Verse of the Day Devotion. Matthew 22:17
“Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” – Matthew 22:17
This is an interesting verse in that there are two very opposing sides that are trying to trap Jesus, and as always, Jesus comes out on top. Let us start by looking at these two groups. “Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.” Matthew 22:15-16. First, the Herodians were a non-religious Jewish party who supported Herod’s dynasty and the general policy of the Roman government. They perceived that Christ’s teachings and influence were antagonistic to their interests. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were members of an ancient Jewish sect who believed in the strict observance of oral traditions and the written Law of Moses. They didn’t believe that Christ was the Messiah because He taught a different practice, despite His many miracles during His earthly ministry. Although Herodians and Pharisees were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, their common hatred of Christ was enough for them to join forces to try to destroy Him.
Now, they ask their question. “Tell us therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Matthew 22:17. Jesus had just returned to Jerusalem for the final time and recently finished sharing several parables with the crowd. Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to put Jesus on the spot in front of His followers. Therefore, they came together to ask Jesus the above question. And it was a trick question, and I believe Jesus knew it was. If He had answered no, the Herodians would charge Him with treason against Rome. If yes, the Pharisees would accuse Him of disloyalty to the Jewish nation, and He would lose the support of the crowds. To pay taxes or not to pay taxes? The question was designed as a Catch-22.
However, His response is not what they anticipated. “But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?” Matthew 22:18. He knew their goal was to trap Him so they could accuse Him of false teachings. Their hypocrisy was that they professed to be actual inquirers, while their actual goal was to trap Him. However, Jesus does not fall into it. “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax. And they brought Him a denarius.” Matthew 22:19. Now, the denarius was a coin used as the tax money at that time. It was made of silver and featured an image of the emperor with an inscription calling him divine. The Jews considered such images idolatry, forbidden by the second commandment. This was another reason why, if Jesus answered yes, He would be in trouble. His acceptance of the tax as lawful could have been seen as a rejection of the second commandment, thus casting doubt on His claim to be the Son of God.
Thus, Jesus trapped them by His response. “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax. And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to Him, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:19-21. Jesus first asked them whose image was this on the coin. They answered Him honestly, that it was Caesar. Then Jesus puts an end to their hypocrisy. He tells them to give Caesar what is his, and to God what is His. When Jesus said, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, He was drawing a sharp distinction between two kingdoms. There is a kingdom of this world, and Caesar holds power over it. But there is another kingdom, not of this world, and Jesus is King of that one. “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” John 18:36. Christians are part of both kingdoms, at least temporarily. Under Caesar, we have certain obligations that involve material things. Under Christ, we have other obligations that involve things eternal. If Caesar demands money, give it to him, it’s only mammon. But make sure you also give God what He demands.
Caesar produced and minted coins which the people used, and then required them to give some back by way of taxes. As king, He had the right to do both. After all, his image was stamped on what he had made. God has given us the human soul, and He has stamped His image on everyone. So give Caesar his due. the temporary stuff of this world. But make sure to give God His due: “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Romans 6:13.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.