Harmony of the Gospels

May 14, 2007 

-Tuesday-
Jerusalem
(6) Tribute to Caesar
Matthew 22:15-22 (focal passage); Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26


15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.
16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.
17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
19 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.


15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.

The Pharisees were a religious and political party in Palestine in New Testament times. They were known for insisting that the law of God be observed, as the scribes interpreted it, and for their special commitment to keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity. Luke writes in his gospel, “So they (Pharisees) watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor" (Lk. 20:20). The religious rulers, many of whom were Pharisees, realized that Jesus had been speaking against them, so they became more intent to lay hands on Him. They sent spies to trick Him into saying something for which He could be arrested and tried by the Roman governor. These spies first praised Him as one who would be faithful to God at any cost and fearless of man—hoping that He would speak against Caesar.

16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.

This incident illustrates that controversy often makes strange bedfellows. The Pharisees and the Herodians, who were bitter foes, were now brought together by a common hatred of the Savior. The Herodians were not a religious party like the Pharisees, but a political party that favored the dynasty of Herod and stood in favor of a Roman connection. They cared little or nothing for religion and normally were bitterly opposed by the Pharisees.

The statements recorded here were insincere and intended as hypocritical flattery (for they really did not believe in Him), to influence the way He answered. They addressed the Lord as “Teacher.” Teaching in the Christian faith was validated by Jesus, who was called “Teacher” more than anything else. In fact, Jesus Himself taught that teaching was one of His main activities—“I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mk. 14:49). He was the greatest Teacher ever to walk on earth. Being God’s true Prophet He taught men as the father had taught Him—“No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn. 1:18). God’s thoughts and attitudes toward humankind have been fully declared by Christ. It was a pity that those that addressed Him as “Teacher” did not accept His teaching.

“Nor do You care about anyone,” means He is not partial to any man (not even to the highest person in government).

“Teach the way of God in truth” does not express their conviction, but it does show that they hoped to appeal to Jesus’ integrity. They believed that if He answered honestly, He would be “caught” by His own words.
First they insincerely complimented His purity of character, His truthfulness, and His fearlessness. Then they dropped the loaded question of the next verse, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Obviously, they did not want His opinion; they wanted His answer to declare or imply disloyalty to Rome. They desperately tried to trick Him into saying something, which they could use as a charge against Him. So they asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman government.

All Jews, ages 14 to 65, were required to pay a tax to Caesar, which went directly into the imperial treasury. They hated to pay this poll tax, which was one denarius. Denarius was the actual name of the coin. Tiberius was the emperor at that time. Embossed on the front of the coin was the face of Caesar Tiberius, which demonstrated his right to impose the tax.

Caesar was the Roman Emperor and head of the Roman state. It was the family name of Julius Caesar, the first man who aspired to dictatorship, but his position was taken from him by his adopted son, and afterwards the Emperor Augustus was also called Caesar. It soon came to be regarded as a title, like king or president.
No Jews particularly enjoyed living under Gentile rule. The Pharisees hated it with a passion, whereas the Herodians adopted a more tolerant view. The issue of paying taxes to Rome was a sensitive one. Many Zealots, who were the armed resisters who fought against foreign rule and taxation, believed that paying tribute to a Gentile monarch was equivalent to treason against the Lord (Israel’s true King). The common people struggled with this issue, but refusing to pay taxes put their lives and properties at risk; yet they did not want to offend God.

The Pharisees were sure that they had caught Jesus, since they thought His only options would be to advocate rebellion against Rome (which would lead to His arrest) or to rebel against God (which would undermine the support of the people). Their question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” was intended to place the Lord in a dilemma. If He said yes, He would alienate many of the Jews. He could be held up to the people as a traitor for openly endorsing paying tribute to Caesar. If He spoke against Caesar, they would hustle Him off to the Roman authorities for arrest and trial as a traitor.

In asking Jesus trick questions, they hoped He would say something they could use in an accusation against Him; but His answers only exposed their foolishness and increased their guilt. They were fighting a losing battle, but they would not surrender. If they had been true to Jehovah, the question of paying taxes to Caesar would never have arisen. Their hypothetical question is only wordplay when compared to the most important question of all: IS JESUS CHRIST YOUR LORD, AND DO YOU LOVE HIM!

