Daniel Two and the Parable of the Vineyard Workers
The Parable of the vineyard workers is among the lengthiest and the most complex of Christ’s illustrations. Throughout the course of the past year I have sat through two diverse presentations about the parable of the vineyard workers with two widely different interpretations. I am certainly familiar with the parable but I had not given this parable much serious consideration to anything but its surface meaning, So I thought it would be important at this venture to do some serious investigation as it relates to the coming of the Kingdom of God. I also wanted to see how many other interpretations outside of the ones I had recently heard are being taught in the church. In fact, it would be advantageous if you (the reader) opened up your Bible to Matthew 20:1-16, and read the parable for yourself. Prayerfully seek the spirit of YHWH before considering my comments.
Here is my simple encapsulation of the parable: Five sets of vineyard workers are hired at five different points of a twelve hour work day. As the owner compensates the workers at the days end, a complaint is leveraged by those who persevered throughout the heat of a twelve hour long day.
They do this because they witnessed the land owner compensating those who labored one hour, yet earned the same amount of pay. The land owner lets the disgruntled workers know that he has authority to compensate who he wishes with whatever amount he pleases. So the lesson of the story is “The last will be first, and the first will be last for many be called, but few chosen." (Matthew 20:16).
My encapsulation of this parable was given in 113 words. The average bible student would probably agree that the story line I have given has the sufficient details within it to support the most popular interpretations. But interestingly, the parable as told by Yeshua contains roughly three times the amount of words as mine (338 words). Also of interest, Yeshua does not go back and interpret the parable for the disciples. It seems to be so clear to them that they do not need him to provide an explanation.
But not so with us in our day! The Christian church has many colorful beliefs and a parable with an open interpretation has the capacity to suit an intelligent, yet uninformed man’s preconceived ideas. Most interpretations given about this parable highlight the idea that salvation is by grace and not by works. Anyone who has been born again receives forgiveness and eternal life no matter when their spiritual rebirth takes place, whether it be at the time of a man's youth or on his death bed. I certainly agree that the root idea behind grace and forgiveness is true. But was this the lesson that the Messiah was trying to convey to his disciples? It is within those 226 words that I omitted from the story that makes me question whether this is the case.
As I read the parable closely, I noticed that the 1st and 11th hour workers received the same amount of pay. However those starting their day in the 3rd, 6th and 9th hours were going to receive “whatever is right” (see Matthew 20:4). A fair wage would be fair to both the land owner and the worker. If a denarius today was equal to $120.00 ($10 per hour) a man could make enough money to survive in the US economy. The wage for the 3rd hour worker would be 25% less and pro-rated to a rate of $90 for a nine hour day, then $60 for the 6th hour worker, $30 for the 9th hour worker.
Some might argue this point, thinking that each work party were receiving a dinarius for their labor. But consider this, If all of the workers were paid the same amount of money for working in the vineyard till the end of the day, why aren’t the first hour workers complaining about monetary inequality based on the wages of the 3rd, 6th and 9th hour workers too? But no, the 1st hour workers have set their sights on the 11th hour workers. The fact that the wages diminish in 25% increments for three of the five work parties tells me that something important surrounding this parable has been overlooked. I still believe that the story is about grace, just not in the way traditionally represented in our modern interpretations about this parable.
Less popular interpretations of this parable promote various aspects of replacement theology. The first hour workers represent the Jews. They (the Jews) complain because the 11th hour workers receive equal pay and the Jews want more. (Again I wondered why the Jews are not complaining about the pay of the others three groups). Now according the logic of this particular interpretation, the Gentiles church represent the 3rd hour workers after the death of Christ and they replace the Jews. This idea is strange as it relates to the facts laid out in the parable. According to this Jew/Gentile logic there are no other biblical people groups. So the interpreters must supply the identities of the 6th, 9th and the 11th hour workers from their own imagination. From here interpretations can get pretty wild depending on which of the 40,000 plus branches of Christian ideologies a person religious person leans to. And of course the 11th hour workers somehow manage to revert one of these 40,000 Christian subsets.
These are interpretations based on the preconceived ideas from the faulty imaginations of men. In order to get to the bottom of what Yeshua actually meant, we need to gain an understanding of Yeshua’s preconceived ideas. And his preconceived ideas came directly from the writings of Moses and the Prophets. In fact, these were teachings that both he and his Father had directed to Moses and the Prophets before he became a babe in Bethlehem. It is within the Old Testament scriptures that we will find keys the keys necessary to unlock Christ’s interpretation of the parable.
