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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Matt 17:24-27 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute, of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto Him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for Me and thee.

Traveling from Caesarea Philippi, Jesus and His apostles came into the province of Galilee and entered the city of Capernaum - the city that served as Jesus' primary residence during His public ministry on earth. There they met tribute collectors. Tribute was a form of taxation, but it was not that levied and collected for the Roman government. Rather tribute was a certain amount of money that was to be freely given by each Jew for the upkeep of the temple. The amount required was the Grecian coin known as the "double drachma," which was the same as its Jewish equivalent, the "half-shekel." This tribute contribution was part of the Jewish law delivered to Moses from God. It was written and recorded by him in Exodus 30:13. Speaking of this tribute, He wrote: this they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. The tribute payment was a voluntary contribution that was expected to be paid over and above the normal tithe that was required by the Jews.

Those responsible for gathering in the tribute money were not publicans, but Jews that were authorized by the priesthood to solicit and collect such fees. These collectors approached Peter with this question: Doth not your Master pay tribute? That is, the one you follow and call Master, does He make it a usual practice to contribute to the support of the temple? To this question, Peter said, Yes. Realizing what had taken place, Jesus prevented Peter from speaking. The word used here does not mean, as it does today, to hinder, impede, or keep one from speaking. Rather, it means speak before or to precede another before their speaking. In this instance, Jesus knew what Peter was about to speak, so He gave His reply in the form of a question to Peter before being asked by him to do so.

What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute, of their own children, or of strangers? Rephrasing it, Jesus' question would have the same meaning as if He had asked Peter, "Do you think that kings tax the members of their own family or their subjects?" The obvious answer would be that, to support themselves and their family, kings would levy taxes on those people that are subject to them and reside in their kingdom. Peter then gave the proper reply: Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. That is, as children of the king, they had no obligation to pay such custom or tribute to their father. How does this apply to the tribute collectors who posed the question: Doth not your Master pay tribute? It is simple! The tribute money was to be used in service to God for the upkeep of the temple. However, since Jesus is the Son of God the King, and since Kings do not require taxes of their sons, the voluntary assessment of tribute money would not apply to Jesus - He would be exempt and not lawfully required to pay this tribute.

There is little doubt that Jesus had always paid this temple assessment of Jewish men as found in Exodus 30:13. However, as an example of obedience to His Heavenly Father and avoid offending the tribute collectors, Jesus willingly contributed to this godly responsibility. Miraculously the equivalent of two half-shekels (the better translation is a stater equal to four drachmas, or one shekel) was obtained from the mouth of a fish that Jesus had directed Peter to catch from the sea, and was given unto them for Me and thee. To most Jews, the identity of Jesus as God's Son had not been firmly established. Therefore it was incumbent for Him to set the proper example for all people of the world to follow. And that example is to support, uphold, and contribute all that is required to governments that rule over us. The civil state requires taxes to support it; the kingdom of God likewise is to be supported. This we must gladly do!