Thinking about Rewards

Key Verse: “The last shall be first, and the first last.”
—Matthew 20:16

Selected Scripture:
Matthew 20:1-16

THE PARABLE OF THE vineyard workers given by Jesus in Matthew 20:1-16 is difficult to interpret, and consequently there are several interpretations of it.

The parable is about the kingdom of heaven. The owner of a vineyard was seeking workers for his vineyard, and hired some early in the morning, contracting with them the usual daily wage of a denarius. Then the landowner saw that there was so much work to be done that he would need more laborers. Using our time scale, we could assume that the first workers started working at 6:00 a.m. At about 9:00 a.m. the landowner went to the marketplace and saw some workers standing idle. He hired them saying, “Whatsoever is right I will give you.” (Matt. 20:4) More workers were hired at noon, and at 3:00 p.m. Finally, at the eleventh hour, 5:00 p.m., more workers were taken to the vineyard with the understanding that they would receive what was fair.

When evening came and the first workers had labored for twelve hours, the landowner told his steward to give the workers their hire, starting with eleventh hour workers first. These received a full day’s pay—a denarius—even though they had only worked one hour instead of twelve hours. This was also done with the other workers hired later in the day. They all received a day’s pay—a denarius—even though some had labored only three hours, six hours, or nine hours. Noting the generosity of the landowner, the first workers who had labored for twelve hours expected to receive an extra amount of pay. Instead, they too, received only a day’s pay of one denarius. This caused them to murmur and say to the landowner that he was unfair.—Matt. 20:5-11

The landowner replied to this murmuring by calling attention to their contract, or willingness to work for a day’s pay. He emphasized that it was lawful (right) to do with his money what he chose.—Matt. 20:12-15

The landowner represents Jehovah—God the Father who owns the vineyard. In Isaiah we read: “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isa. 5:7) The vineyard workers represent those who work for the Lord in any acceptable manner. The different times involved are similar to years of service. What then is the reward of a penny? Many rewards have been suggested. One is the heavenly reward. Another is eternal life. Still another is the privilege of working for God. This reward cannot be one we receive in heaven, because there is no grumbling in heaven. The reward must be something gained on this earth during our service to the Lord.

The gift, or reward, for all God’s workers on earth is the benefit of the ransom merit of Christ. No worker can receive more of the merit than another, regardless of how long they have labored. Nor can any worker receive less of the merit than received by his fellow workers. The ransom is equal to all.

Later, Jesus gave a parable of the marriage supper (Matt. 22:2-14), after which he said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” It would appear that the calling of Christians is also the theme in Matthew 20:1-16. Of those chosen, faithfulness will determine the final reward—the Divine nature.—II Pet. 1:4

Dawn Bible Students Association
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