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The Temple Tax Matt. 17:24-27


The Temple Tax

Text: Matthew 17:24-27.
In this study Jesus teaches us on our responsibility to be thoughtful to others, so that in our exercise of Christian freedom, we do not cause others to stumble.

1. An Ethical Challenge. v24-25
Jesus and the disciples are at Capernaum, in the spring-time, for the Temple tax was collected locally in March every year – if you missed paying in March you had to go to Jerusalem to make payment. Let’s explore what’s happening here:-

  • The temple tax. The temple was a hugely expensive institution to maintain, and each year, in March all Jewish men over 20yrs would be required to pay towards the upkeep of the temple. The temple tax began as far back as Moses. Exodus 30:13  The tax was always the same for every man – half a shekel, the equivalent of two Greek Drachmas. Little booths were set up in the local towns and villages, and the money was collected by the appointed men. These men came to ask Peter if Jesus would pay the tax.
  • The tax-collector’s demand. Have you noticed how enthusiastic tax collectors and VAT inspectors are about their work? These men in Capernaum were making sure that no-one was denied the opportunity to pay their taxes. What’s their enquiry about?
    • Is it an indictment? Are they looking for grounds to lay a charge? What an opportunity for the Pharisees this would be, Jesus disrespecting the Temple by refusing to pay!
    • Is it coyness? Were these tax collectors overawed by the mighty works that they were seeing being done in Capernaum, and reluctant to approach Christ for money? Thus approaching Peter to ask about Jesus and the tax.
    • Is it a matter of exemption? Not everyone paid this tax! Rabbis, (including many of the Pharisees) seemed to have been declared exempt. The Essenes argued that what Moses originally meant was that the tax should be paid once in a lifetime at 20 and refused to pay more than once. Was Jesus part of an exempt group, – as a Rabbi or an Essene?
  • Peter’s rash reply. YES! He does pay the tax. I wonder did Peter think before replying? Some commentators don’t think he did, for Jesus has to give him a lesson, some more instructions when he returns to the Saviour’s company.

So, that’s the background. Now, let’s see the words of Jesus to Peter, and they consist of both…

2. The Solution in Doctrine and Practice. v26-27A
Jesus speaks to Peter first, and he opens the conversation with a story.

  • A Helpful Illustration. Jesus illustrates his doctrinal position with a parable – about a king and his family. When a king raises taxes from his subjects, does he ask his own royal household to pay the tax too? Not at all! The Temple is the House of the Father of Christ! John 2:16   He had no need to pay, the king’s Son doesn’t pay the tax! As the Son of God, he is the beneficiary of the tax, not the taxpayer.
  • The Christian Response. Now look at the start of verse 27, for Peter is going to learn another valuable lesson. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, – Jesus pays the tax, not because he is legally obliged to pay it, but as an example to others. This is important for Christians to grasp. The word translated ‘offend’ is from the Greek root σκανδαλισ – it means to trip someone up, to make them to stumble, to put an obstacle in their path. It the application of our rights and freedoms as believers we must consider others and be careful that don’t cause another to stumble.
    Now, let’s see that worked out in the doctrine and practice of Paul the Apostle.
  • The Principle Preached. READ Romans 14:13,
  • The Principle Practised. When Paul brought Timothy into the Lords Work with him, he had him circumcised, even though he was a gentile, Acts 16:3 Timothy was circumcised only in order that the Jews didn’t stumble.

We have great freedom in Christ. That means a lot of ethical decisions for us as we interact with other Christians and with the world. How do we behave, what will make others stumble? There’s always a fine line, and we need to decide what’s ‘up to us’ and what would cause us to disobey God’s word, when we make the decision that we have Christian freedom in any decision, we then need to ask, would it cause someone else to stumble. We do not knowingly offend.

3. A Miraculous Endorsement of the Lesson. v27B
Lastly, – at the very end of this passage we have this interesting instruction to Peter, to go and catch a fish, and in the fish’s mouth would be a coin, sufficient to pay the tax for both Peter and Christ himself. He orders Peter to go fishing. What does this mean?

  • Is it really good practical advice? Some more liberal commentators try to explain this, by saying that Jesus was using the teaching methods of the rabbis, – simply telling Peter to go and do some work, and when he has earned some money, he’ll have enough to pay his tax bill. Or…
  • Is it a miraculous demonstration of Christ’s power? I give little or no credence to the hyperbole theory whatsoever. Look at the proofs…
    • Peter is to fish with a hook! If this was just a suggestion that Peter should return to his occupation and earn some money, Jesus would have told him to cast a net, not a hook. These fishermen didn’t use hooks. Matthew 4:18, and…
    • The coin will pay two men’s taxes! Here’s a piece of historical accuracy. The temple tax was half a shekel, but there was no such thing as a half-shekel coin! When you paid, there was no change given! So, two men would get together, and they would pay the tax with one coin. The fish would yield exactly the right amount for both Jesus and Peter.

So what’s this about? It’s another lesson for Peter, and for us, about the Godhood of Christ. When Peter caught the fish, he would learn a valuable lesson about how Jesus is God, the One who rules the land and the sea, and everything in it, the One who ordains everything according to his will and purpose, who cares for plants and sparrows and who knows everything about each one of us.

So we have here a clear statement of how Jesus fulfils the attributes of God, His penetrating omniscience, his awareness of his divine sonship, his tender compassion, his preserving sovereignty over the created universe, his love and generosity for others.
What a great passage! We learn so much from it, about ourselves, about our behaviour as believers, and mostly about our wonderful Lord Jesus.

© BobMcEvoy. January 2019

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