For the benefit of those who have not read the story of the coin found in the mouth of the fish by Peter,let me post it here :
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
I want to discuss this text by asking these seven questions :
- What was the Temple Tax?
- Why did the tax collectors challenge Peter?
- Was Peter’s response to the tax collectors right and accurate?
- From whom do the KIngs of the earth collect taxes?
- Why did Christ not take from the ministry common purse?
- Why was the instruction of Jesus to Peter very specific?
The Temple Tax was a modification of the atonement money God instructed Moses to ask Jewish people above the age 20 to pay for the ‘service of the tent of meeting’. Whether rich or poor,the amount to be paid was fixed at half shekel which was equivalent to two-drachma.After the tent of meeting was no more,this tax was legally imposed on the Jews to be paid for the support of the Temple.It is noteworthy that this Temple Tax was totally different from the Roman tax.So,if you were Jewish and you used the Temple facility,it was required of you to pay the Tax.
However,the significance and meaning of the Temple Tax was lost over the years preceeding this event.Let’s read it from where God commanded them to pay it:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord.All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord.The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.”- Exodus 30:11-16
Though the Temple Tax was supposed to support the Temple but the real significance of the Temple Tax was for atonement.In fact, it was called atonement money.
Let me let the cat out of the bag a bit! Who is actually the atonement for sin? Who was paid as the ransom? Coin ? Mammon ?
The Temple Tax collectors accosted Peter and asked him if Jesus (The real Temple owner and the atonement Himself) paid the tribute to the Temple because they wanted to look for ways of implicating Him.They had perceived Jesus was against their man-made rules and was looking for ways of putting him at loggerheads with other Jews that believed in the payment of the Temple tax.
Let’s focus on Peter’s response.He told the tax collectors that Jesus used to pay the Temple Tax.Was that right? Yes it was right but it was an inaccurate statement! Peter was just trying to play safe! This response belittled what He had said about Jesus a chapter away from this text.In Matthew 16:16-19,Peter had accurately refered to Jesus as the Christ,the Messiah and the Son of the living God and for saying that he was promised the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.However,Peter in our text had cleverly hidden the identity of Jesus as the Messiah who ideally should not pay the Tax.He couldn’t muster the strength to argue that His master shouldn’t be paying the tax.Jesus,by the Spirit heard what Peter told the tax collectors outside the house and challenged him with a question.
“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?”- Matthew 17:25
This passage reveals that in earthly kingdom,the kings only collect tax from their subjects.Their children don’t pay taxes.If the earthly kings don’t impose taxes on their subjects then how much more the Heavenly King!
In a way Christ was telling Peter that he belonged to the Kingdom of His Father: You are a son of the Kingdom and co-heirs with me therefore you are exempted!
Jesus, by this statement, declared He was not meant to pay the Temple Tax(The atonement money) because He was the True Priest of the Temple and Peter was one of His sons!!! Peter was therefore exempted from paying the tribute!
However,to avoid arguments and discord between the Old Covenant(The Aaronic Priesthood) and the New Covenant(which had not been established by then) ,Jesus said:
“But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line-Matthew 17:24
…To be continued