But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)But what think ye?—The question serves to connect the parable with the foregoing incident, and so gives point to its special primary application. In many MSS. the answers of the two sons are inverted, and it is accordingly the “second,” and not the first, who is said, in Matthew 21:31, to have done the will of his Father.
Go work to day in my vineyard.—The parable rests on the same imagery as that of the Labourers, with some special variations. Both of those who are called to work are “sons,” and not hired labourers—i.e., there is a recognition of both Pharisees and publicans, the outwardly religious and the conspicuously irreligious, as being alike, in a sense, children of God.Matthew 21:28-32. But what think ye — As if he had said, You have evaded a direct answer to my question concerning the baptism of John, and have acknowledged your ignorance whence it was; but what think you of your own conduct in these circumstances? and of all the high professions you make of an extraordinary reverence for God, and zeal in his service? I will plainly tell you my judgment of it, which is very naturally connected with the present subject. This our Lord does in two parables, in the former of which, by a question which he puts to them, he makes them condemn themselves. A certain man had two sons — Signifying two sorts of persons: some that prove better than they promise, represented by the former of these sons; others that promise better than they prove, represented by the latter. And he came to the first — Exhibiting the disobedient, profligate, and wicked Jews, and open sinners of all descriptions, who, though they neither professed nor promised to do the will of God, nor gave any reason to hope well concerning them, yet afterward being convinced of sin, and brought to repentance by the preaching of John the Baptist and Christ, turned from their sins, and sincerely embraced the gospel. The spirit and conduct of the second son was an exact picture of the temper and behaviour of the Pharisees; for in their prayers and praises they gave God the most honourable titles, and professed the greatest readiness and zeal in his service: but it was a bare profession, contradicted by all their actions. They said, I go, sir, to work in thy vineyard, but went not. Jesus having finished his parable, asked, Whether of them twain did the will of his Father? — Without hesitation, they replied, The first — Not perceiving that by this answer they condemned themselves, till Jesus, making a direct application of the parable, gave them that sharp but just rebuke; Verily I say unto you — Even the most abandoned sinners of the age, such as the publicans and harlots, go into the kingdom of God before you — Are much more open to conviction, and more readily obey the gospel than you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness — Walking in it as well as teaching it, and gave evident proofs of his mission from God; and ye believed him not — Gave no credit to the testimony which he bare to me, nor received his doctrine, and consequently would not enter the vineyard: but the publicans and harlots — The most notorious sinners; believed him — Were reformed, and obeyed the gospel, though at first they said, I will not. And ye, when ye had seen it — And could not deny that an amazing change had been wrought in them, and that persons of the most abandoned characters had been reformed by his sermons, which doubtless was a strong proof of his mission from God; yet repented not afterward — Of your opposition to that holy man, nor of your disobedience to his instructions; That ye might believe him — And therefore I solemnly warn you, (for so his words imply,) that your condition will hereafter be worse than theirs; and that you shall see those whom you now despise and abhor, entering into the glory from which you shall be excluded.
Two sons - By those two sons our Lord intends to represent the conduct of the Jews, and that of the publicans and sinners.
In my vineyard - See the notes at Matthew 21:33. To work in the vineyard here represents the work which God requires man to do.
I will not - This had been the language of the publicans and wicked men. They refused at first, and did not "profess" to be willing to go.
Repented - Changed his mind. Afterward, at the preaching of John and Christ, the publicans - the wicked - repented and obeyed.
The second ...said, I go sir; and went not - This represented the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees - "professing" to obey God, observing the external rites of religion, but opposed really to the kingdom of God, and about to put his Son to death.
Whether of them twain ... - Which of the two. "They say unto him, The first." This answer was correct; but it is strange that they did not perceive that it condemned themselves.
Go into the kingdom of God - Become Christians, or more readily follow the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 3:2.
Before you - Rather than you. They are more likely to do it than you. You are self-righteous, self-willed, and obstinate.
John came in the way of righteousness - Many of them have believed, but you have not. That is, in the right way, or teaching the way to be righteous; to wit, by repentance. Publicans and harlots heard him and became righteous, but they did not. They saw it, but, as in one thousand other cases, it did not produce the proper effect on them, and they would not repent.See Poole on "Matthew 21:32". Matthew 18:12.
