What was Jesus trying to teach us in this parable? Some think the point is that we’ll all have the same reward in heaven no matter how long or hard we work for the Lord on earth. But that can’t be right, because the Bible teaches that each person will be rewarded individually, according to his own labor (see 1 Corinthians 3:8).
The best way to interpret this parable is to consider the context in which it was spoken. Notice that Jesus told this parable right after Peter had asked what reward he and the other disciples would receive for giving up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus promised him that they would be abundantly rewarded in heaven for the earthly sacrifices they made for His cause. In fact, He promised that “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
The lesson of this parable is that God rewards us based upon the opportunities that He gives us. The later workers would have been willing to go to work earlier, but they were not given the opportunity by the employer.
Had you been given a lot of money, you may have been willing to give a lot of money away to the poor. But if God gave you only a little money, you were not given the opportunity to give away lots of money. Still, if you are faithful with the small opportunities that God gives you, God will reward you with just as much as someone who was faithful with large opportunities that God gave them. He is perfectly fair.
Q. Jesus concluded the parable of the vineyard workers by saying, “And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then” (Matthew 20:16). In light of the parable, can you describe someone who might be first now but last in God’s kingdom, and vice versa?
A. Some who are faithful with the small opportunities that God gives them, now “last” in the eyes of people, might receive more reward than one who is “first” in the eyes of people but who is unfaithful with the bigger opportunities God has given him.
Application: Are you being faithful with the opportunities God has given you?