Matthew 20


The similitude of the householder hiring labourers into his

vineyard, to show that the Gentiles should be preferred to the

Jews, according to what was hinted at the close of the last

chapter, 1-16.

On the way going up to Jerusalem he predicts his sufferings and

death, 17-19.

The mother of Zebedee's children requests dignities for her

sons, 20, 21.

Christ, by his answer, shows that sufferings, not worldly

honours, are to be the lot of his most faithful followers, and

that seats in glory can be given only to those who are prepared

for them, 22, 23.

From this our Lord takes occasion to teach the necessity of

humility, and to show that those who wished to be chief must be

servants of all, 24-28.

On his coming to Jericho, he restores sight to two blind men,

who, being restored, follow him, 29-34.


Verse 1. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man-a

householder] The very commencement of this chapter shows it to be

connected with the preceding. The manner of God's proceeding

under the Gospel dispensation resembles a householder, who went

out at day break, αμαπρωι, together with the morning; as the

light began to go out of its chambers in the east, so he went out

of his bed-room to employ labourers, that they might cultivate his

vineyard. This was what was called, among the Jews and Romans,

the first hour; answering to six o'clock in the morning.

To hire labourers] Some workmen, τωνεργατων-for he had not

got all that was necessary, because we find him going out at other

hours to hire more.

Verse 2. A penny] A Roman coin, as noted before, Mt 18:28,

worth about seven-pence halfpenny or seven-pence three farthings

of our money, and equal to the Greek drachma. This appears to

have been the ordinary price of a day's labour at that time. See

Tobit 5:14. In 1351 the price of labour was regulated in this

country by parliament; and it is remarkable that "corn-weeders and

hay-makers, without meat, drink, or other courtesy demanded," were

to have one penny per day! In 1314 the pay of a chaplain to the

Scotch bishops, who were then prisoners in England, was three

halfpence per day. See Fleetwood's Chronicon Precios, p. 123,

129. This was miserable wages, though things at that time were so

cheap that twenty-four eggs were sold for a penny, p. 72; a pair

of shoes for four-pence, p. 71; a fat goose for two-pence

halfpenny, p. 72; a hen for a penny, p. 72; eight bushels of

wheat for two shillings, and a fat ox for six shillings and

eight-pence! Ibid. In 1336, wheat per quarter, 2s.; a fat sheep

6d.; fat goose, 2d. and a pig, 1d.,p. 75.

Verse 3. The third hour] Nine o'clock in the morning.

Market-place] Where labourers usually stood till they were

hired. I have often seen labourers standing in the market places

of large towns in these countries, waiting to be employed.

Verse 5. The sixth hour] Twelve o'clock. Ninth hour-three

o'clock in the afternoon.

Verse 6. Eleventh] Five o'clock in the evening, when there was

only one hour before the end of the Jewish day, which, in matters

of labour, closed at six.

Verse 7. No man hath hired us.] This was the reason why they

were all the day idle.

And whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.] Ye may expect

payment in proportion to your labour, and the time ye spend in it;

but this clause is wanting in some of the best MSS., versions, and


Verse 8. When the even was come] Six o'clock, the time they

ceased from labour, and the workmen came to receive their wages.

Steward] επιτρωπος. A manager of the household concerns under

the master. The rabbinical writers use the very same word, in

Hebrew letters, for the same office, epitropos. See


Verse 11. They murmured] The Jews made the preaching of the

Gospel to the Gentiles, a pretence why they should reject that

Gospel; as they fondly imagined they were, and should be, the sole

objects of the Divine approbation. How they murmured because the

Gentiles were made partakers of the kingdom of God; see Ac 11:1,

&c., and Ac 15:1, &c.

There are many similitudes of this kind among the Jews, where

the principal part even of the phraseology of our Lord's parable

may be found. Several of them may be seen in Schoettgen. Our

Lord, however, as in all other cases, has greatly improved the

language, scope, design, and point of the similitude. He was, in

all cases, an eminent master of the sentences.

Verse 13. Friend, I do thee no wrong] The salvation of the

Gentiles can in itself become no impediment to the Jews; there is

the same Jesus both for the Jew and for the Greek. Eternal life

is offered to both through the blood of the cross; and there is

room enough in heaven for all.

Verse 15. Is it not lawful for me] As eternal life is the free

gift of God, he has a right to give it in whatever proportions, at

whatever times, and on whatever conditions he pleases.

Is thine eye evil] An evil eye among the Jews meant a

malicious, covetous, or envious person.

