Matthew 21:23-46 – Who Do You Think You Are?


Socrates once declared that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”  The Jewish leaders in our text took this advice to its extreme.  They highly scrutinized the simplest of daily activities to make every moment harmonize with their traditions.  Now Jesus has come to town with a new wine that their old wineskins just cannot handle.  The Jewish leaders come to Jesus and basically ask Him, “Who do you think you are and what gives you the right to come in here and try to change everything?”  The response of Jesus does more than just silence His opponents.  Jesus had already revealed to His disciples who John the Baptist was (Matthew 17:11-13).  John was the one who fulfilled the prophecies of Malachi.  He was the forerunner of the Messiah.  Anyone who knew who John was would recognize who Jesus was.  This is why the Jewish leaders were unable to correctly answer the question that Jesus asked.  They were proving their own unwillingness to believe Jesus was in fact the Christ.  Jesus will hammer down on this stubbornness in the following three parables.  We will look at the first two of these parables in today’s text.


The first parable that Jesus tells is about two sons that receive instructions from their father.  The first son says he won’t be obedient, but changes his mind and does the will of his father.  The second son appears to be obedient vocally to his father, but in the end doesn’t do the will of his father.  Jesus wants the Jewish leaders to speak into His parable.  He does this for the same reason that King David interjected into the story of the prophet Nathan, so that his hypocrisy could be exposed (2 Samuel 12:1-7).  Jesus is going to the let the Jewish leaders hang themselves.  Everyone knew the correct answer was that the first son actually did the will of his father.  Thus the Jewish leaders show themselves outwardly religious, but in the end disobedient.  They didn’t accept John the Baptist and they won’t accept Jesus.  However, the tax-collectors and prostitutes, two of the most ill-thought of people groups in the first century, did accept them.  They were the obedient ones in the end.


Jesus pulls the imagery for this next parable from the prophecy of Isaiah.  In chapter 5:1-7, we read about the vineyard of God that is the nation of Israel.  Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that the master kept sending His servants to them, but they kept beating and killing them.  These servants refer to the prophets of old who were continuously sent to Israel to demand repentance and obedience to God.  The stiff-necked fathers of these very Jewish leaders were the ones who beat and killed them.  Now, the master sends His son.  It will be the very leaders Jesus is speaking to that think they can kill the son and take possession of the vineyard for themselves.  The only problem is that the master is coming and judgment will be poured out on the disobedient and rebellious tenants of the vineyard.  Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22, which was sung as a hymn during the passover festivities.  The point is clear enough that the Jewish leaders know that Jesus is speaking about them and their rejection of Him.  They are the wicked tenants and Jesus is the rejected stone that will crush them.


Study Questions

  1. What kind of “examined lives” should we be living today?  How can we identify the preconceived notions that we allow to determine the values we live by and exchange them for the truth and values of our heavenly Father?
  2. How would the Jewish leaders have felt having been grouped with the second son, while the worst of society were grouped with the first son?  Why is this the point Jesus is making?
  3. Read Acts 4:9-12, Romans 9:30-33, I Corinthians 1:22-23, Ephesians 2:19-20, and I Peter 2:4-10.  Discuss how true and wonderfully amazing the gospel of Jesus Christ is.