The Fishy Temple Tax

Matt. 17:24–27

The leaders of Jerusalem required a temple tax from the people. Jesus knew however that he wasn’t obligated to pay God to be his father. He accepted that as a gift. We learn that we do not need to pay to be God’s children! If God provides his love as a free gift, we can trust him to also provide in other areas in our lives. 

Key Verse

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

– Philippians 4:4 (ESV)


Lesson

Lesson Intro (Things we pay for)

Supplies: A few items that we regularly purchase.

Explain to the kids that there are many things in life that we have to pay money for. When we go to the shops for something that we need—like milk or bread [hold up an example]—we go with some money and we pay for those items. If we want to go to a movie or a show [you can hold up a ticket], we have to buy a ticket to see that show. When your mom or dad go to the gas station to fill up with gas they pay the attendant for that gas!

Here’s a crazy question though. Do you need to pay your parents money to be part of their family? [No!] That would be crazy. We cannot pay our parents to love us. They love us because we’re their children.

Today’s story is a reminder that we don’t need to pay to be God’s children!

Bible story

Supplies: A fake plastic fish and some fake gold coins.

Tell the story from Matthew 17:24–27

The story could go something like this, but feel free to personalize it and get creative with your props, etc:

Jerusalem was a very important city during Jesus’s day, because that is where the temple was. The temple was considered the house of God!

Unfortunately though, the temple was also the place where the Pharisees and the religious leaders made long lists of laws that were difficult to follow. Some of these were commandments from God, and some they made up themselves, but the people started to think that God would only love them if they obeyed all these commandments.

One day Jesus and his disciples were travelling to the city of Jerusalem. On their way they came to a town called Capernaum. In Capernaum there were some people in the town who were collecting a tax. Normally the taxes went to the Romans, because the Romans were the ones in charge, but this was a different tax. This was the temple tax and it was used pay for all the things that the religious leaders were doing so that they could be God’s children.

The men who were collecting this tax came to Peter and asked him: “Does Jesus pay the temple tax?” They asked because they wanted Jesus and his disciples to pay the temple tax. Peter didn’t want to get into trouble, so he said to them: “Yes! Jesus does pay the temple tax!”

When Peter was back with Jesus he told Jesus what happened. Jesus asked Peter a strange question: “Do the children of the king need to pay taxes?” Peter said: “No! It’s all the common people who are not children of the king that need to pay taxes” Then Jesus said: “Well then we don’t have to pay!”

Jesus said this because he is the son of God! He knew that he didn’t need to do all the things that they did at the temple to make God love him. God already loves his children! They didn’t need to pay God to be his children. Imagine your parents told you to pay money to be their children! That would be crazy!

But Peter had already told them that they would pay the tax, so Jesus said to him: “Go to the river and cast a line to catch a fish. The first fish that you catch will have a coin in its mouth. That coin will be enough to pay my tax and yours!”

And that is how God paid for Peter’s temple tax!


Application

Did you know that Jesus also paid for our temple tax? Jesus hasn’t sent us to go catch a fish with a coin in its mouth, but it is because of Jesus that we can be children of God. God loves each one of you and he has invited us to be part of his big family!

Does being part of God’s family mean that we can do whatever we want to? No! Jesus has shown us how to live as a child of God. Being a child of the King means that we have important responsibilities like speaking the truth, and showing our Father’s love and kindness to those around us.

Prayer: Thank Jesus he made it possible for us to be children of God and that we don’t have to pay anything to be God’s children. Pray that we would be like Jesus in loving those around us and serving others.


Review Questions:

  • Where was Jesus travelling to with his disciples?
  • What did the tax collectors in Capernaum ask Peter?
  • What did Peter say?
  • What was the tax for?
  • Why did Jesus say he didn’t have to pay the tax?
  • Why did he pay the tax?
  • How did they get the money?

Activity

Game Idea: Go fish relay

Supplies: A few dowel ‘fishing rods’ with twine that has a magnet on the end, metal paper clips, paper fish with single words from the key verse written on them (for younger kids who can’t read yet, it could be a pieces of a jigsaw that relates to the lesson).

What to do: Divide the kids into as many teams as you have sets of fishing rods. Put out a set of fish that make up the verse in line with each team.

How to play: Play a relay game where each of the teams has to fish out all the fish that make up the memory verse or the picture. When you say ‘go’, have the kids take turns to catch a fish. The first team to correctly assemble the verse wins!

To make it more challenging for older kids, you could add in fish that have words that aren’t in the key verse!


Image Credit: Apostle Peter paying the temple tax with coin from the fish’s mouth by Augustin Tünger, 1486.