The Rich Ruler. Peril of Riches. Reward of Sacrifice. Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

(In Peræa.)
a MATT. 19:16-20; b MARK 10:17-31; c LUKE 18:18-30.

      b 17 And when he was going forth into the way, a behold, b there ran {a came} b one c a certain ruler b to him, and kneeled to him, and asked a and said, {c saying,} b Good Teacher, a what good thing shall I do, that I may have {b may inherit c to inherit} eternal life? [The action of this young man in running and kneeling shows that he was deeply anxious to receive an answer to his question, and also that he had great reverence for Jesus. He seemed to think, however, that heaven could be gained by performing some one meritorious act. He made the mistake of thinking that eternal life is a reward for doing rather than developed the doctrine of "works of supererogation."]

  19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God: a Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good [To the address of the young man, viz.: "Good Master," Jesus replies, "Why callest," etc., and to his question, "What good thing," etc. Jesus replies, "Why askest," etc. The ruler using the inconsiderate, conventional language of the thoughtless, had taken an unwarrantable freedom with the word "good." Jesus shows that if his language had been used sincerely it would have committed him to a declaration of great faith, for he had addressed Jesus by a title which belongs only to God, and he had asked Jesus the question concerning that of which God alone was fitted to speak. As the ruler had not used this language sincerely Jesus challenged his words. The challenge showed the ruler that he had unwittingly confessed the divinity of Jesus, and thus startled him into a consideration of the marvelous fact which his own mouth had stated. This is done because the young man would need to believe in the divinity of Jesus to endure the test to which he was about to be subjected-- 1 John 5:5 .] but if thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments. [By referring the ruler to the commandments, Jesus not only answered the question as to obtaining life, but he emphasized the confession of his divinity contained in the question, "Why askest," etc. God, who knows what is good, had revealed that good in the commandments which he had given. Yet the ruler had asked Jesus to be wise above God's revelation, and to propound a law or rule of goodness in addition to that already given, and of such a nature as to more fully insure the attainment of life by obeying it. The ruler's question reveals that common weakness in man which prompts him to look to his fellow-men for religious and moral instruction; forgetting that only God can propound the absolute standards of goodness. We should note, too, that the young man, being under the law given through Moses, was bidden to attain life was given. Had the man waited until that time, he would have been directed to this new law, and obedience to it would have been required. Compare Acts 2:37 Acts 2:38 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 , et al.]

  18 He saith unto him, Which? And Jesus said,

  c 20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do {a Thou shalt} c not commit adultery, Do {a Thou shalt} c not kill, Do {a Thou shalt} c not steal, Do {a Thou shalt} c not bear false witness, b Do not defraud,

  a 19 Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [The ruler still sought for some prominent commandment, but was referred to the last six of the Decalogue, these being at that time more frequently violated than the first four. For the last commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," Jesus substitutes its equivalent, "Do not defraud," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," the last being a summary of all the six-- Romans 13:9 .]

  b 20 And he   a 20 The young man saith {b said} unto him, Teacher, c All these things have I observed from my youth up. a what lack I yet? [He had kept these commandments as far as he knew his heart and as far as he understood their import.]

  b 21 And Jesus c when he heard it, b looking upon him [gazing earnestly and searchingly at him] loved him ["agapan." See Section 93], and said unto him, c One thing thou lackest yet [a direct answer to the direct question, "What lack," etc.]

