This brief parable about two sons is the first of three parables about the failure of the chief priests and Pharisees to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ and enter the Kingdom of God. The chief priests and Pharisees are the ones that sat in Moses’ seat. They were the religious and political leaders of the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus. Since the political and religious leaders rejected Jesus as the messiah of Israel, the nation as a whole rejected Him. It was the tax collectors and sinners who were not the religionists at the time that accepted Jesus Christ as the Son of God and began to serve Him.
It was the crude fishermen like Peter and Andrew, the harlots like Mary Magdalene, and the tax collectors like Matthew that became the disciples of Jesus Christ and entered into the heavenly aspect of the kingdom. These are the ones that made up the Church at its inception, and the chief priests and Pharisees were the ones that were cast into outer darkness in accordance with the following Scripture:
(Mat 8:5 KJV) And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
(Mat 8:6 KJV) And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
(Mat 8:7 KJV) And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
(Mat 8:8 KJV) The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
(Mat 8:9 KJV) For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
(Mat 8:10 KJV) When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
(Mat 8:11 KJV) And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
(Mat 8:12 KJV) But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
(Mat 8:13 KJV) And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
In the above passage the centurion typifies the Gentiles that followed Jesus Christ, and the Gentiles make up the great majority of the Church. The passage is summed up in verses 11 & 12 where the children of the kingdom (i.e., the nation of Israel) are cast into outer darkness. Outer darkness is a position outside of the reign and rule of Jesus Christ in the heavenly aspect of the kingdom.
Throughout the Church Age many individual Jews enter into the kingdom of heaven as members of the Church, but the nation as a whole fails to enter into the heavenly aspect of the kingdom. At the very end of the Church Age after the seven-year tribulation period, a remnant of the nation of Israel will be saved and will enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom. This event takes place at the time that Jesus Christ returns to earth in power and glory and sets his feet down on the Mount of Olives. A remnant of Jews will recognize him and run toward him through the valley created by the earthquake at the time. This remnant will be the ones saved while the remaining ones will perish at the time. The majority of Jews alive today, including those of the ten lost tribes of Israel will perish during the seven-year tribulation period, and most will perish during the time of Jacob’s trouble in the last half of the tribulation period.
We will now begin a verse-by-verse exegesis of this parable.
(Mat 21:28 KJV) 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.
Jesus is talking to the chief priests and Pharisees and he presents to them a parable about two sons. The first son represents those Israelites who are the worst sinners and are the disobedient ones. They care nothing about religion and have no desire to be obedient to God. They initially refuse to be obedient servants and work in the Lord’s vineyard. We shall see later that these disobedient Jews are the harlots and tax collectors. These were the lowest class of people in Israel at the time.
(Mat 21:29 KJV) He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
These disobedient servants initially refuse to serve God and obey him, but they change their mind and go into the vineyard and work for the Lord.
(Mat 21:30 KJV) And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
The second son represents the highest class of Jews at the time, and they are the religious and political leaders of the nation of Israel at the time. They sat in the seat of Moses, which means that they were the leaders in Israel. Of course, they were subject to the Roman authorities at the time, but, nevertheless, the Jewish people were obedient to their leaders.
(Mat 21:31 KJV) 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.
Jesus then asks the chief priests and Pharisees which of the two sons was obedient to the father. They correctly answer that the first son was the obedient one. Jesus then explains that the second son represents them, and that the tax collectors and harlots of Israel will enter into the kingdom of God before them. It is noteworthy that the phrase “before you” is used in this verse, which means that the tax collectors and harlots will precede them in entering the kingdom of God. This is either referring to certain ones who were rulers in Israel such as Joseph of Arithamea and Nicodemus who entered the kingdom at the time by their becoming disciples, or it is in reference to the remnant of Jews at the very end who enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom. It is more likely that Jesus is referring to the remnant of Israel that will enter the earthly aspect of the kingdom at the end of the tribulation period. The kingdom of God represents both the heavenly and earthly aspects of the kingdom.
(Mat 21:32 KJV) 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.
It was John the Baptist that preached the kingdom of God at the time. It was the lowest class of people that repented of their sins and became followers of Jesus. The nation of Israel as a whole did not repent during the time of Jesus nor during the 40 years that the kingdom of heaven was left open to Israel to repent and enter. At the end of the 40 years in 70AD, the Roman General Titus came into Israel and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and burned the temple. Israel as a nation was scattered among the nations where they remained until the beginning of the Zionist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. Israel as a nation has never repented of their rejection of their Messiah. The nation will repent at the end of the seven-year tribulation period, but only a small remnant will survive the time of Jacob’s trouble. This will be the time that the nation of Israel will receive its atonement and follow Jesus Christ. This remnant will enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom behind the Church, which will enter into the heavenly aspect of the kingdom.