Matt. 20:27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Matt. 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Matt. 20:29 And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.

Jesus enunciated a premise of the Kingdom—that being great is predicated upon ministering (serving). Whoever wants to be great should serve in his best capacity. That quality alone does not mean one will make the Little Flock, but it is the proper attitude. Then we are to leave the matter in God’s hands as to who is chosen.

For a while, Jesus’ response, a lesson on humility, squelched the feeling of rivalry among the apostles. However, at the Memorial, the same words and lesson were again necessary. When the apostles went up to Jerusalem, they had a dispute among themselves as to who should be the greatest (Luke 22:24-30). And this time all of the apostles disputed.

The lesson of verses 25-28 had to be deeply impressed on the apostles, and surely the Crucifixion had that effect. To see what God required of Jesus made them realize a similar testing and faithfulness were necessary for any to make the Little Flock. Great tribulation and selectivity were involved.

We drink of an awesome cup. Consecration, like marriage, may be entered into idealistically, but both are unknown contracts as far as the experiences we will have. We mean the vows when we consecrate (or marry), and the contract is bona fide. In time, however, we get experiences that we never dreamed of having. The cup of suffering will cost a great deal. Those who have to suffer most—whether mental, physical, moral, or whatever—will be getting nearer the top grade. In other words, not every member of the Great Company will have to make the choice that Abraham did. Trouble and persecution are an evidence that God is dealing with us; they are an evidence of baptism but not necessarily of placement.

Jesus gave “his life a ransom for many.” The Ransom is available for all, but not all will avail themselves of the opportunity and thus benefit from it. The Ransom is used both ways in Scripture: (1) tentatively for all and (2) only for those who respond properly and are obedient in the final analysis.

Jesus laid down his human life rights in the scale of Justice, and those human life rights constituted the Ransom. He did not come to earth to be expunged from all life. Rather, a joy, a hope, was set before him for dying on the Cross, and if he faithfully paid the Ransom price, then God could be just and yet the Justifier of men. Jesus gave up his human existence forever when he died faithfully on the Cross, but the spiritual soul (Greek psuche) is another matter.

Jesus knew that he had to perfectly obey the Law, for the Law held a prize of life to one who could keep it. That was the positive aspect, whereas the negative aspect was the necessity for death in order to pay the Ransom price. Through his death, Jesus obtained life rights, which he will forever relinquish once they are paid over to Justice. At present, those life rights are only mortgaged—they are on deposit for imputation (loan) to the consecrated of the Gospel Age.

Matt. 20:30 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.

Matt. 20:31 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.

Matt. 20:32 And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?

Matt. 20:33 They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.

Matt. 20:34 So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.

Verses 30-34 describe an emotional scene that probably took a few minutes. Two blind men sitting by the wayside called for mercy as Jesus passed by. No doubt he heard them but intentionally waited in order to extract their most intense feelings. The multitude tried to squelch their request, but the two just cried out louder, importuning. Finally Jesus stood still and asked what they wanted. Having compassion on them, Jesus touched their eyes and healed them. The two healed men followed Jesus—a nice reaction that did not always happen.

Q: Since Jesus had been doing miracles all along for those who cried out, why did the multitude rebuke the two blind men for calling for mercy?

A: Sometimes there is such respect for a person that others do not want to distract him from the more important matters. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Perhaps the multitude wanted to see his arrival in Jerusalem, and they were eagerly following him, expecting a confrontation there. An interruption by these two blind men would have delayed his objective. The multitude reacted emotionally according to what they wanted and their anticipation. Had the multitude thought on the matter, they certainly would have realized that blindness was a terrible thing to be afflicted with, and they would have wanted Jesus to heal the two men. However, they were so preoccupied with the other thinking that they did not realize what they were saying.

This miracle took place on the outskirts of Jericho. Jericho is unusual, for one entered and exited the city the same way, through a loop. This very ancient road is still used today.

For several reasons, the two blind men were healed immediately when Jesus touched their eyes: (1) their faith was great, (2) their request was made with urgency, and (3) Jesus knew they would follow him. Jesus sometimes healed in stages or with a slight delay in order to build up a process of faith—as if to follow the principle “Lord, increase our faith.” (We, too, have periods of faith, but we need more faith.) Here, however, the healing was immediate.

In verse 32, Jesus asked the two blind men, “What will ye that I shall do unto you?” Obviously, Jesus knew what they wanted, so why did he ask? The principle was operating: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, the Father will give you” (John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23). The expression of the desire is helpful, and not just the secret harboring of a matter. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and [but] with the mouth confession [or profession] is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10). It is one thing to believe in our heart, but the next step is to manifest that belief by an outer demonstration of words or deeds, which lead to salvation. Belief in the heart produces justification; an outward demonstration brings deliverance. Of course sanctification and glorification (or redemption) occur in between these two steps.

(1983–1985 study plus 1985 and 1997 discourses)

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