9 Things Peter and John Said That Should Impact The Way a Christian Approaches Politics

Like Jesus and like Paul, John recognized that the nations of this world are under demonic influence. Peter likewise understood this and encouraged Christians to endure persecution from their rulers, while maintaining honor and reverence towards them. Together, with the rest of the New Testament writers, Peter and John encourage Christians to remember that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.

1.The World Is Under The Power of the Evil One

We know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1 John 5.19

Even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, John still viewed the whole world as being under the power of the evil one. The church is God’s, but outside the church is Satan’s (1 Cor. 5.1-5; 1 Tim. 1.20; 1 Tim. 5. 15). Three times Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (Jn. 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). In other words, Satan holds the highest position of authority in this world. Paul frequently taught the same thing (2 Cor. 4.4; Eph. 2.2; Eph. 2.2).

Of course John understood that God ultimately holds more authority and power, which is why He will win (1 Jn. 5.4-5). But in the present, Satan is the one who exercises the most power and influence over this world.

If you’ve ever wondered why the governments of this world have continually failed to provide lasting solutions to social and global problems, or why they continually gravitate towards violence and oppression, this should help answer those questions. If we recognize that Satan is the ruler over this world and its kingdoms, we shouldn’t be surprised.

2. God’s Kingdom Will Be Victorious Over the Nations

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever… We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And all the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bondservants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” – Revelation 11.15-18

John’s Revelation describes two different kingdoms that are at war against one another: The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of Christ. In keeping with John 5.19, these verses do not describe God as having unilateral control over the nations of the earth. When the Kingdom of Christ is victorious over the kingdom of the world, the nations become enraged. The nations are thus described as being on the side of the kingdom of this world. How can Christians seek to build up and strengthen those nations which exist in opposition to Christ’s kingdom?

3.Earthly Governments are Deceived by the Destroyer

Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together for the war the number of them like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20.7-10

The dragon, through His deception, has rallied all the nations of the world together against God’s kingdom. But when they are confronted with God’s justice, everyone who has refused to be a part of God’s kingdom will be destroyed. And so the dragon, the nations, and all who chose them are eternally punished, never again able to corrupt God’s good creation.

Abaddon, the Destroyer, is identified as the king of the nations of this this world (Rev. 9.11; 11.15). The world is deceived by the power of the great beast, and thus they worship the beast and give authority to the beast (Rev. 13.11-15). In John’s Revelation, it’s not just a few of the “bad” nations, or particuraly powerful “empires” that are deceived. Rather all the “nations which are in the four corners of the earth” are deceived by Him. These nations are collectively identified as “Gog and Magog”, an archetype of earthly governments who trust in military power (Ezekiel 38).

4.Babylon Will Be Destroyed

 Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality…

And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning…

So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer… and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. – Revelation 18.2-3, 9, 21-23

Babylon, the great and evil earthly nation that swallowed up the Israelites in 597 B.C. became a symbol of the wickedness, idolatry, immorality, and violence of later earthly nations. In John’s Revelation it is stated that “all the kings of the earth” have committed acts of immorality with “Babylon,” for the nations were deceived by her. “Babylon”, the great kingdom of this world will be destroyed. When she falls, all the earthly governments will mourn, for they have long loved the sensual pleasures that she provides.

5.Come Out of Her!

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues. – Revelation 18.4

God’s people should recognize Babylon and come out of her! Come out of her who is deceived by Satan. Come out of her who seduces kings in their lust for wealth and power. Come out of her who oppresses and kills God’s people.

Why? Because she will suffer plagues for her sins. And when she does,  kings and merchants (vs. 9-18) will share in her plagues when she is punished. Meanwhile the saints and apostles and prophets, who have avoided her seductions, will rejoice when she is judged (vs. 19-20).

God’s saints should be careful to distance themselves from the deceptive allure of the prostitute named Babylon.

6.Christians Are Strangers and Exiles

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2.11-12

Peter recognized that Christians should fill the role as strangers and exiles. These words were used to identify those who live in a city, but do not identify as permanent residents of that city. It should be no wonder that Peter, who lived long after the earthly nation of Babylon had been destroyed, identified himself as living in “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5.13). Peter was picking up on the same concept that was to be described in the book of Revelation. Peter and his readers did not have permanent ties to the earthly city or nation in which they lived. As exiles, they did not wage war against the enemies of their earthly nation, but rather they waged their warfare against fleshly lusts.

7.Be Subject to Them

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may be able to silence the ignorance of foolish men…. Fear God. Honor the king. – 1 Peter 2.13-17

Christians are instructed to subject themselves to earthly rulers. Why? Not for the sake of the rulers themselves, but for the Lord’s sake. The Lord is the one Christians should fear, yet we should still show honor to earthly rulers by subjecting ourselves to them.

By showing honor and subjecting ourselves to earthly rulers, the ignorance of their foolishness is silenced. If Christians want to see the ignorance of foolish rulers silenced, they must keep their behavior excellent, submissive, showing honor to their enemies in power.

8.Do not fear them.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,” but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.. – 1 Peter 3.13-17

Christians are not to fear earthly rulers. Neither are they to consider their earthly rulers as “Lord.” Rather they are to set apart Christ as their Lord. When earthly rulers slander disciples of Christ, we must be ready to give an answer for our hope, while continually maintaining gentleness and reverence towards them.

