“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” – Matthew 20:16
The term equality is a societal buzz word that gets used very flippantly. Does it mean all humans get the same benefits in life regardless of how they behave? Does it mean the wealth of a society should be spread out equally amongst the people? Or does it simply mean that as a species, we should all be treated with respect and dignity? It may not even matter, because when we arrive in heaven, equality may take a back seat to the hierarchy that Jesus has established. We will be held accountable for how we act on Earth and rewarded accordingly.
One thing that today’s verse from the words of Jesus teaches us—there is a hierarchy in heaven. Several scriptures in the Bible also confirm a type of hierarchy, that different levels of reward and standing await us in heaven.
Jesus taught that some people who are “first” now, seeing all the benefits in this life, might just be at the bottom of the scale when they get to heaven.
A human, utopian vision of equality is that everything and everyone is equal. But clearly, as Scripture shows, that is not how God sees equality and not everyone will have equal benefits when they get to heaven. Instead, all will get their just and deserved rewards.
There is equality in heaven as far as no discrimination. “For God shows no partiality.” – Romans 2:11
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
American society holds many different views of what equality means. But so does the rest of the world, especially those that believe in socialism or communism.
Some people who support communism think equality means that everyone should get equal wages and equal benefits. But does that really make sense? Should a garbage collector receive the same benefits as a brain surgeon? If all things were equal, would anyone even want to be a garbage collector?
Many schools and institutions think everyone should “get a trophy” no matter what their accomplishments or effort. Is that really fair? Granted, ‘participation trophies’ have been given out for the past century.
Today’s verse comes from two Bible stories in which Jesus spoke about the kind of true equality we can expect in heaven.
The first is from Matthew 20 in Jesus’ teaching known as the “Parable of the Workers,” in which Christ talked about the true equality that will await us in heaven. Jesus also said nearly the same words in the “Parable of the Rich Young Man” found in Matthew 19.
In this view of equality, it is the character of the person (worker in the parable) that matters most for the reward. You can do all the good deeds you want, but if your heart and character aren’t true, your deeds are meaningless.
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:18
The Bible tells us that good works alone won’t get us to heaven.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
At the same time, faith without works is also insufficient.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:14-17
“For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but it is the doers of the Law who will be declared righteous.” – Romans 2:13