Created Wed. Sep. 10, 2003

The 1st shall be last and the last 1st


Sub-headings:
Mark's Account Considered
Luke's Account
Matthew's Account
The Lepers of Christ
Rewards for the Humble

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There is a statement by Jesus recorded in 3 gospels that I believe bears some significance, perhaps some hope for some, and can enlighten us more about this system that we live in right now. So important is it that even though it is one account mentioned in each gospel and not really in any other place in the Bible, it deserves attention. The fact that all 3 gospel writers noted it is enough merit to pay close attention.

The scripture is as follows from all 3 accounts:

Matthew 19: 30 But many first ones shall be last, and last ones first.

Mark 10: 31 But many first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

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

One might assume that all 3 writers were recalling the same account. But Jesus often spoke the same things wherever he went so that each writer could be recalling a different time when Jesus was speaking of the matter. That is why in the parable of the man appointing slaves of his to watch over his money while he was gone on a long journey, are given talents (Matthew 25:15), a measure of money, in one version, but minas in another (Luke 19:13). The amounts of the denominations given were different, too.

So it is with the account of the 1st last and the last 1st, possibly. Jesus was giving us a little bit of a hint of an aspect of God's kingdom that I have never really heard addressed by very many. And for good reason, too. It does not mean very good things for those of fame, prominence, or status in this world and system, even in God's house, so to speak.

But in order to understand what Jesus might be hinting at, we need to examine why he was saying it or bringing it up and who it might be intended for. So we need to look at the context in which this saying was brought up, so that we do not rush to false conclusions.



Mark's Account Considered
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Though Matthew is the first and most extensive account, it is also the most confusing so I will deal with Mark and Luke first to see what we might discern from them. Their simpler accounts may help us get a more clear picture to start with before reading Matthew.

Mark 10: 28 And Peter began to say to Him, Behold, we left all and followed You. 29 But answering, Jesus said, Truly I say to you, There is no one who forsook house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the gospel, 30 that will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Mark's account starts like Matthew's as you will later see, but Mark ends long before Matthew's does. This will be relevant in my opinion. But what does Jesus mean by those who are first now and last now? And what about later? Jesus said all will receive much more, speaking, I believe, in the long term perspective. They gain much even in the present of his time, though with persecutions, as he candidly points out. But also the coming age and eternal life. Those would be the long term things to look forward to, to help us endure persecution.

But many who either come first or are first in prominence and status, shall become last either in coming or in status. Which one is it? Well, quite obviously, those who die now will inherit at the same time as those living at the end, the last day. But as explained in other accounts, some receive more than others, because of bearing much fruit of the spirit and faith.

Matthew 13: 23 But that sown on the good ground is this: the one hearing the Word, and understanding it, who indeed brings forth and produces fruit: one truly a hundredfold, and one sixty, and one thirty.

Here Jesus points out that each faithful Christian produces fruit or results in different measures, some producing much more than others. Some do not like to talk about this but Jesus was not afraid to point it out. But for those who produce a lot, they will be given much more in the judgement of Christ in the last day and on into God's kingdom. Luke points out another aspect to consider.

Luke 19: 15 And it happened as he returned, having received the kingdom, he even said for those slaves to be called to him, those to whom he gave the silver, that he might know what each had gained by trading.

Luke 19: 16 And the first came, saying, Lord, your mina has gained ten minas. 17 And he said to him, Well done, good slave! Because you were faithful in a least thing, have authority over ten cities. 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, your mina has made five minas. 19 And he said to this one also, And you be over five cities.

Luke 19: 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold your mina which I had kept in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an exacting man, taking what you did not lay down, and reaping what you did not sow.

Luke 19: 22 But he said to him, I will judge you out of your own mouth, wicked slave. You knew that I am an exacting man, taking what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow. 23 And why did you not give my silver on the bank table? And coming, I might have exacted it with interest. 24 And to those standing by, he said, Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.

