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The Question of Giving Tribute to Caesar

Written By
William O. Einwechter

The Christian’s duty in regard to the state has been a perennial area of concern and debate in the church. Understandably, then, has been the attention given to Jesus’ answer to the question of whether or not it was lawful for the people of Israel to give tribute to Caesar. Jesus’ answer, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25), is striking and memorable. The purpose of this article is to explore the meaning of Luke 20:22-25 (cf. the parallel passages in Matt. 22:17-21 and Mark 12:14-17) through a grammatical/historical interpretation of this text of Scripture.

The Setting for the Question of Giving Tribute to Caesar

When it was time for Jesus to fulfill His mission of redemption and “be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The completion of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem takes place in what is traditionally called His triumphal entry (Luke 19:28-44). Having arrived at Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple and cast out those who were profaning it by the buying and selling of animals used in the sacrifices of the temple (Luke 19:45-46). With the court of the Gentiles cleansed of this impious traffic, Jesus used that area of the temple as a place for teaching and preaching the gospel to the crowds of pilgrims who are in Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 19:47-20:1). Throughout His ministry Jesus has clashed with the Jewish leadership, and they have strenuously opposed Him. These actions, however, were the final straw, and the Sanhedrin determined that Jesus must be destroyed. But this, they realized, would not be as easy as they would like, because the people “were very attentive to hear him” (Luke 19:47-48; 20:19).

Therefore, they put in motion a plan of setting before Jesus, as He teaches publicly in the temple, difficult questions for Him to answer. Their hopes were that through Jesus’ answers they could discredit Him before the people;  and, perhaps, even entrap Him in such a way that they could accuse Him before the governor. Luke records three of these questions and Jesus’ answers to them (Luke 20:1-40).

The question that concerns us here is the second one. The men, who were sent by the Sanhedrin to ask Jesus the question about giving tribute to Caesar, came pretending that they were righteous men who were wrestling with a question of conscience and sincerely desired to hear Jesus’ opinion on the matter. But their true hope and purpose, according to Luke, was to seize on Jesus’ answer as a basis of handing Him over to the Roman governor on the charge that He taught the people not to pay tribute (Luke 20:20). This would amount to a charge of seditious rebellion against Rome and would carry the death penalty. These hired “spies” began by praising Jesus as a fearless teacher of truth in hope that this would dispel any suspicions of their motive and induce Him to give them an unguarded answer to their question.

The Question of Giving Tribute to Caesar

The men who came to Jesus approached Him as one who was known to be learned in the Law and the Prophets. They sought an answer to a question that was debated in the nation, and they wanted Him to give a definite judgment on the issue. Their question was this: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?” (Luke 20:22). Every word of this question needs to be considered, along with the historical context behind it, if we are to grasp the significance of their inquiry and of Jesus’ answer.

The verb “is it lawful” is an impersonal verb that expresses the idea of something being authorized by proper authority. Therefore, the verb carries the meaning of an action that is permitted, lawful, or right. This verb is used in the Gospels in the context of debate over what God’s law authorizes to be done in matters of controversy, such as the Sabbath (Luke 6:2, 4, 9) and divorce (Matt. 19:3, Mk. 10:2). The question, then, is whether or not God’s law permits the Jews to give tribute to Caesar.

The words “for us” (one word in Greek) should not be overlooked. “Us,” of course, refers to the Jews, and by its case and position in the sentence it emphasizes that the question is specifically in reference to them. The issue in view does not concern the Gentile nations under the dominion of Rome, but it uniquely concerns the Jews who are God’s chosen people. Is it lawful for Israel, which has God as its King, to give tribute to the Gentile kingdom of Rome and its pagan emperor?

Next, following the Greek word order, are words “unto Caesar” (one word in the original). It refers to the one in whose interest the action of giving tribute is performed. Caesar was the title assumed by the Roman rulers in view of their occupying the position of emperor established by Julius Caesar. The emperor at the time when Jesus was asked this question was Tiberius. Judea was an imperial province under the direct control of Caesar and was ruled by a governor appointed by Caesar and directly responsible to him. The Jews, therefore, were not a free people or an independent nation, but a subject people under the rule of Rome. The question that Jesus is being asked is a political question; but it is also a theological one.

