Summary: Render to Caesar Caesar’s image, which is on the coin; and to God God’s image, which is on man.
FULFILLING OBLIGATIONS TO GOD AND STATE
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).
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.
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).