Luke 19: 25 And they said to him, Lord, he has ten minas. 26 For I say to you, To everyone who has, it will be given. And from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

In this account, we see those who produce varying amounts of fruit, so to speak. Profit to be specific but that profit symbolizes the fruit we bear. For those who produce a lot in behalf of Jesus, a lot more is granted to them in God's Kingdom as a reward for they have shown themselves capable and responsible. Jesus rewards performance, always! Of course, he punishes laziness and deliberate avoidance of duties as well.

But it is important to understand that Jesus rewards good, even if that good should not be recognized by others. Jesus sees what men do not see. But what is most important is that Jesus rewards progress and faithfulness, in accordance with what we do with ourselves and the fruit that we bear. We need to keep this in mind as we try to understand what being 1st or last means, since timing hardly seems to be the problem in Mark's account.



Luke's Account
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Luke 13:23 And one said to Him, Lord, are the ones being saved few? But He said to them, 24 Labor to enter in through the narrow gate, for I say to you that many will seek to enter in and will not have strength.

13:25 From the time the Master of the house shall have risen up, and He shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. And answering, He will say to you, I do not know you. From where are you? 26 Then you will begin to say, We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets. 27 And He will say, I tell you I do not know you, from where you are. "Stand back from Me all workers of unrighteousness!" Psa. 6:8

13:28 There will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrust outside. 29 And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline in the kingdom of God. 30 And, behold, there are last ones who will be first, and there are first ones who will be last.

This account is far different from Mark's. We can see many who heard Jesus preach but did not obey him. They are left out of God's kingdom while the faithful of God come in from previous times such as Abraham and the prophets. In addition, many from all directions of the earth will come in. Than Jesus says that there are some among the last ones who will be first and that some of the first ones will be last.

Why will some first ones stay first while other first ones end up last? I sense that when Jesus speaks of the "first ones," he is speaking of a group, first either in rank or timing. One might figure that the children of Israel would be given prominence or first place as an inherited right, since them came first and were sons of Abraham in the fleshly sense.

But apparently, those things mean little to Jesus. He does not care about rank, position, prominence, or who you are related to or friends with. These are often important factors in the world we live in, even among Christians. But they are nothing to Jesus or his Father. What you do is all that matters. We call this merit. It is not who you know or are born to, it is the degree of merit you have according to your works.

It is understood by many that a good way to get ahead in life and at work is to be friends with those who are powerful and high ranking. We call this ass-kissing, brown-nosing, or sucking up. Nepotism, whereby a relative is given preference, is also common. The owner's son may be an idiot but since he is the son, he is given the job of 2nd in charge when others in the company may be better at it and make the owner more money. But this is not the way Jesus does things. Your earn your way with Jesus!

So when people from all over the earth come into God's kingdom, some among them will be given positions at the top or among the first ones, as Jesus would put it. And some of those who were of Israel and came before those of the nations, will not remain among the first ones but will take a place among the last ones, not having applied themselves nearly as much as some from among the nations.

Because the world we live in is so corrupt and full of people who have little or no merit, those who do have skill and merit will often be held down and kept back because they do not kiss ass and supply phony smooth flattery that gets them ahead. They can not bear to act is such a disgraceful way.

The world loves it own and since good righteous men are no part of the world according to Jesus, they are not loved and promoted to a rank of high status or wealth. So they are looked down upon by the world for not going along with the world.

As the Proverbs (28:28) say: " When the wicked rise, a man hides himself; but when they perish, the righteous multiply."

And (Proverbs 29:2) "When the righteous increase, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people sigh."

And sad to say, to some degree, there is social politics that exists among Christians as well. Some are more favored with status than others. Status can often involve who you are related to or sometimes even involve as-kissing and the like. So even among brothers, our human weaknesses can become manifest. But in God's kingdom, none of that will matter. All status and rank will only depend on what sort of person you really are in the eyes of Jesus, not men.

