Praise and worship God for his creation and reflect before him on what it means for you to be made in his image (Genesis 1:27).
Paying the poll-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 poll-tax 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.
Quite apart from anything else, this encounter demonstrates the futility of pretending before God. Jesus sees straight through the feigned praise of the Pharisees and Herodians (v 16) and exposes their hypocrisy not only verbally (v 18), but also visually.
By inviting his questioners to produce a denarius (v 19), Jesus forces them to reveal that they carry about their person Roman currency. This was held by the Jews to be idolatrous on account of the coins bearing the image of the emperor and an inscription declaring him to be both a divine son and high priest. Suddenly, those who came to trap Jesus as an enemy of the state look suspiciously like friends of Rome and therefore opponents of God. Jesus, however, has no objection to paying the poll-tax; to do so is to give back to Caesar what is due to Caesar (v 21), with no suggestion that the payment in any way compromises devotion to God. We therefore need to consider very carefully under what circumstances might civil disobedience be sometimes a faithful expression, and sometimes a failure, of true worship.
God must also be given what is due to him (v 21). In the immediate context this likely refers to the fruit of obedience, including that of accepting and submitting to Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
How might Jesus’ teaching here inform Christian action to address contemporary political and societal issues (eg climate change; systemic racial, ethnic, gender and other unconscious bias)?
Deeper Bible study
May we live well as servants of God. Teach us to show ‘proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour 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 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 honour, 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.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Genesis 30,31; Matthew 11
Pray for Scripture Union
Please pray for Jim Winning and the Supporter Care team (Debbie Edge and John Cartwright) as they navigate their way through the new supporter relations system. Ask God that they will be able to maintain the high standards that they have been aiming for and that supporters will be inspired by stories of what God is doing.