But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus Cuts Through the Confusion
One spring day in Jerusalem, an unlikely group of people came to Jesus. They weren’t there to seek his wisdom or hear God’s Word. Instead, they were there to trap Jesus. This wasn’t the first time, but what was unusual was who made up this particular group—heavily religious Pharisees alongside heavily political Herodians. While they typically opposed each other, they were united in how much they despised Jesus. They asked Jesus about paying taxes to the hated Romans, who ruled the region. They wanted to trap Jesus in his words to either get him in trouble with the authorities or the crowds who hung on his every word.
How would Jesus answer? He had them bring him the coin used to pay that tax—a coin that bore the face of the Roman emperor on one side and a religious title claiming Caesar’s divine status on the other. Jesus called out his enemies for their trap and then told them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
What was Jesus saying? The political realm under the authority of rulers and government has its own role and purpose, which is limited to earthly life. The divine realm of God has its own role and purpose, which extends over every soul from this life to eternity. Even though the Caesar embossed on the coin claimed divine status, his authority came from and was limited by God, who rules over church and state. In saying these things, Jesus cut through the political confusion. He recognized the authority of government but also God’s supremacy over all things.
That clear answer cuts through our own confusion. We live as citizens with feet in both kingdoms under government authority and God’s divine supremacy. We give what we owe to both, trusting in our Savior, who gave himself for us and our salvation.
O Lord of nations, cut through the confusion of our politically charged world and fix my eyes on you, my light and salvation. Amen.