Most commentators have different methods of interpreting this

parable. Something was undoubtedly designed by its principal

parts, besides the scope and design mentioned at the conclusion of

the last chapter. The following, which is taken principally from

the very pious Quesnel, may render it as useful to the reader as

any thing else that has been written on it.

The Church is a vineyard, because it is a place of labour,

where no man should be idle. Each of us is engaged to labour in

this vineyard-to work out our salvation through him who worketh in us

to will and to perform. Life is but a day, whereof childhood, or

the first use of reason, is the day-break or first hour, Mt 20:1,

in which we receive the first CALL.

The promise of the kingdom of glory is given to all those who

are workers together with him, Mt 20:2.

The second call is in the time of youth, which is most commonly

idle, or only employed in dissipation and worldly cares,

Mt 20:3.

The third call is at the age of manhood.

The fourth, in the decline of life, Mt 20:5.

The fifth, when sickness and the infirmities of life press upon

us. How many are there in the world who are just ready to leave

it, before they properly consider for what end they were brought

into it! Still idle, still unemployed in the things which concern

their souls; though eternal life is offered to them, and hell

moving from beneath to meet them! Mt 20:6.

Others consider the morning the first dawn of the Gospel; and

the first call to be the preaching of John Baptist.

The second call, the public preaching of our LORD; and that of

the apostles when they got an especial commission to the Jews,

Mt 10:5, 6,

together with that of the seventy disciples mentioned Lu 10:1.

The third call, which was at mid-day, represents the preaching

of the fulness of the Gospel after the ascension of Christ, which

was the meridian of evangelic glory and excellence.

The fourth call represents the mission of the apostles to the

various synagogues of the Jews, in every part of the world where

they were scattered; the history of which is particularly given in

the Acts of the Apostles.

The fifth call, or eleventh hour, represents the general call of

the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, when the unbelieving Jews

were finally rejected. What makes this interpretation the more

likely is, that the persons who are addressed at Mt 20:7, say,

No man hath hired us, i.e. We never heard the voice of a prophet

announcing the true God, nor of an apostle preaching the Lord

Jesus, until now. The Jews could not use this as an argument for

their carelessness about their eternal interests.

Verse 16. So the last shall be first, and the first last] The

GENTILES, who have been long without the true God, shall now enjoy

all the privileges of the new covenant; and the Jews, who have

enjoyed these from the beginning, shall now be dispossessed of

them; for, because they here rejected the Lord, he also hath

rejected them.

Many are called, &c.] This clause is wanting in BL, one other,

and in the Coptic and Sahidic versions. Bishop PEARCE thinks it

is an interpolation from Mt 22:14. The simple meaning seems to

be: As those who did not come at the invitation of the householder

to work in the vineyard did not receive the denarius, or wages, so

those who do not obey the call of the Gospel, and believe in

Christ Jesus, shall not inherit eternal life.

This place seems to refer to the ancient Roman custom of

recruiting their armies. Among this celebrated people, no one was

forced to serve his country in a military capacity; and it was the

highest honour to be deemed worthy of thus serving it. The youth

were instructed, almost from their cradle, in military exercises.

