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Parables Of Jesus Christ: Labourers Of His Vineyard

The Messiah's parable of the labourers in the vineyard:

"20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny [i.e. a Denarius] a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (Matthew 20:1-2 KJV)

"Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first"

Workdays, particularly during harvest time, generally ran from sunrise to sunset. "Hours" of the day referred to daylight hours i.e. "11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world." (John 11:9 KJV). Sundials, which only function in the daylight, were used to measure hours. The only "watches" used were approximated periods of time during the night e.g. "14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea" (Matthew 14:25 KJV). Hence, "the third hour" of daylight was equivalent to mid-morning, about 9:00 a.m. The "sixth hour" was equivalent to 12:00 noon. The "ninth hour" was equivalent to mid-afternoon, about 3:00 p.m. The "eleventh hour" is about an hour before the end of the "day," sunset.

Hours Of The Day

"20:3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 20:4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way."

20:5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 20:6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

20:7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us.

He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. (Matthew 20:3-7 KJV)

At the end of the day, the workers came to be paid. Those who had worked all day expected to be paid more than those who had worked less (apart from the possibility that some workers get paid double or triple time when working under extreme conditions, such as harvesting tender fruit before a soon to come frost or storm). But the lesson of the parable isn't about worldly payment; it's about doing a good job working in the vineyard when called to do so.

"20:8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 20:11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day." (Matthew 20:8-12 KJV)

There are people who have lived a good Christian life right from the time that they were little children. They read and studied the Word of God and have always worked hard to live according to it, faithfully and steadfastly. Does anyone doubt that such people will very much deserve to be in the Kingdom of God? It's an easy question, isn't it. Of course they do.

On the other hand, there are people who have lived very unChristian lives, some until they were young adults, some until they were middle aged, some even until they were in old age, but who did eventually repent and become good Christians too. By the time that they die, they may have only lived according to the Word of God for the last half, or the last quarter, or even the last year of their lives. But they too will receive the same salvation as the others. That's the lesson of the parable.

The parable does not mean that people can deliberately put off repentance until later in life. The different times of the parable represent the time when those who begin to know better must do better (see the Fact Finder question below). Some people learn the Truth early, some people learn it later, but whenever it's heard that is when the choice must be made.

"20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 20:14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." (Matthew 20:13-16 KJV)

Fact Finder: When will God judge you?
See When Will You Be Judged?; also Could Christ Return Tonight?

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