9. Recognize that Jesus is our King

Baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. – 1 Peter 3.21-22

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was exalted above the authorities and powers. Earthly governmental powers have been defeated in the resurrection. Like the flood which delivered Noah from the wicked world in which he lived, baptism delivers Christians from their wicked world. It is for this reason that Peter, living right under the nose of the Roman emperor, could boldly proclaim, “To Him [Jesus, not Caesar] be dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 5.11). When we are baptized, we confess that Jesus is the Lord, the ruler. And by implication, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.

Conclusion

Peter and John stand firmly in agreement with Jesus and Paul. They never encouraged Christians to become involved in earthly politics, but rather they sought to overcome those powers by peacefully submitting to them.

9 Things The Apostle Paul Said That Should Impact The Way A Christian Approaches Politics

Jesus never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, and therefore He placed absolutely no trust in this world’s deceptive power.

But what about the Apostle Paul? How did Paul understand the Christian’s relationship to the governments of this world?

1.Submit to governing authorities

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. – Romans 12.29-13.5

Paul forbade Christians from revolting against their leaders. In Romans 12, Paul encouraged Christians to love their enemies and overcome evil with good. In Romans 13, Paul applies that principle to one specific kind of enemy: governing authorities. (It helps to remember that Nero was the emperor at the time that this was written. He certainly would have been one of, if not the very first person to come to mind whenever Roman Christians read about “enemies”.)

Paul commanded to Roman Christians to overcome evil by submitting to the governing authorities. Insubordination and rebellion against government are thus forbidden. Just as elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever we read the command to “submit”, this implies that there are two different parties being discussed with potentially conflicting wills. Paul wrote Romans with the understanding that Christians and the government were two separate entities.

2. God uses governments “for good”

For it is a minister of God to you for good. – Romans 13.4a

In the same way that Paul reminded the Roman Christians that God can use all kinds of horrible things to work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8.28), so also Paul reminds them that God will even use governing authorities as evil as Nero for good. Throughout this passage, Paul was teaching the same thing the prophets taught concerning evil Assyria (Isaiah 10.5-15) and Babylon (Habakkuk 2). In the same way that God, through His providence, raised up those evil nations and used them as His ministers to accomplish His purpose, so too God would use the Roman government for good. This doesn’t mean that God approved of everything Nero did any more than He approved of what the Assyrians or the Babylonians did. But it does mean that Christians need to remember that no matter who is in power, and no matter how evil they may be, God still has a plan. We can trust that somehow, someway, God will use them for good. Therefore, we can submit to their evil rule.

3.Earthly rulers are enemies of God’s Kingdom

Then comes the end, when He hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. – 1 Corinthians 15.24-26

Paul understood that the rulers, authorities and powers were among the enemies of Jesus to be destroyed at His coming. He reigns in His kingdom, which, “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2.44).

Since it is the mission of Jesus and His kingdom to put all these enemies under His feet and abolish these kingdoms, rulers, authorities and powers, how can His servants enter into, strengthen, and build up that which Christ and His kingdom are to destroy?

4.Do not be yoked with unbelievers

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God has said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore, “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean
And I will welcome you.
And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6.14-18

While this passage in itself does not seem to be written specifically towards political partnerships, it certainly discourages it. To be unequally yoked (KJV) is to be bound together with an unbeliever in a way which allows the believer to be controlled by the unbeliever. So that Christians do not compromise their purposes, their values, or their life, they must avoid these kinds of partnerships. The principle Paul gives here would apply to any relationship in which a Christian will be controlled or heavily influenced by a non-Christian.

5.Do not fight with fleshly weapons

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Corinthians 10.3-4

To use a fleshly weapon is to seek to win a battle without God. Christians do not wage war according to the flesh. The spiritual weapons are the only ones a child of God can use, and these spiritual weapons are powerful in destroying the strongholds of Satan. We weaken our strength when we appeal to government power, which of necessity uses fleshly weapons to accomplish its purposes.

6.Do not fight against flesh and blood

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6.12

Christians do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight for them (Lk. 6.27-35). Earthly political fights make enemies out of other humans.

Who is the real enemy we fight against? Rulers. Authorities. World-powers. No, not a fight against the individuals people who fill those offices and march in their armies, but rather our battle is focused on the spiritual evil that stands beneath and supports all those government powers. Therefore, the weapons we need for this battle are a different type of weapon than that which is used by earthly governments.

7.The rulers and authorities have been disarmed.

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display over them, having triumphed over them through Him. – Colossians 2.15

The rulers and authorities are here described as enemies of Christ which were conquered. The rulers and authorities have only one power: death. On the cross, the rulers and authorities condemned Jesus with the only power they had at their disposal. When Jesus conquered death, he left all government power ineffective towards those who are being resurrected.

8.Pray for rulers.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2.1-2

Christians are not instructed to pray that their rulers should be strong, prosperous and permanent rulers. Neither should our prayers be limited only towards those rulers of  our country in which we live.  We should be praying for “all” men and “all” who are in authority. This includes even praying for our enemies.  Rather the object of our prayers is for peace and tranquility.

