How Are the First Last and the Last First?

How Are the First Last and the Last First?

Stargazer 147 asked last week in a question we couldn’t get to last week…

What does it mean, “Those that are last will be first and the first shall be last”? Is this referring to those that got saved?

Matthew 19:16–30 sets up the statement of Jesus:

Matthew 19:30

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Act 1: Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16–22)

  • The rich young ruler came to Jesus. Matthew doesn’t call him that, but we put together from the other gospels that he was rich, young, and a ruler.
  • The rich young ruler asked Jesus: “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
  • Jesus replied, “Keep the commandments.”
  • The rich young ruler asked, “Which ones?”
  • Jesus listed some of the 10 Commandments.
  • The rich young ruler said, “All these things I have kept from you youth. What do I still lack?”
  • Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
  • The rich young ruler went away sorrowful, because he was wealthy (and didn’t want to give up his possessions, his god, to follow Jesus)

Act 2: The Discussion Between Jesus and the Disciples (Matthew 19:23–30)

  • Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” – easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
  • The disciples responded: “Who then can be saved?”
  • Jesus: “With me this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
  • Peter: “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”
  • Jesus: You will be rewarded, and everyone who has given up anything for Me, for My kingdom, will be rewarded a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
  • Jesus: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Act 3: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16)

  • A landowner (of a vineyard) needs workers to bring in the grape harvest.
  • He goes to the labor line early in the morning (perhaps 6am) to hire workers.
  • He agrees to pay the workers a fair wage – a denarius a day.
  • Three hours later (9am) he gets more workers and promised them, “Whatever is right I will pay you.”
  • Another three hours later (12noon) he did the same.
  • Another three hours later (3pm) he did the same again.
  • Another two hours later (5pm) he did the same one more time.
  • The working day ended at 6pm, and the landowner hired workers at five different times. Some worked 12 hours, some 9 hours, some 6 hours, some 3 hours, and the last ones worked only 1 hour.
  • When it came time to pay them, he paid the last ones first. The ones who worked only one hour got paid for a full day of work. You can imagine how happy they were.
  • The ones who worked 3 hours also got paid for a full day’s work. Then the ones who worked 6 hours and 9 hours the same.
  • Finally, it came time to pay the first ones – the first were paid last. The ones who worked 12 hours were excited to receive their pay – surely, they would get more! But they received what was promised, a day’s pay for a day’s work.
  • They were angry! They said it was unfair.
  • The landowner said, “I am doing you no wrong. I did exactly what I promised. If I want to be more generous with others, that is no concern of yours. Don’t be jealous because I am generous.”

Conclusion, in response to Peter’s question, “What will we receive for following You?”

Matthew 20:16

So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.

Principles to Learn and Apply:

  • God rewards.
  • God rewards in unexpected and surprising ways.
  • God may reward those who seem to be underserving.
  • God will never be less than fair with anyone; but God reserves the right to be more than fair as He chooses.
  • We should never resent God’s generosity to other.
  • We don’t want God to deal with us with absolute fairness.

What are your thoughts on the Amplified Bible?

When I was a baby Christian in the mid 1970s, a lot of people in my circle really loved the Amplified Bible. It takes the nuances of the original language and tries to express them with more words. When translating from one language to another, there’s often not a single word equivalent between one language and another. There’s some nuance of understanding.

It’s that way between the biblical languages – biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek – and whatever language they’re translating into, whether it be English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, or another language. It can be difficult to get an exact translation between two languages.

So, the Amplified Bible just felt the freedom to expand on things. For example, if the ancient Koine Greek word for belief carried a sense of more than just belief but also trusting in, relying on, and clinging to, that might be in the Amplified Bible. Instead of saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him…,” it might say, “Whoever trusts in Him, clings to Him, puts their faith in Him,” that kind of thing.

What are my thoughts? It’s a good translation. No Bible translation is perfect. None. They all have their relative strengths and weaknesses. There are some Bible translations that are so bad that they should be avoided. They’re not helpful at all. The New World Translation put out by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society? Avoid it. No good. The Passion Translation? No good. It’s bad in a scholarly perspective, and it’s bad in a theological perspective. Those are ones that I would say avoid.

Now, there are other translations you just have to take for what they are. One example is the Message Translation by Eugene Peterson. Look, if you want to read the Message Translation for your Bible reading, that’s fine. But just understand and remind yourself every time you open it up that it is probably more commentary than translation. In the Message Translation’s attempt to make the Bible read in a very dynamic, street level English, Eugene Peterson takes a lot of liberties. I’ll leave it to you to decide where those liberties are justified and where they’re not. Some places they are and some places they’re not.

