23-27 See Mark 11:27-33 and comment.
28-29 Jesus told this parable to the Jewish leaders who prided themselves that they followed the law. The first son represents the tax collectors and the prostitutes (verse 31). They considered themselves unrighteous. They said to Jesus, as Peter had, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Such people give no promise of being religious. They say “No” to Jesus; but then they repent and turn to God (see Luke 18:13-14). And God will consider repentant sinners righteous, because in the end they do His will.
30-31The second son represents the Jewish leaders. They said, “We are righteous, we are obedient. We will certainly obey God.” But then they did not. God said through John the Baptist, “Repent.” But they did not repent. They did not believe in Christ. They did not love God; they loved themselves. Thus, in the end, they did not obey God.
Jesus told the Jewish leaders that the repentant sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God before they would (see Luke 18:9-14). The last will be first (see Matthew 20:16 and comment).
Notice in the parable that neither son’s behavior is good. The first son was wrong in speech; the second wrong in action. We can understand from the parable that God considers action to be more important than promises (see Matthew 7:21).
32 Then Jesus told the Jewish leaders in what way they had disobeyed God. John came to show them the way of righteousness, that is, how they should behave. But they did not believe John. They did not obey John; that is, they did not repent and do the works of repentance (Matthew 3:8). But the Gentiles, the sinners, believed John (see Luke 7:29-30).
Not only that, the Jewish leaders saw many people going after John and repenting. But still they refused to believe. Their condemnation will be great. And our condemnation will be great also, if we do not repent and turn to Christ and do God’s will.
(Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)
33-46 See Mark 12:1-12 and comment.