That being so, Jesus warns that many who are first now will be last later and that many who are last, get passed up, unnoticed, unappreciated, looked down upon, maybe even rejected and ridiculed, or persecuted, will later be the first among us as they might have been persecuted because they followed their master more closely and so got the reward in this life that their master got. As you recall, Jesus was killed his first time around as were most all the prophets before him and Apostles and other faithful ones after him.

Matthew 10: 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

10:24 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Jesus said that if you follow him, you will be treated like him.



Matthew's Account
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Matthew 19: 28 And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, You who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man sits on the throne of His glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

19: 30 But many first ones shall be last, and last ones first.

This is nearly identical to how Mark wrote it. But Jesus next uses an illustration rather unique compared to the other two. I believe this is because there is another aspect that resembles the 1st/last & last/1st approach and so he adds it here as it is a good time to bring it up.

Matthew 20: 1 For the kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a housemaster, who went out when it was early to hire workers into his vineyard. 2 And agreeing with the workers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the market. 4 And he said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever is just. And they went. 5 Again, going out about the sixth and ninth hour, he did the same.

20: 6 And going out about the eleventh hour, he found others standing idle, and said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? 7 They said to him, Because no one has hired us. He said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is just.

20: 8 But evening coming, the Lord of the vineyard said to his manager, Call the workers and pay them the wage, beginning from the last to the first. 9 And the ones coming the eleventh hour each received a denarius. 10 And coming, the first supposed that they would receive more. And they also each received a denarius. 11 And receiving it, they murmured against the housemaster, 12 saying, These last have performed one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.

20: 13 But answering, he said to one of them, Friend, I am not unjust to you. Did you not agree to a denarius with me? 14 Take yours and go. But I desire to give to this last as also to you. 15 Or is it not lawful for me to do what I desire with my things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?

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

It ends up that those who worked for only one hour were paid as much as those who had been working all day as they had agreed to do for the pay in question. It didn't go over well with those who worked all day long, though. But Jesus said what difference is it to you if I want to be nice and generous to these last ones? Isn't it my right to do what I want with my money. You got paid what you agreed was fair earlier. So buzz off.

As best as I can discern, the last ones are, in this respect, treated better than the first ones, since they did not work nearly as hard or as long, anyway. And the first ones were treated more poorly since they worked longer and yet received no more than the last ones.

It looks to me as if Jesus was pointing out our tendency toward jealousy. If we agreed to certain terms or a contract, we should not complain about living up to those terms or the contract. And even if someone gets a better deal or contract, we should not be jealous that they got a better one.

Yet all of us should admit that we might resent a fellow employee who gets better treatment than we do, even though we accepted certain terms when we were hired that are in force. But this is not to say that Jesus is recommending favoritism as I call it, or partiality. He does not normally approve of those things. But in the case of those being saved, which is what this illustration is all about, some come in at the last hour of the harvest and get the same pay as those who had been at the harvest for a long time.

Those who had been good all their lives might resent those who lived it up good, perhaps having nice jobs and comforts, or living it up with various pleasures that secretly we might have been envying and coveting. Now they wake up, see the light, and make the right decision at the last possible hour, so to speak, and end up saved with those who gave up much and maybe even suffered much for their faith.

Jesus seems to think we should not envy them or hold it against them. True, they did get off kind of easy, but shouldn't we really rejoice that they did not have to die but chose God and righteousness and will live forever now as God has wanted all along? Should we be upset that someone did not die? It should make us sit back and take a careful look at ourselves.

So those coming in last get treated as if first, so to speak. As Jesus points out, "for many are called, but few chosen." That is to say, since so few are too be saved despite the fact that everyone was offered the opportunity, we should not be upset that a few take advantage of God's offer and accept. It is few enough that will be saved as it is. Surely we do not want that number to be even smaller, do we?

