This chapter forms a chiastic structure:
1a) Mat 21:1-17, Messiah Yeshua received as King + chief priests angered;
1b) Mat 21:18-22, The fig tree withered that did not bear fruit;
1c) Mat 21:23; The chief priests confront Yeshua’s authority as He was teaching in the Temple;
1d) Mat 21:24-26, Where was the baptism of John from? + the chief priests did not believe John;
1e) Mat 21:27, The chief priests do not answer Jesus’ question;
central axis) Mat 21:28-30, the parable of the father and his two sons;
2e) Mat 21:31a, The chief priests do answer Jesus’ question;
2d) Mat 21:31b-32a, John in the way of righteousness + the tax collectors and harlots believed John;
2c) Mat 21:32b, when the chief priests saw it, they did not repent and believe him;
2b) Mat 21:33-41, The landowner who does not receive his fruit in its season;
2a) Mat 21:42-46, The cornerstone made chief + that the builders rejected.
The central axis is the parable of the father with two sons. The father asked both sons to work in the vineyard. The first said he wouldn’t, but then afterward repented and worked in the vineyard. The second said he would, but then never went. Which of the two did his father’s will?
Now this parable is very strategically placed. Jesus told it for a reason, to the chief priests who were questioning Him, why He entered the city hailed as the Son of David, why he was teaching in the Temple, where did His authority come from.
So the parable can be taken in several ways. The father did not inform either son that he was going to ask anything of the other son, or what that request was going to be. But if either son went out to work in the vineyard, they were doing so by the authority of their father. We know that. The father knows that. The sons do not know it! So to assume that someone who is working (John the Baptist, or Jesus) is doing so without authority, is to make an assumption without knowing all the facts.
Be careful how we judge and measure, Jesus warned us!
The parable is also informing the chief priests, that taking the talk is nice and all, but who is walking the walk? Whose life is bearing the fruit of doing the will of the Father? Don’t be deceived by the appearance of a church professional, or the appearance of someone who knows the lingo. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were doing the will of the Father, but they were outside the church professional circles. And the flip side, is that the chief priests were apparently not doing the will of the Father, even though they were inside the church professional circles.
(That is not to say that all church professionals don’t walk the walk. But let the walk talk, not only the talk talk. This is why the media just loves it when a big name is caught in a scandal. The walk did not line up with the talk.)
Now Jesus is not teaching a gospel of works for salvation. The two sons were already sons. They weren’t outsiders trying to become accepted as part of the family. They were already family. But those who have faith, will bear the fruit of that faith. Those who believe the Father will agree with the Father (just as the two spies believed the Father and agreed with Him, even when the other ten did not, Num 14-15. Those who did not believe, did not enter the Promised Land, even though they said they believed). Those who do not bear the fruit of faith, must not have had faith in the first place.