A photo of an open Bible with the pages turned to the Book of Revelation, highlighting Chapter 11, capturing the essence of anticipation and urgency in the 11th hour.

What Is The 11Th Hour In The Bible?

The phrase “the 11th hour” is commonly used to refer to the very last moment before an event takes place or a deadline passes. But where does this expression come from originally? The answer lies in the Bible.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The 11th hour is mentioned in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16. In the story, a landowner hires workers at various times throughout the day, including a final group hired at the 11th hour.

This represents the last moment before the workday ends.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the full meaning and origin of the term “the 11th hour” as it is used in the Bible. We will look at what hour of the day the 11th hour actually refers to, examine the Parable of the Workers in depth, and discuss how this biblical phrase became popularized.

Understanding Timekeeping in Biblical Days

The Jewish Day Started at Sundown

In biblical times, the Jewish day started at sundown rather than midnight as it does today. This meant that the hours of the day were counted from sunset to sunset, with the transition occurring around 6 pm in modern timekeeping (though it would have varied based on location and season in ancient Israel).

So when the Bible refers to the “11th hour,” it is not referring to 11 pm as we conceive of it now. Rather, it would have been referring to the 11th hour after sunrise, or around 5 pm in our modern conception of time.

The 11th Hour was Around 5 pm

More specifically, based on the way hours were divided in ancient Israel, the 11th hour was likely sometime between 3-5 pm. There were 12 hours of daylight, so each “hour” was not a fixed 60 minutes but rather a twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset.

At the spring (vernal) and autumn equinoxes, when daytime and nighttime were equal, an “hour” would have been about 60 minutes. But in the summer, hours were longer, and in the winter, shorter. So the 11th hour was a movable window, but generally corresponds to mid-late afternoon in our modern timekeeping.

The reference to the 11th hour has significance in several biblical passages. For example, Jesus tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16, in which those hired at the “11th hour” receive the same wages as those who began working earlier in the day.

This illustrates how it is never too late for someone to come to salvation and faith. Just as the last workers were paid the same at the end of the day, God’s grace and redemption extends even to those who come late in life.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Overview of the Parable

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is one of Jesus’ most well-known parables. It is found in Matthew 20:1-16. In this insightful story, Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven and how God’s grace is available to all who accept it, regardless of when they come to faith.

The parable begins with a landowner hiring workers early in the morning to labor in his vineyard. Throughout the day, he hires more workers at 9am, noon, 3pm and finally 5pm. At the end of the workday, the landowner pays all the workers the same wage, even those who only worked for one hour.

Naturally, those hired early complain that the owner is being unfair. Yet the landowner replies that he is free to do as he wishes with his money and reminds the first workers that they agreed to their wage.

Through this parable, Jesus illustrates how salvation is offered freely to all by God’s grace, not because one deserves it more than another.

Workers Hired at Different Times

A key aspect of this parable is how the landowner hires workers at different times throughout the day:

  • Early morning – Workers hired around 6 am
  • 9 am – Workers hired at the 3rd hour
  • Noon – Workers hired at the 6th hour
  • 3 pm – Workers hired at the 9th hour
  • 5 pm – Workers hired at the 11th hour, when the day’s work was nearly over

By hiring at different intervals, the landowner demonstrates he is generous and eager to allow as many as possible to work. This mirrors God’s unlimited grace toward humanity. At any time, even at the so-called “11th hour,” a person can accept the gospel message and receive salvation.

Payment at the End of the Day

At sunset, the workers line up to receive their pay. Those hired last are paid a full day’s wage first. Naturally, those who worked longer expect more. Yet when their turn comes, the landowner pays them the same amount.

This unexpected turn highlights how salvation is not earned by good works or length of service. It is a free gift offered to anyone willing to work in God’s vineyard. While humans tend to value equity and fairness, God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He graciously opens salvation to all.

The parable concludes with the profound maxim: “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). This sums up how the timing of one’s conversion does not determine blessings from God. He rewards faith, however late it might come.

Significance of the 11th Hour in the Parable

Representing the Very Last Moment

The parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 tells the story of a landowner who hires workers at various times throughout the day, even up to the 11th hour. He ends up paying them all the same full daily wage, even those who only worked for one hour.

The 11th hour represents the very last moment before the workday is over. In the parable, it illustrates God’s immense grace and generosity. Even those who seem to come to faith late in life or who convert on their deathbeds receive the full inheritance of salvation through God’s mercy.

This parable encourages us that it is never too late to accept God’s invitation of salvation. Whether we have walked with God our whole lives or are coming to faith in our final moments, His grace is sufficient for all who call upon Him.

As the landowner says in the parable, “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15). God rejoices when anyone enters into relationship with Him.

God’s Grace and Generosity

The landowner’s payment of the full day’s wage to the 11th hour workers powerfully symbolizes the boundlessness of God’s grace. No matter the length or fruitfulness of our earthly service, God mercifully grants us eternal life through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Ephesians 2:8-9 explains, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation cannot be earned by human effort – it is a free gift received by God’s underserved favor.