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
19 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius.
 
He asked someone to bring Him a *denarius. (Apparently, He Himself did not have one.) The fact that they possessed and used these coins showed their bondage to a Gentile power. The coin bore the image of Tiberius Caesar, which was a reminder to the Jews that they were conquered, and under Roman rule. Why were they in this condition? It was because of their unfaithfulness and sin. They should have been humbled at having to admit that the coins they used bore the image of a Gentile dictator.

Jesus bluntly denounced them as hypocrites for trying to trap Him. He realized there was a plot against Him, and that the religious rulers were willing to do anything, no matter how wicked, to attain their purpose. He knew that the real purpose of the delegation was not to get an answer to a question, but to trap Him. They were only acting a part, and this made them hypocrites. On this basis, alone, He could have refused to answer them.

*Denarius A small silver coin given the value of a day’s wage for a Roman soldier or an ordinary laborer. It was the amount fixed by law for the payment of the poll tax. The denarius of Jesus day was minted by Tiberius. One side bore the image of his face; the other side featured an engraving of him setting on a throne in priestly robes.  Tiberius ascribed divinity to himself and claimed to possess supreme authority not only in political but even in spiritual affairs (as “the highest priest”). The Jews considered such images to be idolatry, which was forbidden by the second Commandment (Ex. 20:4), which made this tax and these coins doubly offensive

.20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The tension must have been very high when Jesus asked them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” The Lord’s question draws their attention to Caesar by the image and writing on the coin. However, the principle that He sets forth calls for obedience to both the government (Rom 13) and God in their respective areas.

Render means “to pay back in full” whatever is owed. The word image suggests a further idea. Although the coin bore Caesar’s image which pointed to his authority and was an annoying reminder that they were under Gentile control and taxation, man himself was created in God’s image—“ Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen 1:26). Sin has marred that image, but through Jesus Christ, it can be restored—“and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). The picture on the coin was an image of Caesar immediately, but of God ultimately, implying that the emperor’s authority is under divine sovereignty.

Every child of God has dual citizenship. He is responsible to obey and financially support human government. He is not to speak evil of his rulers nor work to overthrow his government. He is to pay taxes and pray for those in authority. If called on to do anything that would violate his higher loyalty to Christ, he is to refuse and to bear the punishment. The claims of God must come first. In upholding those claims, the Christian should always maintain a good testimony before the world. As a citizen of heaven, he is responsible to obey God. “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)

The delegation from the religious leaders was forced to answer, “Ceasar’s.” Then the Lord told them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Their question had boomeranged. They had hoped to trap Jesus on the question of tribute to Caesar. However, He exposed their failure to give tribute to God. Galling as it was, they did not give Caesar his due either. Jesus is saying that they did owe something to Caesar. They were using his coins, they walked down Roman roads, and Rome did provide them with a measure of peace, so they did owe something to Rome. Although they did owe Caesar something, that did not remove their responsibility to God, but they had disregarded the claims of God on their lives. And the One that stood before them, is the express image of God’s Person—“who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3)—but they failed to give Him His rightful place. They had reluctantly paid their Roman taxes, but had disregarded the claims of God on their lives. The coin had Caesar’s image on it, and therefore belonged to Caesar. Man has God’s image on him—God created man in His own image—and therefore he belongs to God. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26, 27).

When Jesus said that we are to give God the things that are God’s, He was stressing the fact that all service, gratitude, glory, etc., due to God should be constantly and gladly given to Him. Nothing must be withheld. One does not Give God what is His due by plotting to destroy his beloved Son! But this is exactly what these spies and their teachers were trying to do.

Jesus answered their question by demonstrating that government does have a rightful place in everyone’s life and that one can be in subjection to government and God at the same time.

22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Luke said much the same thing, “But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.” When the Pharisees heard His answer, they knew they were outdone. All they could do was marvel, then leave.

Jesus had shattered the Herodians’ catch-22 by making light of the ultimate significance of Caesar’s claim. The idea is “If the penny is his, let him have it!” Jesus’ response, render unto God the things that are God’s exposed the spiritual failure of the Herodians. In essence, Jesus made light of Caesar’s earthly claim in favor of God’s greater claim over men’s lives. Jesus not only diffused their trap, but He also gave the people the answer they were seeking concerning paying taxes.

 

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