The Pharisees: Is It Lawful to Pay Taxes to Caesar?

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.”

So they brought Him a denarius.

20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. — Matthew 22:15-22.

Divine Perception (vv.15-22) — The Herodians, a party following Herod and seeking to blend the sinful lifestyle of ungodly people with certain observances of God’s people, mix with the Pharisees to plot Jesus’ downfall. They ask Him if taxes should be paid to Caesar. Taking a coin, Jesus asks them whose head and inscription were on the coin and they reply ‘Caesar’s’. He tells them to pay to Caesar what is his and to God what is His. The divine intuitive perception of Jesus in discerning their wicked trap and His reply cause them to marvel and leave.


“taxes” (v.17). — The hated poll tax symbolized submission to Rome. It went directly to the Emperor. It was levied on every male 14-65 years old and every female 12-65 years old who lived in the imperial provinces. If Jesus simply advocated payment of the tax, He would alienate the people; if He encouraged nonpayment the Herodians would accuse Him of treason. Jesus’ answer turns the question to a deeper issue, ultimate allegiance to God. The coin bearing the image of Caesar belongs to him; human beings made in the image of God belong to God.

Tiberius' Coin
Tiberius’ Coin

“Show Me the tax money” (v.19). — This coin was a “denarius.” It was a day’s wage for soldiers and laborers. On the front was a picture of Tiberius with the saying, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus.” On the back was a picture of Tiberius seated on a throne and an inscription, “Highest Priest.” Tiberius ruled the Roman Empire from AD 14-37. Coinage was a symbol of who was in governmental control.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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