A half Shekel and A Shekel Coin in the Fish – Part I

By this article we will understand that who the true Jesus is, who will save us truly.

[Matthew 17:24-27]
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?” 25“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?” 26“From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Peter says in the book of Acts 4:12,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

By the support of this truth, we, the Christians, are further encouraged, and dispute with others as to the issue whether there is salvation outside the church or not. But it will be inappropriate for us to join in such dispute or write a research papers on the subject based on this verse. I say so because the Scripture is given to the very man who read it for his salvation.

So, it is wise to consider our own salvation through this verse rather than using it to debate with others or to submit a dissertation in the seminary. Of course, these things we should do, but what I am saying is our own real salvation is first.

Upon hearing this, some people may say, “Christians, of course, believe in Jesus, not Buddha or Allah. So it is meaningless to say to the Christians that there is no salvation except Jesus!”

No, I do not think that way. It is the believers who have to hear the above verse, not outsiders. Even apostle Peter said this to the Jews who believed in God for a long time. Believers in the church believe in various kinds of gods in the world. Of course, they all believe in one Jesus as in the Scripture, but outwardly. Inwardly, each believer has his own Jesus created according to his own knowledge in their mind. Each man will follow his own Jesus, and he is getting faith corresponding to Jesus who he has in mind.

Such respective Jesus that we have in mind may corresponds to ‘enlightenment god’ whom is taught at the Buddha temple, or ‘justice god’ as the people in this world worship, or ‘morality god’ as Confucianism seeks, and so on. Therefore, even though believers claim that they believe in Jesus, they believe various many gods each.

To those believers, Peter says “No other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, except (the real) Jesus as He is.”

Also Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

Another Jesus

Obviously Peter and Paul say that Jesus they preach is the real Jesus. And if someone has a Jesus in his mind who is different from whom they preach, he is ‘another Jesus.’ As we can see here, if we believe in another Jesus he may give us ‘enlightenment,’ ‘justice,’ ‘morality, but not the salvation.

So if we believe another Jesus we will not be saved, not to mention outsiders who do not even believe in Jesus at all. We should not be spending our time arguing whether there is salvation outside the church or not, but in church we have to think whether we believe in the real Jesus or not for our salvation.

Jesus is He who comes to us now as a man and is united with us to take us to the cross individually. After that, Jesus will be resurrected in us and thus we are saved.

I am emphasizing this because most of the believers think that they are saved by Jesus because they trust that He came on earth and died on the cross and resurrected in the past for our salvation; so we praise Him. Furthermore, we look forward to His second coming in the future as a judge who will judge this world. This is typical ‘another Jesus’ that Paul refers to. This is another Jesus because he is Jesus in imagination of our brain only, a self-created Jesus, not Jesus as He is that we will meet as an apostle in lifetime.

Through this message of ‘A Half Shekel,’ we have to see that we will be saved if we are united with Jesus to our own cross. This Jesus is the real Jesus who will save us, except this all others are another Jesus.

Light-Shedding Hand of the Lord

This text introduces us a very strange and marvelous story. Instead of spending time to dispute whether this story is real or not, we will have to concentrate on what truth this story reveals.

Let’s get started

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked,

[Matthew 17:24-26]
Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25“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?” 26“From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him.

The Half-Shekel Tax

According to the law, men who are twenty years old and above have to pay a half shekel, which is generally known as the shekel of the sanctuary (Ex 12:16). The two-drachma (Greek: didrachma) is equivalent to the Jewish ‘half-shekel,’ the temple tax paid by every male Israelite above age twenty.

So the two-drachma tax is half a shekel (American Standard Version) temple tax, in here we will use a half shekel tax as it has important spiritual significance. Concerning this significance, some scholars say each Jew is ‘half a shekel’ and it means the ‘equality of every Jew.’ So they derive teachings like one incomplete half-shekel cannot hate the other half-shekel, for example. I guess it is a good point. Nevertheless, this is the typical way of reading the Scripture legalistically. We all know that we should not hate others, but the cold reality is that we hate others even now.

