He saw through their duplicity and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’
Luke 20:23-25 (NIV)
Read: Luke 20:1-26
Consider: Jesus had a number of confrontations with the religious leaders of his day. Luke 20 recounts one of these incidents when the chief priests and teachers of the law came to him in the temple courts while he was teaching the people.
The religious leaders should have been pleased that Jesus was encouraging the people to be enthusiastic about their faith; instead they saw Jesus as challenging their authority. This is clear from Luke 20:2 where they ask Jesus: Tell us by what authority you are doing these things … Who gave you this authority? They knew Jesus spoke with authority and they marvelled at the miracles he performed, but they were only interested in asking him about who (what human agency) had given him this authority. They couldn’t see that Jesus’ authority didn’t come from man, but from God. Even when Jesus asked them: John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin? (v4), they still couldn’t see that they should have realised that Jesus’ authority was from God.
The reaction of the teachers of the law and the chief priests to Jesus was to look for a way to arrest him. This was not because what Jesus spoke about was untrue or against the Law, or that his miracles were elaborate scams. Their reason for objecting to Jesus was that ‘… he had spoken this parable against them‘ (v19). Can you see that their objection was that Jesus dared to speak against the establishment.
Moving on in Luke 20 we read about the tactics adopted by the religious leaders to try to get something against Jesus that they could use to enable them to hand him over to the governor. We must remember that as an occupied country, it was the Romans who had the power over life and death. If they wanted rid of Jesus, the religious elite would have to find some reason serious enough to bring to the attention of the governor. To achieve this ‘spies’ were sent to watch Jesus and hopefully to gather enough ammunition to charge him with something the Romans could deal with. The spies pretended to be sincere, but were only interested in trying to trip Jesus up into saying something incriminating.
Look at the question the spies ask Jesus (20:22) – Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? What would Jesus say – yes or no? Either answer would be problematic. ‘Yes’ would mean he approved of the occupying Romans and their laws, in opposition to his own people. ‘No’ would mean he was in opposition to the Romans and could be immediately reported for spreading sedition. Jesus wasn’t fooled by the spies ‘sincerity’, but saw through them. His answer to their question astonished them into silence (v26).
Look at Jesus’ response to their question about taxes. He asked them: Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it? (v24). When they answered, ‘Caesar’s‘, he told them: Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (v25). The Greek word used here for image has a Hebrew equivalent that is used in Genesis 1:26-27, where we read: Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Can you see what Jesus was actually saying? He was telling the religious leaders that paying taxes to the authorities was the proper thing to do. However, as man is made in God’s image, they should be more concerned about giving to God what is due to him.
Pray: Father, we thank you that you are passionately interested in our spiritual welfare. Help us to remember that we bear your image and to live our lives in such a way that reflects whose we are. Amen