From Heaven With Love


Chapter 48—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 sought the house that was to be His temporary home. During the remainder of His stay in Galilee, it was His object to instruct the disciples rather than labor for the multitudes. HLv 292.1

Christ had again told them that He was to be put to death and to rise again. And He added that He was to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. The disciples did not even now comprehend His words. Although the shadow of a great sorrow fell upon them, they disputed among themselves which should be greatest in the kingdom. This strife they thought to conceal from Jesus. Jesus read their thoughts and longed to counsel them, but for this He awaited a quiet hour when their hearts should be open to receive His words. HLv 292.2

Soon after they reached town the collector of the temple revenue questioned Peter, “Doth not your Master pay tribute?” This religious contribution every Jew was required to pay annually. A refusal to pay would be, in the estimation of the rabbis, a grievous sin. Now His enemies saw an opportunity of casting discredit upon Him. In the collector of the tribute they found a ready ally. HLv 292.3

Zealous for his Master's honor, Peter hastily answered that Jesus would pay the tribute. But some classes were exempt from payment of the tribute. The priests and Levites, still regarded as especially devoted to the temple, were not required to make the annual contribution for its support. Prophets also were exempt. In requiring tribute from Jesus, the rabbis were setting aside His claim as a prophet and were dealing with Him as with any commonplace person. A refusal to pay would be represented as disloyalty to the temple; on the other hand, payment would be taken as justifying their rejection of Him as a prophet. By his answer to the collector, Peter virtually sanctioned the false conception to which the priests and rulers were trying to give currency. HLv 292.4

When Peter entered the house, the Saviour made no reference to what had taken place, but inquired, “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?” Peter answered, “Of strangers.” And Jesus said, “Then are the children 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. HLv 293.1

If Jesus had paid the tribute without a protest, He would virtually have acknowledged the justice of the claim and thus denied His divinity. But He denied the claim on which it was based. In providing for the payment, He gave evidence of His divine character, and therefore was not under tribute as a mere subject of the kingdom. HLv 293.2

“Go thou to the sea,” He directed Peter, “and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for Me and thee.” HLv 293.3

While Jesus made it plain that He was under no obligation to pay the tribute, He entered into no controversy in regard to the matter. Lest He should give offense by withholding the tribute, He did that which 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 antagonism 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 that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” Shame and self-condemnation kept them silent. Jesus had told them that He was to die for their sake, and their selfish ambition was in painful contrast to 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 again kindled their hope that the kingdom was about to be set up. This had led to questioning as to who should fill the highest offices. At last one ventured to ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” HLv 293.4