The Campus Martius was the grand field in which they were

disciplined: there, they accustomed themselves to leaping,

running, wrestling, bearing burdens, fencing, throwing the

javelin, &c., and when, through these violent exercises, they were

all besmeared with dust and sweat, in order to refresh themselves,

they swam twice or thrice across the Tyber! Rome might at any

time have recruited her armies by volunteers from such a mass of

well-educated, hardy soldiers; but she thought proper, to use the

words of the Abbe Mably, that the honour of being chosen to serve

in the wars should be the reward of the accomplishments shown by

the citizens in the Campus Martius, that the soldier should have a

reputation to save; and that the regard paid him, in choosing him

to serve, should be the pledge of his fidelity and zeal to

discharge his duty. The age of serving in the army was from

seventeen to forty-five, and the manner in which they were chosen

was the following:-

After the creation of consuls, they every year named twenty-four

military tribunes, part of whom must have served five years at

least, and the rest eleven. When they had divided among them the

command of the four legions to be formed, the consuls summoned to

the capitol, or Campus Martius, all the citizens who, by their

age, were obliged to bear arms. They drew up by tribes, and lots

were drawn to determine in what order every tribe should present

its soldiers. That which was the first in order chose the four

citizens who were judged the most proper to serve in the war; and

the six tribunes who commanded the first legion chose one of these

four, whom they liked best. The tribunes of the second and third

likewise made their choice one after another; and he that remained

entered into the fourth legion. A new tribe presented other four

soldiers, and the second legion chose first. The third and fourth

legions had the same advantage in their turns. In this manner,

each tribe successively chose four soldiers, till the legions were

complete. They next proceeded to the creation of subaltern

officers, whom the tribunes chose from among the soldiers of the

greatest reputation. When the legions were thus completed, the

citizens who had been called, but not chosen, returned to their

respective employments, and served their country in other

capacities. None can suppose that these were deemed useless, or

that, because not now chosen to serve their country in the field,

they were proscribed from the rights and privileges of citizens,

much less destroyed, because others were found better qualified to

serve their country at the post of honour and danger. Thus many

are called by the preaching of the Gospel, but few are found who

use their advantages in such a way as to become extensively useful

in the Church-and many in the Church militant behave so ill as

never to be admitted into the Church triumphant. But what a mercy

that those who appear now to be rejected may be called in another

muster, enrolled, serve in the field, or work in the vineyard?

How many millions does the long-suffering of God lead to


Verse 17. And Jesus going up] From Jericho to Jerusalem,

See Clarke on Mt 19:15.

Verse 18. The Son of man shall be betrayed] Or, will be

delivered up. This is the third time that our Lord informed his

disciples of his approaching sufferings and death. This was a

subject of the utmost importance, and it was necessary they should

be well prepared for such an awful event.

Verse 19. Deliver him to the Gentiles to mock] This was done

by Herod and his Roman soldiers. See Lu 23:11.

To scourge, and to crucify] This was done by Pilate, the Roman

governor. The punishment of the cross was Roman not Jewish; but

the chief priests condemned him to it, and the Romans executed the

sentence. How little did they know that they were, by this

process, jointly offering up that sacrifice which was to make an

atonement for the Gentiles and for the Jews; an atonement for the

sin of the whole world? How often may it be literally said, The

wrath of man shall praise thee!

Verse 20. The mother of Zebedee's children] This was Salome.

Verse 21. Grant that these my two sons] James and John. See

Mr 15:40. In the preceding chapter, Mt 19:28, our Lord had

promised his disciples, that they should sit on twelve thrones,

judging the twelve tribes. Salome, probably hearing of this, and

understanding it literally, came to request the chief dignities in

this new government for her sons; and it appears it was at their

instigation that she made this request, for Mark, Mr 10:35,

informs us that these brethren themselves made the request, i.e.

they made it through the medium of their mother.

One on thy right hand, and the other on (THY) left] I have

added the pronoun in the latter clause on the authority of almost

every MS. and version of repute.

That the sons of Zebedee wished for ecclesiastical, rather than

secular honours, may be thought probable, from the allusion that

is made here to the supreme dignities in the great Sanhedrin. The

prince of the Sanhedrin (HA-NASI) sat in the midst of two rows of

senators or elders; on his right hand sat the person termed AB

(the father of the Sanhedrin;) and on his left hand the CHACHAM,

or sage. These persons transacted all business in the absence of

the president. The authority of this council was at some periods

very great, and extended to a multitude of matters both

ecclesiastical and civil. These appear to have been the honours

which James and John sought. They seem to have strangely forgot

the lesson they had learned from the transfiguration.

Verse 22. Ye know not what ye ask.] How strange is the

infatuation, in some parents, which leads them to desire worldly

or ecclesiastical honours for their children! He must be much in

love with the cross who wishes to have his child a minister of the

Gospel; for, if he be such as God approves of in the work, his

life will be a life of toil and suffering; he will be obliged to

sip, at least, if not to drink largely, of the cup of Christ. We

know not what we ask, when, in getting our children into the

CHURCH, we take upon ourselves to answer for their CALL to the

sacred office, and for the salvation of the souls that are put

under their care. Blind parents! rather let your children beg

their bread than thrust them into an office to which God has not

called them; and in which they will not only ruin their souls, but

be the means of damnation to hundreds; for if God has not sent

them, they shall not profit the people at all.

And to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized, &c.]

This clause in this, and the next verse, is wanting in BDL, two

others, (7 more in Mt 20:23,)

Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Mr. WHEELOCK'S Persic, Vulgate, Saxon,

and all the Itala, except two. Grotius, Mill, and Bengel, think

it should be omitted, and Griesbach has left it out of the text in

both his editions. It is omitted also by Origen, Epiphanius,

Hilary, Jerome, Ambrose, and Juvencus. According to the rules

laid down by critics to appreciate a false or true reading, this

clause cannot be considered as forming a part of the sacred text.

It may be asked, Does not drink of my cup, convey the same idea?

Does the clause add any thing to the perspicuity of the passage?