Besides, for those who did always remain faithful and produced much fruit/profit for their master, they will surely be rewarded and blessed for their excellent job and obtain a high status in God's kingdom. That will not be taken away. But neither should we miss the point that some of those to come in at the last hour may also go ahead of many who had been Christians for many years. But whose fault is that? The fault of the last one who applies himself? Or really, isn't it the fault of the one who, although he knew Christ many years, did little to merit any reward from Jesus for his many years of half hearted service?



The Lepers of Christ
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The most important things I want to focus on is what we are doing right now. Many who are Christians and get a lot of attention, are successful in this world, looked up to, admired, have status in their church, perhaps or are maybe a minister, pastor, or some other leadership type position or role, have a beautiful wife or a handsome husband, are good looking themselves, well educated, or whatever other ways they might appear good in the flesh or in the world, what are you really doing for God that will please Him and His son, His appointed king to subdue the earth.

Because whatever we do in this world, it may not matter to God. God does not care about how good you look, how smart you are said to be, or who you are related to, or what sort of appointment and position you have in your church or at work, or what neighborhood or sort of house you live in or what car you drive. All of that means nothing to God.

God cares about how much you apply His word in your lives. He cares about how you treat others. He cars about how much effort you put into being a better person and learning His word, and sharing it with others if possible. He cares about how much love you give to others.

It is very possible that if you seek to please God well, you might not have much to show for yourself the way most people expect you to have. You may not have a lot of money or live in a nice place or drive is nice car or SUV. You might not have a very impressive job. It might even be a terrible job. You might not have a college education or even a high school diploma. Maybe your not that good looking. Recall what Paul said about these matters to the Christians in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1: 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart."

People of the world think the message of Jesus is a silly, stupid, "unscientific" message that primitive ignorant weak needy minds use to limp on because they can not handle reality. But it is the opposite that is true, for to accept the message of Jesus takes great courage and sacrifice that few would make for any price.

1 Corinthians 1: 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

Wisdom and philosophy were big among the Greeks and common in the empire of Rome. This high sounding intellectualism didn't do them much good, though. God's word and wisdom put worldly wisdom to shame. The worldly wise think the scriptures foolishness, of course. Science and the so-called obvious moral and intellectual superiority of political correctness are thought far above God but for those who know God, it is all foolishness and soon to be wiped from the face of the earth.

1 Corinthians 1: 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

We will next see even more how God's wisdom brings man's to nothing, in that God uses those who are not impressive in this world to shame those that are, for whatever the reason of their impressiveness.

1 Corinthians 1: 26 For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; 27 but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Did you see it? God chose those things, people to be exact, which are foolish, shameful, or despised in the world, but loved by God. In this way, God makes the impressive things of the world look even more pathetic by using what they think least of to show them up. So it will often be the weak, the ugly, the uneducated, the poor, the looked down upon, the losers, the nerds, the outcasts and other social cast-offs of society who end up being the ones saved and inheriting God's kingdom and shaming those who thought they were so great but ended up being dead.

So we should expect that most Christians will not be the beautiful charismatic, charming, cool, with-it, hip, smooth, highly educated (with degrees and certificates), wealthy, powerful types. Christians will be the cripples, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, the outcasts, so to speak. It is like Jesus said here when speaking of throwing a banquet but those invited refused to come for the most silly excuses:

Luke 14: 21 And having come up that slave reported these things to his lord. Then being angry, the housemaster said to his slave, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and maimed and lame and blind ones.

14:22 And the slave said, Sir, it has been done as you ordered, and still there is room. 23 And the lord said to the slave, Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.

Generally, people of means do not like to have the poor and maimed and lame and blind ones around them. They like to keep them far away as they look down on them and besides, those looked down upon bother the consciences of those of means and so they do not like to be reminded of the plight of those left behind.

But God wants those left behind. Those left behind have more empathy and understanding and know how evil those in power are who keep them at the bottom to suffer. They long and hunger for righteousness and justice and Jesus promises that they will be filled and satisfied.

