In the past few weeks, we have seen Jesus' authority challenged. It all boiled to a head in last week's post, when Jesus--fresh off having overturned the Temple--was approached by the Jews and directly challenged on His authority. Without truly answering the question, Jesus compared His authority to that of the prophet John the Baptist.
This week, we will see Jesus continue to say that He is from God without coming right out and saying it--first with The Parable of the Sons.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. --Matthew 21:28-32, ESV
Here Jesus uses the parable of the two sons--one who claims to be a good worker but is not, and the other who rebels against his father but later obeys. Jesus here is illustrating that the Pharisees (the first son) say all of the right things to God: they perform their rituals and memorize Scripture and pray overtly, etc. But when it comes down to following God's word--as preached by John and Jesus--they refuse.
On the other hand, Jesus says, the prostitutes and tax collectors--sinners all--heard John and Jesus, repented of their sins, and followed the Christ. So they are like the second son, who rebelled against his father but later came around and did the right thing.
Note again what Jesus is clearly saying here, without really coming straight out and using the words: John was from God, I am from God, and you choose to reject our teachings; therefore, those who accept our teachings--though they be sinners--are the true children of God, the ones who truly "did the will of the Father" (v.31).
If a Christian reads this passage out of context, he or she will likely still properly understand the identity of each son. What would be missed, however, is the true undercurrent of Jesus' message: My authority comes from God, so those who follow Me are ahead of you in His eyes. This is the importance of context: without it, you don't know the full story, and can only scratch the surface.
Next week we will see another parable which Jesus tells, with the same purpose--to identify His authority as divine.