Humble Hero


Who Is the Greatest?

This chapter is based on Matthew 17:22-27; 18:1-20; Mark 9:30-50; Luke 9:46-48.

Returning to Capernaum, Jesus quietly went to the house that was to be His temporary home. During the rest of His stay in Galilee, He intended to instruct the disciples rather than labor for the crowds. HH 201.1

Christ had told them again that He would be put to death and rise again. And He added that He would be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. The disciples did not comprehend His words even now. Although the shadow of a great sorrow came over them, they argued among themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom. They tried to conceal this strife from Jesus. He read their thoughts and longed to counsel them, but He waited for a quiet time to do this, when their hearts would be open to receive His words. HH 201.2

Soon after they reached town, the collector of the temple revenue questioned Peter, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” This religious contribution every Jew was required to pay each year. A refusal to pay would be a grievous sin, in the opinion of the rabbis. Now Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to discredit Him. They found a ready ally in the collector of the tax. HH 201.3

Zealous for his Master’s honor, Peter was quick to answer that Jesus would pay the tax. But some classes were exempt from paying the tax. The priests and Levites, still considered to be especially devoted to the temple, were not required to make the annual contribution for its support. Prophets also were exempt. In requiring the tax from Jesus, the rabbis were setting aside His claim as a prophet and were dealing with Him as with any ordinary person. If He refused to pay, they would represent this as disloyalty to the temple. On the other hand, if He paid, they would take this as justifying their rejection of Him as a prophet. Peter’s answer to the collector virtually endorsed the false idea that the priests and rulers were trying to promote. HH 201.4

When Peter entered the house, the Savior made no reference to what had taken place, but inquired, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter answered, “From strangers.” And Jesus said, “Then the sons are free.” While the people are taxed for the maintenance of their king, the monarch’s own children are exempt. So Israel, the people of God, were required to maintain His service, but Jesus, the Son of God, was under no such obligation. HH 201.5

If Jesus had paid the tax without a protest, in effect He would have acknowledged the justice of the claim and thus denied His divinity. But He denied the claim on which the demand was based. In providing for the payment, He gave evidence of His divine character, and therefore He was not under obligation as a mere subject of the kingdom. HH 202.1

“Go to the sea,” He directed Peter, “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.” HH 202.2

While Jesus made it plain that He was under no obligation to pay the tax, He entered into no controversy over the matter. So that He would not give offense by withholding the tax, He did what He could not justly be required to do. This lesson would be of great value to His disciples. They were not to place themselves needlessly in opposition to established order. Christians are not to sacrifice one principle of truth, but they should avoid controversy whenever possible. While Peter was gone to the sea, Jesus called the other disciples to Him and asked, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” Shame and self-condemnation kept them silent. Jesus had told them that He was going to die for their sake, and their selfish ambition made a painful contrast with His unselfish love. But although He had spoken so plainly of what awaited Him, His mention of the fact that He was soon to go to Jerusalem kindled their hopes again that He was about to set up His kingdom. This had led to their dispute about who would fill the highest offices. At last one of them dared to ask Jesus, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” HH 202.3