JESUS PAID THE TEMPLE TAX
Key Verse: 17:27a
"...so that we may not offend them..."
1. In the previous lesson, what did Jesus teach about how to live in
an unbelieving generation? Where did Jesus and his disciples then
go? What was their ultimate destination?
2. After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, who came to
Peter with what question? (Why might Matthew be especially
interested in this event?) What was Peter's spontaneous answer? Why
did he tell an untruth?
3. When Peter came home, what did Jesus ask him? Why did Jesus ask
Peter this question? What was the obvious answer? What did Jesus
4. Why did Jesus not want to offend "them"? What can we learn from
Jesus about duty and going beyond duty? How did Jesus and Peter
find necessary money to pay the tax? What can we learn from this
In the last passage we learned that there are many generations in
human history: some are believing generations and some are unbelieving
generations. The time of Jesus was an unbelieving generation. His nine
disciples at the foot of the mountain had followed Jesus, leaving
everything behind. But they belonged to the unbelieving generation.
They were part of the unbelieving generation because they had no faith
in God. But it was not only his nine disciples who tried to heal a
demon-possessed boy with their past experience and completely failed
before the Pharisees and miracle-seeking crowd; all the people of the
time belonged to the unbelieving generation because they had no faith
in God. They only wanted to solve their life security problems in their
downtrodden national situations. Jesus sighed, saying in 17:17, "O
unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you?
How long shall I put up with you?" Jesus was sorry that his generation
was an unbelieving generation. Jesus was sorry because of people's
unbelief. But he was most sorry that all people including his disciples
didn't have faith in God. So he again sighed, as he replied to their
question, saying in 17:20, "Because you have so little faith. I tell
you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can
say to this mountain, ^Move from here to there' and it will move.
Nothing will be impossible for you." To Jesus, the unbelieving
generation was not really the problem. His disciples who didn't have
any faith, even as small as a mustard seed, were really the problem.
Today we want to study about Jesus who paid the temple tax. In this
passage we learn from Jesus several spiritual lessons.
First, the temple tax (24-26). The main story in this passage is about
the temple tax. The temple tax problem was a very traditional and
controversial issue throughout Jewish history. As we know, the temple
was the center of Jewish peoples' lives. Their lives were centered on
temple worship because in the temple was the ark of God, that is, the
word of God. So in order to live according to God's word and receive
the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, they went to the temple in
Jerusalem. King Solomon established the first temple. However,
Solomon's Temple was completely destroyed when the Babylonians invaded
Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Solomon's Temple was inlaid with gold between the
stones and contained many articles made of gold. But the Babylonians
took away all the articles of gold after destroying the temple (2Ki
24:13). In the time of Ezekiel and Zerubbabel, Jewish people built a
new temple with plain stones and tents. In 166 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes
IV again invaded and in the place of the ark of the Lord, he put the
head of a pig for good fortune. Later, Herod built another temple
similar to Solomon's. It was not for God, but for his own honor and
glory. To maintain the temple, Jewish males above the age of twelve
were all supposed to attend the Passover Feast and donate money. Each
person also had to pay a two-drachma temple tax. Two drachma stands
for two days' wages. As Jesus predicted (Mt 24:2), the Jerusalem Temple
was completely demolished when Roman soldiers under General Titus
invaded Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They took away the ark of the Lord, and in
its place they put a statue of Jupiter. The Roman Emperor enacted a law
to levy a temple tax as before. Then innumerable Jewish people died in
rebellion against paying the Roman temple tax. Chronologically
speaking, the temple tax in Jesus' time was the Jewish temple tax.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem for the
last time. When they arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the
two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the
temple tax?" (24) Peter did not know whether Jesus paid it or not. But
he said, "Sure, he does!" Then they left, overwhelmed by the
overconfident word of Peter.
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 sons or from others?" "From
others," Peter answered. Jesus said, "Then the sons are exempt"
(25-26). At that time the people of world power nations did not pay
taxes; taxes were paid by the people of subject nations. Especially,
kings' sons and households and other high-ranking people did not pay
taxes at all. For this reason Jesus asked, "From whom do the kings of
the earth collect duty and taxes^from their own sons or from others?"
Kings of world power nations and their sons did not pay taxes.
