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In Matthew 17 there is a story of Jesus telling Peter to go and get money for the temple tax. For some reason, Jesus didn't just make money appear or ask Peter to get some from Judas Iscariot (who took care of the money bag), he asked Peter to get a coin from a fish.

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. Matthew 17:24-27 (KJV)

What is the meaning behind Jesus giving Peter these special instructions?

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The question here in Matt 17:24-27 is NOT about why or who levied this temple tax (see Ex 30:12-16). The question asks why Jesus, having decided to pay the tax to avoid offence, decided to pay it with money from such an unusual source - the mouth of a fish! The reasons are not stated but here are some suggestions.

  • Jesus was, as He pointed out, exempt from this temple tax precisely because He was the ruler to which all its symbolism pointed. (He was the light of the world, the water of life, the bread of life, the Passover lamb, etc, etc). He was also the King of the heavenly kingdom that the temple also pointed towards. So, Jesus was definitely exempt! Jesus performed a miracle to emphasis to Peter what he had evidently just forgotten, that Jesus was the King, Messiah, and Lord of the temple and all else.
  • While Jesus had unlimited power available to Him, he often performed miracles in conjunction with people. For example, He could have rolled the stone away at Lazarus' resurrection, but asked people to do it; He could have healed the blind man's eyes instantly without using saliva mud, but asked the man to go and wash; He could have instantly created wine for the wedding but asked servants to fill large jars and draw it out; He could have created a large catch of fish in the boat but rather, instructed the disciples to cast their net and draw the catch in; He could just convert people but rather, asks Christians to preach and teach others (Matt 28:19); etc. In these cases, the involvement of people as an integral part of the miracle serves to re-emphasise that Jesus, not people, are the source of divine power.
  • Had Jesus simply created money for the temple tax, it might have easily been misunderstood that Jesus creates money on demand! However, Jesus worked a miracle in a way that ingeniously prevented this conclusion and served to rebuke Peter without offending officials.
  • This story about the money in the mouth of a fish would have readily made its way to the officials collecting the temple tax and served as a rebuke to them as well - they should have known, but refused to acknowledge, that Jesus was King and thus exempt.
  • Whilst it is only speculation, it might have humbled Peter-the-fisherman once again, to be shown how to catch fish - this time with a line. – Michael Jun 2 '19 at 12:45

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