Zacchaeus was a Jewish man who lived in Jericho. His name is a Jewish name and comes from a Hebrew word meaning “pure, righteous.” We know Zacchaeus from the account recorded in Luke 19:1-10.
Zacchaeus was a very wealthy tax collector. He had the contract from Rome to collect tolls on any and all merchandise and or goods that moved through Jericho. Luke in his gospel calls Zacchaeus a “chief tax collector.” This means that he had the main contract to collect taxes and then sub-contracted the actual collection of the taxes out to sub-contractors.
The sub-contractor would ensure that “lesser” tax collectors were placed at strategic places in order to collect every tax that could be exhorted or collected. These lesser tax collectors, which by the way Matthew was probably one, would either provide the “muscle” on their own or would hire thugs in case any protested about the tax demanded. The taxes were arbitrary and even included taxes on each of the wheels on the wagons or carts. The Jews hated paying the taxes and the tax collectors.
Zacchaeus' position made him a very wealthy man from Luke’s account. Of course it subjected Zacchaeus to a tremendous amount of scorn, hatred, animosity, and contempt from his own people. He was also considered unclean by the chief priests and scribes and therefore was not permitted to worship in the local synagogue.
We do not know what prompted Zacchaeus to want to see Jesus the day that Jesus passed through Jericho. We do know from the gospel accounts that many people were interested in Jesus and wanted to see him “perform” or hear him teach. It seems that many people followed Jesus, some because of the multitude – crowds attract people and followers.
Others followed Jesus because of the miracles – after all, it is quite an attraction to see blind men healed, the lame or crippled walking again, or even the dead brought back to life. People like a good show.
Some followed Jesus for the meat – on two occasions he had provided bread and fish to a combined crowd of nearly 9,000 men. This count did not include the women and children; if you factor them in Jesus could have fed on these two occasions some 36,000 to 50,000 people. Very few people actually followed Jesus because He was the Messiah.
Something prompted Zacchaeus to want to see Jesus. Zacchaeus did something else Jewish men rarely if ever did, he put his dignity on the back-burner and climbed a tree. Why? He was a very short man. He could not see over the crowd. At a strategic point along the roadway where Jesus would pass, Zacchaeus climbed a tree and waited on a branch.
However, something extraordinary took place. Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus and told him, “Zacchaeus, come down from that tree, I am going to your house today.” Something else extraordinary happened that day; during the visit and conversation Jesus won the heart of this despised Jewish tax collector. Jesus made the startling and yet joyous statement that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house that day.
Zacchaeus responded in repentance to the message of Jesus that day. How do we know? Luke tells that Zacchaeus demonstrated fruit of his repentance – he gave half of his goods to the poor, and promised to restore anyone he cheated fourfold. For the record, giving away his money to the poor and giving back money that he extorted did not save Zacchaeus. It was evidence that Christ had saved him.
Naturally we can not finish this account without mentioning the reaction of the Pharisees and religious crowd. Needless to say they were angry. They complained, the term is actually murmured; under their breath that Jesus was going to eat with a harmatolos, a sinner. They felt that eating with Zacchaeus was beneath the dignity of Jesus, their standards, not to mention that in their eyes it would have rendered Jesus unclean.
There you have it. Salvation coming to the most unlikely of houses- to a hated and despised Jewish tax collector who was not tall enough to see Jesus without climbing a tree. Salvation will come to the most unlikely of people at the oddest of times. Has Jesus spotted you in your "tree" and told you "to come down" Has salvation come to your house? If it hasn't please inquire within!