There Are Religious People, and There are Children of God

Matthew is transitioning from Jesus’s identity as the Messiah to the disciples’ identity as the church Jesus is building, beginning with the foundation of the apostles (Cf. 16:18-19). Jesus has made known the role for which He chose His apostles. Now, He will make known the position His disciples have in relationship to the Father through Himself as a result of the work He is must do—going to Jerusalem, suffering many things, being crucified, and rising from the grave (Cf. 16:21; 17:22-23). In Chapters 18-20, Jesus corrects the disciples’ misunderstanding about their position in Him before the Father. What is the disciple’s position in Christ before the Father?

Matthew 17:24-27

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?

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 poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”

When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 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 shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

The two-drachma tax (v. 24)

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?

A drachma is a Greek currency equal to the Roman danarius and the Hebrew quarter-shekel. By the time of Jesus’s ministry, there is a tax charged by the Jewish leaders meant for the upkeep of the Temple. At the time of a census, each person is required to pay a half-shekel for the purpose of the upkeep. The tax is based on Moses’s instruction in Exodus 30:13 and 38:26—requiring the half-shekel tax at the time of a census throughout the generations following Aaron and Moses. Since Jesus and His disciples are not in Jerusalem, the tax is being collected by Jews commissioned by the Temple to receive the tax and take it to Jerusalem. There are two noteworthy details in this verse. First, the tax-collectors ask Peter about Jesus. Second, they assume that Jesus does not pay the tax.

The tax-collectors ask Peter about Jesus. At this juncture, we realize that Jesus has become a notorious public figure known for stirring up controversy concerning the prominent Jewish interpretation of the Law in the First Century. On nearly every occasion the Pharisees, Sadducees, or scribes accused Jesus of breaking the Law, Jesus debated them publicly and showed the incoherence of their interpretation (Cf. 9:2-7, 10-13, 32-34; 12:1-2, 9-14, 22-24, 38-42; 16:1-12). It seems natural for the tax-collectors not to want to go to Jesus directly. They don’t want to be shamed publicly like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes have been. We are also in a moment of transition. Jesus revealed that He will build His church upon the foundation of the apostles’ testimony, particularly that of Peter (Cf. 16:18). Jesus is handing the ministry of His word to the apostles. People are now going to Peter in order to know more about Jesus. We still go to the apostles today to know more about Jesus. There are some who believe that they don’t need Bible study or someone who dedicates the labor of his life to rightly divide and deliver the Bible’s message to people, but these are the means Jesus has given through the apostles for the edification of His church—the very reason pastor-teachers are given to the church of Jesus Christ (Cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). By Jesus’s own design, we cannot rely on personal revelation or experience or tradition but, instead, on the testimony of the apostles—the New Testament—in order to know about Jesus. We refer to this principle by the term Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.

The tax collectors assume Jesus will not pay the two-drachma tax. They have good reason to make such an assumption. Jesus has opposed the Jewish religiosity of the First Century since He started teaching in Capernaum. So, the tax-collectors ask Peter, “Does your teacher not pay…?”

Tax exempt status (v. 25-26)

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 poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”
When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.”

Peter answers. Of Course our teacher pays the tax. He answers without consulting Jesus. Jesus does not reprimand Peter; This is the responsibility that is being handed over to Peter and the other apostles. Jesus is now discipling Peter specifically to this end. Since the tax is lawful (Cf. Exodus 30:13, 38:26), Jesus takes the opportunity to teach Peter concerning the nature of the Law. Do kings collect taxes from their sons or from strangers? From strangers; The sons are exempt. What do you think Jesus is trying to convey?

Notice, Jesus is not referring particularly to the two-drachma tax but taxes in general. He is using taxes to illustrate the nature of the Law and relationship. The best way to explain what Jesus is illustrating is to consider the Old Testament position of Israel since the Law was given to Israel for Israel. Before the Law was given, God had already chosen Israel to be His firstborn son (Cf. Exodus 4:22). He had already promised a seed to deliver His people from their sin (Cf. Genesis 3:15; 12:7). God gave His chosen nation a Law they would never keep, but retained His covenantal promise to her. In the Gospels, the promised seed is born. His name is Jesus, and the Father calls Him son (Cf. 3:17; 17:5). In Jesus’s illustration, the Father is the king; Jesus is the son. Taxes are meant for strangers; In this case, those under the Law. There is no obligation, here, for Jesus because He is the eternal Son of God the Father. He preexisted (or, rather, omniexists) the civil and ceremonial laws. He is one with the Father. Therefore, nothing is required of Him. However, Israel’s status as the firstborn son was not true sonship. It was preparation for the incarnation of the Son of God, the true firstborn Son. How does this principle work out for Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Jesus Christ?

In Chapter 18, verse 3, Jesus will teach that unless the disciples, Jews, are converted and become like children, they will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. Parents do not condemn children based on their keeping the rules. Children are raised in a loving parent’s grace. Those who are in Christ are converted to be like children. For the Jews, that means freedom from the requirements of the civil and ceremonial laws for the purpose of earning righteousness (Cf. Galatians 2:11-21). Children don’t have to prove their worth. For Gentiles, it means being free from the legalism of the world. We are coheirs with Christ as sons of God the Father (Cf. Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29; 4:7; Ephesians 1:5; Titus 3:7; Hebrews 1:14; James 2:5; Revelation 3:21; 21:7). The primary purpose of the Law is, then, is to lead strangers to be adopted as sons in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus, it is unbiblical to say one must become a Jew to become a Christian. It is unbiblical to separate Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians; We are all sons in Christ. It is unbiblical to require civil or ceremonial obedience to the Law of those who are adopted and have received eternal life in Christ. We cannot require church members to pay tithes but only encourage generosity in response to God’s merciful work of adoption in Christ Jesus. Any ministry that promises prosperity in return for money or strict obedience is a ministry that makes people strangers of God and not children. My explanation, here, is very simplistic. In order to get a fuller grasp on the covenantal progression from pre-law to Law to adoption, we would need to study a biblical theology of sonship or divine adoption. I don’t, here, have the space or the time to devote to such an endeavor.

Children have a different status than strangers. Strangers feel obligated and condemned under the Law or some form of conditional righteousness. Children are liberated because Jesus Christ has fulfilled all righteousness on their behalf (Cf. 3:15; 4:1-11).

Honoring weaker believers (v. 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 shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Jesus providentially knows where to find a coin and instructs Peter to go get it. Even though children are free from the Law, Jesus instructs Peter to pay the tax so that none of the tax-collectors are offended. Even though we have Christian liberty, we don’t want to become stumbling blocks for those who are immature in the faith provided by Jesus Christ. The apostle, Paul, will later affirm Jesus’s teaching and practice:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). 

Jesus probably has some drachma. Drachma need to be money-changed at the Temple. Jesus does better than what the tax-collectors require by providing the prescribed Hebrew currency. One shekel is enough for Him and Peter. In Christ, we are free from the Law. Therefore, we are not limited to only be as good as required. Strangers try to earn their way by the law; Children are free. No one can become a child by keeping the rules made for strangers. We must be adopted.


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