After being challenged by the chief priests, Jesus told them a parable of two sons. He said,

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

‘I will not,’ he answered, but later regretted his response, changed his mind, and went into the vineyard to work as his father instructed.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. The son answered, ‘I will, sir’ but he did not go.

Which of these sons did what the father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them:

“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

What the story means to us today

Avoid hypocrisy – your actions speak louder than words

Jesus tells a parable of two sons. One son refused his father’s request to work in the vineyard but does it anyway. Another son agrees to his father’s request but does not comply. Jesus compares the first son to sinners who stray from God’s will but return to righteousness later. The second son, Jesus compares to the chief priests who on the surface, say they are following God’s will but are actually acting on their own.

The Pharisees question Jesus - James Tissot

Jesus’ point was clear – actions speak louder than words. Christians today are often accused of the same behavior we see from the chief priests – hypocrisy. God despises hypocrisy and so should we. Christians should understand that their actions bear a far greater impact than words alone.

Additional thoughts and considerations

A parable to symbolize the Pharisees

Jesus tells the parable to the Pharisees, the chief priests and the elders of the people who had just challenged Jesus to answer by whose authority he was conducting his miracles. He cleverly portrays the Pharisees as the second son, the one that disobeyed his father’s request despite telling his father he could comply. The Pharisees claimed the followed God’s will but had every opportunity to accept, not just John’s message, but Jesus as the messiah. Instead, it was the sinful Gentiles (the tax collectors and harlots), represented by the first son, that accepted Jesus’ claim and moved to followed him.

But didn’t the second son at first obey the father and then also change his mind?

The first son tells his father he will not work in the vineyard but changes his mind and goes to work. The second son tells his father he will work in the vineyard but doesn’t go. The first son is the obedient one according to modern-day verses. But the second son could in a twisted manner, be considered obedient too, at least in his answer (to go to the vineyard to work). Indeed, ancient theological manuscripts contain all sorts of variants on this story. Some manuscripts say the second son was the one that did what the father wanted. However, most writing agree that the first son was the obedient one and best symbolizes the Pharisees.

Jesus’ shocking answer to the Jewish leaders

Jesus Denounces the Scribes and Pharisees - etching by Friedrich Ludy (Unknown date)

Tax collectors of the day were widely despised and of course, harlot were considered the lowest of the low in society. Jesus’ answer than they would enter heaven before the Jewish leaders would have surely stunned and angered them. But Jesus knew the Jewish leaders said “yes’, and claimed to follow God but in truth, were no more righteous than a Gentile sinner.

Notes on Biblical translation

The son who changed his mind

Most translations say the first son “later changed his mind and went”. But the original Greek implies more than just changing his mind. It implies that the son felt regret for telling his father no. The regret that he felt prompted him to change his mind.

Bible Text

NIV

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 21:29 The boy answered, ‘I will not.’ But later he had a change of heart and went. 21:30 The father went to the other son and said the same thing. This boy answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go. 21:31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, tax collectors and prostitutes will go ahead of you into the kingdom of God! 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe. Although you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

      28 “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’

      29 “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.

      30 “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.

      31–32 “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”

      They said, “The first.”

      Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

28 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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