When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”
25 He said, “Yes.”
And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.” — Matthew 17:24-27.
In Jesus’ day, Jews paid taxes both locally to the Jewish temple and to the pagan government in Rome. Matthew records two separate instances depicting Jesus’ view on paying these taxes. The first incident is recorded in our text here — Matthew 17:24-27, where the collectors of the temple tax ask Peter whether Jesus pays that tax. Jesus, knowing of this conversation, asks Peter, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” Peter answers, “From others.” Jesus responds, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” The coin or piece of money would be equivalent to a shekel, half a shekel each for Jesus and Peter to be paid as temple tax.
Our true citizenship is in God’s kingdom, and we devote our resources to God’s purposes. But we give to earthly powers what is due. Paying taxes is one of the fundamental obligations we as citizens or residents undertake for the services we enjoy in any civilized society.
Not all of government activity serves God’s purposes. However, Jesus would not have us flout the tax requirements of the nation where we reside (see Romans 13:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Jesus is saying in essence that we do not necessarily have to resist paying taxes as a matter of principle. To the extent possible, we should “live peaceably with all” (see Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; cf. 1 Peter 2:12), while also living as lights shining in the darkness (see Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:15).