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Matthew 21:28-23

Dr. Hengilang Zhao

Philadelphia Bible Reformed Church

In Matthew 21:28–32, the Lord Jesus uses the parable of the two sons to teach and exhort the religious leaders, priests, and elders who refused to repent and accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

With one simple, clear parable, Jesus raises an important question: Which of these two sons did the will of his father? In other words, which of the two was faithful? The answer is plain: the first son, just as the priests, scribes, and elders acknowledge.

This parable is told in the context of a challenge to Jesus’ authority (Matthew 21:23–27). Jesus turns the challenge back by asking the priests and elders about John the Baptist, and follows up with this parable. The sons thus represent all who hear John the Baptist’s message of repentance. The first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes who responded in repentance and accepted baptism from John. The second son represents the religious leaders—the priests, scribes, and elders—who heard, but remained unrepentant. Jesus rebukes these leaders, telling them that the tax collectors and prostitutes are more likely than they to enter the kingdom of God.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling sinners to repent. Now, Jesus Christ has come; and earlier in Matthew 21, he makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The righteous King and
Savior has come, and he is in their midst! This King rules over the kingdom of heaven; he is the owner of the vineyard. He, too, calls sinners to repent and to enter the kingdom of God. But the religious leaders refuse to repent, and they question Jesus’ authority.

The religious leaders may have had the appearance of godliness, but there was no repentance to be found in their hearts. They were the second son in Jesus’ parable. This son promised obedience with his lips but did not carry out his word. Outwardly, he showed agreement, but his heart was hard. He refused to accept the path of righteousness.

In contrast, it was the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard the message of salvation and repented—the very sinners whom the religious leaders rejected and despised as sinful and shameless! These tax collectors and prostitutes entered the kingdom of God. These were the sinners in whom the Lord Jesus delighted. They were the first son who initially refused but later changed his mind. They repented of their sin and entered the kingdom of God, the Father’s vineyard.

Our Lord is a merciful and loving God. Even though we are unrighteous, even rebellious, he lavishes upon us his love, giving us the Good News of Jesus’ grace and calling us to repentance. God the Father allowed his only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified for our sins, so that our sins might be forgiven, fully paid for. And through Christ’s righteous act accomplished for us, God forgives the sins of those who trust in Jesus Christ by faith. In this way, the Father welcomes us into his vineyard, adopting us as sons. How amazing is his grace!

The Lord Jesus asks you the very same question today. Are you a faithful son? Do you follow his will from the heart? Do you obey his Word? If you are a church leader, do you act as the those elders did? Jesus desires from us a heart wholly obedient to him, a heart that fully loves him. Jesus not only taught us to obey and to love wholeheartedly, but he also lived this out. He was wholeheartedly obedient and fully submissive to the Father’s will. He endured the fullness of humiliation and shame on the cross. In doing so, he fulfilled the eternal and righteous will of the Father and gave to us, sinners deserving death, eternal life.

Let us come before the God of righteousness frequently to confess our sins, turn away from them, and submit to the will of our heavenly Father. Let us bear witness to our Savior, who alone is righteous, and proclaim his gospel. Amen!


• What does it mean to obey God’s will and commands?

• In this parable, do you identify with the first son or the second son?

• What did the Lord Jesus do for you? How do you respond to his works?

• What does the Lord Jesus want from you? How can you be faithful to him?