The word “tribute” refers to a poll, or head tax, paid directly to the emperor by the subject peoples of the empire. This was not a tax on goods or on economic profit, but was based on the fact that a person existed. This tribute tax was, in the words of Stauffer, “the duty of the subjugated peoples, it is the tribute which attests the loss of their sovereignty and the fact of their national subjection.”[1] The tribute amount was relatively small (a denarius), and its primary purpose was not a means of revenue (though it was that). It was chiefly symbolic. In paying the tax, an individual and a nation expressed their subjection to Caesar. This is why it was such a politically charged question. The Jews, as a whole, hated this poll tax because it was a direct reminder to them that they were under Gentile domination.

A significant historical note is that a census for the establishment of this poll tax in Judea is recorded in Luke 2:1-3.[2]

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

This, of course, was the event that led Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, and resulted in Jesus being born in accord with prophecy in the city of David.

The verb “to give” represents an interesting choice of words by Jesus’ questioners, and an understanding of its meaning is necessary to fully appreciate the strength of Jesus’ directive to “render unto Caesar.” The sense of the word “give” that is used here can signify either giving as a expression of generosity or giving as a demonstration of devotion or dedication. Thus, the word does not imply the notion of giving as an obligation, but rather of giving as an individual choice. The idea expressed, therefore, is this: “Is it lawful for we Jews to show our dedication to Caesar and to his authority over us by giving him tribute?”

The final words of the question, “or no,” indicates that their purpose was to press Jesus into giving a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question.

Before considering Jesus’ answer it will be helpful to look into the nature of the debate in Israel at that time over paying tribute. There were three basic positions on the question represented by three groups: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Zealots.

1. The answer of the Sadducees to the question of giving tribute to Caesar was an unqualified “yes.” The Sadducees were primarily from the priestly and upper-class families in Israel. They were generally wealthy and exercised significant power in religion (having control of the temple) and in politics (being on good terms with Rome). Their religious commitments were weak and worldly. They profited from Rome’s rule and were supportive of the Romans. Stauffer explains the tribute scheme at that time by saying, “In Judea a Roman procurator took over control and was responsible for securing the taxes. The Sadducean authorities, whose loyalty was proved again and again, were his agents.”[3] So not only did they advocate the payment of the tribute, they were loyal agents in seeing that it was collected.

2. The answer of the Pharisees was a qualified “yes.” The Pharisees were bitter theological foes of the Sadducees. They also, generally speaking, hated the heathen Romans who ruled them. They were zealous to keep the law of God which they believed was delivered to them in the text of Scripture and in the traditions of their fathers — the oral law. They exercised widespread influence as teachers and practitioners of the law and were recognized by the people as the true religious leaders of Israel.

Their view on the tribute was something like this: “Yes, for now, we must pay it because we are under judgment for our disobedience to God’s law and need to submit to this disciplinary yoke. However, when the Messiah comes, He will deliver us from Rome’s domination and this hateful tribute.” The Pharisees did not counsel revolt against Rome, but obedience to the law of God which would merit the coming of the Messiah and their deliverance from Rome through Him.[4] It seems that the Pharisees rejected a political solution to the problem of Roman domination. By the time of Christ, states Stemberger, the Pharisees “had withdrawn from political life and had evolved from a political party to a movement that was concerned with spirituality.”[5] They “attempted to achieve a modus vivendi with the ruling powers and withdrew even further into the realm of inner spirituality.”[6]

3. The answer of the Zealots was an unqualified “no.” In their religious views, the Zealots were one with the Pharisees. However, in their political views they differed with the Pharisees and operated on the basis of “an axiomatic non-recognition of Roman sovereignty.”[7] Thus, writes Metzger, “The Zealots opposed the payment of tribute by Israel to a pagan emperor on the ground that this was treason against God, Israel’s true King.”[8]