So, in choosing a Bible translation to read, there’s a category to avoid, there’s a category of caution, and then there’s a category of good. I would put the Amplified Bible in the good category, maybe not great, but certainly good. So sure, read it, use it. I recommend to people, especially if they feel like they’re kind of in a slump when it comes to their Bible reading, to try reading the Bible in a different translation. Look for a good translation, of course. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to tell somebody, “Hey, if you feel like your Bible reading has become kind of dull and routine, why don’t you break out that Amplified Version? Maybe it’ll be helpful for you.”

Does Psalm 83 refer to an End Times war with Israel?

It seems like prophecy gurus have all jumped on the bandwagon of a so-called Psalm 83 End Times war. I don’t see Psalm 83 mentioning any End Times war. In fact, it doesn’t mention war at all, but the nation’s hatred for Israel. I listened to your podcast on Psalms and looked at your commentary. You mentioned war but in a historical context. What do you think about a specific future End Times Psalm 83 War?

I have verse-by-verse teaching through the entire Book of Psalms, all 150 of them, available on the YouTube channel, and I recommend that to people. For me, it was a profound experience to teach through the Psalms, verse-by-verse, from beginning to end. I think it’s something that could benefit some of our viewers as well. So, I recommend that Psalms series to you, either from the podcast or from our YouTube channel.

However, if I don’t mention anything about the End Times war in my commentary on Psalm 83, or in my teaching on the podcast or the YouTube channel, then I’m really not seeing it there.

I do want to acknowledge that there are a variety of perspectives concerning the last days, End Times things, and eschatology. Christians who are serious about the Bible can disagree on some of these things. But to my understanding, there will very clearly be a war against Israel and the Jewish people in the very last days. There will be a world leader in the very last days, and part of what he will do is persecute, prosecute, and try to wipe out the Jewish people because he knows they have an ongoing and critical role in God’s unfolding plan.

Now, I believe that God will defend Israel. I think that’s what the Bible says, not only from the book of Revelation, but from several Old Testament passages as well. So, if somebody wants to read that prophesied protection of Israel back into Psalm 83, okay, fine. But I don’t think that’s fundamentally what Psalm 83 is about. At times the Scripture illustrates things without really being about them.

Psalm 83 isn’t about an End Times war. But perhaps it could be applied to an End Times war.

Why did God demand a blood sacrifice for sin?

The Bible says in Leviticus that the life is in the blood. So, to pour out blood is a way to pour out the life. And really, it’s just that simple. It’s not so much blood for blood in a direct sense, as if something needed to be done, and I could make a little cut and “pay” for something with four or five drops of my blood. No, it’s life for life.

Remember what God said to Adam, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Well, they did die. The principle of death was introduced into the world when Adam sinned. Because of that principle of death, it results in the eventual death of Adam and every human being, with the rarest of exceptions. Enoch didn’t die. Elijah didn’t die. Those who are caught up with the Lord in the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4 won’t die. But I mean, that’s an infinitesimally small portion of the total of humanity.

So, we die. We’re subject to death. Therefore, Jesus had to give His life to redeem our life. In every animal sacrifice where life was given for life, through the life of a lamb or a bull, it was all pointing toward the perfect sacrifice which Jesus Himself would offer.

The blood sacrifice is really a picture of the giving of the life. Every animal sacrifice was a foreshadowing which was ultimately perfected in the life that Jesus Christ gave on the cross.

How does a church leader deal with difficult people in the church?

I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. In my 30 plus years as a pastor, I never had to deal with difficult people. That’s a joke, folks. It’s a good question. Because we all deal with difficult people. And look, let’s be very honest, sometimes we as pastors are the difficult people for others. We have to realize this is a part of Christian living.

I’ll say a few things. First, we shouldn’t be surprised or grieved beyond measure when there’s trouble among believers. We see that in the very first Church. The church of the book of Acts, the church at Corinth, the church at Philippi, the church at Colossae, all these different places had real situations where Christians needed help in getting along. That’s why in Paul’s letters he gives a multitude of “one another” statements. That’s a great study to do; look up all the times in the New Testament where the phrase, “one another” is used. Love one another, bear with one another, forgive one another, be patient with one another, be long suffering towards one another. All of those phrases presuppose some measure of friction. It’s going to happen. There’s going to be difficulty in people working together, worshiping together, and living the Christian life together.

