“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.” — Matthew 21:31
The chief priests and elders of the people figured that they had all the authority for teaching in the temple, so they did not want to recognize Jesus’ authority.
Questioning authority can get sticky. The ones questioning authority are not going to accept the truth even if they are proved wrong, because they won’t believe that the person they are questioning has due authority! It is a no-win situation.
Nonetheless, Jesus answered the religious leaders with a question about the work of John the Baptist, and that put them in a bind. Jesus painted them into a corner. But not wanting to leave them there, he also asked, “What do you think?” Then he told this story about two sons.
Jesus pointed out that the problem here was about obedience rather than authority (note that obedience is a response to someone in authority). He asked, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted?”
The elders and priests recognized that the first son obeyed his father. Then came Jesus’ authoritative response: prostitutes and tax collectors who were obeying God in repentance were entering the kingdom ahead of the religious leaders. Moreover, like the second son, the religious leaders were being disobedient. They refused to listen to God’s Word and repent.
Jesus wants us to know that obeying God and recognizing his authority is what counts in his kingdom—and with the Spirit’s help, we can be faithful.