The Parable of Two Sons – 3 Spiritual Life Lessons

The Parable of the Two Sons is included in the New Testament of the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew 21:28-32. This Parable of the Two Sons is sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Obedient and Disobedient Sons, however, both sons were disobedient in different ways, as you’ll see below. The difference between their actions was that one ultimately did what his father had requested.

Parable of the Teo Sons soni n the vineyard with basket

Parable of the Two Sons Summary

In the Parable of Two Sons, a father asks his sons to work in the vineyard. One son says he won’t, but he later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard as his father asked. The other son immediately agreed to work for his father in the vineyard, but he never showed up. 

Which of the Two Sons did what the father wanted?

Historical Context of the Parable of the Two Sons

The historical context of this parable can be a little confusing. Jesus was addressing the chief priests and elders who were questioning the authority by which he was preaching and teaching and performing His miracles. The leaders were angry because Jesus was exposing their sinful actions and false teachings. Jesus knew they were baiting him into their snare with their questions, so instead of answering them directly, he used this parable. 

Its meaning was in regards to John the Baptist and by whose authority John had been preaching, although the leaders didn’t realize what he was getting at, at the time. 

The leaders acknowledged that the son who initially told his father he wouldn’t help but eventually did help was the one who did what the father wanted. Jesus used the example to point out their hypocritical ways. 

Jesus was comparing the church leaders to the son who said he would help his father, but then his actions spoke the opposite. The leaders acted reverently, but their words were hollow and meaningless. They knew John the Baptist was prophesying for God about Jesus, but they denied it because they were threatened by Jesus’ divine authority.

On the other hand, those who had originally dismissed John the Baptist as a fraud later came to believe that John was actually foretelling of the Messiah and those original doubters became followers. These were the ‘sinners’ of the time, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. In the parable, these are represented by the son who originally said ‘No’ to his father but then came to help after a change of heart. And those were (and are) the people who came to please God also, even after their original unbelief.

Through the parable, the church leaders understood which son had actually pleased the father.  Jesus used the example to call them out on their own behavior as hypocrites, catching them in their own snare.


Parable of Two Sons Meaning

Taking the Parable of the Two Sons at face value, we can see that both sons act poorly. But the first son changed his mind after telling the father he wouldn’t help him, and ultimately, he did the will of his father. The second son only paid lip service by saying ‘Yes’ initially, but he had no action and no repentance. 

Our turning to God with repentance is the key to our salvation, no matter what our past sins might be or how many times we’ve disappointed God.

Which son obeyed his father?

In the Parable of the Two Sons, Jesus asks the church elders and leaders which son had pleased his father – the son who said he would help him, but then didn’t help, or the son who first said he wouldn’t help but then did help?

When they answer Him that the son who said ‘No’ but later goes to help is the one who pleases the father, Jesus immediately rebukes them.

His immediate rebuke might make it seem as if they had given the wrong answer. (Yes, this was me for many years!) But that’s not the case. Jesus’ immediate rebuke actually meant: “Aha! The disobedience is clear to you when you see it in someone else, but you do the same thing, you hypocrites!”

If you read the verses again with this idea in mind, it will be more clear to you.

Parable of Two Sons Lessons

All of Jesus’ parables conveyed a specific message to the people at the time, just as each one holds important lessons for our lives today.  Following are three spiritual lessons from the Parable of Two Sons to help us build a better relationship with God.

1. If we say Yes, our actions are what really matters

God has invited each of us to work in His vineyard – to follow Him and use our lives for His purpose.

Maybe we give Him a ‘Yes’ but when it comes down to daily actions, how well do we actually perform? Maybe we still act according to our own will with no regard to His or we still keep committing the same sin that we enjoy. Perhaps we’re as hypocritical as the church leaders and never intend on really changing any of our thoughts, words, or deeds.

In any case, our ‘Yes’ is only as good as our actions that come afterward. God doesn’t expect perfection. He knows we’re not capable. But giving Him a ‘Yes’ means we’re committed to living according to His will to the best of our ability and working to minimize our sins.

2. If we say No, we can always choose to say Yes later.

God has asked us all to work in His vineyard; to follow Him and enjoy His lush paradise that awaits. But often we say ‘No’. 

‘No’ takes many forms. Each time we sin, we’re saying ‘No’. Maybe you’re already a believer, but in word only. Your actions don’t match your words. Maybe you’re afraid of God’s wrath for your sinful ways, so you turn away. Perhaps you think your sins are too far gone, so you just keep on repeating them. Or maybe you think you’re a lost cause, so you just keep your back to God. We’re all in the same boat here, in one way or another.

But the beauty of this parable and of God’s love and mercy is that no matter how many times we’ve said ‘No’, God is always pleased when we turn to Him with a ‘Yes’. He will never turn down a ‘Yes’! He will never throw your previous ‘No’ (your sins) in your face or hold them against you.

We are never too far gone to turn our ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’.

3. We are always welcome.

One of the beautiful things about God is his enduring grace, forgiveness, and love for His people. He doesn’t give up on us, even when our backs are turned to Him and we keep telling Him ‘No’. He patiently waits for the ‘Yes’. We are all His children, beloved and welcomed to join His Kingdom for eternity. He’s waiting with open arms and there’s room enough for all of us.

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Parable of the Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-32

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Parable of the Two Sons Commentary

The Parable of the Two Sons Commentary can be found at Bible Study This link will lead you to the free Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, but you can find other Biblical commentaries HERE. They include free and paid versions. I have referred to Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary for this post.

More Parables!

Do you love the parables as much as I do? You may enjoy reading life lessons on these others (listed below), these activities for adults and children, or this list of Parables and Meanings. More parable lessons are underway. See them all HERE!

Do you love journaling? Does writing down your personal reflections help you process your thoughts more fully? Perhaps these Christian writing journals will be helpful as you reflect on the life lessons of the parables.

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