ZACCHAEUS (ză-kē'ŭs, Gr. Zakchaios, from the Hebrew zakkay, pure). A publican, referred to only in Luke. He resided at Jericho and is described as a “chief” tax collector. When Jesus was passing through Jericho on one occasion, Zacchaeus wished very much to see him. Being short, he climbed a tree by the side of the path. He must have been quite surprised, therefore, when Jesus paused in his journey beneath this very tree and, looking up, urged Zacchaeus to come down, for he had decided to stay at his house (
ZACCHAEUS ză ke’ əs (Ζακχαι̂ος, G2405, derived from the Heb. זַכָּ֔י, meaning “pure or righteous one”). A wealthy Jewish tax-collector of Jericho, known for his short stature, who became a disciple of Jesus under most unusual circumstances (
Luke is the only evangelist who records the exciting Zacchaeus pericope. One is amazed that the story is not included in the gospel according to Matthew, the publican’s gospel written for Jews, but the episode fits the dominant note of Luke’s “Gospel for the Gentiles” very well and no doubt Luke included it to show that the Gospel is for all those estranged from God. Luke makes a special point that Zacchaeus was a chief or head tax-collector (architelones) and that “he was rich.” No doubt he was sort of a district tax commissioner who had purchased the Jericho tax franchise from the Rom. or provincial government which he then farmed out to subordinate tax agents who did the actual tax collecting, all of them reaping huge commissions and getting rich off poor and rich alike. Jericho was known for its palm groves and balsam (Jos., Antiq., xv, 4. 2.) and was on the main load of traffic between Joppa, Jerusalem and the country E of Jordan. It was easy to amass a fortune there. It is possible he was one of the most hated men in Jericho and it was natural that the people who witnessed the incident murmured against Jesus: “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
When Jesus, His disciples, and a crowd of followers, the sick and the curious, came through Jericho on the way to the Passover in Jerusalem, it must have formed quite a commotion. Perhaps on that day Zacchaeus happened to be walking in the street or his place of business which was nearby, and he wondered who could be attracting such a crowd during the middle of the day. There is no indication that he had personally met Jesus before, because “he tried to see who Jesus was.” Because of his short build he could not see over the multitude. He anticipated that Jesus, who was moving slowly along with the crowd, would pass along his street, so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree common in the Jordan Valley. Zacchaeus certainly must have been surprised—and, one should comment, a bit embarrassed with the whole crowd looking up in amazement at the chief tax collector of Jericho up in a tree—when Jesus stopped, looked up, and called out to him over the noise of the crowd. What He said is part of the divine prerogative of knowledge and purpose which permeates the entire story: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down: for I must stay at your house today.” The omniscient Lord knew the heart of Zacchaeus as He once knew Nathanael’s (
The conversion which followed must have caused quite a stir in Jericho. A hated tax collector, a collaborator with the oppressive Romans, had become a disciple of Jesus. Thousands of conversions during Jesus’ ministry are not recorded, but that of Zacchaeus will always be remembered. Here great opposites met, the chief of sinners and the Chief of Love, and love is triumphant. This is the message and thrust of the Gospel: “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (
Jesus’ pronouncement of remission, “Today salvation has come to this house” (
The 3:63) state that Zacchaeus later became a companion of Peter and bishop at Caesarea but the remark is not based upon fact.(
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(Zakchaios, from zakkay, "pure"):
(1) A publican with whom Jesus lodged during His stay in Jericho (
(2) An officer of Judas Maccabeus (2 Macc 10:19). (3) A Zaccheus is mentioned in the(iii.63) as having been a companion of Peter and appointed bishop of Caesarea.
(4) According to the Gospel of the Childhood, by Thomas, Zaccheus was also the name of the teacher of the boy Jesus.