‘A half shekel’ should be understood in relation to our salvation of Jesus as when we are saved correctly, we will not hate others permanently. This is grace and this is gospel.

Let us get into the text to know this grace.

Lord’s Test and Plan

They who collect temple tax asked Peter one day,
“Does your master not pay a half shekel?”
Peter answered in his bewilderment,
However, as we can know in the subsequent dialogue with Jesus, Peter made a wrong reply.

Peter returned home and supposedly wanted to ask Jesus of a half shekel. But in advance to him, Jesus asked a question about it to Peter and derived the correct answer from the mouth of Peter that Jesus is exempted. This means that Jesus already knew Peter would make a wrong answer to the temple tax collectors. Rather, Jesus waited this situation happen to Peter intentionally to take an opportunity to enlighten him.

God’s providential works that are done in this manner are frequently found in various ways in the Scripture. For example, God appeared to Adam and the woman only after they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Ge 3:11). Samuel just arrived only when King Saul waited for Samuel seven days, the time set by Samuel, and he offered a sacrifice without him (1Sa 13:8). God intervened only after David lay with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed in the battlefield (2Sa 12:1).

They all were responsible for what they did according to their free wills. In these cases, God did not aim at blocking their mistakes or transgressions beforehand, but waited until they do transgressions in order to show them their evil mind and accordingly to correct and make them grow.

Likewise, Peter had no actual idea about what a half shekel was. Jesus first made an opportunity for Peter to acknowledge that he was ignorant of a half shekel. So Jesus permitted the situation wherein Peter made actually wrong answer out of ignorance. Once it is disclosed through his action, he cannot deny his ignorance. Upon this basis, Jesus revealed the true meaning of a half shekel and corrected Peter.

The Benediction By Evangelistic Minister

Have you met this Jesus who permits you on purpose to make a mistake and corrects you based on such mistake?

When I worked as an evangelistic minister before my ordainment, I used to preach the sermons on Sunday services in the church. According to the practice in Korea, the evangelistic ministers had no right to give a blessing benediction, so in our case the pastor who served together with me came up to the pulpit and conducted benediction at the end of every Sunday services. However, he resigned from his pastorship and left for another church.

Now our church faced to the matter who would give the benediction in the Sunday service. I thought by myself that it would not be a big mistake for the evangelistic minister who was preaching sermon to offer the benediction to the members.

If it might be a problem, I thought I could use, as an informal benediction, the book of Numbers 6:24-26, which says,
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace”
instead of the benediction clause of 2 Corinthians 13:13.

But after a long thought, I made up my mind that I would ask another pastor who worked with me to conduct the benediction at the end of service, in compliance with the practice. In fact, it was not easy decision, but I could decide so because the Lord had disciplined me to be humble for a long period of time. So I made up my mind to do so with no problem.

After that decision, some days later, I was eating out with my brother who is our church member also and he told me,

“Well, who is going to conduct the benediction instead of the former pastor from next Sunday? I think it is Okay for you to do it from now on, because it looks bothersome to the members to see that you come down and another pastor comes up to the pulpit during the service. You fully deserve it.”

It was quite unexpected to hear him say like that because he was not much involved and interested in the church affairs. Whatever it was, upon hearing him, I began to re-consider my idea that I would entrust other pastor with the benediction part of the service. And, finally, I consulted with the prophetic person whom I used to ask of the will of God, saying

“I think I have to do the benediction because the members of the church might feel annoyed if the benediction part is done by other pastor.”

She said to me that she would pray and would see how God say. Next day, she answered to me, saying
“The Lord says you are arrogant,”
and added that benediction needed to be done by other pastor. When I heard her, I felt humiliated by my behavior and wanted to hide my face for shame. I felt like I got struck by the hand by God while I was stretching hand to take something that is not allowed for me.

