Luke 20 verse 25 “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”
The Temple leadership were very troubled by Jesus and tried to discredit him in every way they could. They had challenged him on the matter of his religious authority. He answered them by telling them a story of a vineyard which showed that he was the Son of the true Owner of the Vineyard, God himself.
But now the question changes. The issue now is: What does Christ’s claim to be King mean in relation to the political powers of the day? They now decide to trap him politically and hopefully destroy him.
Remember what the payment of taxes to the Romans meant to the Jews. It was a very great grievance to them, which is why tax collectors in Jewish society were so despised. Some resented paying taxes merely because they were poor and struggling, as it is with many people around the world today. But others rejected the payment of taxes because of nationalistic feelings. Some even held that to pay taxes to Rome was an offence to God. It was to misuse their revenue that should rightly go to God who was the true ruler of Judah.
In their minds any Messianic figure who taught it was a religious duty to refuse to pay taxes to Rome would have a huge following. But the nation’s current leadership – especially the high ranking priests were cautious because they knew they were in power only because the Romans allowed it. They did not want the status quo changed at all. So they waited for the right moment then challenged Jesus with the question in verse 21. But don’t forget to read verse 20 so that you can clearly understand their motives.
Was it right to pay taxes or not? If he said “yes”, he would immediately alienate the masses and he would be discredited as a Teacher. If he said “no”, then they could report him to the Roman authorities who would have him executed for political subversion.
Christ’ answer was proverbial. He laid down the principle. “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and pay to God what is God’s” (verse 25)
The issue Christ highlighted is the issue of ownership, which was the issue in the parable of the vineyard. In the story of the vineyard the workers were usurping the owner’s rights, but Caesar is acting quite within his rights. The chief priests confused different categories in their question. Faith and truth and the justice of God does not mean taking political steps to overthrow the power of Tiberius Caesar, cruel and corrupt though his government was.
The Jewish ideal of restoring a theocratic state by war against Caesar was not on Jesus’ agenda. He came to do the most important thing – to redeem us from our sins.
This is a good reminder for all of us to think wisely in this world. The things of God and the things of Caesar will exist side by side until Jesus comes again and then he will bring his own agenda to its fulfilment. In the meantime the people of God should be good citizens in every way, without idolizing the state.