Therefore, Jesus did not have to pay taxes, because he is the King of
Israel and the Son of the living God; the kingdom is his father's; he
is the Owner of the earth and the Owner of the temple. Jesus is saying
to Peter, "Do I have to pay taxes? Of course not." Still he said to
Peter, "...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" (27). Peter had
confidently lied that Jesus paid the tax. Nevertheless he stood up and
took his fishing line and went to the lake to catch fish. It might have
been early evening. Peter really didn't like to pay the temple tax,
like all other people of Israel. Anyway, he went and did exactly what
Jesus told him to do. He got a four-drachma coin out of the fish's
mouth and paid the tax for Jesus and for himself, saying, "Here are
four drachma; two for Jesus and two for me."
Second, Jesus set a good example by paying the temple tax. The first
part of verse 27 says, "But so that we may not offend them...." Here
the verb "offend" comes from "skandalon" in Greek, which means to annoy
or to injure the pride of others. At that time the temple tax was a
burden to the Jewish people and nobody wanted to pay it. But Jesus paid
the temple tax. Jesus paid the temple tax to set a good example for
others. Past and present, people don't want to pay taxes. This is the
tax-paying season. You are researching how to reduce your tax amount.
But Jesus paid the temple tax when he had no money to pay it. When we
carefully meditate on this passage, we learn that Jesus was setting a
good example for others. At that time the people of Israel were under
the yoke of the Roman Empire and heavy taxes were extorted from them.
They were suffering most from a lack of money. So they didn't want to
pay taxes. In that situation Jesus showed a good example to others.
Jesus was not negligent in trivial or small matters, even paying the
temple tax. He fulfilled all his duties and paid his taxes, even though
he had no income. It is amazing that the Son of the living God paid the
temple tax when the temple was his own house. Jesus paying the tax is a
good example of fulfilling one's duty, paying taxes and not fighting
over pieces of meat. Usually people do many good things. Yet paying
taxes, especially paying a temple tax to the Jews, really annoyed them.
But Jesus showed a good example.
It is not easy for us to be a good example. Yes! But there are
many good examples in the world of UBF. Most Chicago UBF leaders are
not rich. Late last year one of the young elders passed away. So we
had to pay the expenses for his ceremony. After that we made a
Christmas offering. Several days later the lay shepherd in charge of
Kyung Sung Center, who also teaches at Kyung Hee Medical School, lost
his only son to cancer. This shepherd has three daughters and only one
son. But his son died after much suffering. To his parents it seemed
that the reward of their hard work was the death of their
fifteen-year-old only son. After three daughters they had a son. He was
an exemplary boy. He was the joy of life to his parents. But he died.
We did not know how to comfort the parents. Dr. Lee thought that it was
too much to ask ordinary members to contribute again to make a donation
to the family. So he asked only the Board of Directors to pay $1,500
each as a gift to the family. All of them paid. It is indeed an
exemplary event. It is indeed a remarkable story. The Board of
Directors could have said, "We paid for the elder's ceremony and then
made a Christmas offering. Why do we have to pay such a large amount?"
They had reasonable excuses. But all of them paid. They did not pay
because they had money. They had no money. But they paid anyway. Thus
they followed the example of our Lord Jesus Christ; he did not have
money to pay the temple tax, but he paid it. Likewise, our Board of
Directors paid when they had no money. They paid in order to comfort
the boy's sorrowing parents who are our dear co-workers in Christ. They
each paid such a large amount to participate in our co-workers' painful
sorrow in losing their only son. They paid when they had no money in
order to encourage the boy's parents to believe in the kingdom of God.
Soon after, ordinary members came to know the tragic event and they
voluntarily brought donations to send to Dr. Suh. It was a surprise.
At the time Jesus had no money. But Jesus wanted to pay the temple
tax. So he told Peter: "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"
(27). This story tells us that Jesus paid the temple tax when he had no
money. Peter the big mouth did not want to go to the seashore to catch
a fish and take money from its mouth. But Jesus ordered him to do so in
order to pay the temple tax for Jesus and for himself. Jesus is the Son
of the living God. He is the owner of the heavens and the earth and his
kingdom. So he could ignore this small temple tax matter. But he did
not. Our Board of Directors followed Jesus' example. Maybe they had to
perform a miraculous sign to get money out of a fish. But it is not
likely. Most of them must have provided money out of their deep
compassion and desire to participate in the painful sorrow of Professor
Suh and his wife.
Here we must think about the importance of example. When we have
money and give a little to others, that's not necessarily a good
example, but if we give out of our poverty, that's a good example. When
we do homework, if we do it just to get good grades, that's not a good
example. But if we do homework with a great desire to master the
principle of a subject, that is a good example. When we review the
Presidents of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln is a man of
outstanding example in many ways. And most of the others were men of
good example. They were not perfect, but they had a deep desire to
become the fathers of America. Most of them did not want the position.
