What Is It About The Last Being The First? And Many Are Called but Few Are Chosen.

2nd Dec 2012 by Robin Piong – CM


In Matthew 20:16, we read about how the first shall be last and the last shall be the first. How often we take this verse out of context? It is never about starting a race from last and then finishing first. Neither it is about the last person attending a job interview and then getting the plum position.

Amazingly Jesus spoke about this phrase twice in between a parable about the kingdom of heaven, first in Matthew 19:30:

But many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Then he went on to explain this phrase in a parable about the landowner and his vineyard which was a picture the kingdom of God.

He spoke about it again the second time, after finishing the parable in Matthew 20:17. But this time it is a little bit extra because he added another verse where it is also frequently taken out of context.

Matthew 20:17

So the last shall be first and the first last, for many are called but few are chosen.



So, let us go back to Matthew 20:1 to 16:

The landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers into his vineyard. He agreed to pay them One Penny for a full day’s work which was in those days 12 hours of work, most likely from 6am to 6 pm.

Verses 3, 4 — On the 3rd hour he went out again and find those who are idle and invited them to work in his vineyard and . He promised them a pay that is right.

Verses 5,6— Again he went on the 6th hour, 9th hour and 11th hour to call and invite people to come and work in his vineyard at a right pay. 

These people who were called to go to the vineyard were ordinary people, nothing special. They were people who were idle, just lepaking, hanging around in the market place. 

Verses 8, 9— When it was time to be paid starting with the workers who came in the 11th  hour , all were paid One Penny to their surprise . Would this be the right thing to do for a vineyard owner if it were you?  In the world that we live in, paying everybody the same regardless of the amount of work is definitely not the right thing to do.

Verse 10— Obviously those who came first thought that beside the One Penny received, they might receive a bonus of many more Pennies than those who came in the 11th hour.

Verse 11— When the most hardworking workers who came in the first hour received their One Penny, they murmured and complained about their hard work and the burden they bore at the heat of the day, relative to the one who came in last to work.

Verse 15— The landowner reasoned, can’t he do what he wanted with his riches as he chose to be generous? The owner chided the first hour workers for being envious.


Thus, come that all powerful yet graceful statement in Verse 16:




Dear brother and sister in Christ, it is not about coming in last when the call was made to come into the vineyard. It is about the attitude of the last workers in responding and believing the call.

How unbelievable it is for the vineyard owner to call at the 11th hour to work in his vineyard, who would believe it? Imagine a daily wage job advertisement seeking employment at 4 pm in a 9-5 job.

Would you respond?

Who would believe that this is real and not a hoax especially the promise to be paid even at the 11th hour?

And who wants to work in the vineyard at the 11th hour?  It is not even work because by the time you reach the vineyard, it sounded more like going to an orchard to enjoy consuming its fruits. This is too good to be true!

I remember the days of my teens where I worked during the year-end holidays. The only job that I can find was a night shift job in an embroidery factory since nobody wants to work. The shift started at 10 pm to 7 am.

I remember vividly that by the time it was 4 am I would be so sleepy. However when it was 6 am, the last one hour of my shift, my motivation rose and before you knew, it was time to go home!

But that is the truth about the kingdom of God. It is full of love and full of grace where all you need to do is to have the attitude of the worker that comes in last.

The attitude is to believe and to respond to the calling of God to come into his vineyard. His vineyard is where salvation and blessing begin.

His vineyard is where you will have abundant life.

Jesus say in John 10:10:

I come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

When Jesus say that “he comes”, it means that he comes to die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice so that not only you can be saved but also to receive his blessings of abundant life here on earth.

You can never earn your salvation or even your blessings. You will strife, struggle, murmur, complain and burdened when you try to work out your Christian walk and blessings. You will hit the wall if you do so.

Mind you, all the workers that went into the vineyard from the first to the last are believers.

Salvation and the abundant life that comes from it, is done on the cross by Jesus. That is the work and purpose of our Lord Jesus.

All you have to do is respond and believe.

Isaiah 53:9 .

They intended to bury him with the wicked but he ended in a rich man’s tomb.

The chain of poverty and wickedness was broken when Jesus died on the cross. He was supposed to be buried with the criminals but was buried rich.

Isaiah 53:5

By his stripes we are healed.

His sufferings and his stripes gave us the blessing of healing. 

Deuteronomy 28:3,4

You will be blessed in the city and in the field. You will be blessed in your basket and your store. You will be blessed in your coming in and your going out.

It is not even your giving of tithes and offerings that earn blessings and prosperity in the first place. The death of Jesus has set us free from the law of the old covenant. And we are in the new covenant now which is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even heathens know how to give and receive. There is a universal principal of giving and receiving which applies to everyone. We give because we want to bless others in return and to be the salt and light of the world.

I believe strongly in the principal of giving and receiving. But my giving is not proportionate to the blessings and prosperity given by the Lord.

My blessings and prosperity come because of my belief in what Jesus had done on the cross.

Therefore you will be blessed with a full day’s reward when you believe and respond to that unbelievable call to come into God’s vineyard to enjoy his love, provision and his promises.

Because it is only when you responded you are deemed as CHOSEN.

When you decided to step out and choose to accept the offer even at the 11th hour, by virtue of the landowner being the boss, you allow him to choose you. Hence, it is considered that he has chosen you.

Thus the verse:















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