a If thou wouldest be perfect [i. e., in keeping the commandments and in securing eternal life-- James 2:10 ], go, sell that which thou hast, c sell all b whatsoever thou hast, c and distribute {b give} c unto {a to} the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. [The command to sell all is not a general one, but a special precept needed in this case, 1. To dispel the ruler's self-deception. On the negative side his character was good, but on the positive it was deficient. He had done his neighbor no harm, but he had also done him very little good. 2. To show impartiality. The invitation of Jesus shows that the ruler desired to be in test which the other disciples had accepted, and of which Peter soon after speaks. Paul also was rich in self-righteousness like this man, but cheerfully sacrificed all, that he might follow Christ ( Philippians 3:6-9 ). Moreover, the reference to treasure in heaven and the invitation to follow Christ tested the ruler's obedience to the first four commandments of the Decalogue as condensed in the great summary or first commandment. ( Matthew 22:37 Matthew 22:38 .) Though the ruler perhaps did not fully realize it, those who heard the conversation must afterwards have been impressed with the great truth that the ruler was called upon to make his choice whether he would love Christ or the world, whether he would serve God or mammon. The whole scene forms an illustration of the doctrine expressed by Paul, that by the law can no flesh be justified ( Romans 3:20 ), for perfection is required of those who approach God along that pathway; those, therefore, who have done all, still need Christ to lead them.]

  a 22 But when the young man heard that saying, {c these things} b his countenance fell at the saying, c he became exceeding sorrowful; b and he went away sorrowful: c for he was very rich. b he was one that had great possessions. [He was not offended at the extravagance of Jesus' demands, for he was not one of the most hardened of the rich. He belonged to that class which hold Christ and their wealth in nearly an even balance. The narrative shows us how uncompromisingly Jesus held to principle. Though the ruler was sorry to turn away, and though Jesus loved him, yet the Lord did not modify his demand by a hair's-breadth to gain an influential disciple.]

  c 24 And Jesus seeing him b looked round about, and saith {a said} unto his disciples, b How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! a Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. [ 1 Timothy 6:9 1 Timothy 6:10 1 Timothy 6:17-19 . It should be remembered that Judas heard these words only a few days before he sold his Lord.]

  b 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for riches to enter into the kingdom of God! [The possession and use of riches is permitted to the Christian, but their possession becomes a sin when the one who owns them comes to trust in them or in any way suffers them to interfere with his duties toward or relations to God.]

  a 24 And again I say unto you,

  c 25 For it is easier for a camel to enter in {b to go} through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. [The needle's eye here is that of the literal needle, and the expression was a proverbial one to indicate that which was absolutely impossible. Lord George Nugent (1845-6) introduced the explanation that Jesus referred to the two gates of a city, the large one for beast of burden, and the small one for foot-passengers. This smaller one is now called "The Needle's Eye," but there is no evidence whatever that it was so called in our Saviour's time. In fact, as Canon Farrar observes, we have every reason to believe that this smaller gate received its name in late years because of the efforts of those who were endeavoring to soften this saying of Jesus.]

  a 25 And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly,

  c 26 And they that heard it said, {b saying} unto him, a Who then {b Then who} can be saved?

  a 26 And Jesus b looking upon them saith,

{c 27 But he said,} b With men this is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God. c The things which are impossible with men aree possible with God. [The Jews were accustomed to look upon the possession of riches as an evidence of divine favor, and the heads of the apostles were filled with visions of the riches and honors which they would enjoy when Jesus set up his kingdom. No wonder, then, that they were amazed to find that it was impossible for a rich man to enter that kingdom, and that, moreover and worse than all, riches appeared to exclude from salvation itself: that even this virtuous rich man, this paragon of excellence, could not have eternal life because he clung to his riches. But they were comforted by the assurance of Jesus that though the salvation of some men --might, as it were, require a miracle where others only required simple means, yet the gracious, mighty God might still be trusted to overcome the obstacles. It is impossible for any man to save himself, so that in every case of salvation God is called upon to assist man in accomplishing the impossible. God can so work upon the rich man's heart as to make him a dispenser of blessings.]

  a 27 Then answered Peter

  c 28 And b began to say unto him, {a and said unto him,} b Lo, we have left all, {c our own,} b and have followed thee. a what then shall we have? [The negative conduct of the rich man reminded the disciples of their own positive conduct when confronted with a similar crisis ( Luke 5:11 ), and the "all" which they had left was by no means contemptible, though perhaps none of them could have been said to have held great possessions. The mention of treasure in heaven, therefore, set Peter to wondering what manner of return would be made to them to compensate them for their sacrifice.]