And, though found in many good MSS., is not the balance of

evidence in point of antiquity against it? Baptism among the

Jews, as it was performed in the coldest weather, and the persons

were kept under water for some time, was used not only to express

death, but the most cruel kind of death. See Lightfoot. As to

the term cup, it was a common figure, by which they expressed

calamities, judgments, desolation, &c.

They say unto him, We are able.] Strange blindness! You can?

No: one drop of this cup would sink you into utter ruin, unless

upheld by the power of God. However, the man whom God has

appointed to the work he will preserve in it.

Verse 23. Is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them

for whom it is prepared of my Father.] The common translation, in

which the words, it shall be given to them; are interpolated by

our translators, utterly changes and destroys the meaning of the

passage. It represents Christ (in opposition to the whole

Scriptures) as having nothing to do in the dispensing of rewards

and punishments; whereas, our Lord only intimates that, however

partial he may be to these two brethren, yet seats in glory can

only be given to those who are fitted for them. No favour can

prevail here; the elevated seat is for him who is filled with the

fulness of God. The true construction of the words is this:-ουκ

εστινεμονδουναιαλλοιςητοιμυσταιυποτουατροςμου, To sit

on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give, except to

them for whom it is prepared of my Father. According to the

prediction of Christ, these brethren did partake of his

afflictions: James was martyred by Herod, Ac 12:2; and

John was banished to Patmos, for the testimony of Christ,

Re 1:9.

Verse 24. When the ten heard it, they were moved] The ambition

which leads to spiritual lordship is one great cause of murmurings

and animosities in religious societies, and has proved the ruin of

the most flourishing Churches in the universe.

Verse 25. Exercise dominion-and-exercise authority upon them.]

They tyrannized and exercised arbitrary power over the people.

This was certainly true of the governments in our Lord's time,

both in the east and in the west. I have endeavoured to express,

as nearly as possible, the meaning of the two Greek verbs,

κατακυριευουσιν, and κατεξουσιαζουσιν; and those who understand

the genius of the language will perceive that I have not exhausted

their sense, however some may think that no emphasis was intended,

and that these compound verbs are used for the simple κυριευειν,

and εξουσιαζειν. See Wakefield and Rosenmuller.

The government of the Church of Christ is widely different from

secular governments. It is founded in humility and brotherly

love: it is derived from Christ, the great Head of the Church, and

is ever conducted by his maxims and spirit. When political

matters are brought into the Church of Christ, both are ruined.

The Church has more than once ruined the State; the State has

often corrupted the Church: it is certainly for the interests of

both to be kept separate. This has already been abundantly

exemplified in both cases, and will continue so to be, over the

whole world, wherever the Church and State are united in secular


Verse 26. It shall not be so among you] Every kind of lordship

and spiritual domination over the Church of Christ, like that

exercised by the Church of Rome, is destructive and


Your minister] Or, deacon, διακονος. I know no other word

which could at once convey the meaning of the original, and make a

proper distinction between it and δουλος, or servant, in

Mt 20:27. The office of a deacon, in the primitive Church, was to

serve in the agapae, or love feasts, to distribute the bread and

wine to the communicants; to proclaim different parts and times

of worship in the churches; and to take care of the widows,

orphans, prisoners, and sick, who were provided for out of the

revenues of the Church. Thus we find it was the very lowest

ecclesiastical office. Deacons were first appointed by the

apostles, Ac 6:1-6; they had the care of the poor, and preached


Verse 27. Your servant] δουλος the lowest secular office, as

deacon was the lowest ecclesiastical office: δουλος is often put

for slave.

From these directions of our Lord, we may easily discern what

sort of a spirit his ministers should be of. 1. A minister of

Christ is not to consider himself a lord over Christ's flock. 2.

He is not to conduct the concerns of the Church with an imperious

spirit. 3. He is to reform the weak, after Christ's example, more

by loving instruction than by reproof or censure. 4. He should

consider that true apostolic greatness consists in serving the

followers of Christ with all the powers and talents he possesses.

5. That he should be ready, if required, to give up his life unto

death, to promote the salvation of men.

Verse 28. A ransom for many.] αυτροναντιπολλων, or a ransom

instead of many,-one ransom, or atonement, instead of the many

prescribed in the Jewish law. Mr. Wakefield contends for the

above translation, and with considerable show of reason and


The word λυτρον is used by the Septuagint for the Hebrew ,

pidion, the ransom paid for a man's life: see Ex 21:30;

Nu 3:49-51; and λυτρα is used Nu 35:31,

where a satisfaction (Hebrew copher, an atonement) for

the life of a murderer is refused. The original word is used by

Lucian in exactly the same sense, who represents Ganymede

promising to sacrifice a ram to Jupiter, λυτρονυπερεμου, as a

ransom for himself, provided he would dismiss him.

