Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 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. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“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.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
The Pharisees with the question to Jesus in this passage were trying to entrap him. They were hoping that we would say that it was not “right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar” so that the Romans would in essence take care of their dirt work by killing this annoying heretic. However, Jesus’ reply turned their attempt at entrapment on its head, because he asked them whose picture and inscription was on the coin and of course they replied Caesars. And Jesus’ response to this answer is the crux of this passage, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. Jesus in essence here is telling the Pharisees and us that is right to obey the laws and ordinances of the government of the day since that is what is due to them, but if those laws and ordinances run contrary to God’s law then we are to obey God’s law because that is what is due to him. We must remember that our governments have all been appointed by God. In fact, Paul wrote these words to the Roman church and to us:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1-7
God commands Christians to respect and obey those in government as an institution established by God. He has instituted governments because in an ungodly and disorderly world people need certain restraints to protect them from the chaos and lawlessness that is a natural result of sin. The civil government, just like all of life, is subject to God’s law. God has determined that governments should be agents of justice that restrain evil by punishing offenders and protecting the good in society. Paul describes government as it should be. When it abandons its proper function, however, it ceases to operate according to God’s purposes. For example, when government requires something contrary to God’s Word, Christians must obey God rather than other humans. Yet, even when government officials themselves are not following God, Christians, in most cases, are still require to handle themselves graciously and respectfully toward their leaders. Paul demonstrated this behavior in many direct encounters with government and religious leaders, as did Jesus. And it is the duty of all Christians to pray for those in authority. This is how we as Christians are to interact with our governments on a day to day basis.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Exodus 17:8-19:15, Matthew 22:34-23:12, Psalm 27:7-14 and Proverbs 6:27-35