ENOUGH CAESAR, MORE JESUS
Lord, you are the source of all things good. Help me to focus on what I have rather than what I may lack.
Read MATTHEW 22:15–22
Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
- Matthew 22:17 A special tax levied on subject peoples, not on Roman citizens
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
May we live well as servants of God, show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.’1
Having been humiliated with parables warning them of wrath, Jewish leaders continue to assault Jesus. Pharisees resented paying Roman taxes; Herodians accepted it. Whatever answer Jesus gave would upset one or the other group.2 Their use of deceitful flattery (v 16) betrays their spiritual poverty. God’s people should never use such tactics.3 The question is designed to trap Jesus. If he says it is unlawful to pay taxes, this is sedition against Rome. If he says it is lawful, he will potentially lose support from those wanting to overthrow the Romans.
Jesus challenges their intent. He demands a denarius, causing his antagonists to handle money they consider ‘unclean’. He asks whose image is on it. They rightly respond ‘Caesar’s’ (probably Tiberius at the time). Jesus then directs them to give to Caesar his own things, such as this coin. Hence, as in Romans,4 his answer affirms that believers should pay their taxes. However, they are also to give to God what is God’s. This suggests the first two commandments, urging God’s people to place the worship of God above all other allegiances.5 Insofar as we do not violate our first commitment to God, we can submit to the governing authorities. Christians live in the tension between Romans 13 (and this passage) and Revelation 13. On the whole, we submit to our governments, showing them due honor, knowing that God has established them (even if they don’t know it).6 However, when the government goes rogue, demanding our first allegiance, there is a time to deny the Beast its demands. Whatever the situation, we pay our taxes. Most importantly, we never respond with violence: retaliation is God’s business.7 Jesus will demonstrate this on the cross.
Praise our God and his Son. Then, spend time praying for the government of your region. Choose another nation in the world and pray for that place, too.
Eternal One, I pray that you will keep me from hypocrisy. May my words and actions be truthful expressions of my inner feelings.
1 1 Pet 2:16,17 2 Craig L Blomberg, Matthew, 1992, p330 3 1 Thess 2:5 4 Rom 13:6,7 5 Exod 20:3–6 6 Dan 2:21; Tit 3:1 7 Rom 12:17–21
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