Secondly, pastors and other church leaders often cause more trouble for themselves by making a big deal about things that they should just ignore or pass by. A life-changing chapter from a book about ministry was written by Charles Spurgeon. Charles Spurgeon wrote a great book for pastors. It’s taken from the lectures that he delivered at his pastor’s college. The book is called Lectures to My Students. The chapter is called, “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear.”

I love how Spurgeon begins this chapter to his students. He says, “I’ve told you many times that every good minister or pastor needs one blind eye and one deaf ear. And oftentimes, that’s the best eye and the best ear that he has. Let me tell you what I mean by that. There are just a lot of things that we should ignore.” Now, please, not everything. The pastor and the elders of the church have a solemn responsibility to lead, feed, and protect the flock of God. And protecting the flock of God sometimes means confronting troublemakers. We see this throughout the New Testament. In all the New Testament letters we see some type of confrontation of a false teaching, false doctrine, or false practice.

I hope nobody takes what I’m saying in a wrong way. A pastor or a leader in a church should not be allergic to confrontation, letting all sorts of bad things go by because they don’t want to confront them. But it is possible, and I’ve seen this many times and have experienced it myself, that by being too sensitive and too touchy, especially in a personal sense, pastors can cause trouble for themselves.

It has been said that a good pastor needs a very sensitive heart and a very thick skin.

According to Hebrews 9:3-4 it sounds like the altar of incense was in the Holy of Holies, while Exodus 40:5 say it was not. Which is correct?

Hebrews 9:3-4 – And behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.

Exodus 40:5 – You shall also set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark of the Testimony, and put up the screen for the door of the tabernacle.

Here’s the best explanation I could give to you. The altar of incense was positioned right next to the veil. I don’t know anybody that has indicated a conception of structure where the altar of incense was behind the veil. Rather, it was immediately adjacent to the veil. Concerning the pan that would be used to carry in coals from the live altar, the high priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement with that censer, filling the Holy of Holies with the aromatic smoke from the incense.

So, the altar of incense was on the outside of the Holy of Holies. But the high priest carried the golden censer inside when he entered the Holy of Holies, which held the Ark of the Covenant.

Is there any significance in that Isaac asked for “wild game” and Rebecca sent Jacob to use a goat from the flock?

There are people who seem to be able to find intricate analogies, applications, illusions, or metaphors in Scripture for anything. I don’t really see anything significant there, except to say that she knew that she could get a goat from the flock right away. She knew that it would take some time for Esau to go out and hunt the wild game, because that’s what his father Isaac wanted him to do. But she knew that she and Jacob could get in there faster by immediately selecting a goat from the flock, preparing it quickly, and taking it in. She thought that she could season and prepare it in a way that would make him think that it was wild game. Being an old man, his faculty of taste perception wasn’t the same as it was when he was younger. For the rest of it, I don’t see any great spiritual significance in it by analogy, or typology. I think it was just a practical thing that Rebecca did.

How should we treat Scriptures that were written to the “children of Israel”, such as Jeremiah 29:11 or the book of Exodus?

It’s true that we must recognize when reading the Bible that much of it was not written immediately to us. Jeremiah 29:11 is a perfect example of this. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and hope.” Now, that was not spoken directly to 21st century believers. It was spoken to Israel, in the ancient context of their judgment through the Babylonian conquest and exile. It was God’s promise that He would not forget Israel, but that He would restore them. That’s the context of Jeremiah 29:11. But the principle illustrated by that promise of God to Israel is still in effect for believers today.

I don’t have a problem with a believer reading Jeremiah 29:11 and saying, “God first spoke that to ancient Israel, and it has application to me.” God is not less merciful, less loving, less desiring of good for His people under the New Covenant than He was under the Old Covenant. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to people under the Old Covenant. It’s true, and we understand the original context, but we can confidently say, “The same God who made those promises to Israel in their circumstances, loves me and cares for me in my circumstances.” I don’t have a problem with believers saying, “That was written for Israel, and in some sense, for me also.”

That same basic principle can be carried throughout our entire study of the Word of God. We just go to the Bible and say, “Okay, Lord, who was this originally speaking to? In what way does that word directly have to do with the way You deal with Your people?” Because in some situations, what God said to ancient Israel was just what He says to His people. And if we are His people in the present day, not excluding what God is doing among Israel, what does God say to us? Some things were specifically given to national or ethnic Israel which may not technically belong to us, but they will still show us some principle from the heart and the character of God that we can apply and appreciate.

