Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:14-17 Commentary
They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? “Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.
A spy’s tricky question
The only verse Jesus talked about government submission was when asked by a hypocrite (Pharisees and Herodians were on the crowd) about paying taxes. They were testing Him because the Emperor was considered a ‘Roman god,’ and Jesus always preached about ‘Honoring God,’ and not men.
They were trying to trick Him with a “leading question.” They said, “You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth” (v 14). The truth they expected was for Jesus to say, “Honor only God” (Exodus 20:3), giving an excuse to resist paying taxes, which other people around wanted to hear.
Jesus avoided a political statement
If Jesus said, yes pay taxes, He becomes a “traitor” to the Jews by submitting to Ceasar. Instead, Jesus pointed to the image in the coin. He said, “Render to Caesar…” (KJV; Mark 12:17) or “Give back to Ceasar…” (Matthew 22:21), which was cleverly apolitical that is why they were amazed.
Excessive taxes made life difficult. People (not the hypocrites) were amazed because they expected Jesus to rally for them the injustices of the government, yet His answer neither offended Ceasar or the Jews.
The verse was about Honoring God
If we as subjects are asked to submit to an unfair government, even if begrudgingly, God will honor our obedience to what He has instituted (Romans 13:1). However, as God’s people, we should give the “best of our best” to God, not begrudgingly, but with joy and gladness. (Psalm 100:2)
The coin they showed Jesus was a “Tribute penny“
The coin was likely a Denarius of Emperor Tiberius. The Pharisee or “spy” asking Jesus whether to pay taxes or tributes, was to entrap him into admitting opposition. Paying tributes was also meant to “honor” Ceasar.
When not to submit to the government
In 111 AD, Pliny the Younger demanded Christians to honor the Emperor because he is a “god of Rome.” Christians who refused were tortured and martyred. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Therefore, if the government is telling you to worship a different God, you must disobey.