So those who are last in that worldly sense, are first with God and will be rewarded for it. But in a greater sense, among God's own, there are those who are last who will be first later and the first now who will be last later.



Rewards for the Humble
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So for those in Christianity who are discouraged because they are perhaps looked down upon or not highly esteemed, fear not for your salvation draws near and you shall have more to gain from God's kingdom than others who inherit it. Observe this:

Matthew 6: 1 Be careful not to do your merciful deeds before men in order to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in Heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do merciful deeds, do not trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But you doing merciful deeds, do not let your left know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret. And your Father seeing in secret Himself will repay you in the open.

Let your deeds go unnoticed for now. All the better that they go unnoticed. For then your heavenly Father will have further rewards to give you in His kingdom. But if you are rewarded now, you shall have nothing left to receive later. So rejoice that you are not recognized or received with great honor now. Jesus was not recognized with honor the first time he came, either. He was considered a criminal and killed.

Luke 16: 25 But Abraham said, Child, remember that you fully received your good things in your lifetime, and Lazarus likewise the bad things. But now he is comforted, and you are suffering.

It is much better to suffer, and hunger and thirst in this world and age than to suffer in the next. I suppose it is incredible to suggest that someone could be unhappy or ashamed in God's kingdom, given that they made it, were save, and survived. But such will be the case for some.

Jesus spoke of slaves appointed to look after matters of their lord in Luke 12. Jesus told of 3 possible outcomes. After addressing the good slave and the wicked one, he addresses the only other possible outcome, which while it does not prevent salvation, it does come with a "few strokes."

Luke 12: 48 But he not knowing, and doing things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few. And everyone given much, much will be demanded from him. And to whom much was deposited, more exceedingly they will ask of him.

This slave did not know or understand correctly and Jesus recognizes that and so only mildly disciplines the slave. Jesus is not overly angry but still, how great will it feel to have to merit any punishment at all? It could be potentially embarrassing. Even more so if we perhaps thought we were quite special or above many others when in reality, we were below them. Could be that we get served a big piece of humble pie! Sort of like this:

Luke 14: 7 And He spoke a parable to those who had been invited, noting how they were choosing out the chief seats, saying to them, 8 When you are invited by anyone to wedding feasts, do not recline at the chief seat lest one more honorable than you be invited by him, 9 and coming, he who invited you will say to you, Give this one place. And then you begin with shame to take the last place.

14:10 But when you are invited, going in, recline at the last place, so that when he who has invited you may come, he may say to you, Friend, go up higher. Then glory will be to you before those reclining with you. 11 For everyone exalting himself will be humbled, and the one humbling himself will be exalted.

Humble pie sucks, even in God's kingdom. So don't set yourself up for a slice. Examine your self and apply yourself diligently to God's instructions so that you don't end up in last place in God's kingdom with pie on your face. And if your not getting your due now, then rejoice for you will get it in God's kingdom. You know what they say, He who laughs last always laughs hardest.

Better to endure a little pain and humiliation at the hands of stupid people now and enjoy the rewards that follow later on. They won't think they are so smart then. Meanwhile, take pity on them for they know not what they do and won't catch on till its too late.

So it is one thing to be saved, its another to be saved and not have anything to really regret, despite salvation. But aside from that, it is also important to understand how bad the world has gotten, which is part of why it will come to nothing in not much more time. And most important of all, that even we who are in the house of God should be concerned that we might be overly influenced by that wicked world without even being aware of it.

Jesus will have a lot to correct and we just want to make sure that we can get ourselves in line and in harmony with his will as best as it is possible according to our ability so that we do not experience a little shame along with our joy. Jesus is letting us know ahead of time so we can prepare and avoid the mishaps that might, at least temporarily, take away a little piece of the joy that should be ours after salvation from the world's destruction.


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