Verses have been misinterpreted by many to bolster some anti-government agenda
Q. Does Mt 17.24-27 teach that believers are exempt from paying taxes?
A. These verses have been misinterpreted by many to bolster some anti-government agenda, but that is a stretch. We already know that Yeshua said that we were to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s and that tax was a civil tax, so that settles the tax issue.
What is going here is this. Exodus 30.12 talks about the half-shekel that was given when Israel took a census for war. This shekel was paid as an aton-ement because a soldier was a potential life-taker. If this wasn’t done, then there could be a plague among the people.
The word "plague" in Hebrew means slaughter, defeat or fall.
David did not do this in 1Chr 21.14-17 and 2 Sam 24.25 and a plague resulted in many deaths until it was stopped at the thres-hing floor of Araunah, the future site of the Temple altar. This is very symbolic because the plague of sin was covered at that altar, and ultimately sin was dealt with at the altar called Golgotha.
The word Golgotha is related to "Gilgal" where Joshua circumcised Israel after crossing the Jordan and entering the land, thus rolling back their reproach. Gilgal means "to roll away." Another Joshua (Yeshua) came along and ratified a New Covenant that circumcised our hearts at Golgotha.
Now, after the half-shekel was paid by the males who were being mustered for the army, the money was used for the Tabernacle, its services and worship, upkeep and needs. It was seen as a contribution to the Lord to make "atonement for yourselves." Later, this "tax" was used for the Temple for the same reason.
This was a religious tax, not civil, and in the first century it was collected right before Passover. Now, in the narrative in Matthew, Peter is approached by collectors of this tax and they ask him if the Lord paid the half-shekel tax. Peter answers yes, and goes into the house there.
Knowing this dialogue happened, Yeshua uses the opportunity to reveal to Peter who he was. He asks for his opinion and then asks "from who do the kings of the earth collect taxes, from their sons or from strangers (regular subjects)." Peters answers "from regular subjects."
Then Yeshua says "so, the sons are exempt. But, lest we offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook and the first fish (a tilapia by the way!) that comes up, when you open its mouth you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and me."
There are some who say that this is a Hebrew idiom meaning that the first fish he caught was worth a stater when sold and Peter was to use that to pay the tax, but others say this was literal. Whatever the case, here is what happened. Yeshua doesn’t need to pay the tax because he is the son of God, the King of the Temple.
Since this was for the Temple service and worship, and he was Lord of the Temple, he didn’t owe it. But, rather than cause an offense and exert his right not to do so, he tells Peter to go fishing.
And notice, he doesn’t say pay the tax for "us" but for "you and me" because he was paying "not to cause offense" (because he didn’t owe it), but Peter was paying because owed it. Far from being a mandate to refrain from paying civil taxes, this was saying that Yeshua was God and Lord of the Temple.