Parallel Texts: Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26
The second wave began later that same Tuesday. Jesus had already repulsed the attack of the Chief Priest, and this time, the Pharisees and their Herodian allies come at Him. As you recall, these two groups have been plotting to kill Jesus for some time now, and they have come to snare Him in a political trap.
“Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
The phrasing of this question is amateurish to say the least. First of all, they butter Him up a bit with the complimentary preamble to the actual question by saying that he is a teacher of the truth who cannot be swayed by anybody; He always sticks to the truth. Then they ask if it is lawful to pay the tax to Caesar; this is the real question. This is a terribly unpopular tax among the Jews because it isn’t honest, as we’ve covered before. It is also unpopular because it isn’t a tax imposed under Jewish law, but by a foreign occupying power. If Jesus wants to remain popular with the crowds, He must say “no.” However, if He does that, they will report Him to the Romans, and He will be taken away in chains and not heard from again. At this point, they make a tactical blunder when they ask the redundant question, “Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” Here’s a debating tip for you, any time you are asked a question followed by a redundancy that pins you down to a yes or no answer, a trap has been set; beware.
Jesus of course, is several steps ahead of them, and asks to see a Roman coin, asks them who is pictured there and whose inscription is on the coin and has now turned the tables on His attackers.
“Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
Taking nothing away from Jesus’ quick thinking, these Pharisees and Herodians should stick to plotting and leave the confrontations to competent professionals, for even though they had set a trap, it is about the poorest excuse for a trap ever recorded, rising to the level of a child. Jesus was out of their snare with a simple request and had them checkmated in a one-liner.
He also taught something very important in the process… this was Jesus after all… and that is that our priority must be on the things of God and not on the things of this earth.
I am often amazed when good Christian brothers use this verse to teach that we should all be eager to pay more taxes, or to rail on someone they consider “tax cheats.” To me, this always sounds more like politics and resentment than it does godly teaching. Jesus isn’t telling the people they should be thrilled to pay, nor is He making an endorsement of the welfare state; He is telling us to focus on God and the things of heaven, and not on the earthly and materialistic, the very antithesis of the welfare state.
At any rate, everyone was amazed at his answer, for once again Jesus’ perspectives were so entirely in opposition to their own perspectives that they hadn’t even considered that He might say what He did, for even then, following Jesus was entirely counter-intuitive, just as it is today.
When we get back together, the third wave of attack wil burst upon the scene, this time led by the Sadducees.