The rest of chapter 22 is made up of questions and answers. Up first are the Pharisees, accompanied by their unusual friends, the Herodians. The Herodians were loyal to the rule of the Herods and were thus always allied with Rome. The Pharisees were more likely to just get along with whomever is in charge. They are not natural allies to one another, but they have a common goal of trapping Jesus and getting rid of him. The Herodians were probably included so that they could report back anything Jesus said that could be used against him.
They want to talk about the taxes imposed by Rome, but they couch it is religious terms, as Pharisees are wont to do.
Jesus calls for a coin and (not) surprisingly, someone has one in the temple precincts. These coins should have been distasteful to Jews because they not only had an image of Tiberius on them, but also an inscription saying something like “Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus”.
Hypocrites is the right word for this delegation. They came with flattering words, but evil intentions. As always in Matthew, the flattering words are ironically true.
- Jesus is true. In fact, he is Truth.
- He teaches the way of God truthfully.
- He is not on the bandwagon.
- He is not out for personal popularity.
- He would not, if here today, be one of the court evangelicals of the American president, if you know what I mean.
So the delegation is doubly hypocritical. They are speaking with a forked tongue. And at least one of them has a Roman coin in the temple area.
Jesus’ answer is clever. If you take the Roman peace, you should pay the Roman tax. Maybe this would actually lose Jesus some support among the general population. As is the case today, average people are more likely to be revolutionaries against the government.
But the second half of Jesus’ answer doesn’t get enough attention. Not only does he say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He also says, “Give to God what is God’s.”
Earlier he taught that we cannot serve God and money. Earlier he taught that we are to take up our cross and follow him.
The denarius had a picture and inscription of Caesar on it. Our lives are in the image of God and we Christians have his inscription on our hearts. We are to give ourselves to him. Let Caesar (or the IRS) have a few coins. Let God have everything.