How Jesus changed Zacchaeus in the Bible

A man who is wearing a head turban is facing the camera and smiling. Beside the picture are the words How Jesus changed Zacchaeus in the Bible.

Throughout the last month or so, I have shared many blog posts about our identity in Christ. For the next couple of weeks, I want to share stories of people who met Jesus and how they changed. This week we will see how Jesus changed Zacchaeus in the Bible.

A man who is wearing a head turban is facing the camera and smiling. Beside the picture are the words How Jesus changed Zacchaeus in the Bible.

Zacchaeus: How Jesus changed his behaviour

We first meet Zacchaeus in the book of Luke.

Luke19:1-10: Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;  for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

When we read this scripture, we learn everything the Bible has to say about him. It’s not many verses but it’s enough to tell us about the change that happened to him. 

Who Zacchaeus was Before He met Jesus:

1. He was a Chief tax collector

From these verses, we learn what Zacchaeus did for a living. He collected taxes and since it says he was a chief tax collector, that means he probably had people under him collecting taxes and getting a cut off the profits. 

When I study the Bible, there are a few resources I go to for more information. One of which is actually a book I gave to my children. It’s called: what does the Bible say about… the ultimate A to Z resource. 

This is what that book had to say about tax collectors. 

   “Tax collectors gathered several different types of taxes. Depending on the kind of rule in a given Jewish province, Rome levied a land tax, a poll tax, even a tax for the operation of the temple. 

   As a class, tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews and associated with sinners (Matt 9:10-11; Mark 2:15). They often gathered more than the government required and pocketed the access amount. But tax collectors were also hated because their fellow citizens vied them as mercenaries working for the Roman oppressors.”

(What does the Bible say about… the ultimate A to Z resource, Thomas Nelson  Inc copyright 2001, page 397)

Why does it matter what he did?

When the Bible talks about different people, we don’t always know what they did for work. But with Zacchaeus, we do. Why does this matter? 

As noted above, we know that tax collectors were hated and not well-regarded. Tax collectors took more money than needed. They were essentially stealing money and lining their pockets with profit. 

These facts let us know that Zacchaeus would not have been welcomed in Jewish society and he would not be trusted. In modern terms, he would have been a scammer of their time. Not someone we would wish to know and certainly not someone we could trust. 

People’s behaviour towards Zacchaeus is completely understandable. Who would want to invite a cheater and a swindler into their homes? 

Not many people would open their doors to such sinners. 

But Zacchaeus’s sins did not stop Jesus. Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was, and that he was searching for answers and Jesus took time to talk to sinners and even went into his house. 

Do we let people’s sins cloud our minds and keep us from sharing the Love of God with them? 

I know that if I searched my heart, it would not take long for me to realize that I often let people’s sins keep me from loving them as God loves us. 

2. Zacchaeus was rich

We know that being rich is not a sin. But, the truth is, rich people have a harder time seeing their need for God. 

Luke 18:25 NKJV The Bible says: For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When someone has a lot of money, they have a harder time depending on God for their daily needs. This is because they know where their next meal will come from, and they have confidence knowing that they can pay their bills. 

People who are “poor” have an easier time accepting God because they have so much need in their life. 

A few years after my husband and I got married, we were in a troublesome financial situation. My husband had lost his job, I was a stay-at-home mom and our savings had been completely spent. We had no clue how we could pay our bills and didn’t know what the next day would bring- let alone the next year. Our financial need drove us to our knees. We prayed for God’s provision and work in our lives so that we could eat, and have a roof over our heads. Our need was so large we knew we needed to depend on God. 

That time in our life was very difficult, but it helped us depend on God for our every need. 

Now, we are in a much better financial situation. Because of that, we know how our daily needs will be met. We don’t have as many needs. That leads us to forget that all our needs and our current position is given to us by God. It’s easy for us to think that it was us who provided for what we have and not God. 

Thankfully, our past experience of need has helped us. Because we depended on God completely- we got used to going to God daily. That habit has not stopped. Our needs are not as large but our hearts were transformed. We know God has given us everything we have.

If someone has never had a financial need, or physical need or any other need– I could see how they might think they don’t need God. When you are your own provider, it’s hard to depend on God for your needs. 

A lesson to the disciples

Jesus often used events and miracles to teach His disciples. I believe that meeting Zacchaeus was one of those times. 

In Luke chapter 18- Jesus shares with his disciples an example of 2 different people praying. One comes to God in pride and the other in humility during prayer.  

One was a rich man- 

The other was a tax collector. 

Luke 18: 13– the tax collector would not raise his eyes towards heaven but beat his breast saying ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner

Luke 18:24-27 How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven — But He said: The things which are impossible with men are possible with God

Jesus gives these two teachings in the chapter before the story of Zacchaeus. 

In chapter 18- The story is just a parable and an analogy- but in chapter 19- these truths come together in a real-life example. 

A rich man who sought after God- repented of his sins and changed the way he gave and lived his life. 

This must have been amazing to see for the disciples. So often we read parables and stories and have a hard time ‘knowing’ that they are true because we have not seen it with our own eyes. 

But here, the disciples saw that even though it is hard for rich people to come to know Jesus- here was a rich man who was happy to invite Jesus into his home and repent of his sins. 

What happened when Zacchaeus heard about Jesus:

1. He went into Action

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus would be passing through, he went into action. He wanted to see Jesus and so he went to go see him. 

Matthew 7:7 NKJV “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 

This verse reminds us that all who seek Jesus WILL find Him. 

