What was Jesus teaching Simon Peter in Matthew 17:24-27? Why would this lesson matter to us? More importantly, how can we reconcile the other things Jesus taught with this lesson?
CONVICTION, THEN CORNERED
What would it have been like to follow Jesus? After Jesus fed the multitude, the disciples’ excitement would’ve climbed with the crowds’ hype. Then Jesus told everyone to drink his blood for eternal life (reasons for harsh symbolism found here). When Jesus asked if his disciples would also leave, Simon said, “You have the words of eternal life.” Clearly Peter spoke this from the heart.
We can’t determine the chronology of many gospel events with certainty. But I think we can fast forward from the feeding of the multitude to when the Jews cornered Simon about whether they’ll pay the temple tax.
EXPECTATIONS AND THE LAW
…each male above 20 years of age was assessed a fixed sum of one-half shekel (Exodus 30:11-16). This was for the service of the tabernacle. After a lapse it was reinstated for the repair of the temple during Joash’s reign (II Chronicles 24:6, 9). There were also tithes, first fruits, redemption money of the firstborn, and special offerings.Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia
The temple market is supposed to have been established after the captivity, when many came from foreign lands to Jerusalem…. The money-changers made a business of accommodating those who did not have the Jewish half-shekel for the annual temple tax…. Everyone, rich and poor, was expected to pay the half-shekel for himself during the month of Adar. Thus it becomes necessary to change a shekel into two halves, or to exchange foreign money….The New Manners & Customs of the Bible
BEFORE PAYING THE TEMPLE TAX
So likely after Jesus first overturned the money-changers tables at the temple, they’d naturally wonder if Jesus would pay the temple tax.
…the Rabbi of Nazareth had…come to what seems to have been his Galilean home…they who collected the temple tribute…applied for its payment. It is quite possible…if not prompted, yet quickened, by the wish to involve him in a breach of so well-known an obligation…. Would he, who took so strangely different views of Jewish observances, and who made such extraordinary claims, own the duty of paying the temple tribute? …The question which they put to Peter implies, at least, their doubt.
We have already seen what motives prompted the hasty reply of Peter. He might…have given an affirmative answer…without first consulting the Master. For there seems little doubt, that Jesus had on former occasions complied with the Jewish custom. But matters were now wholly changed….
Those who received the tribute money had come to Peter…and asked him: “Your Teacher (Rabbi), does he not pay the didrachma?” While Peter hastily responded in the affirmative, and then entered the house to procure the coin, or else to report what had passed, Jesus…cognizant of all…addressing him in kindly language as “Simon”…The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE OTHER THINGS JESUS TAUGHT
Jesus taught that the Jewish scribes and pharisees sat in Moses’ seat, so they were in a position of authority ordained by God (Matthew 23:1-4). Their authority was to be obeyed, but their hypocrisy was to be noted and not followed. Christ also taught in his Sermon on the Mount (early in his ministry) that every bit of the law mattered. That every single and weird rule given in Leviticus was to be followed from the heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 5:17-20). And Jesus promised every bit of the law would be fulfilled, meaning he would fulfill it all with his own perfect life and example.
So in Matthew 17:24-27 Jesus was reconciling the truths of who he was, who we are in Christ, and why we do the things we do. We give account first to God. Sometimes we appease others for God’s sake. But it’s not a burden when you do it out of love. Peter felt he must protect his beloved Master from the appearance of any wrong doing. But Jesus was teaching our freedom to serve God, not our fear of criticism or guilt. And we don’t have to defend God.
LEGALISM VERSUS CALVINISM
In similar fashion, if you haven’t yet reconciled the truths of God’s election and predestination in your own heart, you’ll feel the same as Peter. You’ll feel that you must justify God for allowing some to go to Hell, while others won’t. And your inability to grasp the whole of truth in God’s word will hold your true spiritual growth down. Like it used to do for me.
This again, as I mentioned in another blog, is such a loaded subject. I realize you won’t be able to take Romans 9 entirely at face value without some help. That’s why I already sort-of recommended 2 rather small paperback books I read many years ago, Christian: Take Heart! and A Vision for Missions. These books will help you grasp better all truths related to God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will. And why this will give you more conviction, stamina, and motivation to witness, not less. It will make your Christian service so freeing.
Legalism cares only about outward appearances. True Christianity cares not just about the motives but the reasons for obedience. Jesus spoke kindly to Peter in Matthew 17:24-27 to help him. And now he wants to help you.