Master Manipulator

Matthew 17:22-27

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going 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 deeply grieved.

And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” And upon his saying, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Consequently the sons are exempt. “But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

Is there something special or specific that we should see when Jesus refers to himself in the third person? In the first small section of today’s text, Jesus refers to himself in the third person. But in the remaining text for today, he speaks of himself in the first person. At first I found it quite odd but then noticed the distinct difference.

In the first section, Jesus is speaking about future events, while in the second section he is speaking about their present time and in the present tense. But I don’t think that is necessarily the reason for the distinction. We remember a particular question that Jesus asked the disciples; “who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Perhaps the CAGED method will unlock this mystery. Context is King, therefore that’s where we need to begin. After many miracles and healings in the land surrounding Galilee, Jesus and his disciples are gathering in Galilee. At this gathering in Galilee, not yet at Capernaum, according to the context, Jesus refers to himself in the third person as he says, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” I am sure this has been condensed for time’s sake by Matthew. I find it highly doubtful that this is all Jesus said at this gathering. Matthew is simply hitting the highlights. Mark also tells the tale in his account but condenses it even more by not including the”Son of Man” reference. What was Matthew’s aspiration to his audience? Perhaps we need to take a little Vitamin E and look for examples of “The Son of Man.”

Which is no easy undertaking. Several times the Lord referred to Ezekiel as, Son of Man, however he was never called “The Son of Man.” Daniel sees one “like a son of man,” which is what we call, a pre incarnate visitation of Christ. John in Revelation says he saw one like “a son of man as well. I guess this would be called a post incarnate vision of Christ. Yet as far as the genre of gospel, people call Jesus, master, teacher and sir but Jesus most frequently refers to himself as “the Son of Man.”

We must remember the sublime string that is woven throughout the Bible. We need to take a healthy dose of vitamin E to understand the use of “the Son of Man” by Jesus. Daniel saw a vision and recorded it, hundreds of years before today’s text: “there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” 

To those who have read my missives on the book of Revelation, this is review but it goes to the sublime string that is woven throughout the Bible. It is all connected with a purpose. John writes in the book of Revelation: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”

Do you remember what this same John did at the Transfiguration when he saw the glorified Jesus and heard the voice from heaven? He along with his brother and Peter, fell down on their faces.

Nothing that is done, said or recorded in the Bible is an accident. Therefore as we let the scripture interpret scripture and do not let man interpret the precepts of men, we see clearly that Jesus while calling himself the ambiguous phrase, “the Son of Man,” in order to not fully reveal himself as the Messiah, is actually not being ambivalent at all but claiming his true identity as the one whose kingdom would never end. He is the one with all the glory, he walks among the lamp stands and his voice is like many waters. He was, now and has been progressively, fully revealing himself to the disciples.

Nevertheless, look at the second section of today’s text. “And when they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter, and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ And upon his saying, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Consequently the sons are exempt. But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.’”

It may seem odd to us when doing a cursory reading of today’s text, how Jesus switched from the third person to the first. Actually, we wouldn’t even connect the two stories together. We see the chapter and verse breaks and the different passages and paragraphs, and assume that the passages are not linked. That is quite unfortunate because they are intrinsically linked together with the sublime string.

We don’t understand fully the traditions of the time as to taxes but the context reveals to us a pretty good picture, when Jesus asks Simon, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter responds that the tax is collected from strangers? Jesus agrees and responds, “Consequently the sons are exempt. But, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.’”

Jesus and Simon are exempt from the tax, both Jesus and Simon agree on this. They are two witnesses to the truth. Nevertheless,  Jesus instructs him to go fishing to find a Stater so that they both can pay the tax.

What does this have to do with anything else in the context? Everything! Jesus is ambiguously ambivalent about himself to Israel by calling himself the “Son of Man.” Although he refers to himself as the “Son of Man” more than any other title, he rarely mentions it in front of the masses. But when he does, it is not necessarily offensive because who among us is not a son of man? However, he is at the same time proclaiming his majesty and kingdom by referring to himself as the “Son of Man.” Make no mistake, the Pharisees know what he is doing and want to destroy him for it, but no one is going to kill Jesus for using an ambiguous phrase like the son of man.

Jesus, while making his claim that the law and the prophets point to him, is not being offensive by it. In the same way, Jesus and Simon are exempt from the tax. Yet in order to not be offensive or to give any accusations against him fuel for the fire, he orders the fisherman to go fishing to gather the tax.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, teach ethics based upon Jesus paying this tax. But that is not the point. They say things like, “Jesus paid his taxes and you should too.” While it is true that you should pay your taxes, I find staying out of jail more of an incentive than this story. Remember, Jesus did not have to pay this tax! This isn’t an ethics issue, it’s an issue of Jesus not giving people a reason to accuse him, yet. The “son of man” is ambiguous. Paying taxes for which one is exempt is also a way in which Jesus shields himself from accusations, for now.

Soon the sign of Jonah will be given. But for the time being, Jesus is fully revealing himself to the disciples but not fully revealing himself to Israel. And why is Jesus not fully revealing himself to Israel? The answer is found at the beginning of today’s text; “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him.” It is not yet the time. John records Jesus teaching that he is the good Shepherd who will lay down his life for his sheep. The conclusion of which finds Jesus saying in, John 10:18, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Jesus is masterfully manipulating the masses. He is voluntarily laying down his life, and at the perfect time. Much in the same way that God manipulated all of history, to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy of Michah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” We saw this in My missive, Born? In Bethlehem; Back to Burn Incense. The Lord God used the emperor of the entire earth, who called himself, Caesar Augustus Son of the God’s, to bring forth the true Son of God into the correct city, by having Caesar take a census. Jesus, knowing the hearts and minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes and masses, manipulates them with every metaphor, miracle and movement he makes. He will be put to death by their hands but it will be on his terms and in his time.

See the sublime string that is woven throughout the Bible. It is why I write, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens! When we continue to keep the content caged, we miss out on the pure, unaltered, unadulterated word from God. Use the CAGED method where Context is King, Author’s Aspiration to his Audience is Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens, and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions. It will unlock the caged Scripture which we have kept caged by our ripping verses out of context, our tradition​s, our preconceptions and our presuppositions.

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