Our first exposure to line dancing was humiliating. My wife and I had turned our most exuberant country swing moves loose at the local roadhouse, when we noticed that all the other dancers were in formation and were laying out beautiful, complex steps – in unison! Wanting to learn and take part, we joined the back of the group, where we could watch and try to imitate what they were doing. We were back there, lurching about and trying our best, when they all turned around, putting us in the front. We watched the rest of that dance from the safety of our table. I was reminded of that embarrassing moment as I read these words of Jesus:
“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. “ (Matthew 19:30)
Jesus wasn’t talking about line dancing but the “renewal of all things” after the end of this age (verses 28-30). Throughout the Old and New Testament, God makes clear that there will be a time when He will establish a new and perfect world in which everything will work according to His perfect design (eg: Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13). Perfect peace, perfect harmony, perfect love, perfect life. Perfect intimacy between God and His people. Jesus said, when that time comes, “many who are first will be last” and vice versa. But what did He mean?
It’s important to notice that this comment (which He repeated in other settings) immediately follows His observation of how hard it would be for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). Not because it is a sin to be rich, but because it very hard for the rich to not trust money and trust Jesus instead (verse 21-22). In that culture, people commonly assumed that those who were well off were rich because they were held in special favor by God. Jesus said, “Not so.” In our day, deceptive preachers, who call themselves Christian, say something similar: “God wants you to be rich. If you do what I say I’ll make you wealthy.” The preachers of such heresy invariably wind up rich, but they do so by deceiving gullible people who think success in life is measured by money. Jesus said, “Not so.” Many of those who are “first” in this world, will be the “last” to make it into the next one.
However, I believe Jesus’ words held meaning far beyond how big your bank account is. I think He meant this: When God renews all things, restoring them to perfection, we will probably be dumbfounded to discover who He includes and who has been left out. Many who seem to be at the head of God’s VIP line may not even make the cut. Many who seem insignificant and unworthy to our worldly eyes may be welcomed into His Kingdom with open arms. The “first” in our eyes may well be “last.”
So, where are you – first or last? Don’t answer that question in terms of how rich or famous or religious or beautiful or successful people think you are. Measure it by how much you trust Jesus.