Good Christian, Bad Citizen?
Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (v.17).
As a conquered people, the Jews were heavily taxed by the Romans. The annual poll tax of one denarius (a day’s salary for a common laborer), was most hated—not because of its amount, but because it was a shameful reminder that they were a subjugated people. This tax had to be paid with a Roman coin that bore images of the emperor, with offensive inscriptions that ascribed divinity and spiritual authority to Caesar, so the use of such a coin was considered spiritually sacrilegious and politically repugnant to devout Jews (Leviticus 26:1).
Jesus’ enemies used the poll tax to try and set up the perfect ‘Catch-22’ for Him (Mark 12:13). “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” they asked (v.14). A “no” answer would invite retaliation from Rome. A “yes” answer would make Him unpopular with the people.
Jesus answered, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied (v.16). He continued: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” (v.17). By saying this, Jesus revealed that the emperor should get what was rightfully his, but no more. “And give to God what belongs to God” (v.17). This meant that the emperor should not receive the divine worship and authority he craved, for they rightly belonged to God alone (Exodus 20:3; Acts 4:19). Since the coin bore the image of Caesar, it was to be given to Caesar. People bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26), so they were to give themselves to God.
In moving from the political arena to the spiritual realm, Jesus spelled out how a believer who gives himself to God will know what it means to be a good citizen. He showed that you don’t have to be a bad citizen to be a good Christian.
How should you apply Jesus’ answer, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” in situations where Christians are opposed or persecuted?