The Children Are Exempt – Matthew 17

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

Matthew 17:24

The two-drachma temple tax was collected since Moses’ time, where each male over the age of twenty was to give a half-shekel offering (the equivalent of two Roman drachmas) to support the humble tabernacle.

This continued even during Jesus’ time, some 1,500 years later, to maintain the now magnificent temple. However, after the temple’s destruction in AD 70, the Roman empire required Jewish people to continue to pay this tax, now to the government, even though the temple did not exist.

This Temple tax should not be confused with our Tithes, as they are completely different. Remember, the Jews paid both Temple taxes and Tithes. Temple tax was a standard amount of two-drachma for all income strata which was collected for the upkeep of the temple, similar to an entrance fee of a museum. But Tithe is more similar to our present day income tax.

Just like our income tax, which supports a nation’s leaders and the poor, Tithe was collected to support the leaders and the downtrodden of Israel.
The modern day churches have incorporated the same term ‘Tithe’ which they casually replaced with offerings but the Tithe in the old testament was collected for running the country and not just one church (Deuteronomy 14:22-29).

Some Jewish sects refused to pay the temple tax and probably the collectors at Capernaum were trying to ascertain from Peter if Jesus of Nazareth also belonged to such rebellious groups.

“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 duty and taxes —from their own children or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered.

Matthew 17:25

Tax regulations (even today) often list those who are exempt. The kings charged heavier tax from those lands that they had conquered, but gave relaxations to their own subjects. Whereas, a kings dependents were exempt from paying taxes.

Back in the late 1800s, the Britishers levied heavy taxes on the Indian businessmen but gave full freedom to their British counterparts who were in the middle of something called the ‘industrial revolution’ that would change the manufacturing process of the entire world. In a similar fashion, the priests and rabbis were exempted from the two-drachma Temple tax.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him.

Matthew 17:26

Jesus uses the temple tax as an example, just like he used the fig tree and little children, to teach his disciples important lessons.
Just as the kings of the earth do not tax their own children but only their subjects, Jesus’ followers should not have to pay a entrance tax to their heavenly King and Father.

“But so that we may not cause offense, 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 17:27

When Jesus taught Peter that children were exempt from taxes, then why did he anyways pay the tax for both of them? If we read the verse carefully, we see Jesus tell Peter that let us pay so that we may not offend them, and that is what we must understand.

Jesus is teaching something to Peter and not the collector who is asking this question to Peter. The time for everyone will come but at that moment, it was a lesson for Peter. We have a habit of applying the scriptures in the lives of our fellow beings before learning from it ourselves. There is no need to offend people with what God is teaching us.

We should not use Scriptures to point out the mistakes of others but apply what God is teaching us in our own lives. We cannot change anyone’s minds by shouting or arguing with anyone. People need to seek God and He alone can direct them in the new way.

Many pastors prioritize discipline among their youth, rather than the knowledge of the scriptures. They believe the key to a good youth fellowship is an organized and disciplined youth group. The youth will only change their ways when God enters their lives, but till that happens, they will continue to fool their parents, pastors and even their youth leaders with outward obedience while harboring inward rebellion.

But why pay the Temple Tax in this unusual manner? Jesus could have asked Judas to pay out of the treasury or one of the many women who were supporting them financially. Jesus shows us a supernatural way of provision to make it clear that God Himself pays the taxes for his children to enter. In the end, the children (Jesus & Peter) were exempt from the Temple tax because God payed the tax by providing the shekel from the fish’s mouth.

It’s like when children enter a museum during a school field trip, there is an entrance fee for everyone but the teacher at the starting of the queue is the one paying for the entire class. The little children assume that they have entered the museum freely without paying a dime.

The wages of sin is death which we all have to pay but our Father payed that price, by sending Jesus to die in our place. We must not be like the kids who assume they enter the museum for free but understand that it’s not that we are not punished for our sins but someone else has replaced us by taking that punishment on Himself.

The tax is always there, whether it be for the Temple or for our sins. But God has provided for us, making us exempt, just like He provided the Temple tax for Jesus and Peter out of extraordinary circumstances.


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