Jesus described a future state of his kingdom as the new world and told his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus’ comment about the first being last and the last first had to do with the amount of sacrifice one made in order to follow him. Jesus explained this further in his parable about laborers in a vineyard. He said:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)
The laborers who grumbled about receiving the same wages as those who worked only one hour were concerned about the fairness of the master paying everyone the same amount. The Greek word that is translated equal, isos (ee’-sos) has to do with perception (G2470) and suggests that the laborers who were hired first thought they were superior or you might say had worked harder than their fellow laborers. The master of the house said he hadn’t done anything wrong because the laborers that were hired first thing in the morning agreed to be paid a denarius (Matthew 20:2).
The thing that distinguished the laborers was not how much they got paid, but when they got paid their wages. The owner of the vineyard told his foreman to call the laborers and pay them their wages and instructed him to do it, “beginning with the last, up to the first” (Matthew 8). One of the key characteristics of the new world that Jesus was explaining to his disciples seemed to be the importance of activity. The Greek word that is translated idle in Matthew 20:3 and 20:6 is argos (ar-gos’) which refers to inactivity in the sense of being unemployed (G692). When they were asked why they had been standing idle all day, the laborers that were hired at the eleventh hour replied “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7).
In this instance the word hired seems to refer to God’s divine election and appointment of duties in Christ’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul identified five occupations that believers can be appointed to. He said, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12). Paul indicated that the work of the ministry is accomplished through grace which is a gift that is received as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The owner of the vineyard admonished the laborers who complained about receiving the same wages as those who had worked only one hour. He said, “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:14-15).
The Greek word that is translated generosity in Matthew 20:15, agathos (ag-ath-os’) “describes that which, being ‘good’ in its character or constitution is beneficial in its effect…God is essentially, absolutely and consummately ‘good'” (G18). Titus, a gentile convert of Paul’s, wrote to believers about being ready for every good work. He said, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).
The Greek word that is translated regeneration in Titus 3:5, paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is the same word Jesus used in reference to “the new world” in Matthew 20:28. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old. This word means ‘new birth’ (palin, ‘again,’ genesis, ‘birth’), and is used of ‘spiritual regeneration'” (G3824). Titus indicated that salvation involves two things, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Regeneration (paliggenesia) and renewal (anakainos) work hand in hand to restore the believer to a healthy spiritual state. Anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) “is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).
Jesus illustrated the transition from paliggenesia to anakainosis in his parable of the laborers in the vineyard by the master of the house going out and hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. The ones who were standing idle in the marketplace (Matthew 20:3) could be believers that had not yet experienced anakainosis. Their passive state signified a lack of what Titus referred to as “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Even though the believer is in an active state when renewal takes place, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes renewal possible and it is a result of God’s grace rather than human effort. That’s why the rewards, or wages according to Jesus’ parable, were not based on anyone’s merit, but God’s goodness and loving kindness toward the workers of his kingdom.
Joseph’s transformation from a slave to the governor over the land of Egypt illustrates a type of regeneration in the life of an Old Testament believer. When Pharaoh sent for Joseph and he was brought out of the pit (Genesis 41:14), it was because he had a prophetic gift that Pharaoh wanted to make use of. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer'” (Genesis 41:15-16). Joseph didn’t take credit for his ability to interpret dreams and later he told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). The Hebrew word that is translated sent, shalach (shaw-lakh’) “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place” (H7971). After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and gave him a plan for storing up grain as a reserve to be used during the seven years of famine that were ahead, Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38).
Joseph seemed to understand that the suffering he experienced was a part of God’s plan to establish his kingdom on earth. Joseph explained to his brothers, “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated preserve, siym (seem) “means to put or place someone somewhere” and refers to appointing or assigning a task (H7760). Jesus informed his disciples about the task that God had assigned him. He told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus linked his crucifixion with his resurrection in order to show that regeneration was not only about the institution of something new, but also the destruction of something that was old. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824). There is a connection between the old and the new that makes them both relevant in the context of eternal life. Jesus pointed this out when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked “‘that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'” (Matthew 20:21-23).
The Greek word that is translated prepared in Matthew 20:23, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad’-zo) means to make ready (G2090) and refers to fitness or laying the foundation for a particular objective to be accomplished (G2092). Jesus talked about his disciples preparation for leadership by stating, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and 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 20:25-28). The Greek term that is translated slave, doulos (doo’-los) refers to “one who was in a permanent relation of servitude to another one whose will was completely subject to the will of another…The focus is on the relationship, not the service” (G1401). In that sense, Jesus was talking about having a relationship with Christ and being dedicated to doing the will of God on a continuous basis.
The Apostle Paul often referred to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Greek word that is translated renewed is ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o). “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).
When Paul said we are to put off our old self (Ephesians 4:22), he was most likely referring to changing our outward appearance so that we don’t resemble the kind of person we were before we came to know Christ e.g. drug addict, prostitute, or thief. After Joseph was brought out of the pit, he prepared for his meeting with Pharaoh by shaving himself and changing his clothes (Genesis 41:14). Joseph’s brothers didn’t even recognize him when they came to buy food in Egypt because he looked like an Egyptian. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to them, “his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence” (Genesis 45:3). Joseph told his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt'” (Genesis 45:8-9).
The Hebrew word siym (seem) which is translated made in Genesis 45:8-9 “signifies the creation of the thing (fixing its nature) and its use (its disposition)” (H7760). In that sense, Joseph was regenerated, there was an inception of a new state in contrast with the old (G3824). Jesus’ reference to “the new world” that will exist when he sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28) suggests that things as well as people can undergo spiritual renovation. Paul talked about the renovation of the earth in the context of a future glory that has yet to be revealed. He said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18-24).