When Christians pray, they have the full attention of the highest office in the land, the King of kings. When Christians exercise power in the voting booth, their voice is barely heard among thousands of other voices, and only once every few years.

9. Don’t Be Distracted From Our Fight

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. – 2 Timothy 2.3-4

To please our commanding officer, it is necessary that we are not distracted by the affairs of enemy powers. When soldiers are placed in foreign lands, their responsibility is to suffer, if need be, to carry out the agendas of the homeland. His assignment is not to become involved in “the affairs of everyday life.”

Christians are soldiers in enemy territory. We live in a territory that is governed by “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and “principality and power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Our task is not to be distracted by the affairs of his country, but rather to please our commanding officer by imitating His example and following His commands.

When Christians mistakenly think they are building up God’s kingdom by promoting which political options, candidates or policies are the “right ones”, they are letting themselves get distracted from the task that Christians are given. Our task is to do what Jesus did. He preached the Kingdom of God and defeated His enemies by how He lived, died, and rose again, not by some great political victory.

Conclusion

Like Jesus, Paul understood that the earthly rulers and authorities were under demonic influence. They were part of the domain of darkness, among the enemies of Christ which have been disarmed and defeated. Therefore Paul never encouraged Christians to take political action or seek political power.

Paul did not think Christians should feel a need to overthrow their enemies, but rather should overcome evil by good by submitting to those in power. He had faith that just as God had used the Assyrians and Babylonians for good, so He would continue to cause all things to work together for good.

Paul encouraged Christians maintain their separation from unbelievers, so that they are not distracted from a far more important mission.

In A Democracy, Don’t Christians Have A Responsibility to Participate in Politics?

In a previous post I recounted nine things Jesus said or did that should influence the way Christians approach politics. Jesus never tried to gain power in the political system of his day. But, it has been argued that in almost every instance that the Bible references the Christian’s relationship with government, the governments were emperors or kings. Governments in that day didn’t allow for the public to participate in the same way they do today. Caesar and Pilate weren’t elected by popular vote.

We, however, live in a democracy where our government allows and encourages the public to be involved in the political process. Suddenly the governments are not “thems”, but rather the governments are “us” (or so it is argued). Does the Christians relationship to government and politics change in a democracy? Do modern Christians now have a responsibility to try to change society using political methods?

First of all it is not true that in democratic or any other kind of government that the people are themselves the rulers. They choose the rulers, among a select few individuals who have been given the opportunity to run for office. Once elected, these individuals tend to rule for their own selfish good and glory the same way other rulers in other forms of government rule.

Our Citizenship is in a Foreign County

Christians must remember that we are citizens of a foreign country. “For our citizenship is in heaven“, wrote Paul (Phil. 3.20). We are “foreigners” and “exiles” in our own country (1 Pet. 2.11). Does this basic relationship towards earthly governments change depending on the type of government we happen to be under?

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy:

“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” – 2 Timothy 2.4

Our commitment to be a soldier of the cross doesn’t change based on the form of government we are under. As a soldier, we must not be distracted from our mission.

Jesus emphasized the contrast between the pagan path of greatness and the Christian path to greatness:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” – Matthew 20.25-26

The disciples of Jesus should abstain from the pagan desire to rule over others. This key distinction doesn’t change when the form of government changes.

Even if Christians themselves were the rulers, this raises another difficult challenge: How can a Christian fulfill the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities as a Christian at the same time?

Governments are to avenge evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are forbidden from avenging themselves (Rom. 12.19). Governments carry out God’s wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to leave it to God’s wrath (Rom. 12.18). Governments do not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to feed their enemies (Rom. 12.20-21). Romans 12-13 only makes sense if it is understood that Christians are a separate entity, with separate responsibilities from the governmental authorities. If, in a democracy, Christians become one in the same with the government, Romans 12-13 must be seen to be commanding contradictory responsibilities at the same time.

Christians are to be in subjection to earthly rulers (Rom. 13.1). Every instance of “subjection” in the New Testament indicates the presence of at least two separate, and potentially opposing entities. If Christians are one and the same with government, are they then to submit to themselves? If “we” are now the government, how are we supposed to submit to ourselves? To the extent that government can desire something of us that we would not choose ourselves, they are a separate entity.

Earthly Governments Will Be Destroyed

If in a democracy, “we” are now one in the same with the government in Romans 13, are we also one in the same in 1 Corinthians 15 with the rulers and authorities and powers who will be destroyed along with the rest of Jesus’s enemies when He returns?

Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and all power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Surely we would not argue that simply because we live in a democracy that “we” are the rulers and authorities that will be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15. How can we claim to be one in the same with the rulers in Romans 13, but not in 1 Corinthians 15?

When Paul speaks of Christians wrestling against authorities and rulers and powers (Eph. 6.12), did He envision Christians wrestling against themselves, since they are now the rulers in a democracy?

Absolutely not. The day will come when “Babylon” will be judged and destroyed. We should therefore heed the warning of Revelation 18.4:

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins are piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

If we are one in the same with government just because we live under a democracy, we should be very concerned! We should be seeking any way possible to get out! If we don’t “come out of her” we will share in the judgment she will receive.

