THE GOD-CAESAR CHALLENGE
Lord, our primary allegiance is to You.
Read LUKE 20:20–26
Paying Taxes to Caesar
20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.
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.
“Live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow-believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:16,17, TNIV)
We must read this passage with the realization that brutal dictators like Tiberius Caesar held sway then. Formerly a celebrated general extending Roman rule, he is now deeply troubled, unleashing violence against his political enemies. Israel’s leaders now deploy such politics against Jesus using surveillance, duplicitous “sincerity” and open flattery to trap him after his devastating parable (Luke 20:9–18). Sadly, such tactics, repugnant to God, are typical in our world and church.
In asking Jesus if paying taxes to Caesar is lawful, they know that a simple “no” will expose him to the charge of sedition. A simple “yes” could damage his popular support. Wisdom-Made-Flesh reads them like a book. He wants to see a denarius. Producing the denarius at the bidding of Jesus indicates a submission to his authority. Moreover, it demonstrates their complicity with Rome and its money. The coin probably bears an image of Tiberius’ head with the words: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of divine Augustus” (Darrell L Bock, Luke 9:51 – 24:53, Baker Academic, 1996, p. 1612 Logos).
Jesus’ command to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (25, ESV) establishes the principle that Christians are to recognize the state’s authority and pay taxes (eg., Rom 13:1–7). Nevertheless, they must also recognize God’s absolute authority and render to him what is his: everything! These leaders render to Caesar but not to God. Our challenge is to give ultimate allegiance to God, yet submit to the state. There is a time to resist, non-violently, the state’s demands, depending on the circumstances (Rev 13). Yet, Jesus, Paul, and Peter all endorse submission, even to brutal Roman dictators. More profoundly, they call us to challenge Caesar from the bottom up: God’s rule penetrates the world’s kingdoms, like salt and yeast. Whatever the political scene, we are to take up the challenge Jesus gives here using all the wisdom he demonstrates during this encounter.
Consider what we are to render to God. Holding that thought, what does it mean to render to Caesar? Read 1 Timothy 2:1 and 2 – and pray.
Teach us, Jesus, how to balance properly the claims of the crown vs. the kingdom when the two realms potentially clash.
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