Harmony of the Gospels

 Harmony of the Gospels

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(52) Taxes Paid
(Exodus 30:11-15) Matthew 17:24-27

Moses is the one who began the practice of collecting taxes.  He ordered that a tax should be levied against the Israelites, so much a head, to support the tabernacle.  Jesus also paid tribute money, to keep from offending His enemies, even though He gave a good reason why He should be excused.  The first chapter of Exodus describes the tax which God instructed Moses to collect from the people.  In the thirtieth chapter of Exodus is recorded God’s instructions to Moses.  There it says, “And Jehovah said to Moses, ‘Whenever you take a census of the people of Israel, each man who is numbered shall give a ransom to the Lord for his soul, so that there will be no plague among the people when you number them.  His payment shall be half a dollar.  All who have reached their twentieth birthday shall give this offering.  The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less, for it is an offering to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.  Use this money for the care of the Tabernacle; it is to bring you, the people of Israel, to the Lord's attention, and to make atonement for you."
  Ex 30:11-16 (Living)

Numbering, or counting the men of Israel was usually associated with military service and warfare.  That is what happened in the twentieth chapter of Judges, “And the children of Benjamin were numbered at that time out of the cities twenty and six thousand men that drew sword, beside the inhabitants of Gibeah, which were numbered seven hundred chosen men.  Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.  And the men of Israel, beside Benjamin, were numbered four hundred thousand men that drew sword: all these were men of war” (Judges 20:15-17 (KJV).  At the age of twenty a man could begin to serve as a soldier.  It says in Numbers, “From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies” (Num 1:3 (KJV).  The numbering reflected the equality of rich and poor in their standing before God, and it reminded the people of their dependence on the Lord, rather than upon numerical strength; and it also reminded them of their responsibility to take care of the house of God.  The rich were not to give more, nor the poor less, to indicate that the souls of the rich and poor are equally precious, and that God is no respecter of persons.  Peter stated that publicly, after the resurrection.  “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34 (KJV).  Remember, you are ransomed; you were purchased with a price, a price which was paid by Jesus. They were not redeemed by paying money, and we are not either.  “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 (KJV).  But by paying the annual half-shekel, they were reminded of what God had done for them. The silver collected was used in building the tabernacle, and to make the sockets for the posts of the tabernacle.  In other offerings, men were to give according to their ability; but this offering must be the same for all; because the rich have as much need of Christ as the poor, and the poor are as welcome to him as the rich.  They both contributed the same amount to the maintenance of the temple-service, because both were to have a similar interest in it, and both classes would benefit from it.  Now, let’s look at what Mathew wrote about how Jesus felt about this tax.


When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24)

What we have in this story is an account of Jesus paying tribute money.  He is in Capernaum, which is His headquarters, and where he lived most of the time.  The “temple tax” was collected annually, from every Jew over twenty, for the support of the temple, and it was not a Roman tax; it was a Jewish tax.  The tax was a very small sum, but those men who collected it stood in awe of Christ, because of His mighty works, and they didn’t dare to speak to him about it.  Instead, they asked Peter, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”  Listen to Peters reply.

He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” (Matthew 17:25)

Peter answered the tax collectors, “Yes, certainly, my Master pays tribute; you don’t need to be afraid of speaking to Him about it.”  In Galatians 4:4, it says that He was under the law, therefore under this law He would pay the tax.  Notice that Jesus didn’t discuss anything with the tax collectors, but He did with Peter.  He wanted Peter to know why he was going to pay the tribute.  Also, notice that Jesus knew what Peter was going to ask, and so that he would know that Jesus knew every thought, He asked him a question, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”  From this we can know that the children of God are never attacked without His knowledge.  The question had to do with kings, which take tribute from strangers, and from their subjects, and from foreigners who trade with them, but not from their own children.  They would never do that; it would be like one hand taxing the other.

Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.” (Matthew 17:26)

Jesus is trying to show Peter that just as the royal family is exempt from tax, so He, as the Son of God, would not be obligated to pay for the support of God’s house.  He said to Peter, “Then the sons are free.”  Christ is the Son of God, and Heir of all things.  The temple is His temple.  Malachi 3: 1 says, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple…”  It is His Father’s house.  He said, “…Take these things hence: make not My father’s house an house of merchandise” (John 2:16).  Jesus is a faithful Son, and it is His own house, therefore, He is not obliged to pay this tax.  This immunity applies only to Christ, because God’s children are freed by grace from slavery to sin, but they are still subject to civil law.  Jesus expressed that principal, when He said, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.  Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.”

Jesus had an assignment for Peter.  He told Him-”Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matthew 17:27)

Jesus’ method of getting tax money is certainly unique, to say the least.  Note that He can do what Adam lost.  The creatures are obedient to Him.  The fish as well as Peter followed His command.  I believe that Adam had the same type of Power, because God gave him dominion over all creation.  It says, in the first chapter of Genesis, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).

Jesus told Peter why He paid the tax.  He said, “lest we offend them.”  There were very few who knew, as Peter did, that Jesus was the Son of God, and this was not the proper time to reveal that secret.  And He also knew that if he refused to pay the tax that more people would be prejudice against Him and His teachings. 

Next, notice the poverty of Christ.  He didn’t have any money to pay the tax with, but He had an unusual way to get the money.  He furnished the money out of the mouth of a fish.  He was Lord of heaven and earth, but we read in 2 Corinthians,  “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor 8:9 (KJV).  Most of the time He lived off the charity of others.  Luke writes, “And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:3 (KJV).  Furthermore, He didn’t order Judas to pay the tax out of the bag he carried, because that was for the basics like food; He would not use that money for His personal use. 

Now, consider the power of Christ, when He obtained the money from the fish’s mouth.  Either He put it there because He can do anything, or He knew it was there because He knows everything.  In either case, this is evidence that He is Lord.  He chose to take the money out of a fish’s mouth, even though He could have received it from an angel’s hand. 

The piece of money was just enough to pay the tax for Jesus and Peter.  Don’t you think that He could have just as easily commanded a bag of money in the mouth of a large fish?  Perhaps, He is teaching us to be content, when we have just enough for our current needs.  We are to trust God, even if we have to live from hand-to-mouth.  If we have enough for today, “let tomorrow take thought for the things of itself.” 

Last of all, note that where a fundamental principle was at stake, our Lord didn’t tone down His message in order not to offend.  For example, notice what Mathew wrote about how He offended the Pharisees on this occasion.  “And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.  Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?   But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.   Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt 15:10-14 (KJV).


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