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 many. Matthew 20:27-28
In Matthew chapter 19, after encountering a rich young man, Jesus proceeded to teach his disciples about the danger of pursuing riches and the blessing of surrendering all to follow Him. He concluded this teaching in verse 30 by saying, “but many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This statement summarizes the teaching that those who pursue financial gain may be counted first in this world, but they are last in the kingdom of God; while those who, like the disciples, surrender their lives for the name of Christ, are counted first.
There is a close connection between the stories of chapter 20 and those of chapter 19. This is clear as Jesus repeats the same phrase in verse 16: “the last will be first, and the first last.” Chapter 20 also begins with the Greek conjunction gar, which emphasizes the continuity. Just how the parable of the hired workers in the vineyard (chapter 20) is related to the teaching on riches (chapter 19) is not immediately clear, but what is clear is that Matthew uses this illustration as a segue to the events he reports later in verses 20-28, where he teaches about the value of being a servant.
“The last will be first, and the first last,” is a summary of the counter-cultural way the entire Gospel of Matthew calls the Christian disciple to live. In this present order, those who are first are the rich and famous; as Jesus puts it in verse 25, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.” In our society, “the first” are served; “the last” are the servants. But Jesus calls us to a different life, saying in verse 26, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Jesus demonstrated this as He who is “the king of the universe” turned the world on its head, by coming “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ’s servant’s nature is most demonstrable on the cross where He gave His life to save others. In preparation for Sunday read and pray through Philippians 2:3-11.