More Than A Fish Story

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma 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 taxes—from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, 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

As a former tax collector, Matthew alone records this story in his gospel.

Jesus is being asked to pay the temple tax, which was levied on all Jewish males ages 20-50 in support of the temple in Jerusalem. A critical piece of background information: formally ordained rabbis were exempt from this tax. Since Jesus was not formally ordained he was expected to pay the tax.

Jesus had every reason to be offended by this. Not only was he formally ordained by God Himself, he was the Son of the King, the One who owned the temple, making him exempt from this tax.

In humility beyond our comprehension, Jesus told Peter to pay the tax so that we may not offend them.

What can we learn from Jesus’ response?

• Jesus knew that the temple would be destroyed in AD70 and therefore submission to this tax was only temporary. Jesus lay down his rights as the Son of God, knowing that in due time his identity as the true Son would be revealed, making his submission to earthly authority temporary.

• The supernatural means by which Peter was to pay the tax confirmed to him Jesus’ identity. A day or two earlier at the transfiguration, Peter had heard the audible voice of God announcing, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) Peter might not have been surprised to find a coin in a net full of fish, one of them having swallowed a shiny coin. But what’s the chance that a single fish, on a single hook, would produce the exact amount for both to pay their taxes? Evidence was mounting to confirm to Peter who Jesus was.

• Peter must also submit to paying this tax, and Jesus made provision for that.

• For his future life and ministry, Peter would need Jesus’ example of being so secure in who he was, that for the sake of the kingdom, he was able to live this temporary life in humility and submission to ruling authorities.

Application for us:
As sons and daughters of the King should we be exempt from the demands of our government? One day we will be, but for now the Lord’s instruction comes to us through Peter, who no doubt took this lesson to heart. He writes these words approximately thirty years after that fishing trip.

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” 1 Peter 2:13-17

What are your thoughts on this fish story?

4 comments to More Than A Fish Story

  • Natalie

    What a nugget to chew on today! A life so secure in Christ that we are freed to live this temporary life with humility and submission. Love these words. I will think of them often. Thank you!

  • chéríe

    This is one of my favorite things in life.
    Learning something historical about a passage that makes it come to life for the time period it happened, and yet— brings the lesson back around to how it affects us in this day and age.
    When the lesson has applications far and wide regarding how we are to live.
    Thank you Janet for ministering to us with truths from scripture that we can take with us as we live our Christianity out in front of many unbelievers.

  • Vickie

    Jesus was our perfect example in all things, in this case, obeying the law of the land by paying taxes. I am excited that I’ve just committed Matthew 5 to memory (want to go on with 6 and 7) where Jesus preached that we are to agree with our adversaries, give away our cloaks and go an extra mile. To do MORE than anyone expects and there will be great rewards in heaven. I loved the way you wrote that taxes are temporary, what ever we endure here, could never be compared to the reward we will receive in Heaven.

  • Barbara

    What a powerful example and reminder that until Jesus comes again we are to be subject to rulers and authorities even as He subjected His authority to them even though He did not have to.