Conclusion

Thankfully, “we” are not the government. We represent a different kingdom. The kingdom in which we enjoy citizenship will be delivered to the Father when all the other kingdoms are destroyed. We are to change the world, but we are not to use the same methods the world uses. Our power to change the world is rooted in prayer and sacrificial love. Whatever distracts us from this task should be avoided.

Living in a democracy certainly makes it easy to be politically involved if we choose to do so. But that doesn’t mean we have a responsibility to do so. If anything, it means we must be even more careful to maintain the important distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.

Shouldn’t Christians Use Political Means to Help the Poor?

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25.41-46

In an earlier article I wrote about 9 things that Jesus said that should influence the way Christians should approach politics. Should Matthew 25.41-46 be added to that list? Did Jesus intend for Christians to become involved in political means to help the poor?

It is imperative that Christians help the poor. Helping the poor must never become just as small side project that Christians do when it is convenient. If Scripture ever clearly identified an issue as a “salvation issue”, this is it. Our decision to help or neglect the poor is directly tied to our eternal destiny.

Not only that, but Christians should go to whatever extent they possibly can to help the poor. Notice Jesus’s words in verse 45: “To the extent that you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Think about those words, “To the extent…“. That is a very broad challenge.

The church doesn’t have the power and resources to help all the poor everywhere. Shouldn’t Christians at least vote to help the poor? Shouldn’t they at least do their part to pressure government to enact compassionate economic policies? If we really want to defend the poor and disadvantaged, shouldn’t we seek to use government to defend them from the injustices they face?

No. Emphatically, no, they should not. I can totally understand why some Christians would choose to take this course of action, and I recognize that they do so with righteous motives. Yet I hope that you will consider some thoughts in response to this idea.

Which Version of Government is Best?

I write this to passionately encourage Christians not to think they are doing God’s work when they try to rally others around the particular version of government that they think is best. Like anyone else, I can imagine how governmental decisions impact the poor and disadvantaged. I don’t find it that hard to recognize how minimum wage laws increase the pay for some at the expense of others who are left unemployed. It is easy to see that all the government interference in health care markets has reduced competition, lowered quality, and driven health care costs to a point where it is affordable for many to pay for the care they deserve. It hurts me to think about how many jobs are destroyed through the high taxation and heavy regulations that businesses face, and how this has a big impact on the lower classes. And I’m not alone. There are lots of really bright people out there who understand that regulating free markets is, in the long haul, the worst possible thing you could do to the poor.

What if I were to take Matthew 25.41-46 as instruction to get Christians active in politics for the sake of the poor? Now that I’ve decided to get Christians involved in righteous political causes, I stand in my pulpit next Sunday and encourage the church do everything in their power to help the poor, which includes getting out there and stopping those liberals from regulating free-markets.

At the same time, you are encouraging Christians to get out there and help the poor by supporting minimum wage laws, wise regulations on big businesses, increasing funding to compassionate welfare programs that support the poor, and funding those programs by taxing the top 1% of earners. You wouldn’t be very happy with me, and I wouldn’t be very happy with you. We both agree that we should help the poor, but instead of using our pulpits to actually encourage Christians to help the poor, we are driving a wedge of division into the church with our message.

As a result, the left and the right argue over which particular kind of government is best for the poor. We spend our time, energy, passion, and sometimes even our money arguing over what our rulers should do about the poor (something the Bible never commands us to do), instead of working together in unity to actually help the poor (which is precisely what we are commanded to do). This leads to one more important point.

The Church Must Do More To Help The Poor

If Christians were to take all of their time, energy, passion and money that they currently invest into political arguments, and were to put that same level of passion into actually helping the poor, the church could make a huge positive impact on the poor, not only in their community, but throughout the country and throughout the world. And what’s even better, when the church works together to help the poor, the glory is given to God rather than to some particular style of government (2 Cor. 9.12).

There is no doubt in my mind that the church needs to do more to help the poor. One of the big reasons we don’t is because we are too busy arguing over what Caesar should do about poverty. This will only change when Christians stop thinking that it is their job to tell the authorities how to rule and start to do what Jesus commanded us to do. We must trust that God who makes all kinds of bad things work together for good (Rom. 8.28), will use even the worst rulers for good (such as Nero, who was the ruler when Romans 13.1-5 was written). Therefore we can simply submit to our rulers, trusting that God will somehow use them for the good He has promised. Only when we learn to trust that they are God’s ministers, and not ours, will we stop clamoring for greater political influence, and actually start working to serve the poor.

Ultimately, the hope for the poor, as well as anyone else, doesn’t hang on which party gets put in power. It hangs on the power that God has given to the church. The church’s power isn’t a power that we release every four years when we unify together and make our voice heard in the voting booth. It is a power that we release when we unite together to show God’s love by how we live, by how we share, and by how we sacrifice to serve the poor.

9 Things Jesus Said That Should Impact The Way A Christian Approaches Politics

Disciples of Jesus have a different set of values, ideals and methods from the world, and it is of utmost importance that we maintain this distinction. Jesus himself never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, influencing all the nations of this world, and He placed absolutely no trust in their deceptive power.

Therefore Christians should remain separate from earthly governments and politics. Christians are to pledge their allegiance to God alone, and not to any earthly nation, political party or political ideology. Because Jesus is our only Lord and Master, we are not to serve any other lord or master.

