The Kingdom of Heaven is like… – Part 8

The next parable in this series is the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). I have linked to the parable for those of you who are not familiar with it. For those of you who are, I will summarize it for you. The parable is about a landowner who hires some laborers to work in his vineyard (for one denarius). Throughout the day he find more people standing around in the city and tells them to go and work in his vineyard. At the end of the day he tells his foreman to call in the workers, to pay them what is due. The first to be paid had only worked for an hour and they received one denarius. It ends up that each man receives one denarius. When it comes to the men who have worked all day they expect to receive more and grumble when they discover they are only going to receive one denarius. They think it is unfair because they worked longer than the others. The landowner says,

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” – Matthew 20:13-15

As I read and reread this passage it amazed me how much this parable reflects what happened in history. It is my contention that the first workers represent Israel. The latter workers represent the Gentiles.

Jesus ends this parable saying, “So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (v.16) As we know, especially from Romans, Israel (the first of God’s people) has been cut off from the olive tree and the Christian Gentiles (the last of God’s people) have been grafted in. At the end of the age Israel will too be grafted in. So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

There is also clear teaching that the Gentiles being saved would be a stumbling block to the Jews. Clearly this parable teaches the stumbling that will occur. On more than one occasion, Paul dealt with the fairness of Gentiles being saved.

Comparing this parable to the other KoH parables, I find a few similarities. The workers obviously represent the sons of the kingdom. The landowner is most likely Jesus (the son of God). The foreman is a new one for us. He may just be a part of the parable, but I think he probably represents the Angels. These same Angels are the ones who pulled the fish out of the sea and bundled the wheat to store them, etc.

I read a commentator who said that this parable teaches us that there are no levels of reward in Heaven. Because each worker receives the same wage, regardless of the amount of time he spent working. He also said that Luke 12:47-48 teaches that there are levels of punishment in Hell. I do not hold to a certain doctrine either way and am not willing to jump on board because of these two verses. Especially the parable, since I think the point of the parable is to teach about the Jew/Gentile relationship – not about levels of reward.

What do you all think?



  1. Heather says

    Lew –

    Interesting that you should post this as I just read it yesterday. Thanks for your insight as I have been trying to see just what it was Jesus was saying here. I would have to say that I agree with you that Jesus is talking about the Jews and the Gentiles.