Scriptures

Paying Taxes To Caesar

Introduction

This is yet another example of a group of people who are trying to trap Jesus to find any excuse to have Him put to death. What’s interesting is that we also find an example of others giving someone else a loaded gun to shoot, whilst the people who gave them the loaded gun remain in the background because they’re not brave enough to do it themselves.

‘Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.’ Matthew 22:15

It’s obvious that the parables, Matthew 22:1-14, which Jesus had just finished teaching hit a nerve with the Pharisees, and as a result of this, in order to save their own skin and find an excuse to put Him to death, they wanted to find a way to humiliate Jesus in front of everyone else.

‘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.’ Matthew 22:16

The Herodians

The Herodians were a political group who supported the Roman leader, King Herod Antipas, who reigned from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. They wanted everyone to submit to the rule of Herod and they did so purely because of the financial gain they may receive and so they would be left alone in peace.

The Pharisees and others wanted Israel to follow the teachings of the Law but not with any Romans input, whilst the Herodians were willing to work with the Romans. They were the absolute opposite of those who believed that God and God alone should lead Israel.

When we read out New Testament we see that when two opposing groups have a common enemy, despite their beliefs they will come together and unite against the enemy, in this case the common enemy was Jesus, Mark 3:6, but of course Jesus knew their hearts too and warned against their teaching, Mark 8:15.

Flattery

The Pharisees and the Herodians come to Jesus and use flattery as a trap, remember that the Herodians themselves taught that taxes must be paid to Rome. The ironic thing is that they spoke the truth about Jesus, everything they described Jesus to be was true. They knew Jesus was straight talking, they knew that He didn’t worry if people were offended when He spoke the truth and because they knew Jesus spoke against them and their teachings, they knew they had to get rid of Him because He was exposing their own hypocrisy, Matthew 21:28.

Obviously, they are trying to set the trap, they’re trying to set Jesus up for the question to come but as Anne Bradstreet once said,

‘Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.’

The Question About Paying Tax To Caesar

‘Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?’ Matthew 22:17

In simple terms they were asking Jesus this question based on the law of Moses. In other words, does the law of Moses, teach that one should pay taxes to a foreign state?

In their theology if Jesus said they shouldn’t pay the taxes, He would be in violation of Roman law because Israel at the time was under the rule of Rome. But if Jesus said to pay the taxes, then they believed that He would be in violation of Old Testament law as stated in Deuteronomy 17:14-15, which was given to Israel as a self-governing nation.

Roman Tax

According to history the Roman taxes were made up one percent of a man’s income, much like today, the more money you earn the more tax you pay. But we must also remember the Romans had other taxes, customs taxes, import and export taxes, toll bridges, crop taxes, sales tax, property taxes, and special taxes when there was a war, building project or campaign to finance.

The Trap

If Jesus had said it was unlawful to give to Caesar, there’s no doubt they would have dragged Him away to face the courts, charged with treason which of course was punishable by death. If Jesus had said, it is right to pay tax to Caesar, this wouldn’t go down well with the people who were listening because they had longed to get out of the Roman bondage.

It’s almost amusing that they actually believed they have come up with a question where Jesus has no way out of, but instead of them humiliated Jesus, Jesus will end up humiliating them.

‘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.’ Matthew 22:18-22

Notice how Jesus knew what they were up to and knew what their intent really was, John 2:24-25. It’s interesting that those who are in positions of leadership always seem to be hypocritical of other religious leaders who hold a different view. The very fact that they set out to trap Jesus in the first place tells us a lot about the condition of their hearts.

The coin in question was a silver denarius which was worth around a day’s wages and engraved on it was the image of Caesar who was, the Emperor of Rome. The second commandment of the ten commandments prohibited the Jews from making any graven image in order to symbolise worship of gods in an idolatrous manner, Exodus 20:4.

Jesus’ Response

Jesus tells them to pay the taxes regardless of whose image is on the coin. In other words, the money belongs to Caesar, therefore pay to him that which belongs to him, Mark 12:17 / Luke 20:25 / Romans 13:7.

They needed to learn that just because they pay tax to Caesar, doesn’t mean that they are worshipping Caesar, and on the other hand they needed to learn that everything ultimately belongs to God, therefore, our lives are given to God who created all men in His image, Genesis 1:26-27.

Remember the Jews weren’t to pay respect to images as that on the Roman coin, and when they realised this, they actually trapped themselves concerning paying taxes to a foreign government, Jesus says they must give their lives to God and give Caesar his taxes.

Humiliated

Jesus answered the Pharisees and the Herodians question but not in the way they were expecting, their trap failed, and Jesus ended up trapping them. They came to humiliate Him, but He humiliated them. they were amazed and left because they knew they didn’t get one single thing from Jesus which they could use against Him, John 8:1-11.

Conclusion

As Christians we must obey our government and pay our taxes, whilst at the same time obeying our God in whom whose image we are made.

There are genuine people out there who have genuine questions on their hearts which need answered honestly but there will also be those among us even today, who try to trap us with double-edged questions, may we be wise enough to recognise the trap and answer with wisdom, Proverbs 15:1-2.

‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.’ Proverbs 26:4

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Matthew 28:19

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