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