Matthew 20 – Jesus Foretells His Death & The Legend of the Needle’s Eye Gate

Finger Pointing UpYesterday, chapter 19, Jesus talked about Eunuchs, so…

Matthew 20
Jesus Foretells His Death

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.

1 Crown of Life
Crown of Life
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (Jas 1:12).

20:1-16 – this parable emphasizes the sovereign graciousness and generosity of God extended to “latecomers,” i.e., the non-believers becoming converted.  It doesn’t matter if you grew up believing in Jesus or you became a believer at the age of 75, God treats everybody the same.

Yet, the rewards you will or will not receive in heaven depends on what you do here on earth (Crown of Life – Jas 1:12; Incorruptible Crown – 1 Cor. 9:24-25; Crown of Rejoicing – 1 Thess 2:19-20; Crown of Righteousness – 2 Tim. 4:8; Crown of Glory – 1 Pet. 5:1-4.

2 And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

“A penny” – this coin, the denarius, was the usual daily wage of a common laborer.  A Roman soldier also received one denarius a day.

3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

“Third hour” – 9:00 a.m.

4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

2 Incorruptible Crown
Incorruptible Crown
“Know ye not that they, which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).

“Sixth and ninth hour” – noon and 3:00 p.m.

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?

“Eleventh hour” – 5:00 p.m.

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.

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

“When even was come” – because farm workers were poor, the law of Moses required that they be paid at the end of each day (cf. Lev. 19:13; Deut 24:14-15).  Jesus, just like us, live under the law of Moses, accept for the changes that Jesus made. 

Yet, don’t become confused with scriptures like:

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:14).

We all live under God’s, the law God gave Moses, but believers, when they sin they are punished through God’s grace, while the heathen is punished by the law.

3 Crown of Rejoicing
Crown of Rejoicing
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thes 2:19-20).

9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the Goodman of the house,

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.

13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

“Is thine eye evil…?” – apparently the evil eye was associated with jealousy and envious (cf. ! Sam 18:9).  Today you are either paid by the hour or by salary, if paid by the hour you are paid a certain amount per hour that you work. 

If you are paid by salary you will work as long as the boss wants you to and get paid the same amount each day.  The men that worked in the vineyard were paid by salary.

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

17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,

18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,

4 Crown of Righteousness
Crown of Righteousness
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

“And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him” – an additional statement in this third prediction of the passion. Jesus wouldn’t be killed by the Jesus, which would be by stoning, but would be crucified by the Romans later.

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

5 Crown of Glory
Crown of Glory
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed.

Feed the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

“Ransom” – Jesus put down a deposit on our salvation when He was crucified, and we were redeemed by His resurrection.  Without Him doing that we would all spend eternity in Hell (see 1 Tim 2:6).

29 And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.

30 And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.

31 And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.

32 And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?

33 They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.

34 So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.

The Legend of the Needle’s Eye Gate

Since the Middle Ages commentators have considered the possibility that Jesus’ statement concerning the “eye of a needle” (Matt 19:24) may have been a reference to certain doors or gates that actually existed in his day.

6 The Greek
The Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew; Egypt, 4th century A.D.

Some homes did in fact have large doors that would allow a fully loaded camel to enter into the courtyard. Since such doors were cumbersome and required great effort to open, there were often smaller doors cut within them, permitting easy passage of people and smaller animals into the house.

Some interpreters have argued that this smaller door was the “needle’s eye gate,” while others have suggested that the needle’s eye referred to smaller doors within larger city gates, such as those at Jaffa and Hebron.

Passage through the smaller gate, it was said, would have forced a camel to its knees. Thus, the point of Jesus’ teaching in v. 24 is supposedly that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven only if he falls down to his knees.

As illustrative as these theories are, they in fact diminish the force of Jesus’ words. The point is not that salvation is difficult without God but that it is impossible without him. Jesus’ contrast of the largest animal known in Palestine with the smallest of holes created a vivid and memorable illustration.  

The fact that modern-day gates have been so named can most likely be attributed to the influence of this and similar statements within the Talmud (Jewish Bible) and the Koran (Islamic Bible).  

7 Jaffa
Jaffa is a place for beginnings, both of many tours of Israel.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s “older sister” boasts bountiful biblical history, along with charming lanes, antiquities, quiet churches, galleries and a picturesque fishing port.

In other words, the term “needle’s  eye gate” most likely did not precede the teaching; rather, the popularity of the term evidently came a because of the teaching.  The Jews have always done their best to twist Jesus’ for their own profit.  As they, the Catholics and the Muslims still do today.

But in Jesus’ original setting, it is very likely that a needle’s eye was simply a needle’s eye and not a gate at all.

Bible readers do well to beware of legendary, pseudo-archaeological interpretations, which can be quite misleading and even distort or undermine the true meaning of a Biblical text.

…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt 19:24).

Jesus’ meaning in the above scripture is simple and easy to understand, unless the reader wants to try and manipulate God for their own greedy gain, such as the Jews and Catholics do.

8 Hebron
Hebron is the largest commercial and industrial city in the West Bank.

The area had been under Muslim control from the twelfth century until 1967, when Israel occupied the city after its victory over Jordan in the 1967 war. Extremist Jewish settlers moved into town starting in 1968, and now there are 5 settlements in and around the city of Hebron.

There is no way that a camel can go through the eye of a needle so neither will a greedy wealthy man go to heaven.

…let’s take a closer look at them.

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