The Zealot resistance movement was founded by Judas the Galilean. The story of Judas’ revolt is important for understanding the Zealots and the question about tribute that is being addressed to Jesus. Stauffer tells this story:

Augustus responded in the end by prescribing a census and taxation of the whole people — that enrolment reported by Luke whose date is so difficult to determine. The effects of this on the people [of Israel] were of two kinds. We learn that the high priest advised unconditional loyalty, and we know that the parents of Jesus obeyed him (Luke 2). A contemporary of Joseph, on the other hand, the scribe Judas Galilaeus, looking on himself as the true teacher of the true way of God, in the sense of Mark 12:14, summoned his countrymen, in the name of God and Holy Scripture, to refuse to pay the tax, to passive resistance, and finally to a war of liberation from Rome. ‘He called his fellow countrymen to revolt, and reproached them for patiently paying tribute to Rome, and trying to please mortal men next to God.’ ‘He reproached them for being submissive to the Romans next to God.’ It is clear that the reason for this refusal to pay the tax was not only an economic protest by a plundered people, not only a political protest by a subjugated nation, but also a theological protest by the people of God against their heathen rulers and their emperor, against ‘any confession of Caesar as lord.’ And behind the protest there was a programme. Judas Galilaeus aimed at being the Messianic king and at raising his people to be the rulers of the earth. This promised man had established his headquarters at Sepporis, three miles north of Nazareth. The people streamed to join him, at their head the Pharisee Sadduk. The Romans crushed the rebellion mercilessly. ‘Judas of Galilee . . . perished; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad’ (Acts 5:37).[9]

These, then, were the three answers to the question of tribute. In spite of these settled positions, many sensitive souls among the people still were troubled in conscience by the issue. Foerster summarizes that struggle of conscience:

The manners and customs of the subject races, to which the Romans paid regard as far as was possible and politically expedient, were, to the Jews, not merely manners and customs but God’s commandments. Every infringement of these could awaken the determination of the whole people to fight to the death. What, of course, the matters were for which they would have to hold out to the very last, was disputed; but the question became urgent whether the recognition of Roman sovereignty by the act of paying taxes was not already in any circumstances a sin to avoid, being against the first commandment, according to which there was for Israel only one Lord — God.[10]

In this atmosphere, there would have been intense anticipation on the part of the people to hear Jesus’ answer to this vexing question.

But the motive of Jesus’ adversaries was not help from Jesus for unraveling a difficult theological/political problem. Their hope was that He would pronounce against the tribute. If He did, they would be able to accuse Him before Pilate (Luke 20:20) and that would be the end of the Jesus problem. The Sanhedrin most likely saw Jesus as another Judas of Galilee, “a new teacher of the law with Messianic claims.[11] However, even if to their surprise Jesus stated that the tribute should be paid, all was not lost because such an answer would discredit Jesus before the people and empty any claims He might have to be the Messiah, for in the eyes of the people the Messiah would never counsel submission to Rome. So they had Him — one way or the other; or so they thought.

Jesus’ Answer to the Question of Giving Tribute to Caesar

Jesus’ enemies believed that they have maneuvered Him into a “yes” or “no” answer to their question; whichever one He gives they would be able to use it to His destruction. But He did not answer as they hoped. There are three parts to Jesus’ answer.

1. Jesus exposes their dishonest purpose.

These questioners posed as “just men” in search of an answer to a question of conscience, but Jesus called them “hypocrites” (Matt. 22:18). Jesus “perceived their craftiness,” that is, He perceived that they were cunning men who were ready to do anything to advance an evil cause. He also saw that it was their purpose to “tempt” Him by the question on tribute, which means that He knew they wanted to entrap Him by it.

Such men as these do not deserve an answer, and Jesus would have been fully justified in breaking off any further discussion with them. However, Jesus did answer the question because it is an important one, and He desired to instruct the people on their duty in regard to tribute. But Jesus’ intent in giving an answer was broader than the context of first century Israel. Christ’s disciples and the church throughout the Christian era also need instruction on this vital issue, for they too will often find themselves in politically ambiguous situations under secular, non-Christian rulers.

