The Temple Tax

Matthew 17 4-27

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:24-27

 Why did Jesus pay the tax? How does this character apply today?

Pay the Temple tax was the yearly assessment that each Jewish male was obligated to pay (Ex. 30:11-16). This money was used to support the Temple and/or the local synagogue, and in Jesus’s time was not for other government use. (There were other taxes for that!) The tax was a half of a shekel in the OT, and two drachmas (Luke 15:8; Acts 19:19), which amounted to two days of a typical wage.  In Jesus’ day, since they were occupied by Rome, the Jews were not obligated to pay; therefore, only the devoted and those striving to please the religious leaders did so. After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Romans kept collecting this tax to pay the pagan temples by using force, further humiliating the Jews.

“Does your teacher?” The people who asked if Jesus paid the tax were trying to entrap Him by asking about His opinion on its value, or seeing if He paid it to His home synagogue (Matt. 21:12-14; 23:38-24:15; Luke 8:3). Jesus paid the tax, both to exercise His servant attitude and to avoid causing more trouble than He had to.

“What do you think?” Jesus quickly responds to Peter before the matter of taxes is even brought up!  Many OT prophets gave the answers before the question (1 Sam. 9:20; 1 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 5:26; 6:32). Jesus’ argument is that the royal family does not tax itself; rather, strangers who are not royalty are the ones who are taxed. Jesus is the ultimate Royalty. This is God’s house and Jesus is God; therefore, He would not need to pay the tax. This was a logical argument and a cultural custom not to tax those who are exempt. The priests and attendants were exempt from the Temple tax by this argument (Mishnah: Shegalim 1:3-4).

Jesus shows His servant heart and that He is the hope for Israel. He did not need to pay, yet He did. His miracle was using a fisherman to retrieve a random fish that happened to have a coin in its mouth. There were many “fish stories” in Jesus’ time of fishermen, who had God’s approval, finding jewels in fish. Imagine Peter’s surprise when it happened to him!  “Piece of money” stater, refers to four drachmas or 4 denarii, enough for Jesus and Peter.

For us today? Christians should always focus on His Truth and not our rights.

Jesus proved that He was above and exempt from such a tax, but paid it anyway. He was exempt because He was God, and He was also exempt because He was a rabbi living by charity. He overrides His exemptions to prove His solidarity as a Jew, as a representative of humanity, as a servant, and as our Redeemer. As with people today, the early Christians and many disgruntled Jews did not want to pay the tax, and they lived in a foreign hostel occupied country; Jesus shows that how we feel is irrelevant.  It is how we are to be that matters.

The question that this passage asks in the form of the example of our Lord is, “Do you use people, or do you serve them?” Remember, Jesus was God, who came to this earth to serve!

Consider this, our relationship with Christ is our ultimate freedom; our home is to come, so while we sojourn in this world, we should conform to its policies as long as they do not contradict God’s policies (Acts 16:3; 21:26; Rom. 14: 13-21)

 What can you do to prevent robbing yourself of the opportunities God gives you?

 

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