Meet Zacchaeus, a Dishonest Tax Collector Who Found Christ

Zacchaeus in the Bible
Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Tree by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

Zacchaeus was a dishonest man whose curiosity led him to Jesus Christ and salvation. Ironically, his name means "pure one" or "innocent" in Hebrew. Small in stature, Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing by. Much to his astonishment, the Lord called Zacchaeus by name, telling him to come down from the tree. That very day, Jesus went home with Zacchaeus. Moved by Jesus' message, the notorious sinner turned his life over to Christ and was never the same again.

Key Verses

  • 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, NIV)
  • "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 what was lost." (Luke 19:9-10, NIV)

The Story of Zacchaeus in the Bible

As a chief tax collector for the vicinity of Jericho, Zacchaeus, a Jew, was an employee of the Roman Empire. Under the Roman system, men bid on those positions, pledging to raise a certain amount of money. Anything they raised over that amount was their personal profit. Luke says Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, so he must have extorted a great deal from the people and encouraged his subordinates to do so as well.

Jesus was passing through Jericho one day, but because Zacchaeus was a short man, he could not see over the crowd. He ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view. To his surprise and delight, Jesus stopped, looked up, and ordered Zacchaeus to come down because he would stay at his house.

The crowd, however, muttered that Jesus would be socializing with a sinner. Jews hated tax collectors because they were dishonest tools of the oppressive Roman government. The self-righteous people in the crowd were especially critical of Jesus’ interest in a man like Zacchaeus, but Christ was demonstrating his mission to seek and save the lost.

At Jesus' call to him, Zacchaeus promised to give half his money to the poor and repay fourfold anyone he had cheated. Jesus told Zacchaeus that salvation would come to his house that day.

At the home of Zacchaeus, Jesus told the parable of the ten servants.

Zacchaeus is not mentioned again in the Bible after that episode, but we can assume his repentant spirit and his acceptance of Christ did, indeed, lead to his salvation and the salvation of his whole household.

Accomplishments of Zacchaeus

He collected taxes for the Romans, overseeing the customs charges on the trade routes through Jericho and levying taxes on individual citizens in that area.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that Zacchaeus became a companion of Peter and later the bishop of Caesarea, although there is no other reliable documentation to substantiate these claims.

Strengths

Zacchaeus must have been efficient, organized, and aggressive in his work.

Zacchaeus was eager to see Jesus, suggesting that his interest went deeper than mere curiosity. He was a seeker after the truth.

When he repented, he paid back those he had cheated.

Weaknesses

The very system Zacchaeus worked under encouraged corruption. He must have fit in well because he made himself wealthy from it. He cheated his fellow citizens, taking advantage of their powerlessness. Probably a lonely man, his only friends would have been sinful or corrupt like him.

Life Lessons

Jesus Christ came to save sinners in the days of Zacchaeus and still today. Those who seek Jesus, in reality, are sought, seen, and saved by him. No one is beyond his help. His love is a constant call to repent and come to him. Accepting his invitation leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Hometown

Zacchaeus lived in Jericho, a large commercial center positioned on a major trade route between Jerusalem and the territories east of the Jordan.

Reference to Zacchaeus in the Bible

The story of Zacchaeus is found in the Bible in Luke 19:1-10.

Occupation

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for Jericho.