2. Jesus reveals Israel’s true historical situation.

Jesus began His reply, not by theological reasoning or scriptural exposition, but by asking them to show Him a “penny.” The “penny” is the Roman denarius. This coin is significant because, of the many different coins in circulation, it was the only one that was accepted by Rome for the payment of the tribute tax. The denarius, which had a bust of Tiberius Caesar on it, was a relatively small silver coin issued from the imperial mint in Lyons by the command of Caesar himself. It was, uniquely, Caesar’s coin. Jesus knew that the coin would be in the possession of the Jews, and the text shows that the coin was readily put forward in response to His words, “show me a penny.” Why did Christ ask for this denarius first? Stauffer explains: “Not their logical or moral sense, but their historical situation and attitude would bring the truth to light. Something is to be seen, and deduced from the denarius itself.”[12]

Christ then asks, “Whose image and superscription hath it?” That is, “Whose  likeness is  portrayed on the coin and what does it say about him?” As already noted, the “image” on the coin was a bust of Tiberius Caesar. The “superscription” said this: “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.”[13] The reverse of the coin had an image of the emperor’s mother, Julia Augusta (Livia), sitting on a throne holding a scepter in one hand and an olive branch in the other, and an inscription that read Pontifex Maximus, that is, “High Priest.” The denarius thus proclaimed the power and glory of Rome and the divine origin and character of Tiberius. Stauffer explains the symbolism of the denarius:

The Tiberius denarius is a symbol of power and of the cult. But it is not these things separately, but together, and that is the decisive point. This denarius becomes a symbol of the metaphysical glorification of policy that runs through the whole of ancient imperial history, and which also determined the Roman philosophy of domination from the time of Julius Caesar. Though perhaps the most modest sign, this denarius of Tiberius is the most official and universal sign of the apotheosis of power and the worship of the homo imperious in the time of Christ.[14]

Because Rome stated its political authority in terms of the essential divinity of its head, the emperor, political submission also called for a form of religious devotion as well. This fact should be kept in mind as Jesus’ answer is considered.

The only possible answer to Jesus’ question about the image and superscription is “Caesar’s,” and these spies were forced to say it. Their possession of the coin and their answer reveals the following two facts.

First, the historical reality of their situation is that Caesar has authority over Palestine and the Jews. In the ancient world, the power to mint coins was a sign of political power. The ruler would put his image on the coins to indicate that he had issued the coins and to demonstrate that he had authority over the realm — his coins were issued and used in his domain. The denarius’ use and circulation in Palestine is proof that Caesar is the ruler of the Jews and that they are his subjects.

Second, the possession and use of the denarius by the Jews was their own tacit admission that they have accepted Caesar’s authority over them. All of their theological debates over Caesar’s right to their tribute and submission faded into insignificance by the mere fact that they accepted and used the coins that proclaimed his sovereignty. Their use of the denarius was a statement of submission in itself. Jesus asks, in effect, “If you reject on theological grounds the authority of Caesar over you, then why do you accept and use the very coins that proclaim that authority?” In other words, in the matter of the tribute coin itself, Israel has already come to terms with Rome.

Stauffer describes how the Jews had once been ready to riot because Pilate had caused the Roman standards with medallions portraying the emperor to be hung beneath the window of the fortress of Antonia in the temple area[15] but that the coins did not produce the same response:

We have already noticed a symbol with an identical significance — the portrait of the emperor on the standards of the legions, which looked not unlike an enlarged denarius, and showed the same synthesis of imperial policy and philosophy. We have already remarked the uproar among the worshippers in the Temple area when these imperial portraits appeared in their midst. But the sensitive reaction to these standards was not paralleled in the matter of the coins. There was compromise with the mammon of unrighteousness, not merely casually and secretly, but quite officially. The Jewish money-changers wore a denarius in their ear on week-days, as a sign of their trade. The denarii of Tiberius must have lain on their tables in the Temple area in great heaps. The Talmud . . . lays down the basic rule: The coin is acceptable. It is possible that Jesus was present during the revolt of the Temple worshippers against the imperial standards. He also knew what was on the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, which He had overthrown. He knew the ambiguous position of His people, and He relentlessly exposed their hypocrisy. ‘Whose image and superscription is this?’ He knew that this touched them to the quick. To accept the symbol of Roman policy and imperial philosophy meant to forgo the right to conscientious revolt against the emperor. . . . [I]n this question of tribute to Caesar their integrity was spoiled. For they had the imperial money in their pockets.[16]