1.Christians should have a different set of values

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6.19-21

Earthly governments are continually in pursuit of earthly treasures (or in their own language “economic strength”. Jesus warns that earthly treasures pass away. This is why those who seek after earthly treasures are filled with anxiety, anger, envy, and jealousy (what Paul calls “works of the flesh”).

Jesus taught that our hearts should be focused on the heavenly treasures of the Kingdom of God, not on earthly things. Therefore for a disciple, it would be unwise to plan significant time and effort pursuing much of what earthly governments hold as having significant value. Our treasure, our hearts, and our confidence is in heaven.

2.Christians should look to a different source to provide for their needs.

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…

Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will be drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6.24-34

Whenever we are faced with a need or a concern, we are not to look to stronger political leadership. We are to seek His kingdom, trusting that when we do, God will provide us with what we need. To the extent that we seek God, we do not have to worry.

This stands in stark contrast to the governments of this world, who do nothing but worry, for they do not seek God. When Christians serve God as their master, they are freed from pursuing the things that governments of this world pursue.

3.Christians should refuse to judge.

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7.1-5

Christians are not to judge. This is antithetical to the role and purpose of government (Rom. 13.1-5). The only way a government can enforce any law is to enforce judgment upon those who disobey that law. To seek to reform the world through government power necessitates judgment.

Jesus taught that Christians should seek a different method of addressing sin. Rather than acting as judges, Christians are to regard the sins of others as “specks” as compared to the “log” in their own eye. Paul would go on to actually forbid Christians from judging those who are outside the church (1 Cor. 5.12-13). Among those who are outside the church, we are to be known for our humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love (Eph. 4.2; Jas. 4.10-12; 1 Pet. 3.8). We are to follow the example of Jesus by esteeming others are better than ourselves.

4.Christians should seek a different path to greatness.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20.25-28

The quest for power and ruling authority that characterizes the world is not to characterize Christians. The greatest in the kingdom of Christ do not rule; they serve. The world is all about exercising power over others, leading to continual political fights as various parties contend for that power. Christians should have absolutely no desire to take part in these fights.

5.Christians should render to God everything that is rightfully His.

“ Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the pol-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. – Matthew 22.15-22

This text is frequently misunderstood. For that reason I’ve written two other articles examining the context of the question and of Jesus’ answer. In short, rather than approving of giving service to Caesar, Jesus referred to the “likeness” and “inscription” on the coin, evoking strong references to the law, in which God was proclaimed as the only sovereign ruler of everything. When Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, He was sharply challenging his questioners to decide for themselves the question of who rightly deserved their allegiance. If Caesar’s claims to be the rightful ruler of the world were true, then God’s claims to sovereignty were false. If God’s claims to sovereignty were true, the Caesar’s claims were illegitimate. If we really render to God the things that are God’s, there should be nothing left over for Caesar.

6.Christians should recognize that the nations are under demonic influence.

And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and serve Him only.” – Luke 4.6-8

First of all, it is interesting to notice that Jesus never refuted the devil’s claim that all the kingdoms of the world had been handed over to him to give to whomever he wishes. In fact, Jesus frequently referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). Likewise Paul would later refer to the devil as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). John also understood that “the whole world lies the power of the evil one” (1 John 5.19).

How much trust should Christians place in demonically controlled earthly governments? As much as Jesus did, which is absolutely none.

Interestingly, the reason Jesus declined Satan’s offer was because Jesus understood that we are to serve God and God alone. He understood that serving God seeking political glory are mutually exclusive.

7.Christians should remember that Jesus avoided political/legal disputes.

Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you? Then He said to them, “Beware and be on guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” – Luke 12.13-15

Once again, Jesus is faced with a legal/political question. He responds by asking “Who made me a judge?” Jesus claims that He did not come to judge earthly legal/political disputes. To the contrary, Jesus came to set us free from the sinful foundations of those disputes, such as greed.

Jesus didn’t have anything to say about legal/political/governmental disputes. Neither should we.

8.Christians should maintain sharp distinction from the world.

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. – John 15.18-19

Jesus’s disciples follow a different Lord and Master, and therefore they look at the world in a very different way. Christians are frequently described as being different from the world, or “foreigners”, “exiles”, or “strangers” in the world. (Phil. 1.27; Heb. 11.13; 1 Pet. 1.17; 1 Pet 2.11). As a result, we should not be surprised when the world hates us.

If, however, we are indistinguishable from the world in our values, our ideals, or our methods, we have missed what we are called to be. As we seek to follow Jesus, we should have the same relationship to the surrounding culture and political powers as Jesus had.

9.Christians should refuse to fight like the world fights.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” – John 18.36-37

The reason Jesus didn’t fight for political power is because His kingdom is not of this world. The evidence Jesus gave to prove that His kingdom is not of this world was that His disciples weren’t fighting either.

The world fights, not only with violence, but also with evil speaking towards political opponents.

Disciples of Jesus shouldn’t have any part in these physical or verbal fights (Eph. 4.29-31). To the contrary, everything we do is to be done in love. (1 Cor. 16.14). This is strikingly different from the kingdoms of this world which rely on physical violence and verbal sword swinging to maintain their power and influence.