  28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [By the term "regeneration," Jesus in this case means the period in which the process of regenerating men would be in progress; i. e., the period of the mediatorial reign. After his ascension Jesus sat upon his throne ( Acts 2:33-35 ; Hebrews 1:13 ; Matthew 25:31 ; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 ). And on the day of Pentecost next following, he began this process of regeneration. Having enthroned himself, Jesus enthroned the apostles also, not as kings but as judges, having jurisdiction over all questions of faith and practice in the earthly kingdom. During their personal ministry, they judged in person; and since then they judge through their writings. True, we have written communications from only a part of them, but judgments pronounced by one of a bench of judges with the known approval of all, are the judgments of the entire bench. Moreover, the judges in the church of Christ--the true Israel--and not over the literal twelve tribes of Jacob. And again, the twelve who then heard Jesus speak were not all enthroned, Judas having fallen from his position before the day of enthronement, and Matthias and Paul were afterwards added to the group. Jesus here causes the number of the judges to correspond to the number of the tribes, to indicate that there will be a sufficiency of judgment commensurate to the need.]

  29 And every one {b There is no man that} a hath left houses, {b house,} c or wife, or brethren, b or sisters, or mother, or father, c or parents, b or children, or lands, for my sake, {a my name's sake,} b and for the gospel's sake, c for the kingdom of God's sake,

  30 who shall not receive manifold more in this time, and in the world to come eternal life.

  b 30 but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come a shall inherit eternal life. [The rewards of Christian self-denial are here divided into two parts--the temporal and the eternal. The earthly joys--the rewards "in this time"--shall outweigh the sacrifices made for the kingdom. The return, of course, will not be in kind, houses for house, and fathers for father, etc., but spiritual relationships and blessings which compensate abundantly for whatever has been resigned ( Matthew 12:49 ; 1 Timothy 4:8 ). But these joys shall be mingled with the bitterness of persecution, for no pleasure is perfected in this world, but only in the inheritance which lies beyond-- 1 Peter 1:4 .]

  30 But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last.

  b 31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. [The promise of large recompense which Jesus had just given was apt to tempt some to labor not for love, but for the rewards which might be reaped thereby. Jesus corrects this spirit by the statement, and the parable that follows which illustrates it, and which ends with the same sentiment. See verse 16 below.]

  a 1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was who went out early in the morning to hire laborers. [He rose early, because the working day began with the rising of the sun.]

  2 And when he had agreed with the laborers for a shilling a daytfg.cgi?section=T#">Section he sent them into his vineyard.

  3 And he went out about the third hour [The Jews divided the time between sunrise and sunset into twelve hours, so that the first hour would be about six o'clock, the third about nine, the sixth noon, the ninth about three, and the twelfth about six. As the length of the days differed, the lengths of the hours differed. The longest day in Palestine is fourteen hours and twelve minutes; the shortest, nine hours and forty-eight minutes; so it would follow that an hour on the longest day would be seventy-one minutes; and on the shortest it would be only forty-nine minutes. None of the hours, therefore, would correspond exactly to ours except the sixth or noon hour], and saw others standing in the marketplace idle;

  4 and to them he said, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

  5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

  6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

  7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard.

  8 And when even was come [the time of settlement-- Leviticus 19:13 ; Deuteronomy 24:15 ], the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward [his overseer], Call the laborers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. [Thus following the order indicated by verse 30 above. The lord paid the last first that he might make conspicuous the fact that these received as much wages as those who had labored all day.]

  9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a shilling.

  10 And when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more [seeing the lord's liberality to those who had worked only one hour, they expected that they would be recipients of a like liberality proportioned to their hours of service]; and they likewise received every man a shilling.

  11 And when they received it, they murmured against the householder,

  12 saying, These last have spent but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden of the day and the sorching heat.

  13 But he answered and said to one of them [the answer given to one is taken as an example of what he said to them all], Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a shilling?

