Daily Word

Temple tax | Matthew 17:24-27

24 Now when they came to Capernaum, those who collected the [ l ] two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the [ m ] two-drachma tax?” 25 He *said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or [ n ] poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are [ o ] exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a [ p ] stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Matthew 17:24-27 (NASB)

Temple tax

Every earthly kingdom relies on taxes to stay in existence. Rome was no exception. But this is a temple tax, not a government tax. When God first called the Jews to be a nation, He was their God and their King. It wasn’t until toward the end of the period of the Judges that they complained and told Samuel the prophet / judge that they wanted a king – like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). So God let them have what they wanted – even though He knew it would be trouble for them and even though it was a rejection of God as their King. He also planned for the Messiah to be King of the Jews. 

Back in those pre-king days, God instituted the temple tax (Exodus 30:13–16) for the purpose of upkeep of the temple. Everyone paid the same amount, rich or old. In Jesus’ time, two-drachmas was the amount of the temple tax. It was equivalent to about two denarii or two days’ wages. A stater is a silver four-drachma Greek coin.

A good Jew?

So these temple tax collectors hunt down Jesus and ask Peter if Jesus is a law-abiding Jew. That is, does He pay the temple tax like everyone else? Leave it to Peter to answer right away and then go figure out what he committed to. 

Jesus knew before Peter asked him what had just happened. Though He laid aside godly abilities (Philip 2:6) when He became incarnate, He could still know from the Father via a word of knowledge.

Jesus was asking Peter about the purpose and responsibility of taxes in order to teach him (and the other disciples). As we noted above, the temple tax was imposed on all Jews to help keep the temple in shape. God is King and imposed that tax. All the King’s subjects must pay the tax. But Jesus asks Peter, if He, Jesus, is a subject. He isn’t, He’s the Son, so He doesn’t need to pay the tax. 

Not to offend

Now that Jesus made His teaching point, He pays the tax – so they’re not offended. Remember when Jesus was baptized by John and John said he shouldn’t baptize Jesus. “Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’” (Matthew 3:13-17). Jesus didn’t have to pay the tax but He humbly did. He was communicating that He is both God and man.

Miraculous catch

No sense in debating the details of this miraculous fish catch. It happened. And again, Jesus knew in advance. And your guess is as good as mine as to why Jesus paid Peter’s tax along with His and, why He didn’t pay for all the disciples. 


  • What can we learn from Jesus? Though He technically didn’t need to pay the tax, He did. In reality, He took the offense – like He will later take of all sin. Are we willing to take offense so that the Kingdom may come? Consider the last offense you received and evaluate: Is it really worth bringing it to justice? Would it be better to drop the matter?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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