Conclusion

Jesus taught his disciples to live a different kind of life from the world around them. Jesus never took part in earthly politics. He recognized that the kingdoms of this world were under the influence of Satan. He only sought to build one kingdom: the kingdom of God.

Should we not seek to follow this example of Jesus?

Render to God!

Christians should pay their taxes, but the famous teaching of Jesus, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22.15-22; Mk. 12.13-17; Lk. 20.20-26), is one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament. Jesus was not suggesting that Christians should give their loyalty to both God and Caesar. To the contrary, Jesus was challenging His hearers to give all of their allegiance to God alone.

The first part of this two part article, “Render to Caesar?”, broke down the textual and historical context, which gives us better understanding of the taxation question as it was presented to Jesus. This second part breaks down Jesus’ response.

The Coin and Counter Question

But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him “Caesar’s.” – Matthew 22.18-21a

Jesus certainly could have chosen to answer their question without this counter-question. The coin and the counter-question served the important function, and the significance must not be ignored. Jesus used the coin and counter-question to allude to key Scriptures which taught that our allegiance belongs to God alone.

Instead of immediately answering their question, Jesus requested to see the coin that was used for the tax. The coin in question, the denarius, had an image of Caesar on it. Two words, “likeness” and “inscription”, in the counter-question point to two key commandments in the Old Testament.

God Prohibits Any Likeness (or Image)

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. – Exodus 20.3-5

The first two of the Ten Commandments prohibit worship of anyone or anything but God, and it also forbids making any image of a false god. God demands the exclusive allegiance of His people. Jesus’ usage of the word “likeness” in the counter-question would have reminded His listeners of this prohibition against creating images of any false gods.

Carrying around the “likeness” of Caesar was bad enough. But when we consider the “inscription” on the coin, it is even more revealing.

The Law Demands Worship of God Alone

Inscribed around the image of Caesar was the words “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS”, which is an abbreviation for “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus”. The other side of the coin had the image of the Roman goddess of peace, Pax, with the inscriptuion “Pontif Maxim”, which stands for “Pontifus Maximus”, which in turn means “High Priest.”

In one of the most ironic passages in the New Testament, the gospels depict the Son of God, the High Priest, the Prince of Peace, the King, holding in his hand a tiny silver coin of a king who claimed to be the son of god, and the high priest of Roman peace.

All Jews understood that the Law commanded Israel to worship God and God alone. Every morning Jews were known to pray the words of Deuteronomy 6.4-9,

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

By referring to the likeness and the inscription on the coin, Jesus appealed to key commandments from Scripture, and thus demonstrated the hypocrisy of his questioners, while reminding the hearers that Scripture taught that the LORD alone is God, and Caesar is not.

Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s

Two hundred years earlier, one of the slogans of the Macabbean revolt against the Syrians had been “Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve – and obey the commands of the law.” (1 Macc. 2.68). In other words, Israel wanted to pay back the Syrians with the violence they deserved, while maintaining faithfulness to the law.

That’s what they meant. But what did Jesus mean when He said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”? On one hand, He could have meant, “Yes, pay the tax”, yet without the sting of “Yes, submit to your Roman masters.”

Secondly, He could have purposely mirrored the Maccabean slogan, as if to say “Give the Romans what they deserve!” (i.e. nothing), while crafting His words carefully to avoid the direct charge of inciting tax revolt. The fact that Jesus had just referred to Caesar’s blasphemous image, and the blasphemous inscription on the coin certainly support this understanding. But again, the words were spoken in such a way so as to avoid direct charge. His words are, after all, literally saying “Yes, pay the tax.”

Had He undermined Caesar’s right to collect taxes? Or had He told them to pay the tax?

I suggest that He had done neither, while at the same time He had done both. Nobody could deny that Jesus’ saying sounded an awfully lot like the revolutionary Maccabean slogan, yet nobody could say that Jesus had forbidden the payment of the tax. He was certainly not giving legitimacy to Roman authority, but neither was He advocating tax revolt. It seems most likely to me that Jesus had given a purposely ambiguous answer so that His listeners would be left to wrestle with the question, “What do I really owe Caesar?”

Render to God What is God’s

The second part of Jesus’ answer is anything but ambiguous. According to Scripture, everything belongs to God. Jesus had already reminded his listeners of the first two commandments. Scripture teaches that the LORD alone is the only true God and everything rightfully belongs to Him.

The earth is the LORD’s, and all that it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. – Psalm 24.1

For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills. – Psalm 50.10

God claimed that even the silver and the gold rightfully belonged to Him.

The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. – Haggai 2.8

The emperor, on the other hand, also claimed that all people and things in the empire rightfully belonged to Rome. The denarius notified everyone that those who transacted with it owed the emperor their exclusive allegiance and worship.

With one straight forward counter question, followed by the command to “render to God the things that are God’s”, Jesus skillfully pointed out that the claims of God and the claims of Caesar are mutually exclusive. If one’s faith is in God, then God is owed everything, and Caesar’s claims are illegitimate. If one’s faith is in Caesar, God’s claims are illegitimate, and Caesar is owed, at the very least, the coin which bears his image.

