15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap Him by what He said. 16 They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. 17 Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them. 21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Him. Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.
13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said. 14 When they came, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know You are truthful and defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality but teach truthfully the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay, or should we not pay?” But knowing their hypocrisy, He said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” 16 So they brought one. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them. “Caesar’s,” they said. 17 Then Jesus told them, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.
20 They watched closely and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, so they could catch Him in what He said, to hand Him over to the governor’s rule and authority. 21 They questioned Him, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You don’t show partiality, but teach truthfully the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 23 But detecting their craftiness, He said to them, 24 “Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” “Caesar’s,” they said. 25 “Well then,” He told them, “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 They were not able to catch Him in what He said in public, and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.
“Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.
In the English Standard Version of verse 22 and of the companion readings, it states "when they heard this, they marveled." The HCSB says the Pharisees were "amazed." In every record of this event in the three synoptic Gospels (the ones that see things the same way), the word "marveled" or "amazed" is used.
John focuses on the personal teachings of Jesus to His disciples between the triumphal entry and the crucifixion, so this public event isn’t recorded there. What was so amazing? What stopped them in their tracks? Let's take a look at these verses.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem around Passover, the people celebrated Jesus' coming to Jerusalem with shouts of adoration, stirring up the whole city. Jesus then went into the temple and overturned the tables of the corrupt moneychangers, who overcharged to purchase animals for sacrifice according to the law.
He shouted, "It is written, 'My father's house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers."
Onlookers cheered. The Pharisees were indignant at the people praising Jesus for doing and saying such a thing. Mark records that the Pharisees sought a way to destroy Him, for they feared Him (11:18). So they then challenged His authority. He refused to answer them on their terms when they seemed indifferent on God's powerful work through John the Baptist (Matt 21:23-27).
According to today’s verses, they tried again to trick Him into an unfavorable answer, to ensnare Him in His words. They wanted a sound bite, a headline screaming “JESUS: ENEMY OF ROME” or “JESUS: ENEMY OF THE JEWS,” depending on his answer. They couldn’t refute Him, so they sought to discredit Him. Ah, politics.
What's so marvelous about His answer? I think it's more than just thinking on His feet and shooting them a one-line zinger. When He says, "Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," He’s expressing the authority of both respectively.
More to the point, Jesus says to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, in John's Gospel, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above" (19:11), and earlier, "My kingdom is not of this world" (18:36), or as the ESV puts it "of the world." God empowers governments on our behalf and judges them Himself (cf. Romans 13:1-7).
It’s Jesus' unflappable authority and the expression of the authority of Creator God with such exactitude to the Jewish leaders that’s so striking to me. "Why are you testing me, hypocrites?" He knew their allegiance to God was hypocritical who "strain out a gnat" (impose their own harsh legalism) "and gulp down a camel" (turn a blind eye to things that truly offend God like injustice, mercilessness, and unfaithfulness to God).
He told the leaders to give to God what is God's. The inscription of Caesar was on the coin, but the image of God is minted in the makeup of mankind. Give your few coins to Caesar, but give yourselves to God. Government's authority is what it is in tending to the issues of running a city, but God's authority extends into the deep parts of a person's heart and life "penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit…and able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
That’s what shut their mouths and caused them to marvel. It was the authority of God these Pharisees were in fact questioning, and it was the authority of God they were denying with their hypocritical lives.
- What does it mean to pay taxes?
- What does it mean to "give to God what is God's?"
- Do we acknowledge God's authority in praying for our government officials as well as living lives that reflect Him well?