“Well then,” replied Jesus, “you’d better give back to Caesar what belongs to him! And give to God what belongs to Him! Luke 20:25
How should we understand Jesus’ statement about paying taxes to Caesar? There is no shortage of answers available via the internet, and some of them are very illuminating. One of the most incredible things about where we live in time and space is the fact that technology and a good economy has provided Westerners with unprecedented resources of information. The Western world is full of armchair scholars of which I am one. Without wishing to overfill the internet with redundant information, I will nevertheless offer my personal reflections. It has been rightfully pointed out, regarding the question about taxes, that Caesar’s coins had Caesar’s image stamped on them, while human beings have God’s image stamped on them. Therefore, the answer is simple deduction: Give back to the owner the things stamped with their image. Things are more complicated than this. But if you are looking for a simple principle to draw out and apply to yourself, this one is ready made, and it is a truth incredibly deep and relevant. There is more to the story however and I would like to explore it a little. Jesus told a parable in Luke 20:9-18 in which tenants, clearly to be identified with the chief priests and the scribes, refuse to give the land owner “what belongs to him.” Rather, these tenants plot murder in an attempt to arrest God’s rightful property. The land owner and the son are obviously God and Jesus. And the thing coveted by the priests and scribes is the Temple and the power and prestige that come with it.. Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed, just as the land owner in the story plans on coming and destroying the unfaithful tenants. But the Temple was also meant to be a microcosmic image of the entire earth. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 24, that this too (the earth) is the Lord’s and everything within it! In essence, the Temple authorities were using the minor question of giving idolatrous coins (which is how they would have seen them) to Caesar as a means by which they might arrest the entire planet from God! Many times, this passage is quoted as a supposed argument that God is not concerned with the “temporal” or material things of "this world." Supposedly, God is concerned with other-worldly matters like our “souls” and not material and political matters like taxes and land. But nothing could be farther from the truth! What is at stake in this confrontation is the very authority for governing the world and setting it right. The priests and the scribes saw themselves as being the voice of God to the people and the guardians of the sacred symbols of God's presence on earth and among His people. But Jesus strode into the Temple and acted like He owned the place. And the message that He brought from God was, "this place is under judgment." The temple authorities had arrested what rightfully belonged to God and Jesus came to throw them out. Jesus insists that the temple authorities give to God what rightfully belongs to Him. And in the same stroke, Jesus also dismisses Rome’s extremely over-realized claim of world sovereignty as being childish make believe. Let Caesar have his silly coins, and give to God what you know belongs to Him! If Caesar requires taxes, pay his taxes. But the earth and all it contains belongs to the Lord! If Caesar wants to usurp that authority, he is headed for disaster. And if the temple authorities want to usurp that authority, they are also headed for disaster. And if WE want to usurp that authority, we are headed for disaster. Jesus was and is a true leader who looks out for the interests of His people. Jesus announced judgment on the temple, and the temple authorities, while simultaneously cutting Caesar down to size. But what right has He to do and to say all these things? Anyone can point out faults with leadership. Should we be impressed that Jesus is another critical voice in a world were governments are always fragile constructs? No. We should not. But Jesus was and is different in that the disaster that He predicted for Israel, for Rome, for the Temple, and for the Earth, is a disaster that He took on Himself. Jesus pointed the finger in order to point towards His own cross where the brokenness and twistedness of the world would do its' worst to Him, but God would raise Him from the dead in vindication. in John's rendering of this event in the Temple, Jesus answers the challenge to His authority for doing these things by saying, "tear this temple down, and in three days, I will rebuild it" John 2:19. In other words, Jesus' vindication would be realized when He set creation right. In His crucifixion, Jesus would embody the disaster that He predicted for the Temple, the microcosm of the entire world. And in Jesus' rising from the dead, Jesus would embody the promise of resurrection for the entire world.What happens to God's people in judgment, happens to their representative in the Messiah. And what happens to the Messiah in resurrection, happens to all the people who are baptized into His name. This is true authority and leadership that gets down in the mud with His people and lifts them up on his back. We made a mess of the temple, and Jesus has come to clean it up.
What are we wrecking and trying to keep for ourselves today? The earth and ALL it contains belongs to the Lord. Let the God of resurrection rebuild you and our world today. You must submit to this upside-down, humble,,yet powerful, way of doing leadership. This is the way the world, that belongs to the Lord, was meant to be run.