By Benjamin H. Liles
Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.' The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will,’ but he did not go. Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”
The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him." ~ Matthew 21:28-32, Expanded
In the Expanded Bible, it says of the first son who changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard that this son is the eldest son. It means the younger son didn't go into the field to work when his father asked. What's the difference between the eldest son and the younger son in this parable Jesus speaks of?
Aside from Jerusalem, at the time of Roman occupation, having mainly Jewish people living there is because of those who were allowed to go back to rebuild the temple under Cyrus.
We read, "In the first year Cyrus was king of Persia [C 539 bc], the Lord caused [L stirred up the spirit of] Cyrus to send an announcement to his whole kingdom and to put it in writing. This happened so the Lord’s message [prophecy; L word] spoken by [L by the mouth of] Jeremiah would come true [be fulfilled]. He wrote:
This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
The Lord, the God of heaven, has given all the kingdoms of the earth to me, and he has appointed [instructed; charged] me to build a Temple [L house] for him at Jerusalem in Judah. May God be with all ·of [among] you who are his people. You are free to [may] go to Jerusalem in Judah and build [or rebuild] the Temple [L house] of the Lord, the God of Israel, [L he is the God] who is in Jerusalem. Those who stay behind [L survive], wherever they live [in those places; C referring to the Jews remaining in exile, to the Jewish remnant who remained in Israel during the exile, or to their non-Jewish neighbors], should [must] support [help; assist; provide for] those who want to go. Give them silver and gold, supplies [goods] and cattle [livestock], and special gifts [voluntary/freewill offerings] for the ·Temple [L house] of God in Jerusalem.
Then the ·family [clan] leaders of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites got ready [L arose] to go to Jerusalem—everyone God had caused to want [L whose spirit/heart/mind God had stirred] to go to Jerusalem to ·build [or rebuild] the Temple [L house] of the Lord" (Ezra 1:1-5, Expanded).
When scripture talks about Jacob's family, he is later renamed Israel, we see the order in which his children are born. Judah isn't the first born, he is the fourth born son between Leah and Jacob. When it comes to the placement of where the southern part of Israel was those tribes are Judah and Benjamin, whereas the rest of the tribes make up the northern kingdom known as Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Manasseh, and Ephraim. Some verses call the kingdom of Israel Ephraim (see Jeremiah 31:6, 8-9, 15, 18). The biggest reason for Ephraim to be used instead of Israel is that one of Israel's first kings once the Kingdom of Israel and Judah split came from Ephraim, Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:26).
At the time of Jerusalem's habitation by both Jews and Romans, the northern part of Israel were a mixed stock known as Samaria. These people are a mixed people of Israeli and foreign persuasion. The Jews in the south despised their half-breed cousins to the north (see 2 Kings 1&:24, Ezra 4:2-11, and 2 Kings 17:26-28).
Knowing this then we can understand why later, after the crucifixion of Jesus, He told the disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Considering Samaritans of that day were also, even though an Israeli mix, Israelite in nature Jesus is saying they will receive the gospel message. And they did. The first to receive such a message was the woman at the well whom Jesus spoke with (see John 4:1-42, focus on verses 28-42, The woman at the well was one of the first evangelists when you read the text).
These men that Jesus spoke to were religious leaders who claimed they were already doing God's will. They weren't. For if they were they wouldn't sit around debating with the Christ, calling for Him to "cease and desist" in short order, or looking for ways to trap Him. These men acted like a young son who when commanded to work in the field went and did the exact opposite. It is why Jesus told them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him."
It's been this way for almost two thousand years. While we're seeing some Jews, at this time, become Messianic--believing Jesus is the Messiah, for the most part they still reject the message too. It's why those who hear the gospel of Jesus, including myself, and respond in faith to the works of Jesus go onward to keep spreading His gospel. It's not just a message for the Jews; Jesus was Jewish, the first men of the Church age were Jewish, speaking to a non-Jewish community.
It is through those who the apostles touched in both word and action that the world has been evangelized to: first through having gone north and into Europe, and eventually to America to the uttermost parts of this world, but also to the south and east (Phillip spoke to an Ethiopian Eunuch--Acts 8:26-40, while Thomas, the same doubting Thomas who needed proof of Jesus' resurrection, went to evangelize India--a Christian community in India claims descent from the preaching of Thomas).
Quite honestly, even though Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do," those who are religious still have a chance to truly repent and come to His saving grace. It boils down to having and keeping an open mind. I may not have always obeyed and listened to God's voice myself, not until recent (Look over a lot of these posts and you'll see what I mean by recent, and I mean within the last several months); I could be termed as someone who was religious. It's not an easy process. It's a giving up of prejudicial bias, thinking I knew something when I didn't and being more accepting of a viewpoint other than what my own preconceived notions. It calls for laying down who and what I am for the sake of Christ.
To this end I do what I do. I know people read my posts. And to a degree I believe the things the Lord puts on my heart to share are considered and being taught. I much rather teach right and show how Jesus is who He is as defined by scripture. I'm just another in a long line to those Paul first preached his message to. We all serve the same God, the One whom Jesus went to the cross on behalf of, who performed what the Father allowed Him to, and the reason why the message of the cross is preached.
Father, I realize I am no better than anyone else. In fact, if anyone had asked me if I felt I was a good and effective teacher of Your grace and love my response would be, "Me? Teach? I am unworthy to be saved by His grace." There are times where I feel that way, too. But I love You, Lord. You sent Jesus, Your Son, not only to die in my place thus taking my punishment, but You also gave to me His righteousness so I can stand before You and talk to You. I just ask You always show me and tell me what to say, how to say it well, and to live it rightly before You as well as others. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.