Matthew 22:17-22. “Tell us therefore, What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? show me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a penny. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left Him, and went their way.”
Jesus had not come to free the Jews from Roman rule. The Pharisees, who had brought the Herodians along as witnesses to what they hoped to accomplish, misjudged Him completely and were sent away looking foolish. Their effort here was to trap Jesus into denouncing Rome and telling them not to pay taxes to Caesar. By doing so, He would have opened Himself up to the accusation of conspiracy against Rome, which was punishable by death. Rome didn’t mess around with those they believed would encourage insurrection.
The other part of the trap was that if Jesus said they must pay taxes to Caesar, then He could not be the Messiah that the Jews waited for to free them from a Gentile king. Surely, they thought, they had Him this time!
But Jesus was completely up to their tricks. His answer was a classic piece of logic and mastery. The reason that Israel was, once again, under the power of a Gentile nation was that they had NOT rendered unto God that which was God’s. Again, they had turned from God’s plan for them and twisted His law for them into a system of self-righteousness and gain. Always, when Israel turned away from God and toward idolatry of any sort, God brought judgment on them in the form of subjugation to a Gentile nation.
So Jesus’ answer, in my own paraphrase, was “If you had given unto God that which is His, then you would not have to continue to pay Caesar his tribute.”
And once again, they were speechless.