Raise your hand if you like taxes. (cricket chirp) Uh-huh…just as I thought. Well, imagine you live under a government you absolutely despise and you are forced to pay taxes to a tyrant ruler (for some, this exercise is easier than it is for others). That’s pretty much the mentality and mindset of the first century Jew. Nobody like paying taxes to Rome, but everybody did it in order to keep Rome from coming with the army. And so in Luke 20.19-26, we have the opponents of Jesus once again coming out swinging with a very incendiary question.
Notice the opposition is once again from the spiritual leaders of Israel. Scribes worked with law, copying it diligently. Chief priests were Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests at that time. So these are some pretty big dogs doing a lot of barking. They want Jesus and now because they believe the parable he just spoke was pointed at them (and it was). They are furious over this, but their hands are tied. They cannot outright grab Jesus because the people love him. An arrest during this wave of enthusiasm over Jesus would be risky business. What to do? Ah…
These crafty snakes determine to keep an eye on him, watching him closely, something they should have been doing but with a different heart. All the while they would send spies to infiltrate the crowds. These spies would “pretend” to be something they are not, namely righteous. In other words, they would be insincere hypocrites (the Gk. word is similar to the Gk word for hypocrite). All this to try to catch Jesus in his words and from that trap deliver him over to the governor.
Truly this is sick. Men who should have realized the folly of their predicament and repented of their wickedness instead determine to justify themselves and try to catch the master teacher in his own words, a proposition which is fantastic and foolish. Nevertheless, here is the deceitful depths to which men will go in order to avoid being convicted and changing their erroneous course.
Now that the trap is set, it is time to spring it. Verse 21 opens up the confrontation with some very rich words from the opponents. They start with flattery concerning Jesus: he speaks and teaches rightly (something they are trying to prove is not accurate), shows no partiality (a Hebraism meaning to examine the outward appearance; Jesus knew what was in a man (See John 2.25), and correctly teaches the way of God. Truly there is so much butter there one could clog an artery, but that final admission is the greatest sign of these men’s hypocrisy. If Jesus teaches the way of accuractely, why not obey? Indeed, their hypocrisy knows no bounds. One writer called this “the worthlessness of heartless praise.” It really means nothing when spoken from such insincere men.
Following this set-up, here is their question in verse 22: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (ESV) Its a good question, probably something many Jews were wondering. Since the kingdom of God is at hand, should we even bother paying taxes. Can’t we just keep it and then in the kingdom we can give the money to the proper king (right)? But zero in on this: is it lawful for us, we Jews, to pay taxes? Are we, the people of God, to submit to this human institution known as the Roman empire? How about it Jesus?
Ah, but there is the prince of perception, the king of knowledge standing before them, ever aware of their duplicity and craftiness. He has a question for them. He asks for a denarius (a day’s wages) and asks about the inscription, whose picture was on it? We have presidents on our money; Rome had her emperors on her’s. And that is what the people say: why that’s Caesar, Jesus!
Trap sprung. But not from the people who are trying to trap. Jesus has sprung a trap of his and turned the tables on them. And now he hits them with the answer: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (ESV). Oh the brilliant knowledge of the Lord and Savior! Notice he says “then.” This is a logical conjunction. Sort of like a “duh” statement. Caesar’s face on this coin, it must be his. Give him what’s his. Oh! And with that he has answered their question. But our Lord goes even deeper…
There are some things ever man needs to render to God: obedience, worship, reverence. So here are these men, acknowledging that Jesus is speaking the oracles of God – then why are they not rendering a proper response to the word of God which he is speaking? Jesus is phenomenal with these kinds of remarks. And that is why the people, the opponents, everyone goes silent. First, certainly, because they have no means to do what they set out to do and catch Jesus in his words (and they had been so certain they could catch him). But more than that is “his answer” which is a striking rebuke for their continued disobedience to the word of God.
So many today want to catch Jesus and God in their words. They work to twist or distort and try to find alleged contradictions in the word. However, each “contradiction” may be difficult, but valid explanations can be given. The word of God has stood for millenia and men will continue to try to trap. But the brilliant and infallable wisdom of God stands true. We need to be sure we render to God the things which are God’s.