As humans many of us have a relentless drive to be “first”. History reminds us every day of many amazing firsts. Let’s explore the first that took place in this the second week of April, 11th – 15th
- On April 11, 1961 Bob Dylan plays his first major gig in New York City
- On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay
- On April 13, 1964 Sidney Poitier becomes the first African-American male to win an Oscar for best actor.
- On April 14, 1775 the first American abolition society is founded in Philadelphia
- And on this day April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks color barrier as he becomes the first African-American to play in the major leagues
Jesus in His encounter with the rich young ruler detailed in Matthew 19:16–30 made the statement “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”
What exactly did Jesus mean when He said, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”? First, we should eliminate what He did not mean.
Jesus was not teaching that the way to get to heaven is to live a life of poverty in this world. Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works (Ephesians 2:8–9)—and independent of one’s financial status.
Also, Jesus was not teaching an automatic reversal of roles in heaven. There is no heavenly law wherein the poor and oppressed must rule over the rich and powerful. The rich aren’t always last in heaven, and the poor aren’t always first. Nor will believers who enjoy wealth and prestige on earth be required to somehow be abased in heaven. Earthly rank will not automatically translate into an inverse heavenly rank.
When Jesus told the disciples they would be greatly rewarded in heaven for what they had given up on earth, He was contrasting their sacrifice with the rich young ruler’s lack thereof—the young man had been unwilling to give up much of anything for Christ’s sake (Matthew 19:16–22).
God, who sees the heart, will reward accordingly. The disciples are an example of those who may be first, and they happened to be poor (but their poverty was not what makes them first in heaven). The rich young ruler is an example of those who may be last, and he happened to be rich (but his wealth was not what makes him last).
What Jesus is teaching in Matthew 19:30 is this: there will be many surprises in heaven. Heaven’s value system is far different from earth’s value system.
Those who are esteemed and respected in this world (like the rich young ruler) may be frowned upon by God. The opposite is also true: those who are despised and rejected in this world (like the disciples) may, in fact, be rewarded by God.
Therefore, don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; it’s too prone to error. Those who are first in the opinion of others (or first in their own opinion!) may be surprised to learn, on Judgment Day, they are last in God’s opinion.