Like the 11th hour workers, deathbed converts receive the full inheritance of salvation despite having little time to serve God on earth. What amazing grace! As 1 Timothy 1:14 says, “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

This should give us great hope and comfort in God’s generous salvation.

The 11th hour reminds us that while we may not always understand the timing and ways of God, we can trust in His loving grace for all who come to Him. Whether early or late in life, there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents (Luke 15:7).

Origins of the Idiomatic Phrase “11th Hour”

Earliest Usages in Text

The idiom “11th hour” originates from a parable told by Jesus in the Bible. Specifically, it is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20. In this parable, Jesus tells a story about a landowner who hires workers at different times of day, including some hired at the “11th hour,” to work in his vineyard.

Despite working for different lengths of time, the landowner pays all the workers the same wage. This illustrates God’s grace in accepting and rewarding followers no matter when they come to faith.

The first known usage of “11th hour” as an idiomatic phrase came shortly after the King James Bible was published in 1611. Writers and preachers began using it in sermons and texts to refer to the lateness of one’s life or an approaching deadline.

Over the next few centuries, the phrase grew in popularity and became firmly established in the English vernacular with the same meaning it carries today.

How it Entered the English Language

Although “11th hour” originated from a biblical parable, its wide usage in 17th and 18th century Christian literature helped cement it as an English idiom. Well-known preachers like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley employed it in sermons, lending it gravity.

By the 1800s, the phrase had entered mainstream English usage, appearing across literary works, journalism, and everyday speech.

According to Google Books Ngram data, use of the phrase “11th hour” took off around 1830 and peaked in the early 20th century before declining up till now. This suggests that while the idiom remains widely known, it is used less frequently in contemporary written English compared to almost 200 years ago.

Modern Usages and Examples

Deadlines and Cutoff Times

The phrase “11th hour” is commonly used to refer to deadlines or cutoff times in modern society. For example, students may wait until the 11th hour to submit an assignment or apply for financial aid before a deadline passes.

Companies may rush to get projects completed or make important decisions at the 11th hour before an impending product launch or quarterly earnings report. Procrastinators are infamous for waiting until the 11th hour to get things done, putting off tasks until the urgency of an approaching deadline finally motivates them to take action.

In business settings, managers will often use the 11th hour phrase when warning teams about an upcoming deadline, conveying that the final minutes before the cutoff are ticking away. Used in this context, it creates a sense of urgency and the need to accelerate efforts before time runs out.

The 11th hour has become associated with critical deadlines across many settings, whether it be filing taxes, submitting college applications, or completing important work projects.

Last Ditch Efforts

The 11th hour is also used to describe last ditch efforts to get something done or solve a problem. Politicians may scramble in the 11th hour to prevent a government shutdown. Engineers could work frantically in the 11th hour to diagnose a technical failure.

Attorneys may spend the 11th hour before a big trial scrambling to find precedent setting cases to support their legal argument. Athletes may train 11th hour to get quicker or stronger right before a big competition.

In these examples, the 11th hour represents not just a deadline, but a final effort when time has nearly run out. It evokes a sense of desperation, all hands on deck, quick thinking, and last minute preparations.

Leaving things to the 11th hour means that one has procrastinated or put off critical work until the final moments when there is little margin for error. It can refer to risky or reactive behavior, relying on best effort when the clock has nearly struck midnight before the deadline.


The phrase “11th hour” has strong associations with procrastination and purposely delaying work until the last possible moment. For chronic procrastinators, the 11th hour is their preferred time to start working. They thrive under the pressure of an impending deadline.

While procrastination has negative connotations, working best under pressure can be a strength. Some studies show academic procrastinators earn higher grades by finishing projects more quickly in a focused burst of final energy.

However, leaving things until the 11th hour can also have consequences. Rushed, last minute work risks overlooking details and introduces errors. Procrastination can be problematic in careers where it is important to think ahead and plan systematically over time.

While some shine under 11th hour pressure, others become overwhelmed and choke. Understanding when procrastination can be useful versus destructive is an important component of time management and personal productivity.

The idiom “11th hour” will continue evolving along with modern culture, maintaining its core associations with waiting until the last possible moment before an important deadline. Its usage provides colorful imagery about human tendencies to delay, scramble and finally act under imminent deadline pressure.


The 11th hour is deeply rooted in the Bible, specifically in the Parable of the Workers told by Jesus. While its exact timekeeping origins may be obscure to modern readers, its meaning as the very last moment before a deadline is profoundly clear.

The landowner’s dramatic decision to hire extra workers at the 11th hour conveys a powerful message about God’s boundless grace. Over centuries, this biblical phrase has endured and entered common parlance as an idiom for the final minute or hour before an event.

Whether we find ourselves hustling at the 11th hour or are able to plan well ahead, the origins of this common saying remind us there is hope until time runs out.

Similar Posts