Zacchaeus (Greek Ζακχαῖος, Hebrew זכי, which means pure ) was a superintendent of customs; a chief tax-gatherer (publicanus) at Jericho (). Because the lucrative production and export of balsam was centered in Jericho, his position carried both importance and wealth. Being a short man, he arrived before the crowd who were later to meet with Jesus as he passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. The tax collector climbed up a sycamore fig tree so that he might be able to see him. When Christ reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down. Jesus told the man, who was a hated tax collector, that he intended to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Christ would sully himself by being a guest of a tax collector.
This led to the remarkable interview recorded by the evangelist, recounting Zacchaeus' repentance and vow to make restitution for his sins, and leads naturally into the striking parable of the Ten Talents ().
At Er-riha (Jericho) there is a large, venerable looking square tower, which by tradition is named the House of Zacchaeus.
According to Clement of Alexandria, in his book Stromata, Zaccheus was surnamed Matthias by the apostles, and took the place of Judas Iscariot after Jesus's ascension. The later Apostolic Constitutions identify "Zacchaeus the Publican" as the first bishop of Caesarea (7.46).
The story of Zacchaeus is used by some to illustrate the saying of Jesus: "Blessed are the pure of heart, For they shall see God" . Zacchaeus whose name means pure, climbed up a tree, which represents the cross, and by being symbolically crucified with Christ, was able to see God (He who has seen Jesus has seen God )
The sycamore tree, climbed by Zacchaeus, was considered "unclean" because it bore a fruit that was fed to pigs. In the culture of the time it was humiliating for Zacchaeus to climb that tree. To see Jesus, Zacchaeus' pride had to be crucified. In Romans, Paul wrote "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin."
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.” Why fourfold ? Why not just pay back what he took? Exodus chapter 22 prescribes the restitution required when responsible for loss of another's property. Restitution ranges from straight replacement for negligence, increasing up to two, four or five times replacement for various thefts. King David applied this rule when he said, "And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity." Rather than asking how little he could do to correct his past wrongs, Zacchaeus chose a generous restitution. He placed himself on guilty side of the spectrum of Exodus 22. Now he was living in maximum obedience to God. There was no law that required giving half of everything to the poor, but Zacchaeus chose that as well. Zacchaeus demonstrated Jesus' command, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."