eleventh hour

the last possible moment
—Most of the students wasted their time and waited until the eleventh hour to study for the test.

Jesus told a story about a landowner who went out in the early morning and hired some men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them each a silver coin, called a denarius, and they began working. Later in the day, he went out three more times and hired more men. Finally, he hired the last group of workers at the “eleventh hour.” When it was time, he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last-hired workers first:

When those hired about five o’clock [the eleventh hour] came, each received a full day’s pay. And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each one also received the standard wage. When they received it, they began to complain against the landowner, saying, “These last fellows worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the hardship and burning heat of the day.” And the landowner replied to one of them, “Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage? Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first last [the last shall be first, and the first last].” (Matthew 20:9-16)

Jesus used this parable to teach that the gift of salvation is the same for all, no matter when it is accepted.

For the Jews in the Bible, the eleventh hour was not only the last hour of the work day, but it was the final hour of the calendar day, as well. This is because their 24-hour day began at sunset—about 6:00 pm—rather than at sunrise. Then the daylight portion was divided into twelve hours, beginning at approximately 6:00 am (7:00 am was the “first hour”) and ending at about 6:00 pm, the “twelfth hour.” Therefore, their eleventh hour was about 5:00 pm.

This story also gives us the last shall be first and the first shall be last, now used to mean “the outcome will show a complete reversal of circumstances.”

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