The First Shall Be Last, the Last Shall Be First?

Jan 8, 2010 · Posted in Bible, Emails

A reader asked what Jesus meant when he said “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. It is a good question because this proverb is used several times by Jesus in the Gospels.  To properly understand his teaching, several such core concepts must be mastered, one at a time.

This proverb expresses a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching of the counter-intuitive reversal of fortune that the Kingdom of God will deliver when it comes. There are three groups outlined by Jesus where this is demonstrated:

  1. Many Gentiles will achieve entrance in the Kingdom while large numbers of the chosen people of Israel do not enter. (Lk 13:28-30; Mt 20:1-16);
  2. Among Israel, the outcasts (tax collectors, sinners, and unlearned) would appear ahead of the religious (Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, priests, rich). (Mk 10:23-31; Mt 19:23-30; Luke 6:20; Luke 14:11)
  3. Those who suffer now will have comfort in the Kingdom but those who are rich and comfortable in this world will appear behind those who suffer now. (Lk 16:19-31)

The parable of “Lazarus and the Rich Man” (Lk 16:19-31) expresses this last point grandly, although most completely misread the parable as a complete and accurate depiction of life after death (which it is not; come on, burning in hell and wanting water for your tongue?). Most Christians completely miss that Jesus was drawing upon common Egyptian and Jewish concepts on the afterlife in order to make an important point on the Kingdom. He was not teaching us that we burn in hell when we die. All other teachings in the Bible on the afterlife contradict that conclusion.

The point he was making is again the reversal of fortunes and how what we should seek now is counter-intuitive or not what we naturally seek. This reversal does not even depend on righteousness vs. wickedness. Lazarus is not said to be a righteous man nor is the rich man called a sinner. Instead, one had suffering and the other comfort, respectively. After they both die, their situation is reversed in the next life. Lazarus is seen reclining with Abraham in the kingdom and the rich man is seen suffering outside in the common humanistic vision of a hell (not in a theologically correct unconscious separation from God – Ecc 9:5) .

Jesus is warning us through this parable and his saying “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” that it does not matter who we are. No special favor is afforded by birth. We must seek the right things in this world, things that are counter-intuitive, so that in the next life, which is forever, we will benefit. These “riches in heaven” are won by seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness in this world (Mt 8:28). And many groups who you would think today have a corner on these riches, in reality will be nowhere to be seen in the Kingdom of God.

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One Response

  1. Jason Wharton Says:

    Tim,

    This saying does indeed pertain to the way God is unfolding His work. You are right on track with your ideas that it implies things will be overturned in ways that catch many off guard and brings salvation to those who were not really expecting it.

    What you have is the Gospel first went to the Jewish nation, which is composed of the 1 1/2 tribes of the southern kingdom. They rejected and crucified their king, Jesus Christ and so the kingdom was not given to them at that time. Because of this Jesus directed his apostles to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, which were composed of the 10 1/2 tribes that were from the northern kingdom that had been scattered among the Gentiles.

    Thus, we have identified who the “first” and who the “last” are. Jews are first and Lost Tribes are last. This process of overturning took place as the transition went from Jews to Gentiles. The tables were turned against the Jews and salvation went to the “unclean” Gentiles.

    When the saying is understood in its fulness, the implications are quite interesting. Paul touches on this pattern considerably well in Romans 11 where he likens this to the olive tree. He speaks of this transition and gives the Gentiles fair warning that God would move back in the direction he came if they became proud and high-minded, as the Jews had become, and turn their iniquities back upon their own heads and look again with favor upon his scattered remnant of his “natural branches” that would be graffed back into their “mother tree” when the “deliverer of Sion”, the One Like Unto Moses, would come in the latter-days when this transition would be due.

    So, what we learn here is God is going to do a pattern. There will be 4 dispensations of the Gospel. First to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (with the lost tribes) and then they will mess it all up and so God will start fresh and start up with the Gentiles first and then it will transition back to the whole native “natural branches” House of Israel when the Kingdom of God will actually be established and gain the victory.

    This is what it means in Isaiah 11 when God says he would “set his hand the second time to recover his people”. Just as there were two phases of the first and the last, there would be two phases of recovery where the former last would be restored first, but they would mess up so He would have to set it again a second time in order to recover those who were the first

    This will happen by way of the Gentiles, who according to 2 Thes 2 shall have a falling away again after they are restored back to a fullness from the “last being first” of the first setting of God’s hand to recover his people. This means pride will enter in a third time and they will fall away from the pure Gospel that was given them in the 3rd dispensation.

    This falling away (of Ephraim USA) is standing when the Lord comes and He will personally put it down. Thus, there will be a transition from the the Gentiles back to the true Israelites, which will include all those from the Gentiles that repent. This is why Paul marveled at the mystery of God in how he makes salvation available to all by what his “chosen people” go through in their dispersion and being gathered back in by Shiloh (See Gen 49:1,10,22-24) who is the Stone of Israel from the House of Joseph.

    It may also be an item of curiosity to some that the 4 Gospels pertain to each of these four dispensations. The Gospel of Matthew pertains to the dispensation to the Jews, the “first”. Mark pertains to the dispensation of the early Christian church, the “last”. Luke pertains to the first attempt of God to restore his covenant people with the birthright tribe of Ephraim, who is mixed in with the Gentiles, “the last now first to be restored” and the Gospel of John pertains to the Millenial Kingdom that obtains the victory, the “first” who are now gathered at the “last” in the second phase of restoration because the third messes up. I call this 4 dispensational view the prophetic aspect of the Gospels.

    First, notice the authors of the Gosepl accounts were Jew-Matthew, Gentile-Mark, Gentile-Luke and Jew-John. It does a First/Last and Last-First/First-Last pattern. This pattern is also in a good number of other places in holy writ as it is a very fundamental pattern and process that God uses. Using a computer to analyze the differences between the Gospel accounts reveals details about hidden prophecy of what happens in each of these 4 dispensations. Search on the word “mock” (using the AV/KJV) and it only appears in Matt/Mark/Luke. The word does not appear in John. Thus, the first three dispensations end up losing the truth, corrupting it and mocking God. In Matthes it says the Jews would deliver Christ over to the Gentiles who would mock him. This is just what they did. In Mark it says they would mock him straight up, because it is written in the context of the Gentiles themselves. In Luke it says they would actually make more progress but even though they laid the foundation they would fail to complete it, corrupt things and wind up mocking God as the first two. All three of these dispensations would be overturned and brought to shame and ruin but the 4th dispensation would be the victorious dispensation that would totally succeed and establish the Kingdom of God with full victory!

    I think that God must also be a good software developer as he understands how to use recursion and stacks… The House of Israel is about to get “popped” as the “fulness of the Gentiles officially comes in this year based on the 2,730 year period of judgment pronounced against Israel (the northern kingdom) that expires in 2010!

    Exciting times are upon us right now!

    FWIW,
    Jason

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