Question: What is meant by the statement, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”?
Answer: When the Savior used this phrase, “the first” meant those who self-righteously assert their superiority yet reject the Savior and His gospel. “The last” meant His humble followers who make great sacrifices for the gospel (see Mark 10:28–31; see also Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 10:30–31 [in Mark 10:31, footnote a]). In a general sense, “the first” are the privileged, prestigious, and selfish who get ahead in this life while defying God’s commandments. But they will receive condemnation in the life to come. “The last,” though rejected by the world, will receive a great reward in heaven.
* * * * *
29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
30 But many that are first (JST Mark 10:30-31) “who make themselves first;” prideful behavior) shall be last; and the last (those who consider themselves least, and who are humbly obedient) shall be first (highest up in the celestial kingdom).
* * * * *
This phrase has also been used to describe the pattern through which the Savior reveals Himself and His gospel. When He came to earth, He came among the Jews, or His original covenant people, and later the gospel was preached to non-Jews (Gentiles). With the Restoration, He revealed the gospel first among the Gentiles, and it will eventually go to the Jews (see 1 Nephi 13:42; Jacob 5:63; Ether 13:4–12).
1 Nephi 13:42
42 And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
* * * * *
Source: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 74; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 59; December 2017, Ensign, What do the scriptures mean that say, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”?