Matthew 21:31
Whether of them two did the will of his father? They say to him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(31) They say unto him, The first.—The answer came apparently from the lips of the very persons who were self-condemned by it, and so implied something like an unconsciousness that they were described in the person of the second son. They who gave God thanks that they were not like other men, could not imagine for an instant that the “went not” represented their spiritual life in relation to God’s kingdom.

The publicans and the harlots.—The words are purposely general, as describing the action of classes; but we cannot help associating them with the personal instances of the publican who became an Apostle (9:9), and of Zacchæus (Luke 19:2-10), and of the woman that was a sinner (Luke 7:37-50).

Go into the kingdom of God before you.—Which literally means, lead the way into. What follows shows that our Lord is stating not so much a law of God’s government as a simple fact. The choice of the word is significant as implying that there was still time for scribes and Pharisees to follow in the rear. The door was not yet closed against them, though those whom they despised had taken the place of honour and preceded them.

21:28-32 Parables which give reproof, speak plainly to the offenders, and judge them out of their own mouths. 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. 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. 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.But what think ye? - A way of speaking designed to direct them particularly to what he was saying, that they might be self-convicted.

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.

31. Whether of them twain did the will of his Father? They say unto him, The first—Now comes the application.

Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go—or, "are going"; even now entering, while ye hold back.

into the kingdom of God before you—The publicans and the harlots were the first son, who, when told to work in the Lord's vineyard, said, I will not; but afterwards repented and went. Their early life was a flat and flagrant refusal to do what they were commanded; it was one continued rebellion against the authority of God. The chief priests and the elders of the people, with whom our Lord was now speaking, were the second son, who said, I go, sir, but went not. They were early called, and all their life long professed obedience to God, but never rendered it; their life was one of continued disobedience.

See Poole on "Matthew 21:32". Whether of them twain did the will of his father?.... This is the question put by Christ, upon the preceding parable to the chief priests, elders, and Scribes,

they say unto him, the first: an answer which natural reason, and common sense, directed them to; and therefore they give it out at once, directly, without staying upon it, and demurring about it; though they seemed not to be aware of the application of it to themselves, which follows:

Jesus saith unto them, verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots; that is, such who had been so,

See Gill on Matthew 9:10.

go into the kingdom of God before you. They are signified by the first son, who repenting went, and did the will of his father: these repented under John's ministry, were called, and brought to repentance by the preaching of Christ, and his apostles: these justified God, their Father, by being baptized with John's baptism: these embraced the Messiah, believed in him, and were the first in his kingdom, and set an example to the chief among the Jews to follow: and it is easy to observe, that a poor profane sinner may, by the grace of God, be brought to repentance, that before was obstinate, rebellious, and disobedient, and be made willing to go and work in the Lord's vineyard here, and be at last glorified; when a self righteous person, notwithstanding all his fair promises and resolutions to do good, his professions of, and pretensions to religion, neither repents of his sins, nor believes in Christ; has no share in the kingdom of grace here, nor will he enter into the kingdom of glory.

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 {p} go into the kingdom of God before you.

(p) They hurry to the kingdom of God and you go slowly, so that you should at least have followed their example. Mark then that this word, go into, is improperly taken in this place because none of them followed Christ.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 21:31. o the question, Who did the will of the father? the answer, when the parable is arranged as above, must, of course, be ὁ ὕστερος; the nay-sayer, not the yea-sayer. It is a wonder any answer was given at all when the purport of the parable was so transparent.—ἀμὴν λέγω ὑ.: introducing here, as always, a very important assertion. The statement following would give deadly offence to the Pharisees.—τελῶναι, πόρναι, the publicans and the harlots, the two socially lowest classes. Jesus speaks here from definite knowledge, not only of what had happened in connection with the Baptist ministry, but of facts connected with His own. He has doubtless reminiscences of the “Capernaum mission” (chap. Matthew 8:9-13) to go upon.—προάγουσιν, go before, anticipate (προλαμβάνουσιν, Euthy.), present tense: they are going before you now; last first, first last. Chrysostom, in Hom. lxvii., gives an interesting story of a courtesan of his time in illustration of this.Matthew 21:31.[932] Εἰς, into, or as regards) the kingdom of heaven.

[932] ὁ πρῶτος, the first) Work without words is better than splendid words unaccompanied with work: and also it is better to adopt a praiseworthy course subsequently, rather than not at all. V. g.Verse 31. - Whether of them (the) twain! Christ forces from the unwilling hearers an answer which, at the moment, they do not see will condemn themselves. Unaccustomed to be criticized and put to the question, wrapped in a self-complacent righteousness, which was generally undisturbed, they missed the bearing of the parable on their own case, and answered without hesitation, as any unprejudiced person would have decided. The first; i.e. the son who first refused, but afterwards repented and went. Verily I say unto you. Jesus drives the moral home to the hearts of these hypocrites. The publicans and the harlots. He specifies these excommunicated sinners as examples of those represented by the first son. Go into the kingdom of God before you; προάγουσιν ὑμας: are preceding you. This was the fact which Jesus saw and declared, he does not cut off all hope that the Pharisees might follow, if they willed to do so; he only shows that they have lost the position which they ought to have occupied, and that those whom they despised and spurned have accepted the offered salvation, and shall have their reward. We must remark that the Lord has no censure for those who sometime were disobedient, but afterwards repented; his rebuke falls on the professors and self-righteous, who ought to have been leaders and guides, and were in truth impious and irreligious.
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