Jesus Calls Zacchaeus The Tax Collector


‘Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.’ Luke 19:1-2

Old Jericho

Although this event is one of only two references to Jericho found in the Gospels, we must remember that it was a city that, by that time, had already existed for many centuries. This is a fact firmly established by archaeological research.

The first excavation of the Jericho site was carried out by a team of German archaeologists in the years 1907 to 1909, and their work was followed by an expedition by the British School of Archaeology led by Professor John Garstang, which lasted from 1929 to 1936, and which was followed in 1952 by that of the American archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon.

The latest, and I believe the last, work on what is known as ‘The Garstang Trench’ was done in 1957, after which the political climate in Palestine virtually ended the archaeological work of foreign nationals.

Many Jericho’s

However, the most important result to emerge from this work was the discovery of the earliest stratified levels revealing human occupation, ever found at any archaeological site anywhere in the world.

The mound at Ancient Jericho has revealed periods of human occupation down to a level of 45 feet, and scholars now believe that the top, most evidence of human occupation of the site occurred about 1700 B.C., whilst the lowest remains, found on the bedrock of the trench, are thought to date from 7000 B.C.

Remember, that the current site of ancient Jericho is actually a mound that ‘grew’ through thousands of years. It ‘grew’ simply because when the original settlement built on the bedrock, was abandoned, those who later resettled the site did not clear it but merely built upon it.

In this way, the level of the occupied site was raised, strata upon strata, until it became the mound it is today. The various levels can be clearly seen on the sides of the 45-feet deep trench.

This means that Jericho was an ancient Canaanite city long before it was destroyed by Joshua, Joshua 4:24 and there is evidence that, after its destruction by the Israelite army, in the course of its long history, the city was destroyed several times.

After the city had been conquered it was given to the tribe of Benjamin, Joshua 18:21. Later, during the time of the Judges, it was occupied by the Moabites, led by their King Eglon, at which time it was known as ‘The City of the Palms’ Judges 1:16 / Judges 3:13.

Later still, we read in 1 Kings 6:14, that it was ‘rebuilt’ by Hiel of Bethel, in the time of King Ahab. And it was yet again destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and later rebuilt once more.

Between the Testaments

It was during the Inter-Testamental Period that Jericho came under Roman control and was governed by a ‘Captain’, ‘Strategos’, in Latin, and during its time under the Romans, the city was given to Cleopatra, by Mark Anthony, and she ‘leased’ it to Herod the Great for 200 talents.

King Herod then built a new city south of the old one, complete with a castle, an amphitheatre, a hippodrome, and beautiful gardens with various water features, and Jericho became his winter residence. In fact, this is where he died in 4 B.C.

This city, known as ‘Herodian Jericho’, later suffered the fate of earlier cities. It was destroyed by Emperor Vespasian, in 68 A.D. But the important fact is that this city, virtually adjoining the old site, was the city which Jesus knew.

We could continue to follow Jericho’s turbulent history through succeeding centuries, turbulent because it was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Moslems destroyed it in 638 A.D. Egyptian soldiers destroyed it in 1840. In 1871, it was destroyed by fire. And after each destruction, it was rebuilt.

Jesus and Jericho

But, although it would be interesting to study this later history, what concerns us at the moment is the fact that the miraculous healing occurred when Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem for the last time, after leaving Galilee in the north. Matthew 19:1.

Jericho was the last halt for pilgrims when they travelled to ‘The City of David’ from Galilee and Perea. They came by way of Jericho, to avoid passing through Samaria, and Jesus, descending from the north, would first enter and pass through what archaeologists call ‘Canaanite Jericho’ that is our ‘old Jericho’, where the ‘Garstang Trench’ has been excavated, and he would then enter ‘Herodian Jericho’.

In other words, there was a point at which he left the ruins of the ancient city and passed into the modern city built by Herod. When we take into consideration the geographical proximity of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ cities, it is not difficult to reconcile the statements made by the Gospel writers, He was ‘leaving’ Canaanite Jericho and ‘entering’ Herodian Jericho. The Gospel records, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contain no contradictions when we take into consideration such matters as their geographical and historical setting.

The Tax Collectors

Most people know that a tax collector wasn’t highly esteemed in Biblical times, in fact, most were hated because they were considered either a traitor or a thief. This is because Israel was occupied by Rome and all the taxes collected went to Rome.

The Romans demanded a certain amount of tax, but the tax collector could add more to bump up his wages, Luke 3:13.

The tax collectors were called ‘publicans’, which is the equivalent of what we would call the Inland Revenue. Their job was to collect not only Roman taxes but the temple tax which was paid yearly, about a month before Passover, in order to support those who worked with the religious services of the temple, Exodus 30:13-14.


Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector for the Romans, but Luke also tells us that he was wealthy but not how he came by his wealth, because the name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ we would assume that he became wealthy through collecting taxes, that was his job. We can also assume that he was a righteous man, Luke 19:9, and this is one of these people who remained faithful to God despite his wealth, Luke 18:24-27 / 1 Timothy 6:6-12.