I’ve heard that blood from Jesus was tested from an ancient cloth, and it proved His Father was not human. How should we think about things like this?

I have seen where tests were done about the blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t keep up with the latest discoveries, etc. I assume they took samples from the tomb, the cloth which they say was with Jesus.  They supposedly tested the DNA, which proves His Father could not have been human. Does this story hold water of legitimate respected people, or is it a lot of generous science proving this? The claim of having His actual blood and testing it seems like it would be a miracle. But of course, obviously, I question. I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts on it being possibly legitimate.

I have not seen these specific studies or news items. But I would not embrace them. Let me give you a few reasons why. First, I suppose that this is from the Shroud of Turin. I do not completely dismiss the possibility that the Shroud of Turin was the burial cloth of Jesus. I believe there are some problems with it. But there is enough about the Shroud of Turin that make it genuinely unique from a scientific perspective. However, you would have to be certain the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus. Secondly, it would need to be possible to get a blood sample that could be genetically tested from the Shroud of Turin. I think that’s probably doubtful. Thirdly, you would have to say that such a blood sample could actually tell you anything. To me, it sounds like something that’s made up or exaggerated from something else.

So, I can give all those reasons, but let me give you one more. It’s completely unnecessary. I don’t need a DNA sample from the blood on the Shroud of Turin to tell me that Jesus was born of a virgin. The Bible tells me that Jesus was born of a virgin. That’s enough. Further evidence is unnecessary. If people won’t believe it when the Bible says it, I don’t think people will believe a scientist who says it with a DNA sample.

Why did God send a tormenting spirit to Saul? Don’t tormenting spirits come from Satan?

Yes and no. The spirit that tormented Saul was not directly from the Lord. It was an evil spirit, and we could even say a demonic spirit. But it was from the Lord in the sense that God took off the restraint and allowed that tormenting spirit to do what it wanted to do and come upon Saul.

Friends, I think we have no idea how much God protects us from Satan and the demonic spirits that are associated with him. We have no idea how much every day that God protects us from things having to do with Satan. We should be very grateful for that. And when a person is under the judgment of God, like King Saul in the book of 1 Samuel, God may express His wrath and judgment against that person, at least in part by allowing them to be afflicted by demonic spirits. That is part of the judgment of God. Again, it’s not that God is directly doing it, but He is definitely allowing it. God is behind it. He’s just not the direct actor. So, it’s both a yes and a no statement.

Should cessationists be considered false teachers?

Would you consider cessationists to be false teachers? How important is the issue of the gifts of the Spirit to the gospel message?

Here’s the terminology I would use. I would say that cessationists are wrong. I think that the term “false teacher” carries with it a connotation that I would not apply to cessationists. But they are wrong. And their being wrong isn’t good for the body of Christ. It’s not like there’s no harm that comes from their teaching. I believe there is harm that comes from the teaching of cessationism.

For those of you who are new to the discussion, we’re talking about cessationism. Cessationism is the teaching that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ended with the Apostles and/or with the completion of the New Testament. They would argue that since that time, there are no legitimate authentic miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which they also call “sign” gifts.

It’s important to understand that when we read about the gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament, Paul never gives different categories of gits. He didn’t designate them into groups of revelatory gifts, sign gifts, and practical gifts. He never does that. He presents them all in one group as the gifts of the Spirit. But cessationists carve out one section of those gifts, and they claim without Scriptural justification, that those gifts of the Spirit are not for today.

How important is this issue? I believe that what cessationists do in practical ministry is almost always much better than what they teach and believe about the gifts of the Spirit. They’ll go out and preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, but not acknowledge the fullness of that power when it comes to what they teach and believe about the gifts of the Spirit.

Just because a person denies the presence of the miraculous or “sign” gifts, today, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God still doesn’t use them by the power of His Spirit. God is very gracious that way. So, it is an issue. It is something that needs to be talked about. But I don’t think it disqualifies them. I would not call somebody a false teacher for that, even though there are more than a few cessationists who would call someone like me a false teacher, because I believe that the gifts of the Spirit continue to this day. But let me tell you something that Jesus said. He said that you shouldn’t return evil for evil. Just because some of them would call me a false teacher, I won’t return that evil. I’ll say they’re wrong. But I wouldn’t use that phrase because of the connotation that it has.

