Give to God What is God’s- Matthew 22:21

In this passage, Jesus is teaching in the temple (Matthew 21:23). He has told several parables, and the Pharisees now try to “trap him in his words” (Verse 15). They do so by asking Him a question they believe He will not be able to answer without getting Himself in some sort of difficulty. They ask Him, in verse 17, if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar or not. They think they have Him cornered here, for if He answers yes he will incur the wrath of the zealots and other fervent Jews who abhor the idea that they have to pay taxes to Caesar. If He answers no, He will incur the wrath of Rome, being accused of treason, and likely executed. They think they have Him in the place where he will either lose His followers or lose His life. Jesus, however, is not so easily tricked. His response amazes them, for in it He exposes their hypocrisy by having one of them hand Him a denarius. The fact that the coin is a denarius is very important here, for the denarius bore the image of Caesar. According to the Pharisee’s own law, it was forbidden to possess a denarius within the temple courts, since it would be considered a graven image and a violation of the second commandment. Jesus, in this way, exposes their hypocrisy for all to see, asking them whose image is on the coin and forcing them to answer “Caesar’s”. He then replies with the verse at hand, telling them to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”. This answer has been commonly understood as telling the church that they are to pay taxes to the government if required and give their tithe and offerings to the church. While this is certainly true here, it is not all Jesus intended to communicate to them (and us) through this response. In the culture of Jesus time, it was common for an emperor to demand taxes (also known as tributes) from those He ruled over. This tribute was commonly seen and understood as a form of religious worship, for many emperors considered themselves to be gods and thus demanded tributes (worship) from those under their rule. Jesus command here to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” relates directly to this concept. The denarius bears the image of Caesar and therefore “belongs” to him, so it is proper to offer it to him in taxes. Money is not the issue here, then, something else is, and that something else is worship. Jesus also tells them to “give to God what is God’s”. The reason He does so is because man has been created in the image of God. Just as the denarius bears the image of Caesar and therefore belongs to him, each human being bears the image of God and therefore belongs to God. Just as they are told to offer up as tribute to Caesar what belongs to him (the denarius), they are also to offer up to God in tribute what belongs to Him (themselves). Man belongs to God, God “owns” each human being just as Caesar owns each denarius. So we can see that this command is not primarily about money, but about worship, about God’s right of ownership of each of us, and how it is that each of us is commanded to offer ourselves to Him as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). Jesus, in this incident, uses the Pharisee’s question to expose their hypocrisy to all, but also to teach us that while it is proper to pay taxes to the government, that the government or emperor may require of us our money, our worship, our offering of ourselves as the proper tribute, belong only to God. This verse then teaches us not primarily about what we should do with our money, but about what we should do with ourselves. We bear God’s image, we ultimately belong to Him, and our worship, our giving of ourselves, is properly given only to Him. We are to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”.

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