Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:25b-26 (Holman) “When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers?” “From strangers,” he said. “Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him.
In the house, maybe Peter’s (8:14), Jesus questioned His disciple on the temple tax, which was annually taken from Jewish men 20 and older. This levy made every man in Israel equally responsible for temple maintenance. We used to call this act of forcing people to pay their pledge to church being dunned.
A double-drachma was two days wages. In the USA, with the minimum wage being $7.25 an hour, the tax would have been $116.00 per man. The religious leaders made this tax into an extremely lucrative enterprise. Since final payment had to be made in Jewish coinage, money-changers did a thriving business exchanging foreign money for the Jewish. This let them have the double-drachma plus whatever commission they charged. Money was rolling.
This tax and its commissions became so large and exorbitant that Rome finally forbade its transport out of Asia. It drained the local economy too much.
Jesus paid the temple tax, but made sure His act was not misunderstood. He didn’t want anyone to see His paying the tax as being a diminishing of His understanding of His own Sonship. To understand His line of reasoning here, we must remember this tax was religious, not political. It was given to God.
Jesus raised a question that forced Peter to realize Jesus should not have been asked to pay this tax. Our Master, taking Peter back to his famous confession (MT 16:16), in essence said, “Peter, you said I was God’s Son. Let’s revisit that thought a moment. Do kings tax their children or their subjects?”
Peter gave the obvious answer. Kings never tax their own household. Their families are the ones taxes are collected for, not from. Follow Jesus’ logic.
Since He was God’s Son, there was no legitimate claim on Him to pay the temple tax. He should not have been asked to pay for His own worship. As God, tribute should have come from the temple to Jesus, not vice versa.
Matt. 17:27a “But, so we won’t offend them,”
Jesus paid the tax voluntarily, not because obligated. He submitted Himself to political and ecclesiastical authorities, reminding us we don’t have to approve of all a nation’s laws before obeying them, or have to agree with all a church or denomination does before giving it our money and allegiance.
Jesus knew He would be unable to persuade the people of Israel to accept His reasoning. Thus, He chose to act in such a way that would not cause others to stumble. Our Lord was considerate of others, not rude. I trust you are not given to road rage, undercutting others, or humor made at another’s expense.
In the payment or nonpayment of the temple tax, no Bible truth was at stake. Not every cause we get angry over is a cut-and-dried Bible issue. If the matter under consideration is not precisely condemned in Scripture, chill, take a deep breath. Only the Bible, not our interpretations, requires strong responses.
Jesus’ prudence here set a good precedent for every phase of our lives, as citizens, church members, and family members. As citizens, believers must be slow to rail on issues Godly, Bible-believing Christians divide over.
For example, illegal aliens. Few issues are more of a hot button in our culture. How should a church respond? The answer is not cut and dried. Some believers adamantly cry out for the strict rule of law. Others claim the Bible clearly says we are to be kind to foreigners in our midst. It is okay to have a personal opinion on the subject, but the church can’t give a clear response to it.
As church members we need to speak gently about non-Bible issues. I have known churches to split over whether the piano should be to the right or left, over shaped note hymnals versus round notes, over who should have keys to the kitchen. Beware dividing a church over our own personal agendas.
As family members, calm down about non-Bible issues. It doesn’t matter if the shower curtain is pulled to the right or to the left, if the toothpaste tube is squeezed or rolled, if socks are washed with towels, if towels are folded in thirds or fourths, if toilet paper rolls out downward or upward, if both light switches in the living room are up when the lights are on, and down when off.
Believers tend to be way too tight over secondary issues. Learn to lighten up. Jesus, in the non-Bible case before us, let it go. Go thou and do likewise.
Matt. 17:27b “ . . . go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and catch the first fish that comes up. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.”
Jesus was generous. He paid Peter’s debt, picturing what Jesus did later for all. John Phillips, in his commentary, said he hopes Peter, after paying the tax, imitated Jesus’ generosity by giving the fish to the tax collector for supper.
Of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew recorded this story. That’s understandable. He was a tax-collector by profession. He never in all his tax-collecting years ever saw anything else like this event. It impressed him deeply.
I’m not a good one to be telling fish stories. Fishing and I don’t gee-haw. I have a scar on the back of my head where Uncle Bill hooked me while casting. On the way to the Doctor, Dad used wire pliers to pry it out. He decided there was no need to take me to a Doctor. I’m grateful for a mom who felt otherwise.
When my children were little, I made the mistake of going with them one day to fish with my father-in-law. Mr. Huey didn’t like my squeamishness about fish, and decided he needed to do something about it. He promised me, if I took a fish off the hook, the fish would not hurt me. He lied. The fish’s fin sliced me between my thumb and index finger.
Peter had better luck fishing than I did. I never caught a fish like the one he caught this day. He probably never did again either. This kind of fish could convince even me to return to fishing. Catfish? No. Cash-fish? Yes.
In the humor, don’t miss the lesson. This incident reinforced Jesus’ rightful claim to be exempted from the temple tax. He truly is the everlasting Son of God, God incarnate, God of true God, Second Person of the Trinity.
Foreseeing the future, He knew all about it, to the most minute detail. He knew a stater, equal to two double-drachmas, had dropped out of someone’s pocket, and knew the first fish to bite the hook would have that stater stuck in its mouth.
By making a fish’s mouth His coin purse, Jesus proved His Lordship. He who had ruled the Sea’s water, wind, and waves, now controlled its creatures.
A fish suddenly felt an irresistible urge to head to the surface. On the way it saw a glittering lunch, swallowed it, saw a flashing hook-shaped reflection, decided to have it for dessert, and thus became the Lord’s treasurer.
Jesus is the Creator and Controller of all things. Even the smallest fish, let’s call him Nemo, on the hottest day, hiding in the darkest shade under the deepest rock is God’s creature. When God calls, Nemo answers.
There was no need for Jesus to pay the temple tax. He was God, absolute Lord over creation. He humbly submitted Himself to the temple tax, but even in His lowliness, His innate divine glory always found a way to shine forth.