How often should a person give supplication to God?

Supplication is really just another word for prayer. It’s interesting how many words there are in the Bible for prayer: supplication, entreaty, prayer, asking, seeking, and many other words in the Bible describe prayer or aspects of prayer.

So, there’s a sense in which you’re asking, “How often should people pray?” Well, I’ll give you two answers to that. People should pray regularly. Prayer should just be a normal part of your walk with God. Take time to pray daily, and multiple times daily. People should pray regularly. But there’s also a sense in which we should pray constantly. In 1 Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.” In other words, there is such a thing as an attitude of prayer or a mentality of prayer that says, “I’m going to try to live all day long in a conscious sense of communion with God. I’m going to pray without ceasing.”

Can you comment on Martin Luther’s book “On the Jews and Their Lies” where he denounced the Jewish people and called for them to be persecuted?

What Martin Luther wrote in that work is indefensible. It’s reflective of the very entrenched and violent anti-Semitism of his day. If you visit Wittenberg, the city where Martin Luther lived and preached and did his ministry, walk past the City Church of Wittenberg, where Martin Luther was a pastor. On the outside corner of the church, there is a relief – a little sculpture built into the wall. It depicts a great big pig, with some Jewish people beside it. It was put there on the church as an insult to the Jewish people. If I’m remembering correctly, it also served as a warning that people were entering into a Jewish neighborhood. I might be incorrect on that. But certainly, it was done to insult the Jewish people. Since then, especially after the Second World War, people have thought, “Maybe that’s so offensive, we should take it off.” But they decided to leave it intact. They placed a memorial stone on the ground, decrying the way that the German people treated the Jewish people, from way back in Martin Luther’s time and up through the 20th century. It’s very moving little place, right outside the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg.

Luther’s anti-Semitism is inexcusable, but it is complicated. In the beginning of his ministry, Martin Luther criticized the Roman Catholic Church for the way that they treated the Jews. He said things like this, and I’m paraphrasing, “If it’s a mark of a good Christian to hate the Jews, then what wonderful Christians we all are.” And he actually reached out to the Jewish community where he was for evangelistic purposes, to try to bring them to Jesus. They were not receptive. Some people think that it was out of hurt feelings from having the Jewish community reject the gospel that Luther eventually developed the attitude that the Roman Catholic Church was doing it right. He came to the Jewish community in love, determined to bring them the love of Jesus, and he got rebuffed. By the way, you would not fault the Jewish community in Europe at that time for being suspicious of any Christian overtures to them.

Since these writings about “the Jews and their lies” were published later in Luther’s life, there’s at least some evidence that he suffered from some dementia in his later years. His tendencies to speak in a fiery and violent way may have become even more exaggerated as he was losing some grip on his faculties in his later years.

I think we must do the same with Martin Luther as we should do with a lot of people from the past. There was only one perfect man, Jesus Christ. We need to acknowledge this terrible area in Martin Luther’s theology. And at the same time, we thank the Lord for how marvelously He used that man in that time and in that place. And we must avoid something that I find especially distasteful. Many modern people have the sense that, “We’re so much better than the people of the past.” That is just not true. I think it’s proud and arrogant to have such an attitude. The people in the past had their errors and blind spots, and we do also, to be sure. So, as Jesus said, we should judge others with the measure by which we ourselves would like to be judged.

Was Solomon “redeemed”?

Probably. Although I can’t say certainly. Let me give you the reason to believe that he was not redeemed. The closing of Solomon’s life as recorded in 1 Kings shows him to be an unrepentant idolater. That’s what you see at the close of Solomon’s life. If Solomon repented, the author of 1 Kings doesn’t want us to know it, because he never records any repentance from him. According to the record in 1 Kings, Solomon died in idolatry. That’s on the negative side.

On the plus side, God made a covenant with David. And He said, “I’ll set up your son after you.” This promise included both Solomon and the ultimate Son of David, who is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. I think both of them are in view. And God promised to David that He wouldn’t turn from him and wouldn’t let go of him. I’m paraphrasing, of course. So that would lead me to believe that Solomon was redeemed.

But either way, what God recorded about Solomon in 1 Kings is sobering, because it gives no indication of his repentance. We hope he repented. We take confidence in the promise that God made to David about his son. But we don’t see any demonstration of Solomon’s repentance.