Then he said to them, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” – Matthew 22:21
This is a well-known quote that Jesus gave in response to the religious leaders in his day. But the give to Caesar what is Caesar’s meaning for us today is often missed.
There’s some powerful truth in this verse that we shouldn’t ignore. Jesus teaches us a valuable lesson about what we value in this life.
In this blog post we are are going to break down the Matthew 22:11 meaning and see what it holds for us today.
The Context Of Matthew 22:21
In order to understand the meaning of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” we first need to look at the context in which it’s found.
Prior to Matthew 22:21 Jesus told a series of three stories that conclude with the Parable of the Wedding Feast. All these parables are a direct stab at the religious leaders. And they are not happy.
It’s an incredible parable that I’ve written about. You can read it here: The Parable of the Wedding Feast (the POWERFUL truth of Matthew 22:1-14)
After Jesus ends these stories, the Pharisees leave and start planning to trap him. (Matthew 22:15)
A little while later the Pharisees come back with Herodians armed with a question they know will entrap Jesus. What’s surprising is these are two competing parties that rarely agreed on anything. But what they did agree on was Jesus being a threat and that he had to go.
In Matthew 22:16 they go to Jesus and start by buttering him up with compliments they surely don’t believe. And then they throw him this question: “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17)
While it might not seem it, this was a theological question. They wanted to know about how Jesus felt about the Romans who ruled over Israel. Their assumption was that Jesus would give a yes or no answer, and either way it would embroil him in controversy.
But Jesus refuses. He knows what they are up to and calls them out. “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” (Matthew 22:18-19)
Jesus chose to answer their question on his terms and is about to do something brilliant. They hand him a coin and he asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (Matthew 22:20)
This coin was a denarius, what most people used to pay their taxes and was roughly a single day’s wage.
The denarius bore the image of the emperor with the inscription of “Divine Caesar” and “High Priest.” Both of these inscriptions were offensive to the Jews because it placed Rome above them.
Knowing Jesus is up to something they respond with a single word: “Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).
Now that we know the context, let’s dive into the Matthew 22:21 meaning and see what it holds for us.
Matthew 22:21 Meaning
After they answered Jesus’ question he responds to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Jesus’ answer aligns with the Old Testament that says people should pay taxes to those over them because ultimately everything is God’s.
But giving this response Jesus did not side with any party that opposed the Roman tax and wanted to overthrow them. Nor did he side with any group that wanted the Messiah to bring political indolence to Israel.
The religious wanted him to pick a side so that they could trap him, but Jesus refuses. Instead he tells them to give to those who it is rightfully due.
Dr Tom Constable says it this way, “Jesus also advocated rendering to God what belonged to Him. As the coin bore the emperor’s image and so testified to his ownership of it, so human beings bear God’s image and so testify to His ownership of them. God has an even more fundamental claim on people than Caesar did. The Jews should acknowledge Caesar’s claim by paying their taxes, but what is more important they should acknowledge God’s claim by obeying Him. This was a condemnation of Israel’s leaders who were not obeying God as well as an exhortation to all the people to follow God’s will. For them that involved believing in and following Jesus.”
Give to Caesar What Is Caesar’s Meaning
The message here is simple and the logic profound. Give to Caesar what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to him. The word “give” here literally means to “give back.” In other words, our taxes our obligatory, we owe them to the government as part of our financial stewardship.
Jesus is drawing a distinction between the two kingdoms. God’s and Caesar’s. Caesar is the king of this world. But Jesus is the king of the eternal world. Followers of Jesus exist in both of these kingdoms, at least temporarily.
Under Caesar there are certain obligations that involve material things, money. But under Christ the obligations involve eternal things.
What Jesus is saying is if Caesar wants money, give it to him. It’s his anyway, his image is stamped on it. So, give him the temporary things he’s due. But don’t neglect God. While Caesar’s is temporary over the things of this world, God is over what’s eternal.
What does it mean to give God his due? Pauls tells us in Romans 6:13: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness”
Jesus’ answer to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is brilliant. It shows his wisdom and authority in the face of the religious leaders’ opposition.
The religious leaders though they had a foolproof plan. But with just a few words Jesus dismantles their questions, exposes their motives, and sends them running away.
Should Christians “Give/Render To Caesar” Today?
I want to end by looking at how the Matthew 22:21 meaning applies to us today. What should our response be to render unto Caesar?
There are many followers of Jesus today that don’t want to give to the government, our Caesar, today. And Jesus’ response rings true for us today just as it did 2,000 years ago. We should give the government what they are due.
Look, we like to justify not paying taxes because our government mismanages it and even does evil with our money. And that’s true to an extent. But it was also true in the Roman government. In reality, they were far more brutal and committed to far worse atrocities. Yet, Jesus still told them to pay their taxes.
God will hold each person accountable. That’s not our job.
Now, that doesn’t mean we sit idly by and go along with unjust laws. But we fight differently than the rest of the world. The early church was literally being killed and imprisoned. What did they do? They fought like Jesus did, with love and kindness. Boldly standing on truth, but refusing to stoop.
Our call as Christians is to show respect to those in authority. Pay our taxes. And pray for those who hate us. That’s what it means to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
But we can’t forget the second part. We are to give to God what is God’s.
Caesar has his image on the coins. God has stamped his image on us. We are to give God ourselves. Submit to his kingship. Our bodies are God’s temple, we belong to him. So, give Caesar what is temporary. But give God what is eternal.
Don’t get so caught up in the temporary things of this world. Instead focus on the eternal things God is doing.
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