Luke 19:1-2 Zacchaeus, was a very rich man who made his money at the expense of his kinsmen by joining with Rome to collect their taxes. He is described as “chief”. This is the only time the title “chief” is used with a tax collector. Its meaning is not known. It probably refers to the head of the local taxation office.
Tax collectors served the Roman conquerors. Most tax collectors were Jewish, but in the people’s eyes they had denied their Jewish heritage and betrayed their country. As a result they were completely cut off from Jewish society and excommunicated from the Jewish religion and its privileges. They were generally dishonest and unjust men.
Most tax collectors were extremely wealthy. The Roman government compensated tax collectors by allowing them to collect more than the percentage required for taxes. They took bribes from the wealthy who wished to avoid taxes, fleeced the average citizen, and swindled the government when they could. They assumed rights that belonged only to God. God alone was King in the eyes of the Jewish people. God was considered to be the head of Jewish government.
Taxes were to be paid only to Him and His government, which was centered only in the Temple. To pay taxes to earthly rulers was an abuse and a denial of God’s rights. That’s why tax collectors were excommunicated from the Jewish religion and privileges. They were accursed, anathema. Zacchaeus had all the pleasures and comforts of life which money could buy. His money was a serious threat to having a relationship with God as it is with all rich men. It is difficult to give up the love of money and put God first in one’s life.
Luke 19:3-4 But something caused Zacchaeus to seek after Jesus. Despite his wealth and the pleasures enjoyed by wealth, he was apparently empty and lonely within his heart. This may be because he was so hated by the people and Jesus seemed to welcome sinful men to draw near to him and God. Zacchaeus was also small in stature, which means that he was probably self-conscious about that as well. Being so small in stature was dangerous for him to be out in the midst of a crowd that despised him.
From all indications he was denied passage through the crowd, probably being shoved back and abused. All of that makes his determination and persistence even more evident.
But Zacchaeus persevered in his attempt to see Jesus, and he had to humble himself to do it. Imagine Zacchaeus, a man of position and wealth, climbing a tree just to see an important person pass by. He wanted to see Jesus so badly he forgot everyone around and humbled himself and climbed a tree. He was determined to see the Lord, and nothing was going to stop him.
He had heard reports about Jesus being the Messiah, and perhaps had heard about Jesus saving and calling Matthew, another tax collector, to be one of His disciples. He no doubt had begun to believe the reports or at least to wonder and hope that the reports were true. His efforts to see Jesus and what follows are evidence of some stirring, of some hope driving him to seek Jesus.
Luke 19:5-6 Jesus sees everything about a man, but there is one person in particular whom he sees. He sees the man who is seeking Him. Zacchaeus is an example. He was desperate to see Jesus, so he had struggled against the odds and found a place where he could see Him. Because Zacchaeus sought so diligently to see Jesus, Jesus saw him and called him by name.
When anyone, especially a stranger, calls us by name, our ears perk up and our senses become more alert. Jesus knows every man’s name (John 1:48; Isaiah 43:1). He wants to address every one of us by name, but we must let Him. Jesus asked to be received and to be received with haste. He was set for Jerusalem and must not delay too long. There was no time to waste.
Jesus wanted to be welcomed, received, and entertained by Zacchaeus; but Zacchaeus had to act then and there. Jesus had only a couple of hours before He had to move on to fulfill His purpose. The moment of opportunity was then and there, that day. The next day it would be gone. Zacchaeus responded immediately and received Jesus joyfully.
Luke 19:7-8 Zacchaeus was a sinner and everyone knew that Zacchaeus was a betrayer of his country, serving Rome. And Zacchaeus himself knew that he was a sinner, both a betrayer and a thief, having stolen much from many. Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner and readily confessed his need for the Messiah. The crowd demonstrated self-righteousness.
They did not like Jesus eating and associating with a known and confessed sinner. Their sin was murmuring and grumbling and complaining the sin of Israel in the wilderness. They misunderstood Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth, that of saving sinners. Zacchaeus repented and changed his whole life; he completely turned around from his sinful life to God and His way of righteousness.
He gave half his goods to the poor. He did exactly what Jesus had said time after time, and he did exactly what the rich young ruler had refused to do (Luke 18:18-24). He also gave back to those whom he had cheated; he gave four times what he had taken. Restitution became the thrust of his life for the next while. Think of the people he had cheated, stealing everything he could from them. Imagine the list of people and how long it would take to track them down. These are all the indications of genuine repentance. He was serious about following Messiah and living righteously.
Luke 19:9-10 true repentance includes looking to the Messiah for reconciliation with God. Jesus is the One who proclaims salvation. He proclaimed two things:
1) That repentance saved Zacchaeus.
2) That Zacchaeus was a true son of Abraham, a spiritual son.
Jesus is the One who seeks and saves the lost, who are perishing being cut off from God. The lost are spiritually destitute. Yeshua came to seek and to saves the lost and He is the One who sought Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus put himself in a position to see Jesus, but Jesus did the speaking to Zacchaeus’ heart, asking Zacchaeus to receive him. It was only after Zacchaeus received that he received life (Ezekiel 34).