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Matthew 21:23-32

From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871)

The Authority of Jesus Questioned, and the Reply (Mt 21:23-27).

23. By what authority doest thou these things!—referring particularly to the expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the temple,

and who gave thee this authority?

24. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, &c.

25. The baptism of John—meaning his whole mission and ministry, of which baptism was the proper character.

whence was it? from heaven, or of men?—What wisdom there was in this way of meeting their question will best appear by their reply.

If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?—"Why did ye not believe the testimony which he bore to Me, as the promised and expected Messiah?" for that was the burden of John's whole testimony.

26. But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people—rather, "the multitude." In Luke (Lu 20:6) it is, "all the people will stone us"—"stone us to death."

for all hold John as a prophet—Crooked, cringing hypocrites! No wonder Jesus gave you no answer.

27. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell—Evidently their difficulty was, how to answer, so as neither to shake their determination to reject the claims of Christ nor damage their reputation with the people. For the truth itself they cared nothing whatever.

Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things—What composure and dignity of wisdom does our Lord here display, as He turns their question upon themselves, and, while revealing His knowledge of their hypocrisy, closes their mouths! Taking advantage of the surprise, silence, and awe produced by this reply, our Lord followed it up immediately by the two following parables.

Parable of the Two Sons (Mt 21:28-32).

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—for true religion is a practical thing, a "bringing forth fruit unto God."

29. He answered and said, I will not—Trench notices the rudeness of this answer, and the total absence of any attempt to excuse such disobedience, both characteristic; representing careless, reckless sinners resisting God to His face.

30. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir—"I, sir." The emphatic "I," here, denotes the self-righteous complacency which says, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men" (Lu 18:11).

and went not—He did not "afterward repent" and refuse to go; for there was here no intention to go. It is the class that "say and do not" (Mt 23:3)—a falseness more abominable to God, says Stier, than any "I will not."

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.

32. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness—that is, calling you to repentance; as Noah is styled "a preacher of righteousness" (2Pe 2:5), when like the Baptist he warned the old world to "flee from the wrath to come."

and ye believed him not—They did not reject him; nay, they "were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (Joh 5:35); but they would not receive his testimony to Jesus.

but the publicans and the harlots believed him—Of the publicans this is twice expressly recorded, Lu 3:12; 7:29. Of the harlots, then, the same may be taken for granted, though the fact is not expressly recorded. These outcasts gladly believed the testimony of John to the coming Saviour, and so hastened to Jesus when He came. See Lu 7:37; 15:1, &c.

and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him—Instead of being "provoked to jealousy" by their example, ye have seen them flocking to the Saviour and getting to heaven, unmoved.

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