Q. Can you explain what “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” means and why is it that way? It doesn’t make sense to me.
A. Jesus had just told the rich young ruler that he should sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow Him. He said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 19:16-24).
Then Peter said, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matt. 19:27)
In Matt. 19:28-30 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
His point was those who have every privilege here on earth are often the last to realize their need for a Savior, while those with little or nothing in the way of Earthly blessings are often among the first.
With the exception of Judas, the disciples were Galileans who were looked down upon by the ruling elite in Jerusalem as being uneducated and unrefined. Yet they dropped everything to follow the Lord, while the rulers rejected Him. Jesus promised at the 2nd Coming they will sit on thrones, judging Israel. Having been among the last in their earthly life, they would be first in the Kingdom, whereas most of the elite of their time did not enter the kingdom at all.
Jesus said everyone who abandons worldly goals in favor of Kingdom goals will be rewarded, both in this life and the next, while those who cling to the ways of the world risk being left out altogether. In Matt.16:26 He said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”