3. Jesus teaches man’s duty to Caesar and to God.

Jesus’ enemies produced the denarius and answered Jesus’ question concerning it. Then, Christ delivered His authoritative answer to the question of giving tribute to Caesar. He began by saying “therefore,” which means, in view of the fact that it is indisputably “Caesar’s” tribute coin, then give it back to him in tribute.

It is notable that Jesus used the word “render” in His answer instead of the word “give” that was used in the question (v. 22). “Give” suggests the idea of individual decision in the giving, but the word translated “render” clearly implies moral duty. As Danker notes, this word refers to that of meeting a contractual or a moral obligation and of fulfilling one’s responsiblity;[17] it calls for giving because it is one’s duty to give. The word “render” is also in the imperative mood. Thus, Jesus was not merely giving an opinion in His response, but a definite command.

Jesus instructed His hearers to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25). The first thing to note is that the verb has a compound object and an indirect object. Jesus did not give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question, nor did He limit Himself to the issue of what was due to Caesar. He spoke of what is due to Caesar, but only in conjunction to what is due to God. According to Jesus, you cannot consider the question of your moral duty to Caesar without at the same time considering your moral duty to God. This is especially telling, in view of Rome’s claim that the emperor was worthy of divine honors. Rome said that Caesar was due both political submission and divine honors. Jesus absolutely rejected this, and taught that the political duty men owe to an earthly ruler is entirely different than the duty men owe to God. Jesus separates that which Rome seeks to join because one cannot give to men, even to a man of Tiberius’ position, what belongs to God alone.

But Jesus did affirm that Israel has a moral obligation to “render to Caesar the things which be Caesar’s.” There are things that men owe to their civil ruler, and it is clear that Caesar is Israel’s ruler. What these things are Jesus does not elaborate on here.[18] But His answer would have to mean that whatever Scripture teaches as the duty of men to the state and to civil rulers is what Israel owes to Caesar. The tribute tax is one of those “things.” So Jesus effectively gives a “yes” answer to the question: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?

How can this be so? Jesus had a providential view of history. He also knew Israel’s history and the prophetic Scriptures. He knew that Rome and Tiberius were over Israel because God had put Rome in that position (cf. Dan. 2:37-38; 4:17, 25, 32; John 19:10-11). Why would God give the heathen to rule over Israel? Because Israel had rebelled against God and broken His covenant. In Rome’s dominance of Israel, Jesus saw the hand of God as He worked out His purposes in history (Dan. 2:27-49; 7:1-28; 11:1-12:1). Paul teaches the same providential view of history: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
Geldenhuys gives a good summary of this first part of Jesus’ answer:

In this reply there is no evasion of the question put to Him but a clear and straightforward declaration that they must pay Caesar tribute and everything due to him as their ruler. Under God’s providence the course of history has been so arranged that they have been brought under Roman domination, and through their free use of Caesar’s coins they have shown that they acknowledge Caesar as their earthly ruler, and therefore they are under obligation to pay to Caesar what is due to him as long as matters remain thus. Jesus does not here enumerate everything that is included in what is due to Caesar. Undoubtedly He was referring more especially to the tribute. From other pronouncements made by Him (e.g., John xix. 11), and especially from His whole attitude and action towards the Roman authority, it appears, however, that Jesus also meant reverence, submission and obedience (in so far as these did not conflict with their highest loyalty, which was due to God).[19]

Stauffer shows that Israel’s duty to pay the tribute can also be understood from a practical standpoint:

