As last week’s lesson noted, the law of Moses had both civic and ceremonial components. The ceremonial aspect means that the temple was at the center of Jewish religious life. In fact, by the first century, the temple was probably the only remaining structure that gave the Jews any sense of national identity.
The temple that stood in Jerusalem was undergoing renovations during Jesus’ ministry. Herod the Great had started the grandiose project in about 20 B.C., and it would not be fully completed until A.D. 66. Recognizing how serious many Jews were about their faith, the Romans allowed the Jews to collect their own taxes in order to cover the costs involved with the maintenance of the temple. Every Jewish male over the age of twenty was to pay the half-shekel tax regardless of his economic status (Exod. 30:13, 38:26).
Read Matthew 17:24-27. What did Jesus mean when He said:
Lest we should offend them? What principle do we find here that we should apply in our own lives, as well?
It seems that the temple tax collectors traveled throughout the provinces to ensure that every male fulfilled his legal obligation. Peter’s initial response to the tax collectors gives the impression that Jesus regularly paid His taxes (Matt. 17:24-25). However, as the Son of God, Jesus appears to question the appropriateness of having to pay taxes for the upkeep of His Father’s house.
If Jesus had paid the tribute without a protest, He would virtually have acknowledged the justice of the claim, and would thus have denied His divinity. But while He saw good to meet the demand, He denied the claim upon which it was based. In providing for the payment of the tribute He gave evidence of His divine character. It was made manifest that He was one with God, and therefore was not under tribute as a mere subject of the kingdom. -Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 434.
Notwithstanding, Jesus chose to comply with the authorities and directed Peter to retrieve the tax from the mouth of the first fish that he caught. The shekel in the fish’s mouth was enough to cover the tax for both Jesus and Peter.
Jesus paid His temple tax even though He knew that the magnificent structure would soon be destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). What should this tell us about our obligations to be faithful in our tithes and offerings, regardless of whatever problems we believe exist?