What Jesus certainly didn’t mean was that the lives of His disciples could divide their lives and their allegiance into two separate parts (the “religious” part and the “political” part). Every aspect of the world, and every aspect of our lives should be given to God.

The Response To Jesus’ Answer

Jesus’ reply to their question invited His listeners to choose allegiances. Not only did Jesus cleverly escape their trap; He authoritatively rebuked his opponents by basing His answer in scripture. No wonder Matthew records:

And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. – Matthew 22.22

Following the same rhetorical structure as the trap question about His authority, 1) Jesus was asked a trap question. 2) Jesus replied with a brilliantly crafted answer. 3) Jesus left the questioners with a question of their own to ponder. 4) As a result, Jesus effectively made His claim to Messiahship while at the same time avoiding their trap.

Had Jesus’ answer simply meant “Yes, pay the tax”, no one would have left “amazed.” They would have rejoiced, for their trap would have worked! But in the context we examined above, no Jew would have taken Jesus’ response as an endorsement of taxation. To the contrary, a few days later, Jesus was accused of forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar.

And they began to accuse Him, saying “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King. – Matthew 23.2

Did Jesus actually encourage tax rebellion? No. But it should be clear that Jesus’ answer was not understood as a clear-cut approval of the taxation either. Had Jesus’s teaching been understood as an endorsement of Caesar’s tax, then this accusation would have never surfaced, for it would have been quickly refuted by those who heard Jesus’ teaching.

But if Jesus’s statement is understood as a challenge to serve God alone as King, then this accusation makes perfect sense.

What is the Christian Response To Taxation?

Since even our money ultimately belongs to God, and He alone is the rightful King, do Christians actually owe their government anything? Did Jesus teach that Christians should only spend their money as God would want them to spend it, rather than giving their money to Caesar? In other words, did Jesus actually encourage tax rebellion?

There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that would support this conclusion. The New Testament commanded Christians of that day, and commands Christians in our day, to submit to government and to pay whatever taxes they require of us. (Rom. 13.5-7; 1 Pet. 2.13-15).

This isn’t to say that Caesar “has a right” to collect taxes, or even that we “owe” anything to government as if it belonged to them. Christians are not commanded to pay their taxes because we think government deserves it, or because we think they have a rightful claim to it. Rather we are to pay our taxes because the Creator, and only King to whom we are to pledge our allegiance, commands us to pay them.

The New Testament describes Christians as strangers and exiles in a foreign land (Heb. 11.3; 1 Pet. 2.11). To get into a political fight with our earthly rulers over the money they take from us distracts us from what we are called to do, which is to spread the Kingdom of God. Our only concern is that we are giving to God anything and everything that He is owed. This includes a willingness to submit and pay taxes to to even the most unjust of governments.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles advocated tax rebellion. Yet, at the same time, Jesus never taught that Caesar’s claim to authority was legitimate. The idea that Christians should support both God and government, by living with dual allegiances and dual citizenships, is not supportable historically, contextually, or exegetically.  If we would render to God all the things that belong to God, there should be nothing left for Caesar.

Render to Caesar?

In Jesus’s famous teaching, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22.15-22; Mk. 12.13-17; Lk. 20.20-26), Jesus challenged his hearers to give God everything He is rightfully due, giving all of their allegiance to God and not to Caesar. Unfortunately, this passage has become one of the most misunderstood and misapplied teachings of Jesus.

The passage is frequently used to prove that Jesus endorsed Caesar’s authority to collect taxes as legitimate. According to this popular view, Jesus taught His disciples to pay taxes because the Christian responsibilities to God and to Caesar fall into two separate categories, each with a legitimate but separate claim to authority. Therefore, Christians should strive to give their support to both God and Caesar, while wisely distinguishing what is due to each. If it is determined that that something is owed to the government (whether it be to be good citizens, or to vote, or to serve in office, or even fight for their nation), Christians should support their government in giving what is owed.

If we read the discussion about Caesar and taxes in isolation from the surrounding context, it is easy to see why this view is so popular. After all, Jesus did say “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  However, there are difficulties with this popular understanding.

This teaching was never intended as an endorsement of Caesar’s authority to collect taxes. Rather, in His response to a question about taxes, Jesus was purposely ambiguous in His answer. This purposeful ambiguity was designed to leave His audience asking themselves “What really belongs to God, and what really belongs to Caesar?” Rather than teaching His disciples to give their support to both God and Caesar, Jesus’s response was designed to reveal the hypocrisy of the questioners who had tried to divide their allegiance to God.

To make the case that this is a more faithful understanding of the text, this two part article will first examine the historical and textual context of the question that was asked to Jesus. Part two will examine the importance of the coin and Jesus’ counter-question, examine what it means to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, and what it means to “Render to God what is God’s”, and  will examine the response to Jesus’ statement. Finally, to prevent any misapplication of the text, the article will briefly consider the proper Christian response to taxes.

The Textual Context

The taxation discussion must not be read as an isolated discussion on the separation of church and state (a concept that would have been most foreign to first century Judaism). All three synoptic gospels place the conversation in the final week of Jesus’ ministry, a week that would climax with Jesus being crucified with “The King of the Jews” written above His head.  The trap question comes on the heels of Messianic symbolism (The entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple); references to Messianic prophecies (2 Sam. 7, Zech. 4, 6, 14); Messianic parables, and a quotation from a Messianic psalm. Jesus was, again and again, implicitly claiming that He was the Messianic King. The question of taxation is a question about the implications of Jesus’ claims to Kingship. If Jesus is going to be King, what does this mean about Caesar’s similar claim?

