22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the 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 kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast 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 me and for yourself.” – Matthew 17:22-27 ESV
You may have noticed something missing in this passage: A verse 21. In several of the ancient manuscripts containing the Gospel of Matthew, verse 21 was not included. It appears that copyists had chosen to insert a line that Mark had included in his account of this same event.
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” – Mark 9:29 ESV
This verse had not been a part of Matthew’s account but had been added later by copyists in an attempt to better harmonize the two gospel accounts. But the older, more reliable manuscripts do not include that verse in Matthew’s account. Thus, the missing verse 21.
But following His transfiguration and verbal castigation of the disciples’ lack of faith, Jesus chose to bring up again the touchy subject of His coming death in Jerusalem. When He had broached it before, it had produced a response of shock in His disciples and had elicited a stern rebuke from Peter.
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV
The news regarding His coming death was unacceptable to the disciples. It made no sense to them and most certainly did not fit into their preconceived notions regarding the coming Messiah. Nowhere in their understanding of the Messiah was there a place for His death at the hands of the people. And Jesus infers that He will be “delivered into the hands of men.” The Greek word is paradidōmi and it carries the idea of delivering someone up through treachery. Not only would He die, but it would be the result of betrayal. And Matthew records that the disciples were “greatly distressed” by this news.
While we recognize that the death of Jesus is an essential part of the Gospel or Good News, it was anything but good news to the disciples. In spite of the fact that Jesus had clearly stated He would be raised from death to life on the third day, that important aspect of the news had escaped the disciples. All they heard was betrayal and death. The concept of His resurrection escaped them. And Jesus chose not to elaborate on what He had said, leaving them in a state of distress.
It seems that He was slowly unveiling to them the truth about His mission, and it was in direct conflict with their long-held perceptions regarding the Messiah. They had not been looking for a suffering Savior. Ever since they began following Jesus, these men had been expecting big things. They were growing in their belief that He was the long-awaited Messiah and they had high hopes that He was going to establish His kingdom on earth. And because they had been the first to follow Him, they were convinced that they would play significant roles in that kingdom. But their expectations did not include His death.
But Jesus was preparing them for the inevitable and unavoidable. He had to die. It was why He had come. Yet the disciples did not yet understand this. In fact, they would continue to wrestle with the idea of Jesus’ death, almost refusing to accept it as a possibility. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records the request made to Jesus by the mother of James and John.
“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV
She was convinced that Jesus had come to establish His earthly kingdom, and she wanted her sons to play important roles in that kingdom. But Jesus told her she had no idea what she was asking. His immediate future held suffering and death, not honor and glory. And His disciples were going to share in His suffering. Then Jesus gave all the disciples a valuable lesson on leadership, using His own life as an example.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 ESV
His death, while opposed by the disciples, would have great value. It would become the means by which sinful mankind could be restored to a right relationship with God. A restored Jewish state with a reconstituted monarchy was not going to solve the problem of sin and mankind’s separation from God. The Jews had lived under the rule of many kings over the years, but even the most righteous of them had failed to restore the people to a right relationship with God. And it had resulted in God punishing the nation with exile at the hands of their enemies. Their problem was spiritual, not political. Their Sovereign was to have been God, not a man. But they had rejected God and had demanded that they have a king, just like all the other nations. And God had given them what they asked for.
But now, God was preparing to give them what they really needed: A Savior. Someone who would restore the broken relationship between God and man. Jesus had come to pay the penalty for mankind’s rebellion against God. His death would act as a sacrifice, covering the sins of man and satisfying the just demands of a Holy God. The disciples did not yet comprehend this aspect of Jesus’ mission. Their understanding of His role was incomplete and inaccurate. But over time, Jesus would continue to reveal the truth about His identity and His God-ordained responsibility to act as the atonement for man’s sin.
From this difficult exchange, Matthew shifts gears and describes an encounter between Jesus and a few temple-tax collectors. These men were responsible for collecting the two-drachma tax from all the adult Jewish males between the ages of 20 and 50. This was a mandatory tax used to provide for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. These men approached Peter and asked Him whether Jesus paid this tax? Peter responded, “Yes.”
Jesus had evidently overheard this exchange because when He and the disciples were alone, He brought it up with Peter. While this was a Jewish tax and not a civil tax required by the Romans, Jesus compared the two. He asked Peter if the son of a king was required to pay taxes instituted by his own father. And Peter stated that the king collected taxes from others, not his own son. His son would have been exempt from such taxes. Jesus confirmed this by stating, “Then the sons are free.”
The whole point of this exchange was to emphasize Jesus’ role as the Son of God. He was the son of the Sovereign, and as such, He was exempt from having to pay the taxes mandated by His Father. But in order to keep from offending the religious leaders, Jesus agreed to pay the tax. Yet He did so in an unusual way. He sent Peter, a fisherman, to catch a single fish. And in that fish’s mouth, Peter found the money for the tax, enough to pay for him and Jesus.
This story almost seems out of place. But it reveals the tension that existed in Jesus’ life as He continued to walk this earth in human form. He was a man, but He was also the Son of God, fulfilling the will of His heavenly Father. While on earth, He had to live in keeping with the laws of men, adhering to the religious requirements established by the Mosaic law. But the whole time, His focus was on His God-ordained mission. Yet, it would be the sinlessness of Christ that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT
And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. – 1 John 3:5 NLT
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT
Jesus was modeling for His disciples a life of obedience. He was letting them know that His role as Messiah did not exempt Him from living in harmony with the laws of the land. He may have been the Son of the King, but He was willing to keep the laws of the King. Not only that, He was willing to live in obedience to the laws of the Romans. And His disciples would learn that their lives would be models for all those around them. Peter would later articulate the lesson he learned from the lips of Jesus.
For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.
It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. – 1 Peter 2:13-17 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.