Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Matthew 17:14-27: epileptic boy & temple tax

Epileptic Boy (17:14-23)

Luke includes what Matthew leaves out: “this is my only-begotten son.” Here are two personalities in a vision. One the only begotten Son of God, the other the only begotten son of man. The son of man was demonized, and nothing in all the age was able to overcome his condition. The King, ready for His Kingdom, comes down the mountain into the valley, finding a helpless boy, a helpless father, in a helpless age, with helpless disciples. Then that great wail came from Him, “O faithless and perverse generation. . . Morgan: “Lack of faith in the imperial and Divine Person of Jesus is paralysis in the presence of the world’s need, and the world’s agony.”[1]

Notice the difference in the force of the miracle not being on the “kingdom near you” to training the disciples in ministry. They had already been involved in casting out demons as apprentices to the King (10:8)

Notice that even after the glorious Transfiguration, none of the disciples had adequate faith.

Seizures (Greek: lunatic, lit. moonstruck) also occurred in Matthew 4:24.

Moving Mountains with little faith – v. 20, indicates poverty of most basic level of faith, not extent. A poverty that is distracted from Jesus in the heat of action, accomplishing little. (Hebrews 12:1-2; James 1:6-7) It is not the amount of faith, but the focus of faith. Moving mountains was a typical Jewish teacher’s image for doing what was virtually impossible. Just a little (mustard seed – 13:32) can move a mountain if focused well (on Jesus) (17:20; 21:21; 1 Corinthians 13:2). Faith is confidence that God will do what he calls us to do – “taking him at his word.” If God calls us to do something, we can do it in his strength, even the most absurdly impossible from the world’s point of view. Example: Caleb Joshua 14:6-15). See also the Jewish idea of moving mountains as accomplishing an insurmountable task: Isaiah 41:15; Zechariah 4:6-7; 14:3-5. See also Psalm 46:3; Isaiah 54:10; Habakkuk 3:10.

Craig Keener:Matthew expected his audience to learn from these recorded signs of Jesus, just as the first disciples did when they witnessed them. We who read these accounts in the Bible should be growing in our faith relationship with Jesus, as the disciples did who first walked with him. How often do needs around us go unmet because we neglect radical trust in God, especially on behalf of others’ needs?”[2]

How did Jesus handle the disciples’ poverty of faith? (v. 22-23).He took them right back to the truth he had given them before , when doubt and unbelief had crept in (16:21-28), when He had to rebuke Satan for sowing unbelief among them.

v. 22-23: Obedience invites power and martyrdom. It is a two-edged sword. Faith means willingness to go where God leads, not power to avert all unpleasant circumstances. Lest we become infatuated with God’s power, let us remember that is for engagement with the enemy of souls to win them for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We mature as we walk with Him through the hard tests of life for His Name’s sake, forcing us to rely on His provision and power.

V. 23: They were exceedingly sorry. This sorrow was not of sympathy. It was of disappointment, lack of sympathy. Even though He never spoke of the cross without the resurrection, it seems they could not get past the suffering veiling the victory.

Temple Tax (17:24-27)

v. 24: The question in the negative shows that there had been some criticism going on of questioning Jesus’ lack of responsibility in paying taxes. Jesus reminded Peter of his 16:16 declaration at Caesarea Philippi.

OT required a tax at the annual census of a half-shekel (1/5 ounce of silver – Exodus 30:13-16; 38:26; after Exile devalued to 1/3 oz. – Nehemiah 10:32, equivalent of two days wages) for everyone over twenty (Exodus 30:11-16). Since the priests would not allow coins with pagan images into the Temple complex, they had to be exchanged there. In the countryside, however, priests went throughout the land collecting the temple tax.

In silver alone, the Temple drew in 14.5 tons a year in temple tax. The silver stater, equivalent of 4 drachmas, was what Peter found in the fish’s mouth. These were most likely the silver coins paid to Judas for his betrayal (Matthew 26:16).

ExemptJesus declares himself exempt (the son of God) and those of God’s family (the redeemed disciples). This is a profound Christological statement, indicating Jesus’ relationship not only by analogy to the Father, the everlasting King, the Ancient of Days, but also the way in which Jesus was fulfillment of the Law. Since there will be no temple sacrifice in Jesus’ Kingdom because of Jesus’ sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-28), there will also be no temple tax for Jesus’ disciples in his kingdom. Here Jesus teaches the principle that Jewish Christians should identify with their non-Christian Jews in paying the tax because we sometimes must engage in otherwise unprofitable pursuits in order to uphold our witness as citizens in the cultures and communities in which God has placed us. Jesus overlooks his individual rights and does not cause a stumbling block because it does not involve Kingdom truth. Similar to Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 9 and 10:29-33: one should sacrifice his own privileges for the sake of the Gospel.

The irony is that the King’s children can pay the tax because the King provides it. Jesus can take care of his people who walk close to Him.

Miracle is both foreknowledge and provision. Jesus is a great, true prophet of God in the OT sense. Peter probably did not catch “St. Peter’s fish,” the musht, since it eats plankton and not bait. He probably caught a barbel, a voracious predator from the carp family that feeds on sardines, mollusks, and snails.

Reliability of Scripture – (17:27) Throw out your line or “cast a hook.” All other NT references are to fishing with a net, not a hook. Interestingly, fishhooks were found under the upper pavements of the floor of Peter’s house in Capernaum, confirming this Scripture.

The King brought Himself to a place of subjection in order to keep others from stumbling and included in His payment Peter’s tax. He paid it all. He reminded Peter that He will be with him both on the mountain and in the valley. He will be with him to the end of the age. Jesus was leading them back to the faith they had lacked in the valley.

We must look to Jesus, that incomparable King, in whose ability is the power to overthrow demonic hosts in our lives and the lives of others, in our communities and our nations. In Him is our sufficiency. He includes us in the power and glory and the rudeness of human frailty and the profanity of even taxation and criticism. He is the one and only. Jesus.


[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, 225.

[2] Craig S. Keener, “Matthew,” The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 1, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1997), 280-1.