Jesus told his twelve apostles they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel when his eternal kingdom was established (Matthew 19:28) and then he added, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29). The Greek words translated everlasting life, aionios (ahee-o´-nee-os) zoe (dzo-ay´) referred to an endless existence similar to that of God. The implication being that an association with Christ entitles you to share in the inheritance he will receive from his heavenly Father.
Jesus used a parable of a worker in a vineyard to explain the reward that would be given to faithful servants of God. He said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-2). Jesus also talked about a future harvest in the context of non-Jewish believers receiving salvation. He said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).
Jesus’ reference to the reaper receiving wages (John 4:36) suggested that preaching the gospel was a type of work that would be rewarded in heaven. The persecution of the early church made it very difficult for those that wanted to share their faith with others to do so publicly. All of the twelve apostles were tortured and/or killed because they refused to denounce their belief in Christ. Even the Apostle Paul was killed because of his commitment to preach the gospel. In his parable, Jesus said the labourers that were hired first murmured against the goodman of the house because he rewarded everyone equally. They said “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” (Matthew 20:12).
Jesus responded to the issue that was brought up about bearing the burden of the work by stating “Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto the last, even as unto thee” (Matthew 20:14). The Greek term translated last, eschatos (es´-khat-os) may refer to the lowest person in rank or the farthest from a place or time (G2078). Believers today are far away in time from the events that took place when Jesus was alive on Earth and therefore much more reliant on faith to accept him as their savior. On the other hand, we could be very close to the events that will take place when Jesus returns and have a much greater sense than ever of our need for salvation from this world. Jesus said, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16). By this, I believe Jesus meant that only the believers far removed from the actual events of his death and resurrection would be able to appreciate his sacrifice and be willing to give up everything in order to inherit everlasting life.