3. Temple controversies/Temple tax
Matthew 21, Mar 11, Luke 19/20.
Christ twice cleansed the temple, both times at Passover, first near the start of his ministry and then again on Palm Sunday at the beginning of Passion week. These events happened in the outer court of the gentiles (see diagram).
Was there a need for this cleansing? Clearly the temple authorities and the merchants and moneychangers thought not, but Christ said it was a scene of sinful thieving, worse than just a shop, and one that displaced and discouraged worship.
The first time he is confronted with clamour for a sign and he states that the resurrection will suffice when he will be declared to be the son of God with power (Romans 1:4). The second time his authority is questioned and he points the Pharisees to John’s baptism which was his public ordination into not only the priesthood at age 30 (Numbers 4:3,8:7) but also messiah-ship (John 1:34). Christ quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 and fulfils Psalm 69:9.
Following on from Christ’s giving two major reasons he had authority to cleanse the temple he follows them with five others namely:
1) It is his “father’s house”, and he is the builder of it (Hebrews 3:3-6) it is “his temple” (Malachi 3:1).
2) Messiah has the right (Psalm 69:9)-he fulfils the prophetic messianic psalm.
3) It is meant to be a house of prayer.
4) He is the son of David and hence a king. Kings alone could build, repair and cleanse the temple. Think of Solomon, Zerubbabel (kingly line), Josiah, Joash, Hezekiah.
5) Psalm 8 speaks of babes praising God, hence, as in other places he accepts divine worship.
What are the results of this confrontation?
Silence, when there should have been shame-they knew John was from God. They sought his death, indeed all his actions and claims in the temple were directly responsible for his subsequent fake trial in the presence of the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:59, Mark 14:58), and the cross. Even on the cross he was taunted by passers by, who must have heard, with the same claims (Matthew 27:40, Mark 15:29,30). Even Stephen the first martyr after Christ was similarly charged by a twisting of what he had said (Acts 6:14). Christ’s zeal for his father’s house and glory, were what led to his death (being eaten up) and for 2,000 years since then, the same zeal and similar charges of blasphemy have led to the deaths of thousands if not millions of Christ’s witnesses who have followed in his footsteps by his all-conquering grace.
Matthew 17:24-27 describes an incident just after the transfiguration when Christ and Peter in their home town of Capernaum are approached by those who collected the yearly temple tax at Passover time asking Peter, the lead disciple whether his master paid it. Without hesitation he affirmed that he did, as all males over 20 were bound to (see institution of this poll tax in OT verses below). It was first levied for the tabernacle in the wilderness, also at special times eg when Joash repaired the temple and in the days of Nehemiah. It was the collectors of this tax whose tables Christ overturned in the temple on the Monday of Passover or Passion week.
Exodus 30:11-16 Exodus 38:24-26 II Chronicles 24:6-14 Nehemiah 10:32,33
Christ did not HAVE to pay this tax because he was the God the king’s son but to avoid unnecessary offence (I Thess.5:22) he miraculously provided it for Peter and himself.
Finally he gives another answer backing up his authority to cleanse the temple in Matthew 21:32-45 in the parable of the vineyard. Here he clearly identifies himself as the son and heir of God’s vineyard (Israel) and the chief cornerstone of Psalm 118 rejected by the builders (the scribes and Pharisees) and David’s Lord (Psalm 110).
Passages for consideration..
Taxes have always been a source of controversy because people don’t like to part with their (hard-earned) money and often they despise the government or whoever is imposing the tax. The American War of independence started over tea taxes to the UK, the Northern Revolt of Israel started over Rehoboam’s taxes.
Those who came to deliberately ensnare Christ and seek a charge against him were representatives of the Pharisees and Herodians, the latter being gentry with civil power among the Jews. Though they were opposite sides of the political spectrum like Herod and Pilate they united in their hatred of Christ.
There were at least two kinds of taxes in those days..
Roman taxes on…
1) Trading and goods (eg Matthew at the receipt of custom by the highway, or at city gate)
2) Land tax
3) Poll tax (the cause of Augustus census in Luke 2:1)
So everyone paid some tax, it may have only been 1% of earnings!
Then there was the Temple Tax that only Jews paid.
Today we looked at the three-fold condemnation of Christ’s opponents here: they were guilty of hypocrisy (play acting they respected him), of craftiness (trying to get him to say something for which he could be charged by the authorities) and of wickedness (because they were out to get him killed). However Christ openly accuses them of tempting him and calls them hypocrites to their faces.
The Biblical Principles he explains to them, namely that paying their taxes is right are founded on teaching that covers almost all of Scripture from the fourth commandment to honour those in authority over us to explicit teaching in the epistles namely:
I Peter 2:11-17, Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:1-4and Revelation 13:10. The sum of these is that God ordains all in authority and for his sake we are to be subject to them. The apostle exemplify this in Acts 5 and so does Paul in all his brushes with Kings and Commanders.
It is worth noting that Christ was born because of Claudius’ tax census. John the Baptist told tax collectors to be honest (Luke 3:13). Matthew and his tax collecting friends were converted under Christ’s ministry as was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector.
Finally Christ himself placed himself under the authority of Pilate (John 18:36, 19:11).
Hence rebellion is never justified, we should pay our taxes and keep to the speed limit, for example!