What Did Yeshua Mean When He Said First Will Be Last, and Last Will Be First?

This phase, which Yeshua gave as the lesson at the end of a parable in Matthew 20, has been confusing to many people, including myself. However, just recently I realized that I can now understand this based on combining it with the statement God made in Ezekiel 18:23.

Lets’ look at these two verses:

Matthew 20:16
Thus the last ones will be first and the first last.”

Ezekiel 18:23:
Do I take any pleasure at all in having the wicked person die?” asks Adonai Elohim.

“Wouldn’t I prefer that he turn from his ways and live?

The first verse comes after the parable about the men being hired to work in the field, and each getting paid a denarius, no matter how long they have been working. When the ones there from the morning saw the ones who were hired just an hour or so before the evening get the same pay, they complained. Yeshua said (I’m paraphrasing here) that it was his money, and he could do what he wants with it.

In Ezekiel 18, God tells us that he doesn’t care what you did in the past, whether it was righteous or sinful, but what you do now is the measure by which he will judge you.

So, why do I think these two, seemingly disparate verses, explain what “first is last and last is first” mean?

I’m glad you asked!

Both indicate that God will make his own rules, and that we don’t really have any say in them. But more than that, it means that no matter how you have lived your life, whether it has been one of righteousness or sin, at the end you will be judged on where your heart is and how you are living at that moment.

The workers who had only been there for an hour were rewarded the same as the workers who had been there all day, which shows that even if we wait until our very last breath to do t’shuvah (repent), we can still receive salvation.

This parable confirms what God said many centuries earlier, through Ezekiel, when he said if the righteous person turns to sin, he will be judged on that, but if a sinful person turns from his sin and does what is right, then he will be judged on that.

Simply stated, no matter how you sinful you may have been, if you are truly repentant and turn from your evil ways, doing what is right in God’s eyes (the instructions for that are in the Torah), you will be saved. But, if you have lived a God-fearing life yet backslide into a life of sinfulness, even if it is on the very day you die, you will die in your sin.

These two passages from the Bible tell us that, no matter how you have lived your life to this moment, everyone has the same opportunity to be saved and everyone has the same opportunity to throw that salvation away.

On that pleasant thought, let me say thank you for being here: that’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and (an early) Shabbat Shalom!

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