Temple Tax

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

We learn some things when Jesus was approached about giving the temple tax. This wasn’t a tax given to the Romans to fund the empire. This was an annual tax worth about two days wages that was meant for the upkeep of the temple. Every Jewish male twenty years of age and older was required to pay this tax. The religious establishment in Jerusalem was in charge of collecting it. The Pharisees and Sadducees were behind this tax.

Jesus, the Son of God, peppers Peter with questions about kings taxing their own sons. Jesus’s point here is that this tax was mean for the house of God, and if they had known that Jesus was the Son of God, they would have never required Him to pay this tax. Kings don’t tax their own sons.

Yet, Jesus says that He’ll pay the tax anyway. His reasoning for doing so was so that they wouldn’t “cause offense.” This is so interesting because, in other places in the Gospels, Jesus couldn’t care less about offending the Pharisees. We see one such scenario in Matthew 15:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Matthew 15:10-14

When it comes to speaking and teaching the truth, Jesus doesn’t mind offending the Pharisees. He even increases the offense by calling them “blind guides.” Yet, when it comes to something like paying a tax, it’s as if Jesus wants to avoid being offensive. There is a sense here that Jesus is more than willing to offend for the sake of God’s truth but isn’t interested in offending just for the sake of being spiteful. He’s not into offending for the sake of offending. There needs to be more purpose in it.

The church would do well to learn this lesson. Some churches are deathly afraid of offending anyone. Other churches think that it is a sign of spiritual maturity to perpetually offend everyone. Neither approach is healthy.

Finally, notice how God resources Jesus so that He could pay the tax for Himself and Peter. Peter didn’t go to the marketplace and sell something. Jesus chose a very peculiar and supernatural way of getting the resources of heaven. We are reminded, as we picture Peter pulling a valuable coin out of a fish’s mouth, that God often provides in unexpected and unusual ways.

God is not bound by our rules of supply and demand. God is not limited by our economic principles. All the resources of heaven are at God’s fingertips and He can release them however He chooses. The Kingdom of God doesn’t play by our rules. The Kingdom is not interested in our limitations. God, as a loving Father, hears about our rationalism and empiricism and laughs, as if to say, “Aw, isn’t that cute.”

When we ask God to be our Provider, we need to be ready for Him to surprise us with unexpected and supernatural sources of provision. It is important to crunch the numbers and try to be responsible, but we also need to remember that God is never limited by our spreadsheets and budgets. He is not limited by our cautious imaginations. God, the Creator, loves to provide for us, and He loves to do it in creative and interesting ways that we’d never expect.

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