“The last will be first and the first will be last.” That’s a familiar message from Jesus, but have you considered how central it was to His teaching? Consider these passages:
In Matthew 20:20-28, James and John’s mother approached Jesus and boldly asked Him for something astounding. She requested that they sit at the right and left hand of His throne meaning that they would be the second and third greatest after the King of the Universe Himself. With that kind of audacity, she might as well have asked for the sun, moon and stars. Now look at Jesus response.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.
He’s using similar words to say the last will be first and the first will be last. This story is also repeated in Mark 10:35-45 with James and John as the ones asking. A similar discussion occurs in Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 22:24-27 among the disciples, with them debating who is the greatest among them. Jesus inquires about the discussion and responds by saying, ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Third, Jesus is approached by the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. After the ruler walks away disappointed because he must give away all that he has to have eternal life, Peter asks what he’ll receive because of giving up everything for Jesus. Jesus responds:
Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfoldand will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
We see that those who sacrifice are moved to the front of the line, which in this case is the disciples. Those who are wealthy in things of this world like the rich ruler will end up in the back in eternity. Mark 10:17-30 echoes this story.
Next, there’s the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16. At the end of the story, the workers who were employed for the whole day were upset because they didn’t receive more pay than those who worked a partial day. Jesus completes his message by saying, “the last will be first and the first last.”
Lastly is Jesus reference to the narrow door in Luke 13:22-30. The central teaching in the passage is that many who think they know God and expect to go to heaven are surprised to find out that they don’t and they won’t. Jesus once again uses the first and last phrase.
To summarize, there are five different passages that end with the idea of the first on earth becoming the last in heaven. The idea is used by Matthew three times, Mark three times and Luke twice. John doesn’t specifically use the phrase, but does say something similar in John 13:16, ” Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
Now that you’ve seen the prevalence of this teaching of Jesus across the Gospels what are you going to do about it? What will you pursue with your life? This things of this world that rust and can be stolen or the things of next through service and sacrifice?