The tribute men
God is sovereign: He can send some very wonderful persons like Moses and Elijah, and He can also send some troublesome people. In the last portion of these two chapters we read, "And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter" (17:24). Tax collectors are troublesome people. But notice, these tribute men are not the publicans; they are different. The publicans were the tax gatherers for the Roman Empire, for those who invaded Judea, occupied it and put a heavy tax upon it. The tribute men in chapter 17 were those who gathered taxes, not for the Roman Empire or any other government, but for the maintenance of God’s house, the temple. God’s people, the children of Israel, were told in Exodus 30:11-16 that every male among them must pay a half shekel to maintain God’s house. God sent such men to Peter.
God sent Moses and Elijah to appear in their vision, but following the vision, in the application, God sent another kind of person. If you do mean business with the Lord, after you have seen the vision—be careful and be ready—God will send you some tribute men. Who will be the tribute men to you? Perhaps, firstly, your dear wife. Many times after we have received the vision, our dear wife comes just as a tribute man to collect something. You may exclaim, "Thank God, I’m not married! I do not have a wife, I do not have a husband: so there is no tribute man for God to send me." Then the first tribute man to come to you may be your roommate or your classmate. On the mountain top you see the vision, but when you get home, the tribute men arrive. In the conference, in the meeting. you receive the vision. You shout, Hallelujah! You are so happy with the vision. But when you get within the door of your home, the tribute men will be waiting for you. God is sovereign; He knows how to test you. Sometimes He uses our children, and many times He uses our in-laws as the tribute men. He can use anyone and everyone to put us on the test. We cannot avoid it; we cannot run away; the tribute men will find us. Every one of us has some tribute men.
Peter caught again
The tribute men came to Peter, and again Peter took the lead. All the rest of the disciples were in the house with Jesus, and Peter came out to meet and deal with the tribute men. Again he got caught. One who takes the lead always puts himself in a very dangerous position.
The tribute men said to Peter, "Doth not your Master pay tribute?" Brother Peter, do not forget what you learned in Matthew 16, Christ and the church—remember Peter? Do not forget the revelation you received. And secondly, Brother Peter, do not forget the lesson you learned so hard on the mountain top—Christ and His Body. But listen, when the test came Peter forgot everything. He forgot the revelation, he forgot the vision; he forgot Christ and the church, and He forgot the Head and the Body. He forgot everything; he only remembered himself. "Doth not your Master pay tribute?" "Yes," Peter immediately replied. Peter, how can you forget so quickly? Didn’t you hear the voice on the mountain saying that you must "hear Him"? You must go to Him; you must ask Him; you should not answer yes or no. "Hear ye Him!" If we should speak in this way to Peter, Peter would argue, "Brother, you do not know the Bible. I can show you the chapter and verse telling us clearly that every male among the people of Israel must pay tribute, and Jesus is one of the males. Why shouldn’t He pay? Surely it is right for me to say yes." Peter was very scriptural, very fundamental; Peter answered according to Moses’ directions in Exodus 30. Peter answered the question according to the law—by listening to Moses and hearing him. But what he said was absolutely against his revelation, absolutely contrary to his vision and the heavenly voice, "Hear ye Him." There is no more Moses, no more law, no more Elijah, no more prophets—only Jesus; hear ye Him. Why after he had seen the vision did he keep his old knowledge, his tradition, and religion? This is the problem. After we see the vision, the old traditions, teachings and religion still hang on. "Doth not your Master pay tribute?" "Yes!" This "yes" comes from the old scriptural knowledge. It comes from the very teachings of the Bible. It is a right, scriptural, and fundamental answer. But it is one hundred percent against the vision, one hundred percent against Christ.
Peter then came into the house. I believe he returned with the intention of telling the Lord Jesus what he had done and to collect the money. But the Lord anticipated what he was going to say and forestalled him. The Lord was not about to let him talk any more. His implication was this: "Do not say that is scriptural, do not say that is fundamental; that is nonsense. Yes, that is according to your Bible, but not according to the living Christ, the present Christ."
(Christ versus Religion, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)