The first in this world can never be first in the kingdom of God.
Believers should be schooled in kingdom dynamics. One of the dynamics of the kingdom of God that Jesus brings to our attention says: “The last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16). This word of prophecy is problematic for Christians. It means many Christians are called but only a few will be chosen.
Jesus said to his disciples when he first sent them out to preach the gospel: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). He insisted on this initial exclusivity because the Jews were God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), so the gospel was preached to them first. They then became last by rejecting it. Thereafter, the gospel was preached to the Gentiles, who received it. Thereby, the Gentiles, who were last, replaced the Jews and became first.
Another corresponding kingdom dynamic says: “the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23). Thus, Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son; but God preferred Isaac to him. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn son; but God chose Jacob. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn; but he forfeited his birthright by sleeping with his father’s concubine. (Genesis 35:22). Thereafter, Judah became first. (Judges 20:18).
Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn son; but God preferred Ephraim. (Genesis 48:17-19). Aaron was the firstborn son of Amram (Exodus 6:20); but God chose his junior brother Moses to supersede him. David was the last child of Jesse; but he was preferred as king before his older brothers. God’s chosen successor to David was Solomon, who was younger than even Adonijah.
Going by these kingdom dynamics, Christians who are now first will become last. Unbelievers, who are now last, will become first. God says prophetically of insiders: “They have moved me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation.” (Deuteronomy 32:21).
In the kingdom of God, the way up is down. The first in this world can never be first in the kingdom of God. The only way the first in the world can be first in the kingdom is if the first in the world becomes last in the world. Then it can become first in the kingdom.
Jesus was unimpressed with the faith of Jewish insiders. On a number of occasions, he categorised their faith as “little faith.” (Matthew 16:8; Luke 12:28). He once said to them in exasperation: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” (Mark 9:19). He also complained about them that: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” (John 4:48). However, the Samaritans outsiders believed in Jesus without him having to perform any miracles whatsoever. (John 4:39-42).
When Jesus healed ten men of leprosy, only one of them came back to give thanks. That man was not a Jew but a Samaritan. Jesus marvelled at this. He asked: “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Leprosy is often a metaphor for sin in the bible. If the prophetically healed “sinner” who subsequently lived a life of gratitude in the scriptures was not a Jew; then he would not be a Christian today.
When Jesus found “great faith,” it was not among Jews but among the Gentiles. He said to a Canaanite woman who adamantly sought healing for her daughter in spite of Jesus’ feigned reluctance: “O woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:28). He also commended the faith of a Roman centurion who recognised that Jesus did not have to go physically to the sick in order to heal them, but could decree healing from anywhere. Jesus said of him: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8:10). This is tantamount to saying of today’s firstborns: “I have not found such great faith, not even among Christians.”
Because the first becomes last and the last first, Jesus pointed out that: “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27).
Following this pattern, Jesus only revealed himself as Messiah to two people in the scriptures, and they were both “outsiders.” The one was a woman by Jacob’s well. She was a Samaritan and not a Jew; therefore she was last. But by giving her a privileged revelation of who he is, Jesus made her first. (John 4:25-26). The other was a man he healed of blindness. Although that man was a Jew, Jesus only revealed himself to him after he had been excommunicated from the synagogue. (John 9:35-38). His excommunication made him last, thereby positioning him for elevation in Christ. He became first through his steadfast commitment to Christ his healer, even in the face of persecution by the priesthood.
This means in biblical times, the kingdom of heaven was more accessible to “outsiders” than to “insiders.” The Jews, believing the kingdom was their birthright as sons of Abraham, rejected Christ. Jesus said to them: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:42-43).
Jesus’ position is that genuine faith would often not be found among believers in the church but among unbelievers who will repent and accept him completely. He then maintains that for this very reason, there will be a reversal of fortunes: “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12). Christians are today’s sons of the kingdom.
Therefore, the prophetic design of the gospel is inescapable. The race is not to the swift. (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Many Christians now deemed saved will be lost. Many unbelievers now deemed lost will repent and be saved. The arrogance of Vashti opened the door for Esther, a foreigner, to replace her as Queen of Persia. (Esther 2:4/17). The unfaithfulness of the Jews opened the door for the Gentiles. Today, our unfaithfulness as Christians will open the door of faith to unbelievers. That is kingdom dynamics.
As it is written: “It shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘you are sons of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10).