The words first and last are found together in many verses in the New Testament. The passage that started this study is 1 Corinthians 15: 45-48. Paul is explaining the resurrected body to the church in Chapter 15. He uses the body of Jesus as the example of how His earthy (dust) body was sown in the tomb and a spiritual body came out of it. Paul compared the “first Adam” to the “last Adam” and then changed terms and said the first man and second man (referring to Jesus). In this set of verses first is some form of protos. The word second is deuteros. The word last is eschatos. Sorry, those are English-to-Greek translations (Mounce).
This first study led to a second one, and this last study provide some surprises. I will use Matthew as the reference book. These stories are also found in the other Gospels and the words and uses of them seem consistent among several major translations of the Bible.
Bad to Worse – These two stories are on different topics but the last to first concept is the same. In 12:45 Jesus is responding to a demand from the Pharisees for a miraculous sign. The final part of the teaching is about a demon that leaves a man and then returns with seven others. The man had it bad at first, but his last condition was worse. The second story has the Pharisees demanding a guard be posted by the tomb of Jesus (27:64). They argued that the first lie from Jesus would be worse than the last lie of the disciples. They said the lie was Him rising from the dead in three days. (No surprises here.)
Shall, First, Last – As a parent, coach, and teacher I have used the iconic saying “the first shall be last” many times in dealing with people. Jesus, the Master Teacher, surprised me by switching the order of the saying on the same day in two different circumstances to deliver two different meanings. This day of teaching occurred before Jesus started His victory parade into Jerusalem during Holy Week, He was on the east bank of the Jordan.
The rich young ruler was the object of the story in 19:30. He had money, and I am sure he was always allowed to be first in line wherever he went. He did not want to give up his money. The end of his part of the story was – the first shall be last and the last shall be first (those who gave up their money).
As Jesus expanded this teaching, He told the parable of a landowner hiring workers – Chapter 20, especially Verse 16. At the end of the day, the owner paid the last workers the same as he paid the first workers. Here the last workers are the object of the action, and they got what was promised them – the last shall be first, and the first last. (Attitude is part of the issue here.)
My surprise came in because of the switch in the order and the condition of whom He was talking about. The phrase still signals a change in position, but apparently, I need to think before slinging around who is first and last, why they are there, and whether they should be moving.
This is my first day writing on this topic, it will not be my last. The thoughts on a first day can be changed after studying, so these mat not be my last thoughts on the subject.