Many Who Are First Will Be Last


(Tabitha Gallman) #1

I am still learning that parables are not to be taken literally and that we are to interpret the Bible only through the Holy Spirit. I understand that when Jesus spoke of The Rich and the Kingdom of God, and he said that many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30) he was referring to salvation right? Because when he says the same thing in Matthew 20:16 about the workers in the vineyard, that could also apply to the thief on the cross who Jesus said he would be with him in paradise that same day?

Peter in Matthew 19:27 said: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Is the reply that Jesus gives in verse 28 and 29 only referring to Peter and the 12 disciples?

I noticed the translation for Matthew 20:16 is different in the KJV and the NIV. The NIV version leaves off the line: “for many be called, but few are chosen”. Is this referring to discipleship only and not salvation?


(SeanO) #2

@tabby68 Looking at things a bit more carefully I would say that yes, in Matthew 19:30 Jesus is referring to eternal life and that this saying could well apply to the thief on the cross. The thief did not labor or toil for the Kingdom and yet he has received eternal life through Christ.

Regarding Matthew 19:28-29, I would say that verse 28 applies to the disciples specifically, but that verse 29 applies to all people. The disciples will have a special role to play in the judgment of Israel and everyone, including us, who seeks Christ’s Kingdom first will receive 100 times as much as they sacrifice in this life (not necessarily speaking of material possessions) and ultimately eternal life.

The statement you…will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel looks at the future authority the Twelve will have when Jesus returns. They will share in Israel’s judgment. NET Bible

Jesus reassures his disciples with a promise that (1) much benefit in this life ( a hundred times as much ) and (2) eternal life will be given. NET Bible

Many Who are Last Shall Be First

I thought this article from Got Questions did a good job of summarizing ‘the last shall be first’. I recommend giving it a read.

What Jesus is teaching in Matthew 19:30 is this: there will be many surprises in heaven. Heaven’s value system is far different from earth’s value system. Those who are esteemed and respected in this world (like the rich young ruler) may be frowned upon by God. The opposite is also true: those who are despised and rejected in this world (like the disciples) may, in fact, be rewarded by God. Don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; it’s too prone to error. Those who are first in the opinion of others (or first in their own opinion!) may be surprised to learn, on Judgment Day, they are last in God’s opinion.

Many are Called, but Few are Chosen

This line is chiefly found at the end of the parable of the wedding feast - Matthew 22:14. I believe it also refers to salvation and not discipleship. Those who are ‘chosen’ are those at the wedding feast - all those in God’s Kingdom - all the saved people. This passage is a bit of a twizzler. The first half is very easy to understand.

  • many are called/invited == all are invited to enter the Kingdom of Heaven - all are invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb

The second part trips people up - but ‘few are chosen’. This phrase could mean two things:

  1. God has only chosen so many people for salvation
  2. ‘Chosen’ is a term to refer to those who accept the invitation

My personal opinion requires some Biblical history about Israel. Who was the nation of Israel - they were God’s ‘chosen people’. And yet we know, as Paul points out so eloquently in Romans 9-11, that not all Israelites by physical descent are true Israelites. God chose the entire nation, but the truly chosen - the true Israel of God - are those who have faith in God.

The Church too is called ‘a chosen nation’ by the apostle Peter. So I believe that ‘chosen’ is a Biblical term Jesus is using to refer to all those who choose to place their faith in the living God.

These are some very challenging texts and rich soil for further study. Look forward to continued discussion.


“Old” people of the bible
(Tabitha Gallman) #3

@SeanO

Upon my searches online and pondering the different parables I agree with you, and the Got Questions article you provided seemed to sum up those words from Christ: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”. I had always assumed it meant that those who suffer more in this world will be first in Heaven, but that is not what it means at all.

In my search I came across an audio file of Tom Schreiner preaching from Galatians chapter 3. In this chapter Paul says in verse 8: “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”” Verse 10 says: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.””

In reading Galatians, I believe “Many who are first will be last” refers to justification by faith. The rich man in Matthew 19 didn’t have the faith to give up his riches and follow Christ, but felt that he was justified by the law instead.


(SeanO) #4

@tabby68 Glad to hear you are diving into the Scriptures :slight_smile: It’s always such a joy to learn God’s Word. Connecting Galatians to Matthew is an interesting interpretive move. It may be accurate to say that the ‘last who will be first’ are those who place their faith in Jesus but I am not sure I would say that it refers directly to the Pauline emphasis on justification by faith. When trying to understand the message of a Biblical passage, it is often better to remain within the context of that passage unless outside texts / ideas are more directly referenced.


(Tabitha Gallman) #5

Yeah, that may have been a stretch from the parable of the Rich and justification of faith. I was associating the Pharisees with that of the rich man (in chapter 19), who was living by the law. One of my searches of “first to last” took me to the sermon about the Galatians living by works instead of faith.

This message of being first or last in the kingdom of God seems to be something that people in the book of Matthew didn’t seem to grasp (like me, lol). Jesus repeats it again and even backwards. Jesus was trying to tell them that being first or last didn’t matter for them to receive their reward (heaven). They couldn’t buy their way into heaven, because the gift of eternal life is given by God through their faith/following Jesus Christ.

This article: https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/what-does-the-first-shall-be-last-and-the-last-shall-be-first-mean/
has a conclusion that basically says it’s not our works that get us to heaven, but is a reward from God.


(SeanO) #6

@tabby Amen! Yes, it is such a blessing that “God does not love us because we are good, He makes us good because He loves us” as C. S. Lewis has said. I love the way Isaiah says it:

Isaiah 55:1-2 - “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.