The whole Gentile world, as well as the Jews, believed in

vicarious sacrifices. Virgil, AEn. v. 85, has nearly the same

words as those in the text. "UNUM PRO MULTIS dabitur CAPUT,"-One

man must be given for many. Jesus Christ laid down his life as a

ransom for the lives and souls of the children of men. In the

Codex Bezae, and in most of the Itala, the Saxon, and one of the

Syriac, Hilary, Leo Magnus, and Juvencus, the following remarkable

addition is found; "But seek ye to increase from a little, and to

be lessened from that which is great. Moreover, when ye enter

into a house, and are invited to sup, do not recline in the most

eminent places, lest a more honourable than thou come after, and

he who invited thee to supper come up to thee and say, Get down

yet lower; and thou be put to confusion. But if thou sit down in

the lowest place, and one inferior to thee come after, he who

invited thee to supper will say unto thee, Go and sit higher: now

this will be advantageous to thee." This is the largest addition

found in any of the MSS., and contains not less than sixty words

In the original, and eighty-three in the Anglo-Saxon. It may be

necessary to remark, that Mr. Marshall, in his edition of the

Gothic and Saxon Gospels, does not insert these words in the text,

but gives them, p. 496 of his observations. This addition is at

least as ancient as the fourth century, for it is quoted by

Hilary, who did not die till about A. D. 367.

Verse 30. Two blind men] Mr 10:46, and Lu 18:35, mention

only one blind man, Bartimeus. Probably he was mentioned by the

other evangelists, as being a person well known before and after

his cure. Blindness of heart is a disorder of which, men seldom

complain, or from which they desire to be delivered; and it is one

property of this blindness, to keep the person from perceiving it,

and to persuade him that his sight is good.

Sitting by the way side] In the likeliest place to receive

alms, because of the multitudes going and coming between Jerusalem

and Jericho.

Cried out] In the midst of judgments God remembers mercy.

Though God had deprived them, for wise reasons, of their eyes, he

left them the use of their speech. It is never so ill with us,

but it might be much worse: let us, therefore, be submissive and


Have mercy on us] Hearing that Jesus passed by, and not knowing

whether they should ever again have so good an opportunity of

addressing him, they are determined to call, and call earnestly.

They ask for mercy, conscious that they deserve nothing, and they

ask with faith-Son of David, acknowledging him as the promised


Verse 31. The multitude rebuked them] Whenever a soul begins

to cry after Jesus for light and salvation, the world and the

devil join together to drown its cries, or force it to be silent.

But let all such remember, Jesus is now passing by; that their

souls must perish everlastingly, if not saved by him, and they may

never have so good an opportunity again. While there is a broken

and a contrite heart, let it sigh its complaints to God, till he

hear and answer.

They cried the more] When the world and the devil begin to

rebuke, in this case, it is a proof that the salvation of God is

nigh; therefore, let such cry out a great deal the more.

Verse 32. Jesus stood] "The cry of a believing penitent," says

one, "is sufficient to stop the most merciful Jesus, were he going

to make a new heaven and a new earth; for what is all the

irrational part of God's creation in worth, when compared with the

value of one immortal soul!" See Clarke on Mr 10:50.

What will ye that I shall do] Christ is at all times infinitely

willing to save sinners: when the desire of the heart is turned

towards him, there can be little delay in the salvation. What is

thy wish? If it be a good one, God will surely fulfil it.

Verse 33. That our eyes may be opened.] He who feels his own

sore, and the plague of his heart, has no great need of a prompter

in prayer. A hungry man can easily ask bread; he has no need to

go to a book to get expressions to state his wants in; his hunger

tells him he wants food, and he tells this to the person from whom

he expects relief. Helps to devotion, in all ordinary cases, may

be of great use; in extraordinary cases they can be of little

importance; the afflicted heart alone can tell its own sorrows,

with appropriate pleadings.

Verse 34. So Jesus had compassion on them] επλαγχνιαθεις, He

was moved with tender pity. The tender pity of Christ met the

earnest cry of the blind men, and their immediate cure was the


They followed him.] As a proof of the miracle that was wrought,

and of the gratitude which they felt to their benefactor. For

other particulars of this miraculous cure,

See Clarke on Mr 10:46, &c.

Reader, whosoever thou art, act in behalf of thy soul as these

blind men did in behalf of their sight, and thy salvation is sure.

Apply to the Son of David; lose not a moment; he is passing by,

and thou art passing into eternity, and probably wilt never have a

more favourable opportunity than the present. The Lord increase

thy earnestness and faith!

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