For example, George Washington was asked to become the President by
people. He strongly refused. But by the demand of people he became the
President. Most people wanted to call him in English style, "Your
Majesty, President George Washington." At that time it was very normal
to be addressed that way. But he insisted to be called "Mr. President"
instead of being called "Your Majesty." People who only fulfill their
duty are not men and women of example. They are vegetable people.
Third, Jesus went beyond duty. When Jesus had to pay the temple tax, he
could have waited to receive an allowance from Mary or Martha or
someone else. But he ordered Peter to go immediately to the lake and
catch a fish and take out the money from the mouth of the fish and
bring it to the tax collectors. He did not fulfill his duty grudgingly.
Usually people at their working places look at their watches, eagerly
awaiting their quitting time. They look at their watches every two
minutes. Over 80% of the American work force is like this. When they
have to pay taxes, they fill out the tax forms on April 15th instead of
January 15th. Procrastination is sinful people's general habit. Such
people cannot go beyond duty even once during their lifetimes. They
work, come home, eat a lot, watch television, sleep, and the next
morning with the strength of strong coffee they go back to work. Their
lives are misery itself.
But there are those who go beyond duty. There was a young man who
came to Northwestern. He went to classes when others went, but
sometimes he did not go to the cafeteria, because he was overwhelmed by
the thought of walking to the cafeteria. He tried to do homework. But
he wanted to do his homework out of obligation. So he only looked at
the book and didn't study. His GPA was 1.5. Then he went back to his
hometown and miraculously finished his undergraduate study. Later he
returned to Northwestern and got a job, starting at the bottom. He
tried hard to meet all his boss's requirements. He also worked hard to
draw students to Northwestern. His hard labor went beyond his duty. As
a result, he drew many good students from good high schools. At first,
school authorities didn't pay attention to him. But he did all his
best. Then suddenly he was recognized, and his promotion doubled each
year. Now he is known as an excellent worker, and his wife recognizes
him as a good man. He learned gospel spirit through Bible study. So he
became a man who goes beyond duty. He also became a man of ambition. He
finished a Master's Degree. Now he is studying for a Ph.D. at
There is a young man who has three sons. He was studying for a
Master's Degree in computer science. During his master's study he
should have visited a company and taken an internship program. But his
school study was so delicate and difficult. So he had to study hard,
staying up late every night. In addition, all Chicago UBF people
brought their computers to him when they had a problem. Then he had to
fix their computers every night; it was like a second job. At first he
thought taking care of all Chicago UBF people's computers was too much.
But he took it as his mission. After graduation from his master's
program, he could not get a job for quite a long time because in order
to repair others' computers and take care of his rebellious sheep, he
lost the chance to go through an internship in a company. So he
suffered a lot to get a job. But God had mercy on him and credited his
"go-beyond-the-duty" attitude and blessed him to get a job.
There is a young high school teacher. His achievement in his high
school was much credited by the principal. But he transferred to Lane
Tech High School in order to take care of UBF high school students.
This was a costly move for him. He lost all his credit in his old
school and became a beginner in a new high school. In this way he went
beyond duty and became a man of good example.
When we study the Gospels, we see that Jesus was not a salary-man
type of person. He did not work just eight hours a day. His working
hours were from early morning to late night all his lifetime. But he
never missed fulfilling even a small secular duty. Even in fulfilling
secular duty, he did his best. He pushed Peter to go to the lake on a
cold night, or maybe the hottest night, to catch a fish, take the money
from its mouth, go to the Temple IRS booth and pay the tax for Jesus
and for himself, apologizing that he had lied, saying, "Sure, my master
paid it." The people of the world think this kind of person is stupid.
The people of the world think that clever and sneaky persons are wise.
Pointing at their heads with their fingers, they say, "I am wise,
right?" But they are not wise. They are indeed mean and stupid. Today
we learned from Jesus that we must be men and women of example and men
and women who go beyond their obligation or duty. We don't see in Jesus
that he wasted his time even once. Jesus who is King of kings, Creator
and Owner of all things, was a man of example and a man of going beyond
his duty. Praise Jesus! May God help us to become men and women of good
example as well as men and women of "going beyond." Then we can please
God and we can recognize ourselves as somebodies.