A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown  at sacred-texts.com
mat 21:23THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS QUESTIONED AND THE REPLY--THE PARABLES OF THE TWO SONS, AND OF THE WICKED HUSBANDMAN. ( = Mark 11:27-12:12; Luke 20:1-19). (Mat. 21:23-46)
By what authority doest thou these things!--referring particularly to the expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the temple, and who gave thee this authority?
mat 21:24And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, &c.
mat 21:25The baptism of John--meaning his whole mission and ministry, of which baptism was the proper character.
whence was it? from heaven, or of men?--What wisdom there was in this way of meeting their question will best appear by their reply.
If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?--"Why did ye not believe the testimony which he bore to Me, as the promised and expected Messiah?" for that was the burden of John's whole testimony.
mat 21:26But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people--rather, "the multitude." In Luke (Luk 20:6) it is, "all the people will stone us."
for all hold John as a prophet--Crooked, cringing hypocrites! No wonder Jesus gave you no answer.
mat 21:27And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell--Evidently their difficulty was, how to answer, so as neither to shake their determination to reject the claims of Christ nor damage their reputation with the people. For the truth itself they cared nothing whatever.
Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things--What composure and dignity of wisdom does our Lord here display, as He turns their question upon themselves, and, while revealing His knowledge of their hypocrisy, closes their mouths! Taking advantage of the surprise, silence, and awe produced by this reply, our Lord followed it up immediately by the two following parables.
Parable of the Two Sons (Mat 21:28-32).
mat 21:28But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard--for true religion is a practical thing, a "bringing forth fruit unto God."
mat 21:29He answered and said, I will not--TRENCH notices the rudeness of this answer, and the total absence of any attempt to excuse such disobedience, both characteristic; representing careless, reckless sinners resisting God to His face.
mat 21:30And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir--"I, sir." The emphatic "I," here, denotes the self-righteous complacency which says, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men" (Luk 18:11).
and went not--He did not "afterward repent" and refuse to go; for there was here no intention to go. It is the class that "say and do not" (Mat 23:3) --a falseness more abominable to God, says STIER, than any "I will not."
mat 21:31Whether of them twain did the will of his Father? They say unto him, The first--Now comes the application.
Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go--or, "are going"; even now entering, while ye hold back.
into the kingdom of God before you--The publicans and the harlots were the first son, who, when told to work in the Lord's vineyard, said, I will not; but afterwards repented and went. Their early life was a flat and flagrant refusal to do what they were commanded; it was one continued rebellion against the authority of God. The chief priests and the elders of the people, with whom our Lord was now speaking, were the second son, who said, I go, sir, but went not. They were early called, and all their life long professed obedience to God, but never rendered it; their life was one of continued disobedience.
mat 21:32For John came unto you in the way of righteousness--that is, calling you to repentance; as Noah is styled "a preacher of righteousness" (Pe2 2:5), when like the Baptist he warned the old world to "flee from the wrath to come."
and ye believed him not--They did not reject him; nay, they "were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (Joh 5:35); but they would not receive his testimony to Jesus.
but the publicans and the harlots believed him--Of the publicans this is twice expressly recorded, Luk 3:12; Luk 7:29. Of the harlots, then, the same may be taken for granted, though the fact is not expressly recorded. These outcasts gladly believed the testimony of John to the coming Saviour, and so hastened to Jesus when He came. See Luk 7:37; Luk 15:1, &c.
and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him--Instead of being "provoked to jealousy" by their example, ye have seen them flocking to the Saviour and getting to heaven, unmoved.
Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Mat 21:33-46).
mat 21:33Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard--(See on Luk 13:6).
and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower--These details are taken, as is the basis of the parable itself, from that beautiful parable of Isa 5:1-7, in order to fix down the application and sustain it by Old Testament authority.
and let it out to husbandmen--These are just the ordinary spiritual guides of the people, under whose care and culture the fruits of righteousness are expected to spring up.
and went into a far country--"for a long time" (Luk 20:9), leaving the vineyard to the laws of the spiritual husbandry during the whole time of the Jewish economy. On this phraseology, see on Mar 4:26.
mat 21:34And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen--By these "servants" are meant the prophets and other extraordinary messengers, raised up from time to time. See on Mat 23:37.
