Jesus had publically shown forth his divinity. He had proven himself to be the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor. Friends and enemies had seen his glory. They were all without excuse.
Then, privately, Jesus showed even more of his glory to his men. Specifically, he took Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain. Before their eyes, he allowed himself to be transfigured. It was as if his body became porous and his inherent Shekinah Glory leaked out. Then, a voice from heaven was heard. The Father thundered forth, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Peter, James, and John were blown away. More than others, they had seen an even greater measure of Jesus’ glory.
Consequently, upon coming down from the majestic mountain, how trite and ridiculous Jesus’ next appointment must have seemed. Matthew, the former tax collector, recorded it for perpetuity:
Matthew 17:24-27 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Jesus and his disciples were intersected by a tax collector. He was a representative from Jerusalem who had come to receive the half-shekel temple tax used to fund the services connected with Israel’s ceremonial worship. (Exodus 30:11-16; 2 Chronicles 24:6-9; Nehemiah 10:32-33)
From my research, the requesting of this tax from Jesus was somewhat ludicrous and laughable. It might have even been blasphemous. Why?
- At this point in history, the payment of this tax was arbitrary. The scholars were not in agreement. Some paid it annually. Some paid it once when they turned 20. Some saw the plate coming and turned the other way.
- Traveling rabbis were honored with tax-exempt status. They were not expected to contribute, and Jesus was a known rabbi.
- Temple priests were also tax-exempt. True, while most would not have yet recognized the priesthood of Jesus, he knew his position. Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was the Great High Priest.
- Theologically, Jesus was the center of the temple. He was its reason for existence. The temple existed to preach his Gospel and point to him. The temple and its furniture were shadows; he was the substance. Jesus was the one greater than the temple. He was the true temple that would last for eternity.
- Positionally, Jesus was the beloved and pleasing Son of the Father. He is the Son of the King. And as he would make clear, royal children never paid taxes.
How ludicrous to tax Jesus in regard to his temple. There he was — the incarnate Son of God, Yahweh in human flesh, God Almighty in the Second Person — being asked to pay taxes to a temple constructed by King Herod, to a religious order led by thoroughly corrupt leaders, to a shadowy system dammed and doomed to destruction. The Transcendent and Transfigured One was being asked to pay taxes.
Without shame, the question was asked, And without a pause Peter gave the answer, “Yes.” Quickly and decisively he responded because he had seen Jesus’ monetary practice. Jesus paid tithes and taxes required by God’s Ceremonial Law. He also paid taxes sought by God’s ecclesiastical and civil leaders. Jesus was a good citizen. He honored those placed in authority by his Father. He strove, as much as possible, to live at peace with all men. He sought to live without “giving offense.” (vs. 26) The Son of God was quick to give to Caesar that which was Caesar’s. This was the righteous example of the Righteous One.
In the end, Jesus did not seem troubled by Peter’s reply. In the past, he had paid taxes, and he would pay this one.
However, Jesus did wish to uses this episode as a teaching opportunity. He wished to make a spiritual point. And what was Jesus’ big idea? Here it is …
What would Christ have us know?
Non-children, they still have Lucifer as their spiritual father. They have discounted God’s love, turned their back on him, and made him their enemy. However, though rejecting God, they still have a moral obligation to the King. They still have spiritual taxes and tribute to pay. Under God’s working arrangement, they must earn his approval through their own meritorious affections, thoughts, words, and works. As slaves and servants, they must give God perfect obedience. These are their wages owed. Every day, they must wear themselves out working to pay that which the King desires and deserves. And when they will not pay, when they cannot pay the taxes and tribute deserved and desired by the King, debtor’s prison awaits. Worse than that; hell awaits. Non-children know they owe God something. This is why they have this sense in their conscience that all is not right, that God must be paid back. Sadly and truthfully, all non-children will die in hock.
However, Jesus wants his disciples — his blood-bought beloved brothers and sisters — to know their place and their prosperity. Jesus sees their tax bill, their debt, their impotency, and goes to work. He supernaturally covers them, and in doing so he provides more than enough to satisfy the debt. As a result of his good labor, formerly failed performers find their accounts perfectly reconciled — even over-funded. More than this, these blessed individuals are never again viewed as slaves, servants, or even citizens. Those in and with Christ, they are adopted and made sons and daughters of the king. As such, they are made and treated as divinely-beloved regal children. And every single day, with them the Father is “well pleased.” Yes, because Jesus’ payment is that good, the Father cannot otherwise be. Every single day, they remain fully-funded, debt-free, tax-exempt, and fantastically wealthy in spiritual merit. Every single moment of every single day, their spiritual account is remains in perfect stead. Forever, they are free from the Covenant of Works. Forever, they are free from a divine contract of quid-pro-quo. Forever, they are free from the duty of performance. Never do they receive what they earn. Never do they receive less than what Christ earned. Their position with the Father, Judge, and King is permanently fixed. Christ’s currency was perfect and accepted. The Father is forever satisfied with his children. This is because Jesus paid it all.
Therefore worshiping believer, know your place and rejoice!
Quit trying the impossible. You cannot pay what you owe.
Quit trying the completed. You have nothing left to pay.
Quit wearing yourself out in order to hear the Father’s good commendation. It is already and always yours because of the over-sufficient merit of Christ.
Quit looking at the Law as if it is something you have to do to get God’s approval. It is that which he approves. It is that which is good, holy, wise, and best. But now it is something you get to do because you have a new heart with new affections.
Quit looking over your shoulder as if the Tax-man is coming to hurt you.
You are not citizens, subjects, servants, or slaves. You are blood-bought, reconciled, children of the King. You are objects of grace. You do not have to pay spiritual taxes. You are spiritually tax exempt. You are now free to worship and give!