Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to a vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. Once again He clearly shows the contrast between the kingdom of heaven and the ways of man with a stark contrast that at first read appears “unfair”, but in reality demonstrates the mercy, grace, and love we all want to receive.
20 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
People often misunderstand this parable when they view it through the eyes of men rather than the eyes of God. As is true of all parables, Jesus is using an illustration people should be able to understand to explain a greater concept about the kingdom of heave. Jesus’ point is not about the sum of money that people receive for working in a vineyard. Rather, Jesus is speaking about the offer God has extended to each of us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He offers salvation to all of us, no matter if we find Him early in the day (e.g. early in our lives) or late in the day, just before work is completed (e.g. on our deathbed).
None of the workers “deserve” or are “owed” the right to work in the vineyard and receive payment. All of them are invited at the discretion of the vineyard owner, who represents God. We can all receive salvation and forgiveness from sins no matter how close to death we are. What a wonderful God we serve that he receives us even if we come to Him late in our lives. We may have hope of eternal life with Him and hope for others we know that it is never too late for them, until the very moment of death and judgment. God shows mercy, grace, and love to all of us by extending the offer to serve Him through submission to Jesus Christ.
For those who submit to God, we will be like the angels in heaven, rejoicing when a single soul repents and asks Jesus to be Lord of their life, submitting fully to God and proclaiming Him publically. For those who see life only through the eyes of their own selfishness, they will continue to wrestle with and complain about this parable… claiming that it is not fair that they worked longer for Jesus and do not appear to get a higher reward. Truth be told, these people are often far from the kingdom of God. We are not saved by works and when we love and submit to Jesus as our Lord, we do not consider it a burden we resent carrying but rather rejoice that we may serve Him. If we serve Him longer it is all the better to further the kingdom! If others join us late, it too is cause for celebration!
Jesus later gives us a very tangible illustration of the meaning behind this parable as He hangs upon the cross. He clearly shows us that we are saved not by works, but rather by grace through faith. Praise God! None of us is good enough to meet God’s standard by works. Only Jesus met the standard. And He carried our sin to the cross on our behalf. Even the criminal who was deserving of death was able to be saved in the closing hours of his life when he could do no works, join no church, and take no action to repent other than with his heart and his words.
39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
God gives us all the opportunity to be saved, but not by our own works. We can have hope in knowing it is never too late for us or for those we love. But with this hope comes great opportunity. Each of us should consider:
- Have I accepted Jesus’ offer to work in His vineyard… to submit to Him and serve Him in the work He wants done? (Am I saved?)
- Am I working hard in the vineyard to do the Lord’s work or am I content to just do the bare minimum to get paid at the end of the day (e.g. make it into heaven)? (Am I fully submitted to Jesus and His work or only committed to the point that it is convenient and comfortable for me?)
- Am I studying and learning God’s word, seeking Him prayerfully to develop a more intimate relationship with Him? or am I content to be baby in the faith, requiring constant care and feeding (e.g. spiritually). Such as these are not able to disciple others and may fade even themselves over time. They are easily misled by false prophets.
- Is my goal to convert others to Christianity (e.g. bare minimum for them to be saved)? or is my goal to make disciples of others such that they can share God’s word and bring the good news effectively to others?
- What changes should I make today to fully submit my life to Jesus?
Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.