Among all the Messianic symbolism and teachings, Jesus was asked a trap question (Mt. 21.23-27; Mk. 11.27-33; Lk. 20.1-18).

By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority? -Matthew 21.23b

By what authority was Jesus referencing to Himself as the Messiah? If Jesus claimed that His authority came from God, He would have surely been arrested by Herod, the “other” king of the Jews. If Jesus denied that His authority came from God, He would have undermined His whole work.

Yet Jesus answered with a brilliant counter question about John the Baptist. Was His authority from God or men? Now the tables were turned. If the chief priests and scribes answered that John’s authority was from men, they would have alienated themselves from the crowds. Yet if they answered that John’s authority was from God, this would only give validity to the claim that Jesus, the successor of John the Baptist, likewise had His authority from God. Any doubts about the meaning of Jesus’ counter-question can be removed by reading the parable that follows.

Before continuing to examine the textual context, notice carefully the rhetorical structure of this trap question. 1) Jesus was asked a trap question. 2) Jesus replied with a brilliantly crafted answer. 3) Jesus left the questioners with a question of their own to ponder. 4) As a result, Jesus effectively made His claim to Messiahship while at the same time avoiding their trap. We will see this exact same structure in the trap question about taxation.

Jesus then tells a Messianic parable about a rejected son, followed by a quotation from a Messianic Psalm about a rejected cornerstone (Ps. 118.22-23). In Matthew’s account, Jesus then told a parable of a great supper (Mt. 22.1-14), in which the king had made a supper for his son, but those who refused the invitation would be thrown into outer darkness. This too was a way for Jesus to refer to Himself as the rejected son of the King.

Given Jesus’ many subtle claims to kingship, an obvious question to ask would be “If Jesus is King, what does that mean about others who make the same claim? How does Jesus’ claim to kingship relate to Caesar’s claim to kingship?” To best understand the taxation discussion, we must remove modern philosophies of the separation of church and state from our minds and place ourselves back within the Biblical text by considering the question from the perspective of Jesus’ questioners. By reading the taxation question in this light we can better understand Jesus’s response.

The Historical Context

The conversation about taxation occurred at a time when Jerusalem was boiling over with political and religious fervor for revolt and revolution. In 6 A.D. the Roman occupiers of Palestine imposed a census tax on the Jewish people. The tax was not well received, not only because of the cost, but because of what the tax represented. By 17 A.D. Judas the Galilean lead a tax revolt by teaching that “taxation was no better than slavery”, and he and his followers had “an inviolable attachment to liberty”, recognizing that God alone was the rightful king and ruler of Israel.

In this context of tax-revolt, the question of paying taxes must be seen as more than just a philosophical question of the separation between church and state. This was both a deeply political question, as well as a deeply religious question. Either, God and His divine laws were supreme, or the Roman emperor and his pagan laws were supreme.

All three synoptic gospels record that this conversation occurred during the Passover week, a week in which Israel remembered the Exodus, in which God had given them their freedom. Yet ever since the Babylonian invasion hundreds of years earlier, Israel had been ruled by others. In 163 B.C., Judas Maccabeus cleansed the temple and lead a successful revolt against their pagan oppressors. As a result, Israel enjoyed a short period of semi-independence, but ever since 63 B.C., Israel had been ruled by their Roman overlords. As the Jews looked back to the Passover to celebrate their freedom, they also agonized over the fact that they weren’t free, and they longed for the day when God’s kingdom would be exalted over the pagans once again.

For most Jews at this time, conversations about the establishment of the Kingdom of God, a new temple, the Messiah, taxation and revolt against the Roman Empire all went together. Here was another temple-cleanser, another Galilean preaching about the establishment of a new kingdom, claiming to be the new king. What would this so-called Messiah have to say about taxation?

The Question

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? – Matthew 22.15-17

It is important to note that this question was presented as a “trap” question. That is, the Pharisees had designed the question to box Him in. If Jesus says that it is lawful to pay the tax, He would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers. In the minds of the Jews at the time, the Messiah was to defeat the pagans. No Roman collaborator could possibly be the Messiah. Therefore, if Jesus had answered “Yes, pay the tax”, all of symbolism and teaching of the previous week would have been seriously undermined.

If Jesus said that the tax was illegitimate, the Herodians would have surely branded him as a political criminal, and He would have almost immediately incurred the wrath of Rome. With either answer, Jesus would have been stopped.

When Jesus answered “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, this could not have been understood as saying “yes, pay the tax.” That was one of the two answers the Pharisees were hoping for. Again, if Jesus’ hearers understood “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” as “Yes, pay the tax”, Jesus would have been immediately discredited as the Messiah.

So “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” could not have possibly meant “Yes, pay the tax.” Or, perhaps, could it have meant exactly that, yet while somehow avoiding the sting of “Yes, submit to your Roman overlords”? Or did Jesus mean something different entirely? Please consider Jesus’ response carefully while reading Part 2 here.