Summary: Render to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin; and to God God’s image, which is on man.


Matthew 22:15-22

1. Wickedness finds strange bedfellows. The Pharisees denied the Emperor any right to demand tribute money - and whilst they no doubt used the common money for common purposes, they questioned the validity of the coinage (which attributed to Caesar the status of a god). The Herodians were fawning collaborators. A desire to “entangle Jesus in His talk” (Matthew 22:15) led to an unprecedented alliance between these two parties.

2. Flattery sometimes speaks truth. On another occasion a man had come to Jesus saying, ‘Good Master…’ to which Jesus retorted, ‘There is none good but God’ (Matthew 19:16-17). In other words, if you are going to use expressions like, ‘Good Lord!’ - at least consider the gravity of the saying…

The flattering words which fell from the lips of the disciples of the Pharisees, and the Herodians, were nevertheless true (Matthew 22:16).

a) “You are true.” (cf. John 1:17).

b) You “teach the way of God in truth” (cf. John 14:6).

c) Literally, “You do not look at (regard) the face of men” i.e. Jesus, as God, is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).

3. “What do you think?” (Matthew 22:17). For some people, their religion consists in nothing more than men’s opinions, rather than in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17) was a question designed to trip Jesus up. If he said, ‘no’ - the Herodians would denounce Him to the Romans as a seditionist. If He answered, ‘yes’ - the Pharisees would discredit Him before the people as a collaborator.

4. Jesus perceived their wickedness, and exposed their hypocrisy (Matthew 22:18). He answered their question with a game of ‘show and tell’ (Matthew 22:19).

5. There is a touch of irony between their flattering, “You do not regard the face of men” (Matthew 22:16); and Jesus’ question, “Whose image (icon) and superscription is this?” (Matthew 22:20). They replied, “Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).

6. To “render” is to ‘give back’ - to ‘give what is due by obligation’ (Matthew 22:21). Tertullian summarises: ‘render to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin; and to God God’s image, which is on man.’

Jesus’ answer is valid also for ourselves, as we seek to strike a balance between our relationship to the Lord, and our civil obligations. The problem comes when we seek to drive a wedge between our ‘spiritual’ life, and our secular responsibilities. It is better if we realise that ‘the powers that be’ are ordained of God (Romans 13:1; Romans 13:6-7).

7. The Master’s masterful answer left both sides bewildered. Let us be wary ourselves of putting the Lord to the test (Matthew 4:7). Jesus’ interlocutors marvelled at His words - and like the devil before them (Matthew 4:11) - they retreated, ashamed (Matthew 22:22).

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