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Matthew 21:31

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The publicans and the harlots - In all their former conduct they had said No. Now they yield to the voice of truth when they hear it, and enter into the kingdom, embracing the salvation brought to them in the Gospel. The others, who had been always professing the most ready and willing obedience, and who pretended to be waiting for the kingdom of God, did not receive it when it came, but rather chose, while making the best professions, to continue members of the synagogue of Satan.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 28-32

But what think ye? - A way of speaking designed to direct them particularly to what he was saying, that they might be self-convicted.

Two sons - By those two sons our Lord intends to represent the conduct of the Jews, and that of the publicans and sinners.

In my vineyard - See the notes at Matthew 21:33. To work in the vineyard here represents the work which God requires man to do.

I will not - This had been the language of the publicans and wicked men. They refused at first, and did not “profess” to be willing to go.

Repented - Changed his mind. Afterward, at the preaching of John and Christ, the publicans - the wicked - repented and obeyed.

The second … said, I go sir; and went not - This represented the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees - “professing” to obey God, observing the external rites of religion, but opposed really to the kingdom of God, and about to put his Son to death.

Whether of them twain … - Which of the two. “They say unto him, The first.” This answer was correct; but it is strange that they did not perceive that it condemned themselves.

Go into the kingdom of God - Become Christians, or more readily follow the Saviour. See the notes at Matthew 3:2.

Before you - Rather than you. They are more likely to do it than you. You are self-righteous, self-willed, and obstinate.

John came in the way of righteousness - Many of them have believed, but you have not. That is, in the right way, or teaching the way to be righteous; to wit, by repentance. Publicans and harlots heard him and became righteous, but they did not. They saw it, but, as in one thousand other cases, it did not produce the proper effect on them, and they would not repent.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Parables which give reproof, speak plainly to the offenders, and judge them out of their own mouths. The parable of the two sons sent to work in the vineyard, is to show that those who knew not John's baptism to be of God, were shamed by those who knew it, and owned it. The whole human race are like children whom the Lord has brought up, but they have rebelled against him, only some are more plausible in their disobedience than others. And it often happens, that the daring rebel is brought to repentance and becomes the Lord's servant, while the formalist grows hardened in pride and enmity.
Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 117

The gospel of Christ is a blessing that all may possess. The poorest are as well able as the richest to purchase salvation; for no amount of worldly wealth can secure it. It is obtained by willing obedience, by giving ourselves to Christ as His own purchased possession. Education, even of the highest class, cannot of itself bring a man nearer to God. The Pharisees were favored with every temporal and every spiritual advantage, and they said with boastful pride, We are “rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”; yet they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:17. Christ offered them the pearl of great price; but they disdained to accept it, and He said to them, “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31. COL 117.1

We cannot earn salvation, but we are to seek for it with as much interest and perseverance as though we would abandon everything in the world for it. COL 117.2

We are to seek for the pearl of great price, but not in worldly marts or in worldly ways. The price we are required to pay is not gold or silver, for this belongs to God. Abandon the idea that temporal or spiritual advantages will win for you salvation. God calls for your willing obedience. He asks you to give up your sins. “To him that overcometh,” Christ declares, “will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” Revelation 3:21. COL 117.3

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Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 226

The servant who brought in the poor and the blind reported to his master, “It is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the Lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Here Christ pointed to the work of the gospel outside the pale of Judaism, in the highways and byways of the world. COL 226.1

In obedience to this command, Paul and Barnabas declared to the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set Thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that Thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:46-48. COL 226.2

The gospel message proclaimed by Christ's disciples was the announcement of His first advent to the world. It bore to men the good tidings of salvation through faith in Him. It pointed forward to His second coming in glory to redeem His people, and it set before men the hope, through faith and obedience, of sharing the inheritance of the saints in light. This message is given to men today, and at this time there is coupled with it the announcement of Christ's second coming as at hand. The signs which He Himself gave of His coming have been fulfilled, and by the teaching of God's word we may know that the Lord is at the door. COL 226.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 614

Brethren in -----, you do not realize your obligation to God and the individual work He has given you to perform for Him. You have the theory of the truth, but do not feel its power in the soul. The barren fig tree flaunted its pretentious branches in the face of heaven; but when the search for fruit was made by the Redeemer, lo, there was nothing but leaves. Unless there is a thorough work wrought for you as individuals and as a church, the curse of God will as surely come upon you as it fell upon that fruitless tree. 4T 614.1

The members of the ----- church possess talents which would be valuable if put to a right use. The weak man may become strong, the timid may become brave, and the irresolute and undecided may become men of quick and firm decision, when they feel that God considers them of sufficient consequence to accept their labors. 4T 614.2

Men in this church must feel that God wishes them to become laborers in His cause in any capacity. Unless they change their course, some will be found in a position similar to that of the Pharisees when Christ addressed them: “The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” Many feel secure because they profess the truth, while they do not feel its sanctifying influence upon their hearts and do not advance in the divine life. 4T 614.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 72

God is in His holy place, and He dwells also with him who is of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Those who are doing medical missionary work should have the full sanction and co-operation of the church. If they do not have this they are hindered. Nevertheless, they will advance. It is not in God's plan that there shall be two churches in Battle Creek because of the want of co-operation. How much better it is to seek for unity of action. If the medical missionary workers will carry this line of effort into the churches everywhere, if they will work in the fear of God, they will find many doors opened before them, and angels will work with them. 8T 72.1

Please read the invitation to the supper, and the last call to be made. Study what is being done to meet the command of Jesus. I cannot understand why such indifference is manifested, why you should stand afar off and criticize and draw away. The gospel net is to be cast into the sea, and it draws both good and bad. But because this is so, shall men and women ignore the efforts made to save those who will believe and who will unite in reaching that class of whom Christ spoke in His rebuke to the Pharisees? Sinners and harlots, He said, “go into the kingdom of God before you.” Will you not see that even in the church there are those who have no connection with God? But Christ says: Let the tares and the wheat grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into My barn.” 8T 72.2

When the Lord moves upon the churches, bidding them do a certain work, and they refuse to do that work; and when some, their human efforts united with the divine, endeavor to reach to the very depths of human woe and misery, God's blessing will rest richly upon them. Even though but few accept the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, their work will not be in vain; for one soul is precious, very precious, in the sight of God. Christ would have died for one soul in order that that one might live through the eternal ages. 8T 72.3

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