"You ought to pay taxes. Jesus did." But is that the correct understanding of Matthew 17:24-27?
In verse 24, we find the collectors of the temple tax approaching Peter and asking, "Does not your master pay tribute?"
Peter answers, "Yes."
Poor, bungling Peter, he answered too quickly. And Jesus was not pleased.
When Peter tries to go back into the house, Jesus bars his entrance. "Oh Peter, what got into you? What were you thinking when you told the tax collector we pay tribute?"
Then Jesus instructs Peter on who is obligated to pay. "Do the kings of the earth take tribute from their own children or from strangers?"
Peter answers, "From strangers."
"Then the children are free," said Jesus.
Jesus has corrected Peter. He knows how to answer the tax collector next time. But still a problem remains. Peter has incurred an obligation to pay the temple tax. Now what does he do?
Since the commitment has been made, Jesus chooses not to confuse the tax collectors. He explains, "Lest we offend them, go to the sea and throw out a line. Take out the fish you catch. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Take it to give to the tax collectors for you and me."
Peter did not pay the taxes because they were owed, but because he volunteered to pay them. Once he made the commitment, he needed to make his yes's, "yes." If Peter had answered correctly the first time, there would have been no need for Jesus to rebuke him.