The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)


The Parable of the Two Sons Sermon

(Matthew 21:28-32)


A. The Background of the Parable

1. The background to this parable is to be found in Matthew 21:23-27

2. Jesus had previously in this chapter entered triumphantly into Jerusalem – with great joy of the crowd, He had run the moneychangers out of the temple, and He had denounced the fig tree so that it withered.

3. The chief priests and the elders of the people wanted to know by what authority He was doing these things.

4. Jesus responds to this questioning with a question, “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?”

5. They knew the dilemma they were in and said, “We know not.”

6. If they admitted that the baptism of John was from heaven:

a. The Lord was going to say, “Why did not you obey him?”

b. It would prove Jesus to be the Son of God, for John said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”

B. The Parable of the Two Sons is not an answer to their hypocritical question, but is a response to their defiant and rebellious attitude. They had a problem with the authority of God.

C. This parable is a “mirror” in which those to whom Jesus speaks might see themselves as they truly were.



1. Matthew 21:28

a. The “man” with the two sons in this parable is God. The “sons” equate with those whom God has called to be His children

b. Jesus asked, “What think ye?”

1) This ability separates us from the animal world.

2) God is trying to appeal to us through His word (John 6:44-45), thus we must learn to think and reason correctly

c. Man has the choice of two destinies and Jesus frequently made use of various illustrations to contrast these two destinies:

1) The broad way and the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14)

2) The rock and the sand of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27)

3) The wheat and the chaff (Matthew 3:12)

4) The good and the bad in the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50)

5) The wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

6) The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:14-30)

d. In our present study, Jesus used the example of the parable of the two sons to illustrate the two opposite courses that people have taken in response to God’s call through the gospel

e. The father’s calling of his sons calls attention to Jesus’ statement in John 6:44.

1) This “drawing” or calling is accomplished through the teaching process

a/ John 6:45-46

b/ Romans 10:17

c/ Individuals are called by the gospel (2 THebrews 2:14)

2) The Lord’s church (ekklesia – the called out) is composed of those who have been called out of sin and into the way of Christ, and we are admonished to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

f. The father’s call to “go” carries the idea of authority, and the phrase “work today” is likened with urgency, and the “vineyard equates with the sphere of work into which God’s children have been called

g. The father’s invitation was impartial – an invitation to work in the vineyard, but not just any vineyard – it was the father’s vineyard

h. Our attention is now directed to the response of the first son

2. Matthew 21:29

a. This first son, like so many of every generation, sought at first to evade his responsibility to do what was right.

1) Evading responsibility does not remove it

2) This son was not hypocritical – he was just stubborn, rebellious and disobedient

3) The first son in this parable did not obey his father’s command until he regretted, relented and repented of his rebellious spirit. He represented the publicans and harlots (v. 31).

4) There will come a time when we will not be able to change our minds. It is not how one has lived in the past that counts, but what one is doing now – Philippians 3:13

b. This son, like so many, failed to:

1) Show proper respect

2) Recognize the authority of his father

3) To see that his father wanted the best for him

4) See the need to submit to the father


1. Matthew 21:30

a. This son represented the audience to which Jesus here spoke (v. 32)

1) They had promised to accept the Messiah, but when He came, they rejected Him.

2) In their hypocrisy, they pretended respect for God by calling Him “sir”

3) Notice Matthew 15:8-9

4) Notice the striking contrast in Luke 7:29-30 – we show disrespect when we disobey the commands of God

b. The road to hell has always been paved with good intentions. Good intentions are not enough

1) It is not enough just to pledge obedience

2) There must be self control – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

3) We must endure until death – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

c. Both of these sons had:

1) The same father

2) The same instructions

3) The same opportunities and love

d. There is no need to be in the vineyard if one will not work


1. Matthew 21:31

a. The Lord put the heat on them by asking, “Which of the two did the will of the father?”

1) This is the heart of the parable – not “which intended to do the will of the father,” but “which did the will of the father”

2) They understood the parable and answered correctly, saying, “The first.” The Lord’s audience here convicted themselves by their own answer.

b. Jesus said “… publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”

c. Jesus is not here condoning or justifying the prior sinful behavior of these, but is emphatically emphasizing the essentiality for all men to repent Repentance makes it possible for one to enter the kingdom


A. From this parable we learn:

1. God has a right to request that His children do certain things

2. Man has a free moral agency

3. There is something to do to be saved

4. God does not force us to obey

5. Lip service is not pleasing to God

6. When one is rebellious, God expects him to repent

7. God is concerned with what we have become – not what we were

B. Invitation

See also Bible Parables

8 Responses to “The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)”

  1. Some Principles Of Successful Writing : Mike Riley’s Articles says:

    […] articles, appropriate illustrations are found (in His teaching, our Lord consistently used word pictures as illustrations.). As a writer, C. S. Lewis was a master in this field. As you read his material, observe the […]

  2. Antonio says:

    Great teaching.Clear and concise. Excellent commentary along the way.
    Thanks and I’ll look fore more of this on the site.

  3. Birgit says:

    Really like the sequence and viewpoints – I learned something again…
    Thank you, looking forward to more,

  4. silven miranda says:

    Clear teaching and easy to understand every meaning of the word of god.


  5. Brian says:

    I’ve always wondered about the standard interpretation of this parable. I’m not sure the pharisees give the right answer.

    I’ve known people who acknowledge their need for Christ while living sinful lives. They are like the second son right? Or like harlots and tax collectors, too?

    And I’ve known people who like to say, “You don’t need to believe in God to be a good person,” and live lives that go a long way toward proving it. They are like the first son, they do the right thing but want to do it on their terms, as a sign of their own moral sense, rather than because of their love for God. In other words, they seem a lot like pharisees. Note that it says that the first son “changed HIS mind” not that he ever apologized to his father.

    My own sons are like this in their relationship to me– one of them is usually good, but won’t apologize when he’s wrong, and the other likes to “make jokes” but will do anything to reconcile when I show anger. And I love them both so much!

    Anyway, maybe this is why this parable is so powerful– I can’t stop thinking about it!

  6. Carey says:

    At first my answer was ‘Neither.’ Now I’m not sure. (“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.) This sounds more like the first son is the correct answer, not number 2.

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  8. Dr Bob Luke says:

    No one preaches these things but they are so great.

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