Matthew Bible Study (The Gospel of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven)

Matthew 17:22-27, Understanding Jesus’ Submission


Submission is a word we do not like. We are a culture that believes that we should not yield to anyone. Instead, we need to stand up to people. We need to fight for our rights. We need to exercise our power. We need to show people who’s boss and that we cannot be pushed around. We want to put people in their place and have the last word. Our culture tells us that submission is weakness and inferiority. I think this is what is really hard for us. Telling us to submit makes us think in our minds that we are weak and we are inferior in some sense. But submission is not only a negative characteristic in our society, it was looked down upon in the first century Roman culture as well. There is an event that happens in the lives of Jesus and his disciples that is going to lead to Jesus explaining submission and why it is so important.

The Truth (17:24-26)

Jesus and his disciples are back in Galilee, in the town of Capernaum. The collectors of the two-drachma tax come up to Peter with a question. “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” Most scholars believe that this two-drachma tax was the annual temple tax that the Jews were required to pay each year. This is why some of your translations might simply read, “the temple tax.” The way the question is asked appears to indicate that they had not paid the temple tax yet. This is not a question where the leaders are trying to trap Jesus, asking if they should pay taxes or not. This question is asking if Jesus pays the temple tax because it does not appear that he has this year yet. You will notice that Peter says that he does pay the temple tax. I think this answer means that Jesus did not stand against paying the temple tax and paid the tax in prior years. Jesus did not resist or rebel against the temple tax.

But this becomes a teaching moment. When they go into the house, Jesus asks Peter a question. Do the kings of the earth collect their taxes and tolls from their own sons or from others? This is an easy question to answer. Kings do not tax their own family. Kings do not ask their sons to pay the taxes they impose on the land. Everyone else is required to pay the taxes that kings impose but not the sons. Notice the conclusion Jesus draws in verse 26. “Then the sons are free.”

Now this is a very rich declaration that Jesus makes. Jesus has just proclaimed that he is free from paying the temple tax based on this illustration. Who did the temple belong to? The temple belonged to the Father in heaven. Since that is God’s temple, does the Son need to pay the tax? No. In this illustration Jesus just explained in another way that he is Son of God. He is exempt from making this payment because the temple is God’s and the tax for the temple is for God and is the Son of God. The money was for his Father’s house so, he as the Son, ought to be exempt. But I want you to notice that this is not the end of the discussion. Jesus does not tell Peter to go back out there and tell them that I am exempt from paying the temple tax because I am the Son of God. Rather, look at verse 27.

The Teaching (17:27)

Jesus tells Peter to go to the sea and pull up a fish. When you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Use that shekel to pay for yourself and for me. Now wait a minute! Jesus just proclaimed that he is exempt from the temple tax. He does not have to pay. He is not required because he is the Son. Why is he going to pay the temple tax and why has he paid the temple tax in the past? Look again at verse 27. Jesus says that he is going to pay so that they do not cause offense. Jesus tells Peter that we do not want to be a spiritual stumbling block. So to prevent this from being a cause for stumbling, we will pay the temple tax.

I want us to notice the picture of submission that Jesus presents. Jesus has the right to avoid this tax. Jesus has shown in a very simple illustration that he ranks above this temple tax. So why would you submit to this? Why do this? Jesus teaches us that his concern is that he and his disciples would not be a cause for stumbling into sin. We do not want to be a stumbling block. The goal is not to make a point but to not put up obstacles to the gospel. Therefore, we will submit.

Friends, we are called by Jesus to submit ourselves in every area of life. The life of the Christian is a life of submission to all people. There is not a single person on earth that we are not called to submit to. Let me give you a few examples and teachings that are found in the scriptures. We are told to submit to God (James 4:7). We are told to submit to our spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17). We are told to submit to every governing authority and every human institution (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:18). We are told to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21). We are told to submit to our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them, what are we doing except submitting to them? We are showing love and doing right by them even though they are doing wrong to us. Wives are told to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). Husbands are told to love their wives like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25. How did Christ love the church? Christ submitted his will and well-being for the will and well-being of the church. Loving others is submitting to others, seeking out their good and not our own. We are told to obey our parents (Ephesians 6:1). We are told to obey our earthly masters (Ephesians 6:5). There is no realm in which we are not to submit to others. There is no situation in which we can sit back and say that I do not want to do this because I don’t like it and I have rights.