To recap, initially I concluded very well that I would endure in humility until I was endowed with the right to bless members by benediction. But the Lord wanted to take out my hidden pride. So He sent my brother to me and drew the pride out of my heart. If the Lord would not have allowed my brother to seduce my mind, who was used by God unwittingly, I would have remained humble superficially at least.

But in that case, some day I will be judged due to the hidden pride in me. Therefore, it was the Lord’s scheme to expose my hidden pride to make me recognize that I was not humble in reality. So, it happened so, and undeniably, I had to show my pride. I was so tempted by the Lord and fell.

When I was a kid while lived in a rural town, I used to go fishing for the frogs in the field. I bent a pin to form a fish hook, and caught a fly and threaded it to the hook as bait. And then to induce frog, I swung it left and right slowly before its eyes. The frog, being tempted, jumped to snap at it and at the same time I snatched it, and felt through my hand a weighty frog caught to the fishing line.

Every time when I undergo such a mistake planned by the Lord, it reminds me of frog caught to the hook above. I feel that the Lord brings bait and swings it before my eyes, and when I jump to take it, I know that I am hooked. I jump for it because I have avarice in my heart to take it, even though I pressed it down.

At that time, I had heartburn and my heart ached greatly, but in fact, I was corrected through these cases. In like manners, when the arrogance, anger, obsession, and jealousy that are in us are caught and exposed out of us by our Lord’s fishing, we, if repent, will be corrected. The Lord corrects our inside in this way. The key point of Part Two is to introduce this Jesus who is healing us.

The three and a half years during which the disciples walked with Jesus represents the period of this discipline, training and correction necessitated for the born-again body. Their sinful innate and humane viewpoints were exposed, so they were rebuked and scolded over and over again for healing during the period. The present scene in the text shows that Peter’s ignorance is fished and exposed by the Lord’s good plan and thus, he is corrected.

The Sons Are Exempt

[Matthew 17:25-26]
“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?” 26 “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him.

Jesus derives the correct answer from Peter that Jesus does not need to pay a half shekel. Nevertheless, even this answer of Peter is not correct.

Why it is not correct?
Because, Peter understood what Jesus said in this way:
“Oh, they collect half-a-shekel’s and offer them to God, but Jesus is the son of God so Jesus naturally doesn’t need to pay it.”

This understanding implies that Jesus does not have to pay it physically because He is the son of God. This understanding is something like the son of the owner of Walt Disney World can enter and enjoy the Animal Kingdom free.

However, Jesus does not mean this way. Do not misunderstand it. Jesus now reveals the spiritual meaning of a half shekel that the Scripture says, not on what it can buy. What Jesus means to say is that those who are born again as sons of God are exempt. In order to accurately understand “Then are the children free (of a half shekel).” The spiritual meaning of a half shekel will need to be first explained.

What Is A Half Shekel?

Read the following verses from Exodus 30.

[Exodus 30:11-16]
Then the LORD said to Moses, 12“When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. 13Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD. 14All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the LORD. 15The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives. 16Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives.”

Those twenty years old or more represent those men who can fight with enemies in war. Spiritually, they indicate those who are born again and have received the Holy Spirit. They have made atonement for their souls since they have received new life. And they are free from the plague which signifies the punishments eligible to those who are under the law when they sin. They made it by offering a half shekel.

In our case, what do we have to offer to God to receive new life and living without plague of the law? It is Jesus Christ. Without Him, none of us can make atonement for our lives (Mt 20:28) and be free from the plague of the law. So, a half shekel is sign of Jesus Christ.

In the Matthew text, Jesus did not mean that He was free from a half shekel physically because He was the son of God.

But spiritually speaking, the sons of God, who are the born again men, have already paid a half shekel each, as an atonement for their lives to God. So the sons of God do not need to pay a half shekel again. The sons are exempt.

Jesus speaks of the spiritual a half shekel, not literal. Therefore, even though Peter is derived by Jesus to the correct answer that the sons are free, they are not on the same page. Peter is on the natural page, Jesus spiritual.


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