that they might receive the fruits of it--Again see on Luk 13:6.
mat 21:35And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one--see Jer 37:15; Jer 38:6.
and killed another--see Jer 26:20-23.
and stoned another--see Ch2 24:21. Compare with this whole verse Mat 23:37, where our Lord reiterates these charges in the most melting strain.
mat 21:36Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they did unto them likewise--see Kg2 17:13; Ch2 36:16, Ch2 36:18; Neh 9:26.
mat 21:37But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son--In Mark (Mar 12:6) this is most touchingly expressed: "Having yet therefore one son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son." Luke's version of it too (Luk 20:13) is striking: "Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send My beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him." Who does not see that our Lord here severs Himself, by the sharpest line of demarcation, from all merely human messengers, and claims for Himself Sonship in its loftiest sense? (Compare Heb 3:3-6). The expression, "It may be they will reverence My Son," is designed to teach the almost unimaginable guilt of not reverentially welcoming God's Son.
mat 21:38But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves--Compare Gen 37:18-20; Joh 11:47-53.
This is the heir--Sublime expression this of the great truth, that God's inheritance was destined for, and in due time is to come into the possession of, His own Son in our nature (Heb 1:2).
come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance--that so, from mere servants, we may become lords. This is the deep aim of the depraved heart; this is emphatically "the root of all evil."
mat 21:39And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard--compare Heb 13:11-13 ("without the gate--without the camp"); Kg1 21:13; Joh 19:17.
and slew him.
mat 21:40When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh--This represents "the settling time," which, in the case of the Jewish ecclesiastics, was that judicial trial of the nation and its leaders which issued in the destruction of their whole state.
what will he do unto those husbandmen?
mat 21:41They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men--an emphatic alliteration not easily conveyed in English: "He will badly destroy those bad men," or "miserably destroy those miserable men," is something like it.
and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons--If this answer was given by the Pharisees, to whom our Lord addressed the parable, they thus unwittingly pronounced their own condemnation: as did David to Nathan the prophet (Sa2 12:5-7), and Simon the Pharisee to our Lord (Luk 7:43, &c.). But if it was given, as the two other Evangelists agree in representing it, by our Lord Himself, and the explicitness of the answer would seem to favor that supposition, then we can better explain the exclamation of the Pharisees which followed it, in Luke's report (Luk 20:16) --"And when they heard it, they said, God forbid"--His whole meaning now bursting upon them.
mat 21:42Jesus saith unto them. Did ye never read in the scriptures-- (Psa 118:22-23).
The stone which the builders rejected, &c.--A bright Messianic prophecy, which reappears in various forms (Isa 28:16, &c.), and was made glorious use of by Peter before the Sanhedrim (Act 4:11). He recurs to it in his first epistle (Pe1 2:4-6).
mat 21:43Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God--God's visible Kingdom, or Church, upon earth, which up to this time stood in the seed of Abraham.
shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof--that is, the great evangelical community of the faithful, which, after the extrusion of the Jewish nation, would consist chiefly of Gentiles, until "all Israel should be saved" (Rom 11:25-26). This vastly important statement is given by Matthew only.
mat 21:44And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder--The Kingdom of God is here a Temple, in the erection of which a certain stone, rejected as unsuitable by the spiritual builders, is, by the great Lord of the House, made the keystone of the whole. On that Stone the builders were now "falling" and being "broken" (Isa 8:15). They were sustaining great spiritual hurt; but soon that Stone should "fall upon them" and "grind them to powder" (Dan 2:34-35; Zac 12:2) --in their corporate capacity, in the tremendous destruction of Jerusalem, but personally, as unbelievers, in a more awful sense still.
mat 21:45And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables--referring to that of the Two Sons and this one of the Wicked Husbandmen.
they perceived that he spake of them.
mat 21:46But when they sought to lay hands on him--which Luke (Luk 20:19) says they did "the same hour," hardly able to restrain their rage.
they feared the multitude--rather, "the multitudes."
because they took him for a prophet--just as they feared to say John's baptism was of men, because the masses took him for a prophet (Mat 21:26). Miserable creatures! So, for this time, "they left Him and went their way" (Mar 12:12).