Paul was dealing with this sinful thinking in the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 6 we read that the Christians were taking each other to court. They thought they had rights. They thought they needed to exercise their authority. They thought they needed to stand up for themselves. But listen to what the apostle Paul says.

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6:7–8 ESV)

What does Paul say should be their primary way of thinking? They should not be thinking about getting their way and having their rights. They should be willing to suffer wrong. They should be willing to be defrauded. Paul writes about many occasions in 1 Corinthians in which he suppressed his rights. Why would we do something like this? Why is this the picture given to us? Because we are going to do what is in the best interests of others ahead of our own.

Listen to how the apostle Paul pictured this in Philippians 2.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4 ESV)

What does this mean? This means that we submit to other people. Notice that he does not give any exceptions. Paul does not say that you count others more significant unless you do not like them. Paul does not say to count others more significant unless they are awful to you and do mean things to you. We submit ourselves to others. Paul says that in the next sentence. “Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5). Now we can read in Philippians 2 what the attitude of Jesus was. But come back to our text in Matthew 17 and you will see that Jesus directly says what his attitude is. Look at Matthew 17:22-23.

Following Jesus (17:22-23)

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (Matthew 17:22–23 ESV)

What was the attitude of Jesus? The attitude of Jesus was that he is going to give his life for the world. The attitude of Jesus was the willingness to lay down his life for others. Following Jesus means laying down rights and privileges. This is exactly what the apostle Paul described in Philippians 2. Jesus did not use equality with God as something to be used for his own selfish, personal advantage. Instead, he emptied himself. We do not use our rights and privileges for our own selfish, personal advantages. Instead, we empty ourselves. We deny ourselves. We give ourselves.


Why is this so important? Look again at what Jesus said in verse 27. Jesus did not want to give offense. Jesus did not want to discredit the gospel. Jesus did not want to put a stumbling block in front of his ministry. Jesus did not want to be a cause for sin. So he paid the tax even though he did not have to. The apostle Paul pictured it this way.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9:19 ESV)

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22–23 ESV)

Friends, we are to make decisions based on what enhances the gospel, not what hinders it. We will not say anything or do anything that will hinder the gospel. We give ourselves for the purpose of the gospel. This is why Paul had Timothy circumcised. We refuse to cause a hindrance to the gospel. We submit so that we can show the submission of Jesus to the world. We put the interests of others ahead of ourselves because that is what our Lord Jesus did for us. Jesus is teaching us that submission is how we are serving him. Listen again to the apostle Paul.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23–24 NIV)

So how can we submit to each other? How can we submit to our leaders? How can we submit to the government? How can we submit to those who have authority over us? How can we love each other and submit to each other in our families? How can we put the interests of others ahead of our own? How can we accept being defrauded and wronged? How can we love our enemies? Paul says that we can do this because we are submitting to God when we do this. We are submitting to others because this is how we submit to God. We do not think about how we have a right or have a say. We think about others ahead of ourselves. We make decisions that enhance the gospel and do not cause a stumbling block to it.

There is only one condition where we are told not to submit. That condition is if submission would require us to directly violate God’s laws. When Peter and John were told to stop preaching Jesus, they said, “We must obey God, rather than people” (Acts 5:29). When Daniel was commanded to not pray to the Lord, he prayed anyway (Daniel 6:10). We give ourselves to all unless the giving of ourselves would be to sin. There are no other exceptions given to us in the scriptures. We give ourselves for the gospel. We submit to others because in doing so we are submitting to our Lord Jesus and following the example he left for us. Be selfless. Love your enemies. Submit yourself to others. Give yourself so that God is glorified.

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