By accepting imperial money they have profited by the financial, economic and legal order of the empire. In the past Palestine had suffered often enough from insecure and cramped conditions in these spheres, and could appreciate the stability which came from assimilation to the Roman economic system. In such circumstances, there was no real basis, whatever the practical grievances, for refusing to pay the tax on economic grounds. To refuse to pay would be parasitical.[20]

Having affirmed Israel’s duty to Caesar, Jesus also commanded them to render “unto God the things which be God’s.” This is a very important part of His answer. It shows that Jesus’ “yes” was a qualified “yes.” In fulfilling his duties to the state, man is, at the same time, to be sure he is fulfilling all his duties to God. In Jesus’ mind there was to be no confusion on the matter: know from Scripture what belongs to the civil ruler and give it to him; know from Scripture what belongs to God and give it to Him; and do not get any of these duties mixed up. Jesus’ answer involves an implicit denial of the right of Caesar to divine honors — those belong only to God! Jesus says to the Jews: You should pay your tribute, but you cannot accept Caesar’s claims of divinity.

So Jesus rejects Roman idolatry even as He accepts Rome’s political authority. Rather than an outright rejection of Roman rule because of the empire’s blasphemous claims, Jesus distinguishes between what is lawful to give to Rome and what is not. Jesus upholds the prior claims of God and His absolute sovereignty, while at the same time recognizing Rome’s rule but rejecting Rome’s pretentious claims of divinity. No wonder His adversaries “marvelled” at His answer, for there was nothing here that they could “take hold of” to accuse Him before Pilate or before the people (Luke 20:26).

In Jesus’ theology, God’s authority is total, but Caesar’s is strictly limited to those “things” that God appoints for him.[21] Whenever the duties that men owe to God conflict with what Caesar says they owe to him, men must obey God rather than Caesar (Acts 4:19; 5:29). Jesus, therefore, lays down a certain rule: as you live under Caesar be sure to give him his due, but never give to him what you owe to God. What is due to God is summarized in the Hebrew Scriptures:

And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good (Deut. 10:12-13).

Jesus’ purpose is not to teach passive submission to Rome, but active obedience to God. Part of that obedience to God is to give due honor and submission to civil rulers. Part of that obedience to God, as Jesus demonstrated, is to witness to these rulers of God’s truth, sovereignty, and kingdom, and to call them to obedience (John 18:33-37; 19:9-11). In His own obedience to God, Jesus not only submitted to Rome’s authority, but He also testified to Pilate that Pilate would have no authority if God had not given it to him. Then Jesus went to a Roman cross by the judicial fiat of this Roman governor and thereby made the way for the triumph of the kingdom of God over Rome (Dan. 2:44-45). The resurrection of Jesus, where He triumphed over a Roman guard sent to keep His body in the tomb, is symbolic of His victory over the terrible “beast” of Rome with its “horn” that speaks blasphemies against “the most High” (Dan. 7:7-27). Jesus overcame the Roman beast by steadfast obedience to God’s will. He calls all of His disciples to do the same (cf. Rev. 12:11).

Jesus’ masterful answer, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25),[22] is a rejection of the answer to the question of tribute put forward by both the Sadducees and the Zealots. The religious compromise and abject submission of the Sadducces to Rome is cast aside by Jesus’ call to give God supreme allegiance and obedience. The seditious activities and revolutionary doctrines of the Zealots are renounced by Jesus’ command to pay the tribute and give Caesar his due.[23]

By His words and example, Jesus taught that the hope of the kingdom of God is centered in regeneration and sanctification, not in revolution and politics. Rushdoony writes:

The world of Caesar seeks to create a new world without God, and without regeneration; it exacts a heavy tax and accomplishes little or nothing. We are, as sinners, geared by our fallen nature to seeking Caesar’s answer. We pay tribute to Caesar thus, in our faith and with our money. The answer to Caesar’s world is not civil disobedience, the final implication of which is revolution. This is Caesar’s way, the belief that man’s effort by works of law can remake man and the world.