It’s all too easy to condemn someone because of their wealth and it’s all too easy to tell them they must give up everything they own and give it to the poor, Matthew 10:17-27.

I guess we could say that Zacchaeus was the camel passing through the eye of the needle, and the rich man entering the kingdom of God. There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, it all depends if we rely on our wealth more than we do on God and how we use our wealth.

‘He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So, he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ Luke 19:3-7

It’s clear that Zacchaeus was small in size because he couldn’t see over the crowd but something else to keep in mind here, because he was a tax collector the Pharisees commanded that they would be a part of God’s people when the Messiah came.

Despite him being rich and in a high position in Roman rule, he still had to climb up a tree to get a look at Jesus. The tree in question was the sycamore-fig tree, the fig-mulberry, having fig-like fruit and leaves like the mulberry. These trees were strong, with long branches and were often climbed, especially by young children. The
very fact that he took the time to climb the tree tells us a lot about his determination just to see Jesus in the flesh.

Jesus Knows Everything And Everyone

Even though Jesus had never met Zacchaeus before, He certainly knew His name, Luke 6:8 / Luke 9:47 / Matthew 9:4 / Matthew 12:25 / Matthew 22:18 / Matthew 24:25 / Mark 2:8 / Mark 5:30.

Isn’t it wonderful that He knows us personally, Luke 12:7? He not only knew who Zacchaeus was, but He also knew the condition of Zacchaeus’ heart.

Notice that he ‘welcomed him gladly’, which tells us that God will always welcome anyone who welcomes Him into their lives. But, as always there are those in the background who aren’t happy with Jesus and His decisions to associate with ‘sinners’.

The crowd seem to have made up their minds that Zacchaeus was a traitor to the Jews and therefore a sinner because he was a tax collector, regardless if he was an honest tax collector or not, 1 Samuel 16:7.

In other words, Zacchaeus was guilty, in their minds at least, of being a sinner because he worked for sinners, the Romans. He was guilty by association. Jesus was going to deal with this mentally later in Luke 19:11-27.

‘But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Luke 19:8

I don’t believe that Zacchaeus is saying from this point on he’s going to do all these things, I believe he’s saying that he’s going to continue to do what he’s been doing for years, he will continually give to the poor, he will continue to have compassion on the poor, Psalm 41:1.

Surely this gives us a glimpse into his heart and his honesty, he wants to continue to do what’s right, and he’s even willing to pay back anyone ‘if’ he has cheated anybody out of anything. Other tax collectors may have been charging a lot of extra charges over and above what was actually required by the Romans, but Zacchaeus seems to be charging just enough to earn a decent living.

This idea of paying back ‘four times the amount’, went way beyond what the Old Testament law required, Exodus 22 / Numbers 5:6-7 / Leviticus 6:1-6, but was often what was required by Roman law in some cases.

Zacchaeus was obviously very careful when it came to dealing with people’s money, and if he overcharged people by mistake he would go back and give them not just the difference but four times the amount.

Again, this shows us the integrity of the man, he was honest and also strove to do what was right, even if that did mean he had to humble himself when he realised he made a mistake.

How many of us are quick to give the shopkeeper the money back when they give us too much change?

‘Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’ Luke 19:9-10

This is the only occasion where Jesus invites Himself to stay at someone’s house. Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham by faith, Romans 2:28-29 / Galatians 3:7 / Galatians 3:26-29, The Jews wouldn’t accept him as a son of Abraham because he was a tax collector.

Notice his faith had legs attached, he climbed the tree, he came down when Jesus asked him to, He was willing to do what was right, and He took Jesus to his house. In other words, his faith in Jesus moved him to respond to Jesus which resulted in his salvation, James 2:14-26.

The Jews believed that salvation comes to a house when the head and master of it is saved.

Here we read about Christ’s mission whilst He was on earth, ‘He came to seek and to save the lost’. It’s a truth that many people ignore, many people won’t admit they are lost, lost in sin. Isn’t it interesting that despite Zacchaeus being a righteous man, Jesus still classed him as ‘lost’? The word ‘lost’ here simply means ‘spiritual destitution and alienation from God’.

Zacchaeus was lost, and he didn’t even know it, salvation came to him because Jesus brought it to him and accepted Him.


Zacchaeus proved that he was the real deal, the Pharisees and the Jews as a whole tried to justify themselves by their works, but Zacchaeus was different and had a different attitude towards his good works, his faith and repentance clearly show us that he was different from those around him. And as a result, he is saved from his sins, that is, from the guilt of his sins, from the power of his sins, and now all the benefits of salvation are his.

We’re not told if he ever went on in later years to become a Christian, we can only hope that he did, his faith in Christ was rewarded then, but a greater reward awaited him if he obeyed Christ’s later commands, Matthew 28:18-20 / Mark 16:16.

Because Christ’s mission was to ‘save’, this tells us that we couldn’t save ourselves, Christ had to come and do something for us that we couldn’t do ourselves. Some people are just happy to read about Jesus, whilst others are more than happy to obey Him too.

The question is, what heights will we climb, not only to see Jesus but to allow Him to save us?