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The Temple Tax
22When they came together in Galilee, He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
24After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
25“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 sons or from others?”
26“From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27“But so that we may not offend them, 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.”
Jesus once again spoke to His disciples concerning His death and resurrection: “When they came together in Galilee, He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief” (vss. 22–23). We cannot help but notice how Jesus repeatedly spoke of His death and resurrection to the disciples. It was, of course, necessary to prepare them for this painful trial that they were to experience, and to speak of it ahead of time, so that the disciples would know that it was not unexpected: that the death and resurrection of Jesus was all part of God’s plan. “Christ now was chiefly devoting His time and attention to His disciples, revealing, as they became spiritually ready, deep truths about Himself, His Church, and the future” [Griffith Thomas, 262]. “Their minds were far too receptive of other notions in reference to His kingdom, and therefore He set before them the truth again and again, almost in the same words. He would banish all dreams of a worldly monarchy from their souls. His death would be a grievous trial to them, and He would prepare them for it” [Spurgeon, 241].
“After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’ ‘Yes, He does,’ he replied” (vs. 25). The temple tax of those times fulfilled for the people the requirement that they pay to the temple atonement money, as commanded in Exodus 30:11–16. Jesus, being sinless, would be exempt from such a payment, for He needs no atonement. Peter, though, answered in the affirmative that, yes, Jesus did pay the temple tax. It seems that this was a bit of a fib, for it seems to be implied in the next few verses that Jesus had not been paying the tax..
“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 sons or from others?’ ‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the sons are exempt,’ Jesus said to him” (vss. 25–26). Here we have a case of Jesus “knowing our needs before we ask” (see Matt. 6:8). Peter was most likely trying to think of a way to broach the subject of paying the temple tax. Jesus brought up the subject Himself. In addition to not needing to make payment for atonement, there is another reason Jesus did not need to pay the temple tax: Jesus is the Son of God. Peter himself well knew and believed this (see Matt. 16:16).
Jesus chose not to seek a confrontation with the temple official concerning this matter: “But so that we may not offend them, 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” (vs. 27). Jesus did not want to put unnecessary stumbling blocks to prevent anyone from believing in Him, so He paid the tax, even though He had every right, as the Son of God, to be exempt from it. “Some would have said that He did not keep the law, did not perform a recognized duty of every Israelite, and so He certainly could not be the Messiah … Matthew probably recorded this incident to show his Jewish readers on the one hand that Jesus felt Himself entitled to the respect due to the Messiah, and on the other, that He was very careful to keep the law in all respects, so that no Jew had a right to stumble at Him” [Broadus, 380].
This should be a lesson to us, that we should seek to obey the laws and customs of the land in which we live (assuming, of course, that there be nothing unlawful in the eyes of God in them), in order not to put any stumbling blocks in the way of nonbelievers. “Our Lord’s example in this case deserves the attention of all who profess and call themselves Christians. There is deep wisdom in those five words, ‘lest we should offend them.’ They teach us plainly that there are matters in which Christ’s people ought to sink their own opinions, and submit to requirements which they may not thoroughly approve, rather than give offense and ‘hinder the Gospel of Christ’” [Ryle, 217].
Jesus certainly chose an unusual way to pay the tax. “This was the only miracle worked in any sense for His own benefit (cf. Matt. 4:4), and even this was primarily for the sake of others” [Griffith Thomas, 264]. Ironically, the way He chose to pay the tax, strengthened His case for not paying it, for He demonstrated His almighty rule over Creation. “He makes a dumb creature bring the tribute-money to meet the collector’s demand” [Ryle, 216].
Note, it is significant that Jesus also paid Peter’s atonement money, not just His own. He was soon to pay for the atonement of all of us, at much greater cost. “Far greater and deeper truths lie slumbering down below. They are such as these: the glorious freedom of the Son, His coming under tribute for our sakes, and the clearance of Himself and us by the one payment which He Himself provided” [Spurgeon, 244].