The answer rather is to obey all due authorities and to pay tribute, custom, and honor to whom these things are due. This is the minor aspect of our duty. More important, we must render, give back to God what is His due, our tithes, first-fruits, vows, and sacrifices. The regenerate man begins by acknowledging God, the author and Redeemer of his life, as his lord and savior, his King. At every point in his life, he renders to God His due service, thanksgiving, praise, and tithe.[24]

As an historical postscript, it is important to note that Israel completely rejected the commands of Christ in His answer to the tribute question. First, they did not give to God what they owed to Him. The most pressing duty of the hour in Israel was to accept the messianic claims of Jesus and repent and believe His preaching. All of redemptive history had led up to that moment. God’s Son was in their midst, but they rejected Him! They would not render “unto God the things which be God’s” so they crucified His Son, and in the process of their rejection they cried, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). In so saying, they gave what was due to Jesus Christ alone unto Tiberius Caesar, proclaiming him as their true lord and king. This sealed the doom of Israel that would come to pass in the Jewish war with Rome in A.D. 66-70. This war was the judgment of God on Israel for their rejection of Christ (cf. Luke 20:9-19; 21:5-33). Second, the Jewish war with Rome was instigated by Israel’s armed rebellion against Caesar; so in this too they disobeyed Christ, and the end of it all was “the world’s worst war and . . . the death of the nation.”[25]

1. ^ Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 115.

2. ^ Ibid., p. 117.

3. ^ Ibid.

4. ^ See Werner Foerster, From the Exile to Christ, trans. Gordon E. Harris (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), pp. 193-197.

5. ^ Gunter Stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus, trans. Allan W. Mahnke (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), pp. 117-118.

6. ^ Ibid., p. 118.

7. ^ Foerster, From Exile to Christ, p. 100.

8. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), p. 44.

9. ^ Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, p. 117. The contrast between Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, who obeyed the decree of Caesar, and Judas of Galilee, who disobeyed that same decree and rebelled against Caesar, is instructive.

10. ^ Foerster, From Exile to Christ, p. 99.

11. ^ Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, p. 120.

12. ^ Ibid., p. 123.

13. ^ Adolf Deissman, Light from the Ancient East, trans. Lionel Strachan (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint, 1978), p. 252.

14. ^ Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, pp. 126-127.

15. ^ Ibid., pp. 118-119.

16. ^ Ibid., pp. 127-128.

17. ^ Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 109-110.

18. ^ What duties a free people who live in a constitutional republic may owe to “Caesar” is an important subject that cannot be pursued in this article. Suffice it to say here, that “Caesar” is not only the rulers but also the constitutional law and statutes that governs the land. In such a republic, political participation and the upholding of the rule of law is rendering unto “Caesar the things which be Caesar’s.” For a Christian to refuse political participation when God's providence has placed him in a constitutional republic is to disobey Christ’s command in Luke 20:25. 

19. ^ Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), pp. 504-505.

20. ^ Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars,  p. 130.

21. ^ Although Jesus does not deal here with the subject of what Caesar owes to God, the Scriptures in other places do. Caesar owes to God a confession of the Lord’s sovereign rule over the nations and a submission to His will (Dan. 4:1-3, 17, 24-27, 32, 34-37; 5:17-28; Ps. 9:15-20;  47:1-8). Since the time when Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God all magistrates and rulers have been under divine command to “kiss the Son” and submit to His reign over the nations (Ps. 2:6-12; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 1:5; 19:16). The church must preach the duties that Ceasar owes to God!

22. ^ Rushdoony aptly notes: “Those who reduce this great sentence of Christ’s to a declaration about church and state have missed the point of the incident.” Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), p. 723.

23. ^ Jesus’ answer was similar to the answer of the Pharisees in that it was a qualified “yes” that taught the tribute was to be paid while at the same time affirming that God was the king of Israel and the nations. But Jesus’ answer differed from the Pharisees in a number of very significant ways. For example, the Pharisee’s still sought a political solution through a political Messiah who would lead Israel to military victory over Rome; a victory that they would merit through obedience to the law of Moses and their traditions.

24. ^ Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 722.

25. ^ Ibid.

This article was originally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 148, no. 4, July - August 2005.