a certain man had two sons. This is a parable; the design of which is to show the hypocrisy and deceit of the Scribes and Pharisees, in pretending to works of righteousness, and not doing them; and to reprove them for their disbelief and rejection of John's ministry; and to make it appear, that the worst of sinners in the Jewish nation were preferable to them; and that many of them were, and would be, happy, when they would be miserable. By the "certain man", in the parable, God is designed; who, though he is not a man, nor to be represented by any human form; yet, as man is the image of God, he is therefore, in an improper and figurative sense, compared to man, and set forth by him; which may be allowed in a metaphorical and parabolical way: and though the Son of God only assumed human nature, and really became man; yet God, the Father, seems rather to be here intended, who is sometimes compared to a husbandman and a vinedresser; see John 15:1 and as appears from the relation of the "two sons" unto him; by whom are meant not Jews and Gentiles; for the latter can never be intended by the first son; for these were not sons in such sense as the Jews were, nor were upon an equal foot of sonship with them, as the parable supposes; much less were they called first, and bid to work in the vineyard: but, on the contrary John the Baptist, Christ, and his apostles, were first, and only sent to the Jews; and God, as yet, was not come even in the external ministry of the word to the Gentiles; nor were they brought to repentance and obedience: but by them are meant two sorts of people, among the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees, and publicans and sinners; as the application of the parable, by our Lord himself, most clearly shows: these were both the sons of God; not only by creation, as all men are, all having, in this sense, but one common father, whose offspring they be; but also by national adoption; for to all, who were Israelites, according to the flesh, whether good men, or bad men, alike belonged the general privilege of adoption, Romans 9:4. This publicans and sinners had an equal right to, as well as the Scribes and Pharisees, though they were not all the sons of God by special grace, or spiritual adoption:
and he came to the first; the publicans and sinners among the Jews, by the ministry of John the Baptist, Christ, and his disciples, who first and chiefly preached to such sort of persons,
and said, son, go work today in my vineyard: by the "vineyard", is meant the kingdom of God, or of heaven, the Gospel church state, the then present dispensation of things, which was set up, and which men were called to embrace and enter into; the doors of which the Pharisees, who pretended to have the key of knowledge, did all they could to shut up, and hinder persons going in, as they refused to do themselves: this is called it a "vineyard"; See Gill on Matthew 20:1. To work in it signifies to hear the word preached, to believe in the Messiah, embrace his doctrines, and submit to his ordinances, particularly the ordinance of baptism, which was the then principal ordinance of that dispensation. The time of working in it is "today"; directly, immediately, and whilst it is day; for the hour cometh when no man can work, and when all these means and ordinances will be at an end, and attending on them will be over: the argument used to engage hereunto, is taken from the relation the person stood in as a "son", highly favoured by God, with the blessing of national adoption, besides that of natural sonship common to all mankind.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 21:28-32. Peculiar to Matthew, and doubtless taken from the collection of the sayings of the Lord.
Jesus now assumes the offensive in order to convince His adversaries of their own baseness.
τέκνα and τέκνον suggest the father’s love.
Matthew 21:30. ἐγώ] is to be taken elliptically, and that with due regard at the same time to its emphatic character, in virtue of which it forms a contrast to the negative answer of the other son: I, sir, will go and work in the vineyard this very day. The κύριε expresses the hypocritical submission of the man.
The publicans and harlots are represented by the first mentioned son; for previous to the days of John they refused to obey the divine call (in answer to the command to serve Him, which God addressed to them through the law and the prophets, they practically said: οὐ θέλω), but when John appeared they accorded him the faith of their hearts, so that, in conformity with his preaching, they were now amending their ways, and devoting themselves to the service of God. The members of the Sanhedrim are represented by the second son; for, while pretending to yield obedience to the law of God revealed in the Scriptures (by the submissive airs which they assumed, they practically uttered the insincere ἐγὼ, κύριε), they in reality disregarded it, and, unlike the publicans and the harlots, they would not allow themselves to be influenced by the movement that followed the preaching of the Baptist, so that neither the efforts of John nor the example of the publicans and harlots had any effect upon them in the way of producing conversion. To understand by the two sons the Gentiles and the Jews, is entirely against the context.
προάγουσιν ὑμᾶς] as though the future entering into the Messianic kingdom were now taking place. The going before, however, does not necessarily imply that others are following. Comp. Matthew 18:14.
ἐν ὁδῷ δικαιοσύνης] in the way of righteousness, i.e. as one whose walk and conversation are characterized by moral integrity, ἐν ἀμέμπτῳ βίῳ (Theophylact), ἵνα καὶ ἀξιόπιστος φανῇ (Euthymius Zigabenus). Comp. 2 Peter 2:21; 2 Peter 2:2; Proverbs 8:20; Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 17:23. The preaching of righteousness (de Wette, Bleek, Keim) would have been expressed by some such terms as ὁδὸν δικαιος. διδάσκων (Matthew 22:16).
ἰδόντες] the fact, namely, that the publicans and harlots believed Him.
οὐδὲ μετεμελ. ὕστ.] did not even feel penitent afterwards (Matthew 21:29), far less did you get the length of actual conversion. The example of those others produced so little impression upon you. The emphasis is not on ὕστερ., but on μετεμ.
τοῦ πιστεῦσαι] Object of μετεμ. ὕστ., so as to believe Him.Matthew 21:28-32. Parable of the two sons, in Mt. only, introduced by the familiar formula, τί δὲ ὑμῖν δοκεῖ (Matthew 17:25, Matthew 18:12), and having for its aim to contrast the conduct of the Pharisees towards the Baptist with that of the publicans. And as the publicans are simply used as a foil to bring out more clearly the Pharisaic character, the main subject of remark, it is highly probable that the son who represents the Pharisee was mentioned first, and the son who represents the publican second; the order in which they stand in , and adopted by W. and H The parable, therefore, should read thus: “A certain man had two sons. He said to one, Go work, etc. He replied, Yes, sir, and went not. To the other he said the same. He replied, I will not, and afterwards went.”
 Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.
 Westcott and Hort.28. two sons] representing the sinners who first refused to do God’s will, but repented at the preaching of John; and the Pharisees who, having “the righteousness which is of the law” (Php 3:9), professed to do God’s will but did it not. Both are sons. God still cares for both. The Pharisees may follow the sinners into the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:31). Paul was still a Pharisee; Nicodemus the Pharisee was still a secret follower of Christ.
28–32. The Parable of the Two Sons, and the Explanation of it Peculiar to St Matthew
St Luke omits the parable, perhaps as referring especially to Israel. The parable follows in close connection with the question as to the teaching of John.
The parables and discourses that follow deal no longer with the distant future of the Church, but with an immediate present. The subjects illustrated are—(1) The rejection of the Messiah. (2) The rejection of the Jews as a nation. (3) The Judgment, (a) which has already begun; (b) which will be enacted terribly at the siege of Jerusalem; and (c) finally fulfilled at the end of the world.
Observe throughout the separation which is implied in the Judgment—the dividing sword which Christ brings—the Jewish race and the world, each parted into two great divisions—the two sons—the two parties of husbandmen or of guests—the wise and foolish virgins—the sheep and the goats—the talents used and misused.
It is the last act in a divine drama of surpassing interest and full of contrasts. The nation, and especially the Pharisees, who are the leaders of thought, triumphant to external sight, are hurrying to destruction, impelled by a hidden fate in the face of clear warnings; while Christ the King, Who seems to be vanquished and done to death, is really winning an eternal victory.Matthew 21:28. Τέκνα δύο, two sons) A specimen of two classes.—ΠΡΟΣΕΛΘῺΝ, having come to) sc. kindly.—τῷ πρώτῳ, the first) who went before the other; see Matthew 21:31 [“Go into the kingdom of God before you].
 τί δὲ ὑμῖν δοκεῖ, But what think ye?) After that the Jews had declined to commit themselves, by expressing an opinion concerning the baptism of John, the Saviour defends Himself along with John, thereby reproving the unbelief of the chief priests.—Harm., p. 460.
 In the dialogue which Athanasius is said to have had at Nicæa with Arius, the First Son is referred to the Jews, the Second, to the Gentiles.—See App. Crit., ed. ii., p. 131.—E. B.
In Matthew 21:31, Lachm. reads ὁ ὕστερος with B. Ὁ ἔσχατος is read by Dabd, MSS. Amiat. (the oldest existing), and Fuld. and Forojuliensis of the Vulg. However Jerome, though editing, as appears from his commentary, ‘novissimus,’ yet states that good copies have ‘primus’ (ὁ πρῶτος): c also, and some less ancient copies of the Vulg., agree with Rec. Text, ὁ πρῶτος. But Hil. 717 has ‘junior.’ The ὁ ὕστερος or ἔσχατος, as being the more difficult reading, would be more likely to be changed by a corrector into ὁ πρῶτος, than vice versa. Jerome vii. 168e explains the former reading, ‘novissimus,’ thus:—“The Jews understood the truth, but shrunk back, and would not say what they thought; just as, though knowing the baptism of John to be from heaven, they would not acknowledge in words that it was so.” They did not like, I think, to repeat again the same reply as before in Matthew 21:27, οὐκ οἴδαμεν, therefore they doggedly, in spite of convictions, replied, ὁ ὕστερος. However, the words, Λέγουσιν ὁ ὕστερος: λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰνσοῦς, seem to be an interpolation: for Origen, who seldom passes over difficult passages, takes no notice of these words; and besides, ὕστερος as an adjective, is found nowhere in the New Testament except in 1 Timothy 4:1.—ED.Verses 28-32. - The parable of the two sons. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Verse 28. - But what think ye? A formula connecting what follows with what has preceded, and making the hearers themselves the judges. By this and the succeeding parables, Jesus shows his interlocutors their true guilty position and the punishment that awaited them. He himself explains the present parable in reference to his hearers, though, of course, it has, and is meant to have, a much wider application. A certain man (ἄνθρωπος, a man) had two sons. The man represents God; the two sons symbolize two classes of Jews - the Pharisees, with their followers and imitators; and the lawless and sinful, who made no pretence of religion. The former are those who profess to keep the Law strictly, to the very letter, though they care nothing for its spirit, and virtually divorce religion from morality The latter are careless and profane persons, whom the Lord calls "publicans and harlots" (ver. 31). The first. Westcott and Hort, relying on no very weighty authority, reverse the order of the sons' answers, altering ver. 31 in agreement with this arrangement. Christ's reply countenances the received text, setting the repentant before the professing son. It is a matter of small importance (see Tischendorf, in loc.). "The first son "here typifies the evil and immoral among the Jewish people. Go, work today. Two emphatic imperatives. Immediate obedience is required. "Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95:7, 8). God called his sons to serve in his vineyard - the Church. He called them by the prophets, and more especially by John the Baptist, to turn from evil ways, and to do works meet for repentance (Matthew 3:8). Christ gives two examples, showing how this call was received.
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