Taxes to Caesar

Imagine a conversation between two Jewish friends a few days after Pentecost. Joseph is a new follower of Christ and is eagerly joining the disciples. John is a Jewish Zealot who hates the fact that the enemy is still in authority over his homeland. While John is walking through town he comes across Joseph who has just finished paying his taxes.

John: Paying your taxes, Joseph? Funny, you don’t look as disappointed as usual. Last I knew, you were like me– avoiding those like the plague! How  many hundred denarii did you have to pay last time you missed them? It must have been at least double your normal due– why the change? Gotten soft in your old age?

Joseph: I did pay a lot, you know, but no, I’m not really soft. You might say I’m still a Zealot, I–

John: Good! Because we want to start another rebellion! And we could really u–

Joseph: No, John, not THAT kind of Zealot. I don’t agree with the revolution anymore. The Kingdom I’m looking for isn’t of this world- it’s a heavenly one that will be set up when Jesus who is the Messiah returns to establish his throne! Until then, Rome is just another government– set up by God to be a terror to bad conduct.

John: (Showing the hilt of his sword) Bad conduct? What are you saying? Are you turning your back on your country? You’re no better than those tax collectors!

Joseph: What is that supposed to mean?

John: You know what I mean! Joseph, you know exactly where those taxes go. Don’t you remember the last rebellion and how many of our friends were killed and crucified for that? What about your Jesus? Don’t you know he was crucified? And where do you think the money for those crucifixions comes from? Oh, sure, the wood doesn’t cost much, they can reuse that. But the soldiers! Their salary comes right out of the extortion of the sinners and tax collectors! You sure have gotten soft, Joseph, you have forgotten the very thing you despise! Are you for crucifixion and the Roman rule of our land?

Joseph: John. I love our people and our land. Like you, I wish it would be returned to us yesterday! But Jesus has actually done something to change my attitude about the Romans. I can’t explain it fully, because I don’t fully understand it, but Christ has revealed to me– and thousands of others– that our sin is just as bad as that of the sinners, tax collectors, and Romans. So why should I fight them? I want them to find the same grace that I have!

John: What, and have THEM accepted into this Kingdom of yours?

Joseph: This Kingdom of God! Jesus wants to make many people from all nations a part of His Kingdom. I know it’s terrible where that money is spent and I hate that so many of our countrymen die in this war each year. But Jesus has called me to live with my mind set on heavenly things. The unrepentant Romans and tax collectors will answer for themselves when Christ returns to us just as I will answer for my conduct when He comes. So as long as I am faithful to Him, it doesn’t matter what they are doing. Of course I’ll pray for them and our country to live at peace, but I know now that Jesus will bring the true peace that the prophets spoke of– our zeal against Rome can’t do that!

The Point

If you can look past the awkwardness of this imagined conversation, you may begin to get my point. Jesus commanded that we as believers “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Likewise, Paul tells us that governments are in place for our good and that we owe them their due. However, the greatest difference between their context and ours is that we actually have a say in what happens in our government. So it is not only our responsibility to pray for those in authority and seek their good, but also to get involved and vote well.

So when they make good laws, it is our joy to follow them. When they make bad laws, it is still our joy to follow them– as our joy is not in our “perfect” nation, but in our Perfect Savior.

But don’t you know what they pay for?

The obvious application here is the new health care law (read some good information on it, here). There are many organizations out there fighting tooth and nail against it for a variety of reasons, but one big reason is its very universal support of abortion and planned parenthood. I despise killing babies. But this is the law of the land and if it goes into effect, it is our duty to obey the law and tell people why we’re obeying it. If the opportunity arises to have this changed, great! But if not, then we live content not in our politics, which change every year, but in our great savior who doesn’t change and will return as the judge of the earth.

So whether you purchase insurance, elect to pay the tax, or seek out a non-insurance, bill-sharing plan (like Medi-Share or Samaritan Ministries, both of which will be legal exceptions to the law), it is our duty and delight to pray for the government and be sure to follow the law. Christ died so that we could do just that.

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3 thoughts on “Taxes to Caesar

  1. jesusandthebible July 6, 2012 / 16:37

    Hi Jakob,

    In Mt. 22:15-16 when disciples of the Pharisees approach Jesus to ask about taxes, they first flatter him as a teacher who does not regard the (high) position of men. They know this because Jesus has continually confronted their scribes (authoritative rabbis, who helped rule the kingdom of Israel through interpreting and enforcing the law of Moses, the “constitution” of Israel).

    In Mt. 15:1-2 scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t wash their hands when they ate, a direct disobedience of the rules of the elders (rabbis). Jesus ends the discussion in 15:20 by saying, eating with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. Not only have Jesus and his disciples broken this law–of ruling authorities in Israel–but Jesus has said the law is wrong; it is a bad law.

    So these same rulers send their disciples to Jesus to ask about taxes to Caesar, thinking he will not spare Caesar if he has not spared them. Then he’ll be in trouble with the highest authority of all (on earth). Jesus responds by asking to see a denarius; he asks them whose image and inscription are on the coin. At this time, the image would have been of Tiberius Caesar, and the inscription read: Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus. They reply it is Caesar’s picture and inscription.

    When Jesus says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, it is these blasphemous coins that are Caesar’s. So why would monotheistic Jews want to keep such idolatrous coins? By all means, give them back to Caesar. And since Caesar is not divine, give to God the things that are God’s. Part of this context is Jesus’ parable in 21:33-43 where the tenants of the vineyard (Israel) did not give the landlord (God) the fruits expected. God had given them the law of Moses, yet by focusing on their own laws (which tried to apply Moses’ law), they neglected the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (23:23).

    Thus Jesus is not confirming the ways of men of high position; he contrasts their ways with the ways of God. As he gathers disciples for his own new kingdom, they will obey him (and his commands) as king. If they have an extra denarius lying around, they will be happy to be rid of it and give it back to its arrogant owner.

    • Jakob Guy July 7, 2012 / 22:29

      Thanks for the comment!

      While I would agree that Jesus wasn’t there “confirming” that their laws and ways were good, I do think it stands to reason that Jesus is interested in being the one judging all nations some day. Like I said, this doesn’t mean that we take a back seat to the goings on of our government–especially in the “free world,” but we are called to let Christ be the Sovereign one and abide by laws in the mean time (granted they don’t require us to cease gathering to worship or require us to do things that would contradict the clear commands of Scripture).

      This will always be a fine line, but this is where we are grateful for living in a land where we can influence decisions. And even if we couldn’t influence them this wold is still not our home and we can enjoy the hope of Christ much better than any hope here.

      • jesusandthebible July 9, 2012 / 13:24

        The “clear commands of Scripture” include commands of Moses that Jesus changed as the Sovereign of his new kingdom. For example, Moses (in Lev. 19:18) says to love your neighbor (defined as “the sons of your own people”); as for enemies, like the Canaanites, they are to be run out of the land and killed by the sword (as in Lev. 26:7). These are clear commands of Scripture–for the kingdom of Israel. Nations today, like the U.S., can use these commands to legitimate their wars on ungodly terrorists.

        But Jesus tells his disciples to love even their enemies, unlike what they were told in their synagogues (Mt. 5:43-44). Because Jesus is king of his new international kingdom of disciples, they can make peace with those from other nations; when the laws of their earthly kingdom, like the U.S., require war against that nation’s enemies (and use commands of Scripture), faithful disciples of Jesus refuse to join.

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