The Coin in the Fish

When Jesus asks Peter to take the coin out of the fish’s mouth, it signifies something huge for the Roman world. It also demonstrates Jesus’ respect to the authorities even when He was the highest authority.


Historical context

What does Jesus do?

What do we expect from Him?

What does He expect from us?

Bible Passage

Matt 17.24-27; 22.15-22; Mark 12.13-17; Luke 20.20-26

Matthew 17:24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple 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 children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, 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.”

Historical Context

Dr. Ron Charles, a biblical historian tells us of the historical background to this story.

Around the time of the collection of temple taxes, there was a big festival along the pier in Capernaum. It was believed that around 600 BC, Poseiden, believed to be god of the sea by the Greeks appeared in a vision to a priest telling him that the person who would reveal the King of Kings and Lords of Lords, ruler of the universe will be present at that place.

Every year, around that time, there would be a big festival Conturium Posadeum where people would come to the region. It was later changed to celebratium Neptonus as Romans believed in Neptune as god of the sea.

Historical Context

As years rolled by, rules were put in place to identify this person.

It was decided by the priests that the person who will reveal the Great Ruler of the Universe will catch a fish with a piece of gold in it’s mouth. That person will also be given other benefits such as tax relief and Roman citizenship.

Every year thousands of people used to attempt to catch a fish with the piece of gold.

Since there was too much of confusion and crowd, it was decided that out of the thousands 12 people will be selected and given a fishing line to catch the fish.

Historical Context

The historian records that that was the time (around Dec 28th of the year when the festival occurred) that Jesus was asked to pay the tax.

He then asks Peter to bring a fish.

Apparently, Peter joins the queue of thousands to be eligible to catch the fish. He was one of the 12 chosen that year and the first one in centuries to bring up a fish with something in it’s mouth – a silver shekhel which was just enough to pay taxes to for himself and Jesus.

While his catch was celebrated and Peter was rewarded with some benefits he was later disqualified as it was a silver coin and not piece of gold – which never happened either before or after.

Historical Context

They knew Peter was a disciple of Jesus and for those who were willing to see it, there was the Ruler of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords right before them!

The coin

The coin in the fish’s mouth is believed to be a shekhel of the value of four drachmas which could pay the tax for two people.

Other translations use silver coin, statera, Tyrian silver shekhel, etc. which amount to the same thing.


Jesus uses every opportunity to teach.

In colourful, creative ways.

He is also revealing Himself to the world in colourful ways.

While the powerhouses of the world created a celebration awaiting the ruler of the universe, Jesus in true style points them to this ruler through the extraction of the coin from the fish’s mouth tax payment.

It was a miracle never seen before or after, yet how many were ready to accept it?


Jesus asks – “does the ruler of the universe need to pay taxes?”.

The answer is, obviously a no.

However, Jesus pays it in order not to cause offense.

Also in a way that points to Him as ruler of the universe

Both through the Greek and Roman tradition retrieving the coin in the fish’s mouth as a

And through the miraculous prophecy and fulfilment of the coin

What does Jesus do?

He respects authorities

He comes down to their level

He encourages participation in non Jew traditions

He never compromises kingdom principles

He allows actions to speak

He points the way to Himself.

He sows seeds for faith to grow

He respects Authorities

For the highest authority to respect a lower authority and even give deference by paying taxes is creditable.

Today we see a fear syndrome in many Christians being propagated against secular Governments and Government leaders.

Jesus has instructed us to pray for our leaders not fear them.

We need to be diplomatic and partner with them to win them over to our cause rather than spreading fear.

When others are spreading fear we need to speak up and not be silent.

He respects Authorities

As he respected the authorities, the Roman authorities also respected him as a teacher and leader.

History has it that Caesar had initiated investigations to find out if Jesus was really the Messiah. Luke and the healed paralytic were actually Government executives assigned to observe Jesus and report back. They eventually became believers.

The Jewish authorities sadly did not respect Jesus. Jesus was straightforward and confronted them to their face on their spiritual callousness.

He comes down to their level

While he is supreme head of the Jewish temple for which they were collecting tax, he still doesn’t want to cause offense and respects their initiative to collect tax.

While the Jews looked down at the pagan festival at the sea, Jesus sees it as an opportunity to point people to Himself, the true ruler of the universe.

If the King of Kings and Lord of Lords keeps coming down to our level to connect with us, how much more should we be accommodating and loving to others.

He encourages participation in non Jew traditions

Lakhs of people were awaiting revelation of the Ruler of the Universe whose kingdom never ends.

Even if it was a Greek, later Roman religious tradition, they were seeking God.

Jesus gets Peter to draw the fish to indicate He knows that Jesus is the one.

Even the disciples understood much later, but Jesus doesn’t let this opportunity pass.

He never compromises kingdom principles

This participation however does not involve Peter in any process of worship to any god.

There is clearly no compromise while he participates in the celebration.

The objective is to point to Jesus. The means is creative and clean.

He allows actions to speak

When we go to God in prayer we expect instant responses.

While the Ruler of the Universe is just within their reach – among millions of seekers, he silently shows the way.

Not much else is heard from Jesus in this episode other than asking Peter to loop in the fish and prophesying there is a coin that will enable them to pay taxes.

He points the way to Himself

  1. By every means He is silently showing people the way.

    People could have questioned “could it possibly be Jesus”? While the realization may have come later, Jesus still goes ahead.

    While Peter’s fish was under discussion, Jesus did not create waves, He was silently working – as God always does.

He sows seeds for faith to grow

He is silently sowing seeds – in the disciples’ hearts and the hearts of the huge crowd present on that day.

He is not impatient for people to immediately acknowledge Him. He gives people time to process their inputs and allow the Holy Spirit to convict them.

What did they expect from Jesus?

The incident attracted a lot of attention on Peter and he would have felt important.

As per tradition, he was the person who pointed the way to Jesus, the Ruler of the Universe.

The other disciples too, shortly after were debating on “who is the greatest”.

They fail to realize that they were nothing before the great Ruler of the Universe, Jesus, who was walking with them.

They feel entitled to privileges and miss out on the fact that being with Him is the greatest privilege. They are to find that out later.

What do we expect from Him?

Do we feel entitled?

Many feel and teach that children of the kingdom are more privileged in terms of worldly benefits above others. That may happen due to our better moral and spiritual values, but other than that we are on a level playing field.

Technically we have received much more than we can or have given to Jesus. We are always in debt.

Whatever we receive is by His grace alone. His presence with us through life’s journey is the greatest gift.

As children of the King of Kings, we are incredibly blessed.

What does he expect from us?

Faith and obedience to follow in His footsteps. To:

  • Respect authorities
  • Connect to the level of others
  • Participate in secular traditions where we can point to Jesus
  • Never compromise kingdom principles
  • Allow actions to speak
  • Point to Jesus
  • Sow seeds for faith to grow


The incident attracted a lot of attention on Peter and he would have felt important.

1.How can we participate in secular activities without compromise? Share examples from your life.

2.What are certain things we feel we deserve because we are Christians? What is the right attitude?

3.What are different ways we can sow seeds of faith in other people’s lives? Share examples from your life.

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