This verse also reminds us that there is an action we need to take for salvation. We are the ones who have to ask, seek and knock. God is not hiding from us. He desires for everyone to be saved– but He does not save those who don’t want it. 

2. Zacchaeus overcame a barrier

The Bible tells us that Zacchaeus was short. Since he was short and there was a crowd, Zacchaeus knew that if he stayed where he was- he would not be able to see Jesus. 

Instead of letting his height affect his desire to see Jesus- he found a way anyways. He found a tree he could climb in an area he knew Jesus would be stopping by. 

 He did not let his height or the crowds keep him from his mission- see Jesus. 

What about you? Do you have a desire to know God more but let obstacles get in your way? 

I know that for me, there have been times in my life where I have made excuses to not continue to seek growth in The Lord. I have let my other desires be more important than my spiritual desires. 

Zacchaeus is a good reminder that if we truly desire to seek Jesus- we won’t let obstacles keep us from it. We will do what we need to see Jesus and be closer to Him. 

3. Zacchaeus Obeyed Jesus

When Jesus walked by the tree, He stopped and started a conversation with Zacchaeus. 

Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down because Jesus was going to stay at his house today. 

When Zacchaeus heard this- he came down with haste. 

He obeyed quickly. 

As a parent, I know the joy it is to have my children obey me without question, and I also know the frustration when my children disobey or obey with reluctance. 

Jesus is very similar to us when it comes to obedience. He wants us to obey His commandments and do so with joy. 

  • How quick am I in obeying The Lord? 
  • Do I obey out of duty or love? 
  • Do I obey with a willing heart or a reluctant heart? 

These are all questions I ask myself when I read this story. Zacchaeus is a good reminder for me to obey God quickly and with Joy. 

4. Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully 

When Jesus invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’s house, the crowd around them started to complain. 

The bible says in Luke 19: 7: All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

The people around were not happy that Jesus was going to stay with a sinner. I think they thought that they were more deserving of a visit or at least that Zacchaeus was not deserving of such an honor. 

But Zacchaeus did not let the crowd’s comments or his past behaviour keep him from receiving Jesus. 

He received Jesus with Joy. 

When we see “sinners” accept Jesus, do we feel jealous or happy for them? 

When we know what Jesus wants us to do and invites us to do it, do we do so with Joy or with dread? 

Example from my Life: 

A few years ago, I had 2 children, and the youngest had just turned 2 and I felt like I had left one stage and entered into a new stage where I had more time. I was looking for something to fill my time. So, I turned to The Lord.

I told Him I had more space in my life and that I was ready for Him to fill it with what He desired. 

His answer came quickly. Have another baby. 

I was not thrilled with that response. I had no desire to have a third baby and I had been convinced that I was done with having children. 

So, I let it go. 

A while later, I asked again. The answer was the same. 

I am not sure how many times I asked- it was at least 2 times. But my obedience was not right away and I certainly did not respond in Joy. 

But, I finally obeyed. 

Within a week, we had conceived our 3rd baby. 

I could not be happier with how our family is today. Had I not obeyed- there are so many things that we would have missed out on. 

When I look back- I wish that I had obeyed right away and that I had done so with joy. 

God knows us. He knows what is best for us. 

I still don’t fully understand the magnitude of that, but as I continue to live my Christian life, God continues to show me that His ways are best and that they are good- even if at first we are not convinced. 

What happened after Zacchaeus met Jesus

1. Willing to make restitution

When Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house, I am not sure we are given the whole story of what was said. All we know is that Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner and he knew he had done something wrong and wanted to fix it.  

We see Zacchaeus was willing to give money back 4 times what he took that was not his 

This willingness was a public declaration and his action gave proof publicly that he had changed. 

By paying restitution, he showed he knew the OT law and that he respected it. 

Exodus 22:1  “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

This book gives more insight to Zacchaeus stating that: Giving away his possessions was not a requirement of the law, but it revealed his change of heart. (What does the Bible say about… the ultimate A to Z resource, Thomas Nelson  Inc copyright 2001, page 394) 

A fourfold restitution went beyond the usual requirements of the law (Numbers 5:6-7; Lev. 6:1-6

Numbers 5: 5-7  The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way [a] and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty 7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.

What about you? When you sin, are you willing to make restitution? 

Restitution is not a requirement of being saved, but it is one thing we can do that shows people that our hearts have changed. 

2. Zacchaeus Was saved

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

There is no account of Zacchaeus praying for salvation or asking for forgiveness. But, Zacchaeus was willing to prove his repentant heart by paying back the money he has taken. His willingness to repay is an act of faith. It is proof that his heart did change. 

Not only that, but Jesus himself declared that salvation had come to this house. Meaning that Zacchaeus was saved and is now part of the family of God. What greater proof do we need of someone’s conversion than the declaration of Jesus Himself. 


The story of Zacchaeus is short. But in it, we can learn so much about how we search and obey God and how willing we are to make restitution when we seek forgiveness. 

Zacchaeus is just one of many people that changed once they met Jesus. We don’t read anymore from Zacchaeus, so it’s hard to know how he served Jesus after he met him. 

Click here to read more stories of people from the bible who changed once they met Jesus. 

In the comments below, share how God is changing you. 

Please share this post with your friends. 

Thank you

Author: Anne Markey

Anne is a stay at home mother of 3 who has been married for more then 10 years. She loves the Lord and is passionate about helping women learn who they are in Christ and how to live a life that glorifies Him.

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