In order to understand the parable in proper context we must locate the place in scripture where he began his teaching. That place is at the end of Matthew chapter 19, not the beginning of chapter 20. I will quote it from the Hebrew Matthew version of the Bible. “Peter answered and said to him: Behold we have left all to follow after you; what will be ours (treasure in heaven)? Jesus said: Truly I say to you who follow me, in the day of Judgement when man sits upon the throne of his glory you will sit upon the thrones of the twelve tribes of Israel. Everyone who leaves his house, and (his brothers), also his sisters, his father, his mother, his wife, and his children for my name will receive (a hundred) like them and will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” (Hebrew Matthew 19:27-30)
The context of the parable concerns Israel’s inheritance of the Kingdom."In the day of Judgement when man sits upon the throne of his glory you will sit upon the thrones of the twelve tribes of Israel". We can see this concept brought up again several weeks later by the disciples shortly before the ascension of Yeshua, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) It is interesting that the disciples asked their question in the way they did. Yeshua replied "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. (Acts 1:7) The implication within Yeshua’s response indicates that there will be time when Israel will possess the Kingdom at some point in the future. And in Matthew 19:28 Yeshua specifically says that Israel’s inheritance of the Kingdom would occur in the Day of Judgment (date presently unknown). Notice how the statements of Yeshua align with Daniel’s prophecy about the four Beasts of Daniel chapter 7. “The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.” (Daniel 7:18)
The writings of Moses give us more insight as to the identity of the saints in the following verse. “YHWH has declared this day that you (Israel) are His people, his treasured possession as He promised…He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the YHWH Elohim, as He promised” (Deuteronomy 26:18-19). I would like to point out in this passage that Moses states that YHWH "will” set Israel in praise, fame and honor high above the nations”. To this day, these words have not been realized, but they will be fulfilled during the time of the Judgement.
But how does this all relate to the parable of the vineyard? Interestingly Yeshua’s words seems to have a direct connection to the book of Daniel. Note the succession of the four Kingdoms specified in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Each kingdom after Babylon diminishes in value until the coming of the Everlasting kingdom. The diminishing value of the Kingdoms of Persia, Greece and Rome are similar to the pro-rated wages of the 3rd, 6th and 9th hour workers of the vineyard. Babylon was considered in higher estimation by YHWH as the golden Kingdom. Interestingly it is Babylon which is mentioned in the book of Revelation that seem most opposed to the Kingdom of God when it is given to Israel.
Imagine how this reversal of Israel’s fortunes will be accepted to the nations when authority has been restored to the people of Israel. When Babylon was given authority over the earth 2500 years ago, the Jews rebelled because they did not want to submit to a foreign power. But YHWH’s word was sure “You, O king (Nebuchadnezzar) are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold” (Dan 2:37-38). The Kingdoms of the Gentiles have had their day in the sun. But a time is coming when they will become the tail and the repentant saints of the Most High will their role as head of the nations; and their Kingdom will never be given to another people.
This will be a time of monumental change and many hearts are unprepared for it. Notice the attitude of the first hour worker in the parable, especially in light of the prophecies of Daniel. The scriptures indicates that authority to rule will be removed from all nations and given to the people of Israel. “The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time” (Dan 7:12). These Kingdom’s will rebel against the word of YHWH and form themselves into a strange coalition; an aggregate structure composed of the four beasts/four metals which are typified by the name “Babylon the great.” If we consider Daniel’s prophecies in the light of Christ’s parable of the vineyard, we can see that the first hour worker (Babylon) will incite the other three work parties to become disgruntled with the 11th hour workers (the People of Israel).
But the God of Israel says this to the nations: “Take your pay and go. I want to give the man (Israel) who was hired last the same as I gave you ( Babylon). Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matthew 20:14-16) When this final Kingdom appears upon the earth, will you be incited to envy because the religious people you favor may not be the head of it? Apparently this will be the case since Yeshua’s parable is in direct reference to the Kingdom of Heaven. In Yeshua's words, many will be called, but few will be chosen. Called to what? (to enter the Kingdom of Heaven). Who are the few who are chosen? They are the elect among the children of Israel who are chosen to lead the Kingdom.
So was this parable about the extension of grace to the erring sinner? I would say absolutely yes! Grace has been extended to the people of Israel who have been so long forgotten by their God and discounted as relevant by the majority of the Christian church. Many have not given consideration to the idea that all nations will submit to the faith as proscribed by the "chosen people" of the Most High. For those who believe the people of Judah have no relationship to the Kingdom of God ought to consider this unfulfilled prophecy: "YHWH will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem's inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah” (Zechariah 12:7). In order for the Jews in this prophecy to be first, they must have been the last. In other words, these along with the other tribes of Israel are the 11th hour workers.