Sunday, April 24, 2011

A difficult verse

Hi everyone,
As you will have noticed I have been silent for a while.  No-one said they wanted to follow my sidetrack on end-times, so I have been doing that study without any posting here.
But I have now veered back to our original focus so have some thoughts to share with you again.

How many times have I tried to discover the meaning of this verse?
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Matthew 19 : 30 ;  Matthew 20 : 16 ;  Mark 10 : 31 ;  Luke 13 : 30.

Several explanations have occured to me over the years, but recently I have been considering two others, which are related to some extent.

In Matthew's gospel this statement surrounds the story of the labourers and the generous landowner.  Although all labourers were paid the same amount at the end of the day, those employed last were paid first and those employed first were paid last.
This is a parable, so has a spiritual or prophetic meaning or application.

Possibility 1.
The Jews were God's chosen nation to inherit the kingdom and then to bring in  the Gentile nations.  However because of their failure to obey God and to accept their Messiah, Jesus told the Jews that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to the church.  (Matthew 21 :  33 - 46, which is another story of a landowner;  also Matthew 8 : 12)

Paul confirmed this by saying that AFTER the full number of Gentiles came in all Israel would be saved.  (Romans 11 :  25 - 26)
So the first chosen would now be last to enter, and the last first.

Possibilty 2.
This possibility is almost a variation of possibility 1.  After telling a story about two sons, Jesus told Israel's chief priests and elders that tax collectors and prostitutes (outcasts in Israeli society) would enter the kingdom of God before they would.  (Matthew 21 :  28 - 32)

Clearly the religious leaders would be expecting to be first in .... but they were to come in AFTER those like Matthew and Mary Magdalene who were not depending on their religious position or performance for acceptance, but on their belief in the gospel and their willingness to follow Jesus.

With a similar theme, Jesus' other story about two sons (recorded in Luke 15 :  11 - 32) has the younger, rebellious, but returning son coming into the father's house and enjoying the celebrations before the older "obedient" son.  The older would have been expecting first entry because of his fiathfulness but, if the story continues in the way we would now expect it to, he would have been the last to enter.

Both possible explanations hint at the same idea - the strictly religious are surpassed by those who throw themselves at Christ's feet for mercy.

Do you have any other ideas on this?
Blessings, Barry

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