TAXES

Plate showing: Joan of Arc
Plate showing: Joan of Arc

 

The temple tax:

In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and other sitting at tables exchanging money. – –  John 2:14

The temple tax had to be paid in local currency, so foreigners had to have their money changed. But the money changers often would charge exorbitant exchange rates.  The people also were required to make sacrifices for sins.  Because of the long journey, many could not bring their own animals.  Some who brought animals would have them rejected for imperfections.  So animal merchants would do a flourishing business in the temple courtyard.  The price of sacrificial animals was much higher in the temple area than elsewhere.  Jesus was angry at the dishonest, greedy practices of the money changers and merchants, and he particularly disliked their presence on the temple grounds.  They were making a mockery of God’s house of worship.

The temple area was always crowded during Passover with thousands of out-of-town visitors. The religious leaders crowded it even further by allowing money changers and merchants to set up booths in the court of the Gentiles.  They rationalised this practice as a convenience for the worshippers and as a way to make money for temple upkeep.  But the religious leaders did not seem to care that the court of the Gentiles was so full of merchants that foreigners found it difficult to worship.  And worship was the main purpose for visiting the temple.  No wonder Jesus was angry!

John records this first clearing, or cleansing, of the temple. A second clearing occurred at the end of Jesus’ ministry, about three years later, and that event is recorded in Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48.

God’s temple was being misused by people who had turned it into a marketplace. They had forgotten, or didn’t care, that God’s house is a place of worship, not a place for making a profit.  Our attitude towards the church is wrong if we see it as a place for personal contacts or business advantage.  Make sure you attend church to worship God.

 

Why Jesus paid the temple tax:

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

“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 sons or from others?”  – –  Matthew 17:24-27

As usual, Peter answered a question without really knowing the answer, putting Jesus and the disciples in an awkward position. Jesus used this situation, however, to emphasise his family, Jesus, the King, owed no taxes.  But Jesus supplied the tax payment for both himself and Peter rather than offend those who didn’t understand his kingship.  Although Jesus supplied the tax money, Peter had to go and get it.  Ultimately all that we have comes to us from God’s supply, but he may want us to be active in the process.

As God’s people, we are foreigners on earth because our loyalty is always to our King – Jesus. Still we have to co-operate with the authorities and be responsible citizens.  An ambassador to another country keeps the local laws in order to represent well the one who sent him.  We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Are you being a good foreign ambassador for him to this world?

All Jewish males had to pay a temple tax to support temple upkeep (Exodus 30:11-16). Tax collectors set up booths to collect these taxes.  Only Matthew records this incident – perhaps because he had been a tax collector himself.

 

Jesus answers trick question about:

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.  “Teacher,” they said, “we know you ae a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion?  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  – –  Matthew 22:15-17  

The Pharisees, a religious group, opposed the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Herodians, a political party, supported Herod Antipas and the policies instituted by Rome.  Normally these two groups were bitter enemies, but here they united against Jesus.  Thinking they had a foolproof plan to corner him, together their representatives asked Jesus about paying Roman taxes.  If Jesus agreed that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees would say he was opposed to God, the only King they recognised.  If Jesus said the taxes should not be paid, the Herodians would hand him over to Herod on the charge of rebellion.  In this case the Pharisees were not motivated by love for God’s laws, and the Herodians were not motivated by love for Roman justice.  Jesus’ answer exposed their evil motives and embarrassed them both.

The Jews were required to pay taxes to support the Roman government. They hated this taxation because the money went directly into Caesar’s treasury, where some of it went to support the pagan temples and decadent life-style of the Roman aristocracy.  Caesar’s image on the coins was a constant reminder of Israel’s subjection to Rome.

Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? – – Luke 20:22

This was a loaded question. The Jews were enraged at having to pay taxes to Rome, thus supporting the pagan government and its gods.  They hated the system that allowed tax collectors to charge exorbitant rates and keep the extra for themselves.  If Jesus said they should pay taxes, they would call him a traitor to their nation and their religion.  But if he said they should not, they could report him to Rome as a rebel.  Jesus’ questioners thought they had him this time, but he outwitted them again.

Jesus turned his enemies’ attempt to trap him into a powerful lesson: As God’s followers, we have legitimate obligations to both God and the government. But it is important to keep our priorities straight.  When the two authorities conflict, our duty to God must always come before our duty to the government.

 

Jews required to pay:

Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  – –  Matthew 22:17

The Jews were required to pay taxes to support the Roman government. They hated this taxation because the money went directly into Caesar’s treasury, where some of it went to support the pagan temples and decadent life-style of the Roman aristocracy.  Caesar’s image on the coins was a constant reminder of Israel’s subjection to Rome.

The Pharisees, a religious group, opposed the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Herodians, a political party, supported Herod Antipas and the policies instituted by Rome.  Normally these two groups were bitter enemies, but here they united against Jesus.  Thinking they had a foolproof plan to corner him, together their representatives asked Jesus about paying Roman taxes.  If Jesus agreed that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees would say he was opposed to God, the only King they recognised.  If Jesus said the taxes should not be paid, the Herodians would hand him over to Herod on the charge of rebellion.  In this case the Pharisees were not motivated by love for God’s laws, and the Herodians were not motivated by love for Roman justice.  Jesus’ answer exposed their evil motives and embarrassed them both.

 

Why Jews hated paying Roman taxes:

They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?  – –   Mark 12:14

Anyone who avoided paying taxes faced harsh penalties. The Jews hated to pay taxes to Rome because the money supported their oppressors and symbolised their subjection.  Much of the tax money also went to maintain the pagan temples and luxurious life-styles of Rome’s upper class.  The Pharisees and Herodians hoped to trap Jesus with this tax question.  Either a yes or a no could lead him into trouble.  A yes would mean he supported Rome, which would turn the people against him.  A no would bring accusations of treason and rebellion against Rome and could lead to civil penalties.

 

 

©Kingsway International Church, 1973.

 

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