The Last Shall be First

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

Does it seem odd or unfair that someone who is last will be first? This is a common view of many people in the world when they see this scripture or hear about it. They think it’s not fair to be treated in this way. In the working world we reward someone who works hard and puts in extra time at work for example. They may receive a higher form of payment because of their position at their place of employment.

We must remember that God’s ways are not our ways. And in this particular scripture the chapter starts with a reference to what the “kingdom of heaven” is like. The whole chapter is a parable that Jesus used to help teach the disciples, others and us about God’s kingdom. We can look at scriptures naturally or we can look deeper and see the spiritual meaning. These are the hidden secrets that God has helped to reveal to us through the gift of His Holy Spirit in us.

The common mistake that many non-believers do when they are trying to explore or find out what is written in the bible is to read it like a book. Unfortunately, we cannot do that and understand the true meaning of the scriptures or what the message is.

Let me show you how you can look at this chapter by replacing some of the characters mentioned. This will help you to see how you can view the scriptures spiritually not just naturally as it is written.

  • A man that is an householder = God the Father
  • Lord of the vineyard = Jesus
  • labourers = believers that share and minister the word of God
  • vineyard = the world
  • steward = ministers/pastors that are put in charge of taking care of God’s business

If we can accept that we belong to God because we are His creation we can accept truths that are discussed because we understand how we exist. Jesus, the Son of God, paid a high price for us to be free of satan’s captivity. This captivity came about because of Adam’s disobedience at the beginning of creation. So this is why we “belong” to Him (God/Jesus).

Every person that was hired to work in the chapter agreed to be paid the same penny salary. The workers (or we can also substitute the believers who shared the news about Jesus) who worked all day thought they would receive a higher payment because they worked longer. The workers who worked the last hour received the same payment. We can also say the believers who worked the very least or even not at all received the same reward as the others.

In truth if we compare this “work” in the vineyard as helping other people to hear the good news of their salvation, it ultimately comes down to the work on the cross. The good news of salvation was not intended to help other people get a better position in heaven/eternity. Jesus came to restore a RELATIONSHIP between God and His people or creation if you will. The whole world was bought for a price and that price was at the expense of the life of Jesus, God’s son.

God sees all of us equal. One person is not more important than another. He loves us all! That is why in this parable Jesus is teaching us that we receive the same reward. It’s not about what we do or didn’t do. Someone who never evangelized about Jesus but accepted Him on their death bed will be in the same place as one who spoke their whole life about Jesus because like I said, it’s not about what we do. It’s about what Jesus did for us on the cross. The thief on the cross for example went to heaven with Jesus simply because he believed in who was crucified next to him.

And he [the thief on the cross] said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. ~ Luke 23:42

He would be a laborer (believer) who worked the last hour and received the same reward. He did not have a chance to speak to many people. Only to the other thief that was crucified with them.

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? ~ Matthew 20:15

So in other words, God can do whatever He wants with what belongs to Him. The world is His creation and because He loves us all equally He has chosen to give us the same reward. The gift of being able to spend eternity with Him.


The last shall be first because the one who serves others puts others before himself. They are following Jesus’ example. He always thought of the needs of other people first. He was reigning in heaven and humbled himself down to earth. He came into this world as a baby and showed us that it was possible to have a relationship with God the Father. He washed the feet of his disciples to show them that it wasn’t beneath him to do such a task or that He wasn’t too good to do it. If you want to be first in God’s kingdom then be last and think of others. You will be living a life of perfect love towards others. The unconditional love that Jesus taught us!