The Two Sons

Matt. 21:28-32 - But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. 31  Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.



Although the setting of this parable and the parable of the wicked husbandman appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Matthew is the only gospel which includes this parable.  The reason is that Matthew is the gospel which shows Christ as the king of the Jews, and it is fitting that Christ gives the parable as one having authority to command his servants.

There are several ways the commentators I have read after have interpreted this parable.  Some say one thing and others say something entirely different.  All of these commentators have one thing in common: they take this parable out of the setting of Matt. 21 to make their interpretation.  I believe this is wrong.  The only way I know how to interpret any scripture is to, first of all, look at it in light of the setting it is in.  If I can take the setting into consideration, then any passage will make more sense.  If I take any passage out of it original setting, then I can easily make any scripture say whatever I want it to say.

My interpretation of this parable is to keep it in Matthew 21, therefore, I interpret this parable according to the events of this chapter.  By doing this, I can easily see that there are some particular events that have led up to Christ giving this parable, and some particular reasons why Christ gave this particular parable to this particular people.  By keeping this parable in Matthew 21, I can more easily understand the parable that Christ gives in verse 33-46.

I sincerely believe that my interpreting this parable in this manner is in keeping with the principles of Biblical interpretation.

This parable is the first of three parables which Christ gave to the Pharisees, showing that He was leaving them, because of their utter and complete disbelief, and giving his power, authority, and gospel message to the Gentiles.  This is a gradual transition, as the Gentile church was originally made up of only Jews.  As time passes, and the Jewish Christians fulfilled the Great Commission (going first to Jerusalem, then to all Judea, then to the uttermost parts of the world) the local churches gradually filled more and more with Gentile believers.  After a while, there are very few Jewish believers, but there are a multitude of Gentile believers.  This fulfills Romans 9:22-24.  This passage explains that God has turned from 2% of the world population (Jews) and turned to 98% of the world population (Gentiles).

There is a parallel between the three parables of Matthew 21:23 - 22:14 and the three parables of Luke 15:1-32.  Both of these sets of three parables teach the same truth.  The Israelite religious leaders do not have the truth of God, nor do they have any joy when others receive the truth.  The religious leaders of the Jews will travel many miles to make a single proselyte, making that person a two fold child of hell, yet they are extremely unhappy (even to the point of killing their own Messiah) when a person comes to the truth.  In the case of the elder brother, he would have been happier if his prodigal brother had remained in a foreign country, feeding swine and eating forbidden food.  The elder brother is typical of the Jewish religious leaders, who would have been much happier if they had been allowed to continue in their own traditions, and their prodigal brothers left in unbelief.  The Jews are very sure they have the truth, yet they have followed the traditions of the elders, studying their books, instead of studying the Word of God which would have led them into all truth.  The Israelite religious leaders never understand one simple truth - God is love, which causes believers to love others - even when they disagree.


I.    This parable is speaking to the Jews, who God gave first opportunity to serve Him, and has nothing at all to say to the Gentiles.

A.  The sequence of the parable is backwards if the first part of the parable is speaking about Israel and the second part the Gentiles.

1.   The first son said he wouldn’t go, but he did.

2.   The second son said he would go, but he didn’t.

3.   If the first son is Israel, who, according to history, received the command of God first, then they said they wouldn’t go to work in God’s vineyard, but they have.  Everybody knows this is not the case.

4.   If the second son is the Gentiles who received the command of God next, then the Gentiles said they would work in God’s vineyard, but they haven’t.  Everybody knows this isn’t the case.

B.   The whole subject is the authority of God and the Jews relationship that authority.

1.      See the whole of chapter 21, and verse 33; the words “hear another parable”, which also speaks about authority and obedience, and the reason Christ will turn from the Jews to the Gentiles.

2.      The conversation that precedes this parable is the chief priests asking Christ who gave Him the authority:

a.      to enter like a king into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-9),

b.      to cleanse the temple (Matt. 21:12-16),

c.      or a minor thing to them; to curse the barren fig tree (Matt. 21:18-23).  (This was a thing the Jews might not have known about.)

3.      The Jews, as a nation, have rejected the authority of God believing their way is best.

a.      A point to remember here is that God never authorized many things the Jews held very dear to their religion.

b.      God never authorized synagogues, but the Jews established these as places of worship during the Babylonian captivity, when they couldn’t go to Jerusalem.

c.      There was nothing wrong with establishing synagogues as a place to worship God, but when the Jews returned to their own land, they didn’t forsake the false religion they learned in that pagan land.

d.      They replaced the laws and worship of God with their own laws and worship.

C.    Who is represented by the two sons is found in verse 32.

1.      The publicans and harlots would match those of verse 29, who did not believe at the first (their lifestyle showed they didn’t believe), but later they did believe and went to work in the vineyard.

2.      The religious Jews would match those of verse 30, who said they believed and would obey, but their religious life showed they had replaced God’s commands with their own commands.

3.      One lesson we need to learn is that publicans and harlots will go into the kingdom of God before those that have false religion.

4.      Parables which give reproof, speak plainly to the offenders, and judge them out of their own mouths.

a.      The parable of the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, is to show that those who knew not John's baptism to be of God, were shamed by those who knew it, and owned it.

b.      The whole human race are like children whom the Lord has brought up, but they have rebelled against him, only some are more plausible in their disobedience than others.

c.      And it often happens, that the daring rebel is brought to repentance and becomes the Lord's servant, while the formalist grows hardened in pride and enmity.[1]


II.    When John began his ministry, the Jews came to his baptism.

A.    Matt. 3:7-12 - The passage tells of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by John, but he refused because they had no fruits suitable for repentance.

B.    John 1:19-28 - This passages tells of the Pharisees who sent a delegation to John to inquire about who he was and what he was preaching.

1.      John 1:29-34 - It is likely the delegation of the Pharisees were still present when John pointed out Christ as the Lamb of God.

2.      There is no indication at all that the delegation or the Pharisees followed Christ.

3.      John 1:35-51 tells the story of the true followers of God.

C.    The point is that the religious Jews would have followed Christ if He had tailored His message so they could accept it.

1.      It is very obvious that Christ wouldn’t change anything He preached, because he preached what His Father told Him to preach.

2.      Those that won’t listen and heed the message of the Father are rebellious to the authority of the Father, and of the Son.


III.  Points we should learn.

A.    It is more important to do what is right than to say what is right.

B.    The person who rebels at the first, but obeys later is counted more faithful than the person who obeys at first, but rebels later.

C.    A person is remembered more for what he does than what he says.

D.    Matt. 20:16 - So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.


IV. Verse 33-46 - Christ will give the unbelieving Jews another parable, which will show the history of the Jewish people and their continued rebellion against God and His holy commandments.

[1] Matthew Henry Concise Commentary, QuickVerse for Windows Version 4.0e, Copyright 1992-1996 by Craig Rairdin and Parsons Technology, Inc.  Matt. 21:28.