  14 Take up that which is thine, and go thy way [do not stop to argue]; it is my will to give unto this last, even as unto thee.

  15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? [The evil eye is a synonym for jealousy. It originated with the malicious leer with which jealousy regards its object ( Mark 7:22 ; 1 Samuel 18:9 ; Proverbs 23:6-8 ; 28:22 ; Deuteronomy 15:9 ). The lord had done no wrong to those who had labored longest, for he had paid them what they had bargained for and earned. If he chose to be generous with those whose misfortune had prevented them from being hired earlier in the day, no one had any just cause to murmur.]

  16 So the last shall be first, and the first last [The meaning of this parable has often been misunderstood by those who fail to note the maxim with which Jesus begins and ends it. This maxim acts as a safeguard in the interpretation of it; the parable also in turn guards against misunderstanding the maxim. The maxim can not be applied to Judas; for, though he then stood high in honor and afterwards fell into disgrace, yet he stands outside the pale of the maxim as interpreted by the parable, for in the parable both the first and the last were received and rewarded by their master, while Judas was rejected of Christ and received no reward. The term "last," therefore, must be applied to those who were included among the accepted laborers, and not those who were excluded from that class. eternal life. The vineyard represents the Lord's field of work in the world. The evening is the close of the Christian dispensation, and the coming of Christ to judgment. The parable as it unfolds and develops suggests that in no case was the reward earned by the inherent merits and toil of the laborers, but was rather bestowed because of a desire on the part of the householder to that effect, just as eternal life is bestowed, not by merit, but by covenant grace ( Romans 2:6 Romans 2:7 ; 4:3-5 ; 5:16-21 ). The main object of the parable is to show that longer labor does not necessarily, as the apostles and others might think, establish a claim to higher reward. Degrees of difference there no doubt will be, but they form no account in the general covenant of grace in which the one great gift is offered to us all. As the gift can be no less than eternal life, there must of necessity be a difference in the ratio of service which is rendered for it, since it will be bestowed on the octogenarian and the child, upon Paul who made good the confession of his faith through years of toil, and the dying thief who passed to his reward while his voice of confession was, as it were, still ringing in the ears of those who heard it ( 1 Corinthians 15:8-11 ; 2 Timothy 4:6-9 ). The murmuring and envy of those who had labored longest is merely part of the parabolic drapery, introduced to bring out the answer of the householder, and to make plain the point to be illustrated. There will be no envy among those who inherit eternal life. By thus speaking of the envy, however, and showing how ineffectual it was, Jesus warns us to be prepared not to cherish it. The parable is not intended to teach that the characters of men will be exactly similar in the world to come. Paul will not be Peter, nor will Martin Luther be identical with Hugh Latimer and John Knox. God may award eternal life to the character which we are forming, but we should be careful what kind of character we bring to receive the gift. The lesson is that works are valued qualitatively and not quantitatively. Nor may the parable be rightly used to encourage hope in death-bed repentance. It certainly does teach that, however little the labor which a man does in be really in the vineyard; that is, if he be really a child of God. But whether a man who repents on his death-bed actually becomes a child of God is a different question, and is not touched by the parable. Certainly the eleventh-hour laborer who had stood idle all day only because no man had hired him, and who came into the vineyard as soon as he was called, can not represent the man who has been called by the gospel every hour of his life, but has rejected every call until his sun has sunk so low that he knows he can do but little work when he comes. In order to represent this class of sinners, the eleventh-hour men should have been invited early in the morning, and should have replied, "No, it is too early; we will not go now." Then they should have been invited at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hours, and should have made some equally frivolous excuse each time, then, finally, at the eleventh hour, they should have said, "Well, as you pay a man just the same for an hour's work as for a day's work, and as we are very anxious to get your money, we believe we will now go." Had they acted thus, it is not likely that they would have found the vineyard gates open to them at all. Yet such is the sharp practice which some men attempt in dealing with God.]